When it comes to doom in Austin, Texas, most people will point you in the direction of either the commercially successful haircut metal of The Sword or the hipster arthouse sludge of The Roller. Well, Mala Suerte have been around longer than either of them and when it comes to pure doom execution, absolutely smoke both bands. The Austin four-piece are a mainstay at the SXSW music festival, which is how I stumbled on them a few years back, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I even bought the t-shirt. So, you know, impartiality: fuck it.
The Shadow Tradition (out through a label called Illwill, which one assumes is not the same as that owned by the rapper Nas) is listed as their first full-length, though the compilation of their Non-Serviam demo and the track “Self-Deprecation and Loathing” from their split with Coffins hit 35 minutes, and if it weren’t for the added 20 minutes of the closing title track, The Shadow Tradition would be about the same length. That’s not to discount the closer at all, I’m just trying to make a line between the two releases. “The Shadow Tradition” is a doom epic in every sense of the phrase.
Those seeking a comparison point for Mala Suerte need look no further than Cathedral at their doomiest. In both the occult subject matter and in the vocals of Gary Rosas, there’s a clear Lee Dorrian influence, but Rosas has a gruffer, shouting delivery and the music he sings over holds a masterful middle pace. Drummer John Petri is able to keep guitarist David Guerrero and bassist Mike Reed in line at a rate that’s slow compared to most of what passes for doom these days, but rarely falling into something so slow as the funereal. Of course, tempo changes come and go, but there’s always enough movement in the songs for The Shadow Tradition to keep an undercurrent of rock and groove, which works greatly to the album’s advantage.
In terms of the music, they could just as easily be listed under the heading of traditional riff-led doom, but Rosas brings an angrier edge to the songs that modernizes the sound and pushes the energy level up. The riff work of Guerrero shows itself to be in line with acts like The Obsessed and (of course) Cathedral, but there’s no denying these songs are Mala Suerte’s own. The Shadow Tradition has a unique character, albeit a mostly-familiar one and not beyond the realms of what doom has seen before. The personality of the record is Mala Suerte.
Really, there’s nothing working against The Shadow Tradition in terms of its appeal to doom heads. From the centerpiece “The Hound” to the shorter second half culminating in the massive title cut (a consideration made for vinyl, perhaps?), the album is as accomplished a work of straightforward doom as I’ve heard this year. Given the opportunity to do so, I’d gladly buy the t-shirt again.Austin, Illwill, Mala Suerte, Texas