Recently I reviewed Astrolabe’s Death: An Ode to Life, which I noted was one of two bands I knew of among the five nominees for Nación Progresiva’s Latino Progressive Album of the Year. Since then, Alpha Lighting System won the award, and I have been introduced to another of the nominees – and, no disrespect to Alpha Lighting System, but I’m far more impressed by Egregor’s Pachakuti. This is the second full-length album from the Chilean prog metal band, and on the strength of this I will definitely be checking out their debut. Wow! Just wow! I’ve listened to well over 200 albums this year (and as it’s been a while since I last checked, I guess I may even have reached 300 by now), but very few have had the initial impact, let alone lasting resonance that Pachakuti has. And prog metal is not even a genre I tend to be overly fond of.
The music of Pachakuti is chunky and heavy enough without knowledge of what the band is singing, but a little Googling reveals the lyrical content is pretty damn weighty too, making this heavy in every sense. The Aymara are an indigenous race of the Andes and Altiplano regions across the South American countries of Bolivia, Peru and Chile, and it seems than the Aymaran words ‘pacha’ and ‘kuti’ mean ‘land’ and ‘return’. The lyrics of the title track speak of repressed peoples, and conclude with a final refrain that translates as “Subjugated roots will be reborn; Humiliated roots will return”. Likewise, lead single Grito Insurgente (Insurgent Scream) speaks of “the strength of ancestors”, and ends with the cry “In the face of death you will scream… Freedom!”
There is anger and aggression in much of the instrumentation and the vocals, but it is never at the expense of the beauty that is overwhelmingly present. Before I listened to a note, I was engaged by the beautiful cover art, and the music within is no less beautiful. There may be anger, but the passion with which it is expressed shows it to be righteous and, yes, beautiful. This is apparent from the outset, as the album opens with the ambient introduction to the title track, filled with the sounds of nature and ancient culture, before the music crashes in with radiant energy. Magdalena Opazo‘a powerful vocals are glorious, and potent. Generally speaking, even when lyrics are in English, I pay little attention to them, hearing the vocals more as another instrument in the mix rather than thinking about what they have to say. Magdalena, though, almost demands me to find out what is being sung – which, given it is in a foreign language to me, is quite impressive.
Impressive also are the vocals of Giancarlo Nattino, and the contrast of his harsher vocals with Magdalena’s clean is easily the best I’ve heard in a long time. When these two trade lines, they sound incredible. Giancarlo’s screams are perhaps closest to Joe Duplantier of Gojira, and even for someone like myself that more often than not shies away from harsh vocals, are very pleasing to the ear, and perfectly fitting to the pounding and insistent music of the title track. What I love the most is the way the music sounds both entirely modern, yet evokes the sounds and history of the indigenous culture of the Aymara. This is in part due to the traditional instruments (charango, zampoña, quena and quenacho) played by Martín Romero, but by no means entirely. That would be only superficial, and it’s readily apparent that the composition and performance of the music wholly serves the past, the present, and the future, celebrating not just what has been, but what will be again. The music of Egregor is authentic, immersive, and as aforementioned, passionate. Return the Land, indeed.
El Principio Único is more subtle, if no less impressive. This time, rather than the twin guitar attack of Giancarlo Nattino and Richard Iturra, it’s the bass of Alejandro Heredia that dominates, providing some very tasty and nifty basswork on this track. While there are still aggressive breakouts, this track is notable for its restraint, which has the benefit of really highlighting how the band play in a precise, complex and intricate style that could easily sound mechanical and static, but which instead sounds organic and fluid. The music just flows. And in fact, flows so well that it’s easy to miss when El Principio Único ends and the following Indolente begins. They are actually quite distinct songs, but fit together more perfectly than some jigsaw puzzles. Indolente was the second single released from the album, and I can tell why: it’s anthemic and catchy, and in my opinion would have made a more impressive lead single than (following track) Grito Insurgente.
Don’t get me wrong, though, Grito Insurgente is fantastic, and definitely a contender for my favourite track on the album. As might be expected from what I’ve already divulged about it’s content, it’s insistent and aggressive. It might well have the most powerful vocal performance from Magdelena: impassioned, angered, and pained. The struggle of indigenous people to be heard and respected is tangible. The guttural cries of Giancarlo only heighten this feeling. My only criticism of the song is I want it to go on. It always ends before I am ready. The band does well to follow it with the near instrumental Origen (with only wordless vocalisations), as any song would struggle to compete with what came before. Instead, Origen just crescendos and swells from its humble beginnings, and sweeps the listener along with it. It’s far more bombastic than might be expected from its delicate piano-led introduction.
Animal is an emotional ride, and it’s no wonder when translating the lyrics appears to confirm what I had already inferred from the title. There’s a lot of hurt conveyed in this song. The following Portadores is a completely different beast, and probably the most unique sounding on the album. It sounds joyous and celebratory, and has some wonderfully hair-raising chanted passages. Even Giancarlo’s harsh vocals sound triumphant. It almost sounds out of place, and yet it feels completely right. It provides a terrific preface for Con la Fuerza del Sol, which is as forceful and radiant as its title implies. This song would not have worked as well if it came immediately after Animal, so again I have to praise the band for their thought in sequencing. Just as Origen was placed perfectly to balance what came before and after, so is Portadores.
And so we come to the end, and likely the only competition for Grito Insurgente to be my favourite track on the album, Somos Uno. A recognition and exhortation that we are one, that takes in the full spectrum of the band, from its most peaceful and delicate, to some of the heaviest. And again, like Grito Insurgente, my only complaint is that it ends far too soon. Given how unique in vision and execution Pachakuti is, the intensity of emotion and passion, and the balance and restraint shown, even if Nación Progresiva might not agree, this is definitely my Latino Progressive Album of the Year – and a definite contender to be one of my albums of the year in general. Don’t let this one pass you by!
01. Pachakuti (4:52)
02. El Principio Único (4:34)
03. Indolente (3:43)
04. Grito Insurgente (4:20)
05. Origen (3:18)
06. Animal (5:10)
07. Portadores (5:05)
08. Con la Fuerza del Sol (4:31)
09. Somos Úno (4:36)
Total Time – 40:09
Magdalena Opazo – Vocals, Synthesiser
Giancarlo Nattino – Guitar, Vocals
Richard Iturra – Guitars, Synthesiser
Alejandro Heredia – Bass
Martín Romero – Charango, Zampoña, Quena, Quenacho
Additional Information:ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Chile
Date of Release: 7th August 2020