The black-metal mexican gods are back!
These disciples of primitive black-metal inspired by Mayan culture returned this year with a new demo on Nuclear War Now Productions. So we decided to contact Marco Ek Balam, leader of the ancient horde, to learn more about the past, present and future of the band. His story is the one of the rising underground metal scene in the ’80s and it’s one to be praised! What follows will bring you back to an age where internet wasn’t there and the gods of the underworld were marching onwards the face of the earth. Enter the Xibalba!
Cooking With Satan: Greetings to you! First of all, thanks for accepting to answer these few questions… How are you today?
Marco Ek Balam: We’re fine, thanks.
CWS: So Xibalba is back and that is awesome news!!! What motivated this reunion
after a 14 years hiatus? Is Xibalba back by popular demand?
M: There was a demand for our early recordings, yes. But I think the passion we have for music makes us come back as well.
CWS: Can you travel back in time a little? Please tell us in which circumstances the band came to life and explain why the band went AWOL four years later in 1996?
MEB: We have always been immersed into this kind of music, practically since we were little kids in the beggining of the ’80s. We used to listen to a lot of hard-rock and heavy-metal from the ’70s back in the days and we lived the transition of that music to a more extreme style. Music was changing and developing really fast back then. So it came a time at the end of the ’80s when we felt the need to contribute and start a band. We merged two of our most important roots: first our musical background and second our cultural roots, which gave us the identity and the connection to our homeland.
From ’88 to ‘89, we began to put all these ideas together and started some rehearsals and songwriting. In ‘92, we released our first demo tape.
In retrospect, I think everything was moving too fast. Too many styles in a very little period of time, which was also really amazing. The situation here was that in the late ’80s we saw something wrong happening in the death-metal genre. Suddenly there were too many bands, all of them sounding the same and everything was starting to get boring. So we decided to go back to the beggining of the ’80s. Listening again to the first bands that started it all and that’s pretty much how we started the band in a black-metal way. Mainly under the influence on old Bathory, Celtic Frost and several past influences, some were black-metal some were old thrash as well.
But as we were going through the ’90s, the same thing that killed death-metal happened again. Suddenly everybody started to jump into this black-metal trend and that was also starting to kill this new refreshing sound. I think that’s why we lost our interest. Also, another thing was the fact that we needed a lot more of solid support and promotion, which in Mexico City is not easy to get.
So we just released our final recording in ‘96, and that was it.
CWS: Right. You say on the Xibalba website: “we were young kids and ended up the way it began…
MEB: We were young kids sure about what we wanted to do. Really passionated for the whole music thing, at a level that if it was turned into a fashion trend then we would just sent all to hell.
In the same way we got everything into the band, it was the exact same way we just left everything aside and moved onto different things.
CWS: On a more personal level: what were the first records you owned? And how did you start playing music? Was your family supportive of that commitment to the metal scene?
MEB: It is hard to remember, as we were all kids as I have said. It must have been a Kiss LP, “Dressed to Kill” I think, or the Led Zeppelin II LP, one of those. As the music developed, we were discovering new things. From the hardest heavy sounds, to black thrash weird sounds, punk-hardcore, grind-core, extreme punk-hardcore, death-metal, ultrafast death-metal and so on. We started to play, having heard all this varied stuff.
We started to get into our instuments in the beginning of ‘87, when Napalm Death’s “Scum” was the new biggest noisy and extreme thing. I think they motivated us to start playing…
It was very strange for our family. Mainly because the sound was too noisy and unbearable for them. They couldn’t stand the image as well. But there was never any negative attitude towards us. They never put any barriers to our interest. I would say they understood our craziness, more than being supportive. Which was good for us.
CWS: Xibalba being part of the second wave of black-metal bands, how did you discover this scene? Were you involved in tape-trading? Black-metal usually gives a strong impression to the new listener… What were yours?
MEB: As I have mentioned, we were involved in the likes of hard and heavy bands, since we discovered the music of the late ’70s… This must have happened in ‘83 or ‘84. There was no thrash-metal, there was no black-metal, no death-metal at the time. I think Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were the most heavy bands around. We used to buy a few albums at local record stores ’cause we didn’t have that much money to spend. And we got some information from the few local metal magazines, as well as by listening to the few heavy-metal shows at the radio.
I remember we got really shocked when we first heard Venom’s “Welcome To Hell”, it was so ferocious. Those vocals were Satan on earth. The whole satanic thing was really, really amazing for us little kids, back in those days.
Just picture yourself in a place where there was just hard and heavy music around, (Priest, Sabbath, Rainbow, Zeppelin etc…) and suddenly Venom arrives. Your whole world changes so drastically in a single minute!
Then we discovered, one by one, the rest of the bands, at a time when music started to change. Many new styles were created. Developing rapidly in a more and more ferocious, aggressive and fastest sound so incredibly. And we were the happiest kids on the face of the earth.
We used to buy mostly tapes of this new music, we couldn’t afford that many records in those days. And we got immersed into every style that was emerging. We didn’t care as long as it was loud, fast and good. From hard and heavy, to thrash, black, punk, extreme hardcore-punk, grind-core noise or whatever new sort of extreme quality thing. I’m talking about the period from ‘83,’84 to ‘87.
I think we started the tape trading in ‘87. Mainly because there were a lot of little underground bands from the then new grind death noisy scene. There were too many new and good bands without record deals, and the only way to listen to them was by ordering or trading their demos, which were not easy to find. Tape trading was the solution. It was really great for us. The small zines helped a lot as well, to promote and distribute great news from new bands from all over the world.
I have said we discovered Venom when there was nothing else around, I still don’t remember very well, ‘83 or ‘84). The impact it caused was really, really big for us. Then came Metallica, Slayer, Voivod, Mercyful Fate and a huge list. And when we heard Bathory’s first album, the impression was awesome as well. The vocals, the music. It’s hard to express that with words, this huge impact that we felt. I think you would need to be there, when all of this was happening.
It was not a thing of black-metal, death-metal, heavy-metal or whatever… The particular style didn’t matter at all. It was the musical thing in itself. A new ferocious, fast and horrendous music was taking over the whole world. And I can tell you that having these memories is something unique for all the people who lived it in the same way we did!
CWS: Your first and only album to date “Ah Dzam Poop Ek” is now considered a
cult record… What do you remember of the recording sessions? Were you aware back then that you were about to unleash a phenomenal release?
MEB: When we recorded that album we were really into it. Our passion for music was renewed again, ’cause the death-metal genre was dying in a boring trend. And this new sound, taken from the past bands, was injecting something fresh and ferocious again, like it was in the early ’80s.
Every song was well thought, and we just wanted to record a great album. Never thought the interest of the people would last to these days.
I just remember rehearsing each song and then getting into the studio to unleashed the whole album. It was really great doing it.
CWS: Did you do anything music-wise while you were awawy from the scene?
MEB: We did something different. The music scene was getting suffocated, as death-metal was, so we turned into a different style. So different that we couldn’t called it Xibalba, so I think the best option was to just leave everything behind.
I think we got back to our elder musical roots in that project, something more like hard and heavy stuff. Never promoted anything. Which was the right decision.
CWS: After so many years, do you have the same relationship with music? Not only
as musicians but also as fans?
MEB: We never stop listening to all the music that grew with us. Sometimes we listen to our old records from hard and heavy bands (we even have found and bought the CD versions), and sometimes you feel in a mood for the good old extreme hardcore punk, or thrash, or grind core… All that music is part of us.
You cannot talk to us about a particular style, ’cause reffering to a style it will only take us back to were the whole thing began.
As musicians we don’t have the same contacts we used to have. We don’t do that much trading anymore and we’re not involved with the local bands and scene around as much as we were in the past. We’re not looking for new bands either, ’cause music hasen’t developed anything new since the early ’90s, which is sad.
When you have been a part of this since the very beginning is hard to get impressed nowadays. That’s a reason why many bands from the past came back and are still good, with their great and immortal past glories, releasing some new and great interesting records in these days.
CWS: When Xibalba went out of the radar in 1996, black-metal started to be highly exposed in mainstream media. Now you’re coming back, it’s 2010, there are thousands and thousands of bands on myspace and black-metal is like any other well established metal genre with all its clichés… What are your thoughts on that?
MEB: That’s what happens to any music with the help of time. Heavy and extreme music in general is not as impressive as it was in the past ’cause now it’s accepted in some way. And that’s pretty sad too. Even the rebelious fast punk music, that was considered music for gangs and violent people, is now accepted by any kind of kid.
I think the world is totally different now, with the advance of technology and the access to everything with the internet. Everybody can listen to any musical style.
And I also think these advances in technology have killed something good we used to have in the past, within the whole music scene. That feeling of uniqueness is gone.
But it’s all part of the development of the whole world, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In the early ’80s when there was nothing, it was a horrible crime to listen to a band like Venom. Seeing some boy with spiky punk hair in the street wearing a Discharge shirt was a reason to run away. Nowadays, the most popular pop stars appear on MTV with spiky hair on reality shows and some magazines gives you the ten tips to get the best black-metal make-up for halloween parties. It seems that everything is a big joke now.
But we still have the passion for the music, and we’re doing music the way we feel the sound should be. It has been an important part of our lives, since the very beginning. We have to continue to praise the roots in order to keep the atmosphere alive.
CWS: Congratulations for the demo! For all our readers who would be interested,
what’s the best way to get a copy of it?
CWS: Why did you actually decide to release a demo and not an album which is I
guess something you could have done? Did you want to keep that the
MEB: Not really. We had these songs and we recorded them, ’cause we just wanted to show Nuclear War Now (their label) the sound of the bands in these days. Those songs we’re never thought to be release. But in the end we got an agreement and decided to do it as a demo. I think there’s many people still interested in those formats and we are very pleased with the final product.
CWS: Can you present us the new line-up? Are you still the main composer in the
MEB: The actual band is: Victor Ehxibchac on bass guitar, Jorge Ah Ektenel on drums, and Marco Ek Balam on guitar and vocals.
Everybody can write something for the band. Sometimes I give the main riffs and the rest of the band put everything they want on it. Same for the Lyrics.
CWS: The guitar work on the demo brings a new aura to Xibalba music, some kind of cosmic dissonant vibe… Is that where you wanted to go with these new
MEB: As I told you before, it was never meant to be release. Now that I heard it, I think it’s a very good and great demo. We added this delay to the guitar sound and I’m very pleased with the atmosphere it creates.
CWS: Also your music always included some psychedelic elements (like the ritualistic “Bolontiku Vahom” on the first album or the use of vocoder on “Rituals In The Sun” on the new demo for example) so I was wondering where these psychedelic influences were coming from?
MEB: From the cosmic regions I think. It has too much to do with our cultural roots, in a first place. The ancient Mayan people developed this accurate wisdom and phylosophy of space and time. And it is told the whole culture went to outerspace, when they vanished from the face of the earth.
Musically we have thousands of influences as I have stated.
CWS: Xibalba based its lyrical concept on Mayan mythology. Is that still the case on the demo?
CWS: What are you referring to in the song “Like Leafs They Fall”?
MEB: You had to read between the lines, I think you can figure it out.
CWS: Could you develop this Mayan concept for us? What is the Xibalba exactly?
Could you describe to us the different gods or rituals in Mayan mythology that are the most appealing to you and that you summon in your lyrics?
MEB: The Xibalba is the underworld. The ancient Mayans believed that the world was formed by two pyramids. One heading upside to the skies, with 13 gods in each step. Below there’s a pyramid heading upside down with nine steps, this is the Xibalba, on each step there’s a lord of the Xibalba.
The main ritual is the ball game, in which two teams compete to get a ball into a little hole hanging up from a wall of stone, using their feet or hips only. He who loses offer his soul to the gods.
There are a very vast field of gods in the whole prehispanic cultures of Mexico. The most important to the ancient Mayan Culture is Chac god of the rain, as well as Itzam Na, who founded the city of Itzmal and dwells in the final step of the upside pyramid that leads to the skies.
CWS: Are these myths merely a source of inspiration for your lyrics and some
kind of gimmick, just like the scandinavian bands singing about Odin, or something in which you are spiritually involved in everyday’s life? Do you believe in these gods?
MEB: It’s a matter of spiritual release. Our gods set us free from the outside enslavement. Institutions such as family, religion, school, church or the media, fill your head with standard thoughts. Fill your head with norms and rules built in established hierarchies, in established systems, created by the people in power. The only way to find freedom of mind, spiritual release and identity is to find a connection to your own roots. And one way to get that connection is to get near the ancient gods and customs.
It’s not a matter of believing, but a matter of awakening, to find spiritual and mind release from the outside fake and subliminal world.
CWS: Do you have some special magical place where you hang out and gets inspiration?
MEB: We like to visit the ancient temples, the ancient pyramidal realms. We have many ceremonial places in our country, not only the Mayans. And yes, they have a great influence and are a very important source of inspiration to our music and atmosphere. Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Tulum etc…
CWS: How do you explain the strong correlation with black-metal and primitive
cultures? What is the true essence of black-metal according to you?
MEB: Black-metal, since the very beginning, has a primarily satanic element into it. Lucifer rebels against the established system: god in heaven. These are religious topics, and because of that, the music has to generate some sort of spiritual sounds. These spiritual sounds create an atmosophere of evilness and horror in the music. It fits for us, because we’re heading to a spiritual release, away from the established systems in contemporary societies. We’re looking for release from the enslavement provided by scumy institutions. Freedom of mind. Some kind of rebellion, like Lucifer maybe (in religious words)…
The music that creates an evil atmosphere is perfect for us, ’cause we can make a transition to a prehispanic atmosphere. It allows us to install our ancient realms and plant the seed of our ancient gods into it. That´s the way we kill the fake institutions and find freedom of mind and spiritual release. It’s all about not accepting the established and about being aware of that. It’s not about jumping from a flock of god to a flock of satanic rules and norms. It would be useless to just jump from a flock that give you norms, to another flock that gives you different rules and norms. Again: it’s about looking for freedom of mind and spiritual release.
That’s the connection I see. You have to be aware ’cause otherwise you could get tricked and still be enslaved without even noticed it.
I think black-metal is one of many keys to attain freedom of mind. There are other kinds of music, or other kinds of stuff that could be different keys to the same purpose, but if you´re not aware, all of this could only represent just another prison cell.
CWS: The Mayan calendar also states that the world ends in 2012. What are your
thoughts on that?
MEB: We all are going down on 2010.
CWS: Ok now, stupid question: what did you think of the movie Apocalypto???
MEB: It sucks. Don’t see it. Destroy it if you have a copy. It’s nothing but a pretencious hollywood success and nothing else.
CWS: Also: shamanism and the use hallucinogenic plants such as peyote or
ayahusca is a strong part of south american and mexican folklore. Could that
be related in any way to Xibalba? Have you ever had such experiences or use any other consciousness altering substances to create Xibalba music?
MEB: Not really, we like to travel through meditation, no substances needed to attain the unknown, nor natural plants.
CWS: So what’s coming next with the band? I heard that you’re about to record a
new album! That’s amazing. What can we expect? Is it recorded yet? Please
give us details!
MEB: That´s correct. We’ll start recording in a few days. We have plenty of material to choose from. We don’t have any details yet, we have to still think about the name, artwork etc…
CWS: You played some time ago a gig in Chicago… Did you play one unique gig in
the states or was it part of a bigger tour? I assume it was your first live
show in a long time, how did that go? And finally: how do you approach a
live performance, mentally and physically?
MEB: It was great, we had a great response from the crowd. It was just a small gig in Chicago. We don’t play live that much, cause we think the atmosphere lies on the records, but doing a few gigs is fine.
We just concentrate on the songs and try to create the same mood from the album, it is important to get the atmosphere and involve the crowd in it.
CWS: Do you plan more live shows in the near future?
MEB: We’re going to the Nuclear War Now Fest Vol II, that will take place in Berlin, Germany on November 19, and problably we’ll be visiting Texas in the next year.
That’s all until now.
CWS: Mexico is reputed for its quite intense, frantic crowds at live metal
shows. Is that something that you notice even more when you’re playing
abroad? What’s your craziest live experience on stage and also as part of
MEB: Recently everything has developed with no incidents. But the crowds are wild by nature, moving, banging all the time and drinking a lot. The usual crowds, you know.
I remember an old gig, back in the ‘90s, when some guys that couldn’t get into the gig broked into the place. Suddenly, during performance, I discovered my guitar cable was cut off and had no sound, while everybody was still playing. There was some kind of crazy slam dancing in the pit. Sometimes we had to slam the kids off the stage with our instruments, ’cause they were getting to close to the band. We shared that gig with a punk band, there were not that many black-metal bands around in those days in Mexico, that’s why the crowd got violent I think, a punk crowd. Anyway, that was it.
CWS: Can you tell us a little bit more about your life in Mexico? Have you
always lived here? Are you involved in the metal community there?
MEB: Yes we have always lived here, but there’s not much to say about it, It’s a country that musically doesn’t offer that much development, it needs a real solid infrastructure to allow bands to growth. The country is rich though in cultural treasures: the ancient monuments and temples, architecture, sculpture, painting, as well as all the religious traces from vast cultures. Wisdom is vast in the whole lands.
We’re not that much involved in the metal scene as we were in the past, just a little in terms of agreements for local gigs and to spread the news about our releases.
CWS: If you had the possibility, what would you change in your musical career?
MEB: I don´t think I would change anything. It is useless to even think about it.
CWS: Is there anything else that we didn’t cover up here and you wanted to share
MEB: Thank you for the interview.
Watch out for the new album. Visit our site for constant info about the band:
Xibalba stills from their video: