ESCUADRON DE LA MUERTE: Bastion XXIII
Release year: 2021
Label: Steinklang Industries
Mexican Escuadron De La Muerte’s – Spanish for Squadron Of Death, unless I am entirely mistaken – latest album is a confusing mixture of themes and conflicting aesthetics. In the imagery of the digipak, there’s occult symbology – pentagrams, the sigil of Lucifer – Mexican symbolism in the form of the snake-and-eagle icon, militarism in the form of a fleet of bomber planes. And the track names refer to occult and mystical imagery such as Satan, Lucifer, the Mexican cult of Santa Muerte, vodoun trickster deity Papa Legba, the Aztec war deity Texcatlipoca – but also to the battle of Balaclava, about which Lord Tennyson wrote his famed poem The Charge Of The Light Brigade (which, in turn, inspired Iron Maiden’s The Trooper).
And there’s a track called Satanas Montando Un Elefante Rosa, which Google Translate tells me means “Satan riding a pink elephant” in English. Now that’s odd.
So, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, Bastion XXIII is like a box o’ chocolates – you never know what you gonna get.
Musically, though, there’s more coherence. Whilst certainly not cut from one singular cloth, at least Bastion XXIII isn’t all over the place. Cacophonous, abrasive post-industrial noise is the over-arching descriptor for this, under which the Mexican one-man entity covers a wide spectrum from power electronics to blackened death industrial.
Depending on from which perspective you approach the album, it’s either on the harsher end of the spectrum, or alternatively not. With which I am in a needlessly convoluted way trying to say that, in the end, Bastion XXIII is in terms of extremeness somewhere in the middle of the road. Let me elaborate.
If you’re expecting death industrial, e.g. industrial music more focused on black atmospherics, disturbing soundscapes and haunting sensations, you’re in for something on the extreme end of that. You’ll likely not be left wanting, though, for there are enough of disturbing atmospheres, ritualistic elements and haunting passages here – but broken up by blasts of distorted noise and rumbling chaos.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for power electronics full of abrasive distortion, gut-wrenching low frequencies and blasts of ear-shattering chaos, you’ll get an experience somehwere on the less extreme end of the spectrum. Granted, of course, that any end of the industrial noise/power electronics spectrum is pretty darn extreme in comparison to anything else. Harkening to the above paragraph, blasts of noise and screeching eardrum-rippers are tempered with passages of black atmosphere, ritualistic drumming and weird, esoteric samples.
As a result, depending on where you stand in your expectations and desires, you might come away very fullfilled, moderately fullfilled or not at all satisfied. As Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show famously sang about love, there’s three ways your expectations to Bastion XXIII can go: that’s good, bad and mediocre.
Again, let me elaborate. Of course, there’s considerable variation between the tracks. Opener Por El Valle De la Muerte Cabalgaron (which is about the aforementioned battle of Balaclava) is definitely on the harsh noise, chaotic end of the album’s spectrum. On the other hand, Papa Legba, despite some piercing high-end frequencies, is on the opposite end: ritualistic drumming, samples of ritual singing, weird otherworldly speech samples; harsh it is not. So if you’re after one or the other end of the spectrum, Bastion XXIII offers satisfaction in fluctuating amounts.
Of course, the sensible approach is to be somewhere in the middle and be happy with both atmospherics and sheets of noise. That goes without saying, right?
Whilst the stylistic breadth does run the risk of doing away with consistency, luckily the sound of the album counters this. There’s this weird, sligthly distant feel to the music. There’s not a whole lot of gut-wrenching super low bass frequencies here, nor pangs of in-your-face feedback. Instead, it feels like the whole thing is being transmitted through a long metal tube, rendering most everything slightly broken by distortion and slight reverberation. It gives a unity to both the more atmospheric and the more abrasive moments.
The end result is an album that’s a well-balanced mixture of violence and darkness. However, in it’s ample use of samples, sometimes things do go slightly awry. Some of the samples just sound slightly out of place and tacked on. Luckily, there’s just a few moments when this happens. For the most part, Bastion XXIII is sonically convincing.
Summary: Conceptually confusing but sonically convincing death industrial electronics
Visit Escuadron De La Muerte on Bandcamp