For a long time, a common thematic feature within black metal was a focus on the history and cultural practices of ages past. The present, modern era of humankind being seen as empty, artificial, and devoid of significant meaning, black metal musicians tended to take to looking backwards for answers, often to pre industrial (and more specifically, pre-Christian) civilizations. Due to black metal originating in Europe, and being defined as a legitimate sub-branch of metal with the rise of the Norwegian scene in the 90s, this idea first emerged in the form of bands exploring Norse history and mythology. Bathory, Burzum, and Enslaved were some early examples, and many more would follow. Even today in 2017, this more or less remains the primary way in which this exploration and veneration of ancient civilizations within black metal manifests itself.
Understandably so, the early Scandinavian black metal bands were undoubtedly exploreing Norse mythology because, put simply, it was the heritage to which they were born. In more recent black metal history, an interesting new twist on this principle has risen in the form of Crepusculo Negro. Emerging in the mid 2000s in Southern California under the leadership of Eduardo “Volahn” Ramirez, the “Black Twilight Circle” (BTC) would become a mysterious black metal collective centered around, above all else, themes of Mayan history and mythology. But despite sharing common themes, time would show that the bands of Crepusculo Negro would come to display quite a remarkable diversity of sound and songwriting techniques between them, with no two really sounding too much alike. It is believed here at Cryptic Resonations that the consistency, creativity, and commitment to their craft more than merits a discussion of these unique artists, as well as the distinct “similar but different” sense of unity that binds their group together.
Mini reviews of most (but possibly not all) of the bands currently involved in Crepusculo Negro will follow. Giving each one a peek comes as highly recommended (listenings provided). Since most of them do have relatively small discographies at the moment, investigating each shouldn’t come as too big a commitment.
While you’ll find a lot of interesting takes on melody and ambiance among some of the Crepusculo Negro bands, this isn’t really the case with Acualli, who go for a rawer, more bestial type of approach, a vile fusion of the more ferocious aspects of black and death metal. While often pulverizing you with frantic, uptempo riffs and blast beats, the music can make some surprising shifts as well, occasionally going into slower, more midpaced territory and even tapping heavily into noise influences (see the final track of the Pact Of Possession demo). In Acualli, BTC “leader” Eduardo Ramirez handles guitar and drums as “Vahxak,” vocals are done by Daniel Tia (“Kampilan”), and bass responsibilities fall upon Acatlan Coatlicue (“Eztli”). Coatlicue is notable for being the first female member of Crepusculo Negro.
Dive into the Pact Of Possession demo here.
With five full releases, an EP, and appearances on two compilations, at present Arizmenda has more material out than any other Crepusculo Negro band. One of the few bands in the collective that doesn’t feature Ramirez, this deranged, mindbending beast is the brainchild of Juan “Murdunbad” Cabello, who takes care of all vocal and instrumental conjurings. Though each release from Arizmenda has seen a slightly different approach employed, thus far the band has more or less employed an incredibly hypnotic brand of psychedelic black metal. Not “psychedelic” in a bright, bouncy, jammy type sense, but more embracing of the darker, abysmal brands of psychedelia. The music of Arizmenda is like a swirling, primordial vortex, replete with puzzling, nontraditional riffs that seem to snake in and out of one another, impressive drum work, eerie melodies, and soul sucking shrieks from Cabello. Curiously enough, Arizmenda is also distinct within Crepusculo Negro for being one of (if not) the only bands to not take to Mayan mythology as a lyrical theme, instead seeming to investigate topics of pain, suffering, and general mental instability. Even so, given his prolific output with Arizmenda as well as his involvement in several other BTC bands, Cabello’s significance for the collective as a whole is quite sizable.
Every release is rock solid, but there’s no harm in starting with the superb debut, Within The Vacuum Of Infinity.
Now here’s one Crepusculo Negro band that I definitely need more of. Axeman is essentially Ramirez’s take on blackened thrash metal, and boy does it stick. As with Volahn, here he’s responsible for everything, cranking out a sound reminiscent of the early days of extreme metal in the 80s and early 90s, with nods to bands like Possessed, Slayer, Celtic Frost, Absu, and others. It’s extremely crunchy, riff heavy, and hard hitting, but somehow, even with its more retro, familiar feel, it still retains Ramirez’s signature sense of dark, dreamlike melody in little atmospheric breaks and the guitar solos. A total banger of a project that hits like a brick in the face and seriously needs to deliver some more material in the near future.
Go get floored by Arrive right over here.
BLUE HUMMINGBIRD ON THE LEFT
Well that’s an interesting name for a band, now isn’t it? In keeping up with the ancient Mexico themes of Crepusculo Negro, “Blue Hummingbird On The Left” is the literal translation of the name of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. An interesting technique I’ve come to enjoy in metal is when bands go for a very raw, stripped down approach, yet include just one nonmetal instrument to shake things up a bit. This is case with Blue Hummingbird On The Left, who play a form of black metal that really isn’t all that nuanced or layered, but that features the occasional use of flute to create a more epic, transcendent vibe. The music, however, remains rather rough and abrasive throughout, and could use some softer moments to help to accentuate this mood. Admittedly Blue Hummingbird On The Left come across as one of the more uninteresting bands of Crepusculo Negro, but given the quality of the others they’re up against as well as their limited amount of material at present, this might not be saying all that much. There’s certainly much potential for them to grow and refine their formula in the future.
Give Bloodflower a listen here.
Musically, Kallathon produce black metal of a rather raw, gritty variety, not too unlike Blue Hummingbird On The Left, but with a greater sense of melody and tempo variation. There’s a good sense of atmosphere here, not quite of the caliber of bands like Arizmenda or Volahn, but still in the sense of there being some sort of higher, ethereal force bubbling beneath the surface of the music that helps to make it more powerful and ensnaring. The slower, more midtempo movements from Kallathon actually come across as quite relaxing in their minimalism and almost uplifting approach. Once again, this is another band on the Crepusculo Negro roster that sees the involvement of Eduardo Ramirez, but here he takes a more minimal role of just playing drums, while the eponymous Michael “Kallathon” Prado handles everything else. The only real complaint with Kallathon is the sense of production, which is a little too resemblant to early black metal techniques for my tastes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with raw and gritty of course, but listening you kind of get the sense that there’s a lot of layering going on to the music of Kallathon, so a cleaner production would be ideal to really hear all aspects of the composition a little better.
Have a taste of Before Drifting Into The Abyss right here.
Along with Axeman, Kuxan Suum are probably the Crepusculo Negro band that I most want to see some new material out of, as their formula is incredibly interesting. It is black metal, but delivered in a very formless, atmospheric style that for the most part sticks to a slower, more meditative mood and doesn’t really seem to be in much of a rush to get to any sort of energetic climax or frenetic burst of aggression. There are some definite influences from doom metal and drone to their sound, although blurred together with the black metal so effectively that it really becomes difficult to determine where the lines between them are drawn. This band features both Ramirez and Juan Cabello from Arizmenda, and listening to the music, it’s easy to see how both of their approaches combine here ever so wonderfully. Kuxan Suum also occasionally employ the use of folk instruments such as flute and (from what it sounds like) native percussion, to great, trancelike effect. Seriously, this is a considerably overlooked BTC band and one that we definitely need more of.
Dive into the Kinich Ahau demo here.
Also a Maya-related reference, the name “Muknal” is derived from Actún Tunichil Muknal, a Mayan archaeological cave site in Belize known for housing human sacrificial remains as well as peculiar crystal formations. Upon first impression, the music of Muknal, like Acualli, sounds quite ferocious and bestial, albeit a tad less abrasive and with a bit of a different guitar tone. At times it might slow down, but in doing so it becomes more painful and crushing, and embellished by strange electronic and other atmospheric effects lurking in the background. It’s basically something that sits in between Acualli and Blue Hummingbird On The Left, but with a greater sense of melody and nuance. Not necessarily my favorite of the Crepusculo Negro bands, but still definitely a good listen.
Check out the self titled demo here.
With luck, Shataan will end up becoming of the more prolific bands of Crepusculo Negro. There is certainly hope here, as last year they dropped their full length debut, Weigh Of The Wolf, the first band in the collective other than Volahn and Arizmenda to have done so. Shataan are a strong testament to the diversity of the Black Twilight Circle, as the sound they conjure is entirely their own. Here Eduardo Ramirez plays bass, but the band is really the brainchild of its eponymous front man Joseph “Shataan” Alanouf, who contributes vocals, guitar, and flute. Shataan conjure a more relaxed, transcendental type black metal sound boosted by the flute, acoustic guitar passages, and, oddly enough, the vocals of of Shataan himself, who rather than going for traditional black metal shrieks instead opts for a clean delivery. I’ve seen many negative comments on the music due to the vocals, which certainly aren’t for everybody, as not only are they quite wail-y, but it’s not often that clean vocals are set on top of lack metal to begin with. I happen to love the approach, however, and it combined with a very tight sense of songwriting help to make Shataan one of the more interesting of the BTC bands.
Give Weigh Of The Wolf a spin right here.
Finally, we come to the “main” band of Crepusculo Negro, the one that Eduardo Ramirez started first and that which more or less receives his primary focus: Volahn. Even with many more bands being added to the Black Twilight Circle since Volahn’s initiation, this project has, over the years, still very much maintained its own signature sound that differentiates itself from all of them. The black metal of Volahn features a very distinct guitar tone, ripe with treble, that you don’t really hear with any of the other BTC bands. There’s also a strong penchant for melody here, not in the vein of traditional “melodic black metal,” but more in the sense that there are just a lot of well written, bouncy, and catchy riffs that easily get stuck in your head and transition into each other incredibly well. The mood this sense of melody conjures is often dripping with Latin influence and at times almost sounds “Western” in a way. All this and more helps to make Volahn one of the strongest bands of Crepusculo Negro, and if this project is sort of the unofficial “leader” of the collective, it’s not without good reason.
Aq’Ab’Al from 2015 was a phenomenal release and undoubtedly one of the best for black metal from that year. Plunge into it right here.
Particularly within the past 5 – 6 years, since the emergence of more of its younger members, Crepusculo Negro has evolved into a powerful, multifaceted, though still veiled and secretive collective. The process has been slow and steady, with more bands performing live, more merchandise being made, and more music being released from each member. It’s a little disappointing that the majority of the bands involved have only released demos and EPs, but this may be inevitable in a way. Due to the involvement of Eduardo Ramirez in almost all of them, perhaps he really just doesn’t have enough time as he’d like. One can only hope that eventually, as did Shataan did in 2016, other bands will debut some proper full length releases.
One can always get a brief idea of each of the Crepusculo Negro band by checking out the massive Tliltic Tlapoyauak, a compilation album where each of the Crepusculo Negro bands, including some former ones not mentioned here, each contributed a single track. It’s convenient if you’re short on time, but for a better, fuller understanding of the bands, investigating the releases linked to here is recommended. It is hoped that this article will spark interest in doing so, thus shedding more light on the unique and commendable machinations of this fascinating group.
Ravana, your host here at Cryptic Resonations, is an avid fan of experimentalism in any and all art forms, residing somewhere deep in the swamps of Southern Florida. He particularly enjoys black metal, drone, hip hop, surrealist film, and transcendentalist poetry, and is also a Staffer over at Metalstorm.net.