Cultura Tres, Rezando al Miedo: Saying Prayers

Venezuelan sludge metallers Cultura Tres have their thing pretty much down at this point. The band made their debut with 2008’s La Cura and followed it in 2011 with El Mal del Bien (review here), an album that opened doors thanks in no small part to their touring throughout both South America and Europe and helped establish Cultura Tres among the stronger and most resonant acts blending metallic aggression and weighted sludge-fueled grooves. In 2013, the Maracay four-piece return with Rezando al Miedo (Devouter Records), a 55-minute, eight-track collection that furthers the band’s anti-imperialist/anti-colonial thematic and moody atmosphere even as it affirms what El Mal del Bien established as the chosen Cultura Tres aesthetic. Tonally and sonically consistent owing to production by vocalist Alejandro Londoño — who also helmed the two prior outings and shares the credit here with guitarist Juan de Ferrari — Rezando al Miedo gradually unfolds an identity of its own over the course of repeat listens, and though even unto its morose artwork (though admittedly the cover to the third album, taken from the painting Day of Judgement by Damian Michaels, is far more haunting) it may seem to fall in line with what Cultura Tres brought to the table stylistically in their last effort, there are nuances to be had throughout Rezando al Miedo that speak to growth within the band’s approach, whether it’s the sense of space Londoño brings to his echoing vocals in the closing “Forget I’m Here” or the surprising classic rock influence that shows up in some of de Ferrari‘s solos, filtering a wide sonic heritage through Jerry Cantrell-style wah theatrics that blend remarkably well with the lower, chugging-riff layers of rhythm on “Es Mi Sangre” and other cuts throughout.

The guitar work on Rezando al Miedo is a standout factor across the board, de Ferrari proving fluid and able to drive the atmosphere of a needling insistence on “Hole in Your Head,” one of the highlights of the album. Cultura Tres — the foursome rounded out in the rhythm section by bassist Alonso Milano and imported Dutch drummer David Abbink (ex-Cheesy), who returns from the second LP — don’t necessarily rely just on the guitars to convey their moody sensibilities, however. Londoño plays a huge role as well, and though he knows to step aside and let de Ferrari hold sway toward the end of a cut like “En Esta Tierra,” his half-in-Spanish/half-in-English lyrics are a force unto themselves, his monotone drawl immediately lending drama to opener “La Selva se Muere” that stays with Cultura Tres through closer “Forget I’m Here” no matter what musical moves the band is making behind him, a summary of a decent portion of his lyrical perspective provided by the only two lines of the title-track, “Rezando al miedo/El miedo es dios” — translated to,” “Praying to fear/Fear is god.” An anti-Christian lyrical take is nothing new for metal — make no mistake, Cultura Tres are a metal band, whatever elements of doom or sludge they may incorporate; they are well at home within the churning thrash that emerges in “1492,” including Abbink — but the specifically anti-colonial edge Londoño brings to the lyrics of “Hole in Your Head” speaks to an individuality of voice and critique that the cluster of heavy metal faux-satanists is sorely missing. Coupled with the band’s ability to turn fluid rhythm changes into dynamic songwriting shifts — again, see “1492” as it rises from a droning opening to rage and then descends again to a slower, hypnotic pulse — this perspective is a key element in what sets Rezando al Miedo apart from the output of Cultura Tres‘ peers the world over. When was the last time you heard anti-colonial sludge?

Actually, the answer to that question is in 2011, when Cultura Tres released El Mal del Bien, and though Rezando al Miedo showcases growth in the songwriting, the question remains whether casual listeners who maybe gave the prior album a shot will return for what on an initial hearing might come off as more of the same because of production, tonal and vocal consistencies. Cultura Tres haven’t made the same record twice — not nearly — and my concern is whether or not the progress they’ve made over the last two years will be overshadowed by the superficial similarities. Rezando al Miedo closes out with the lurch of “Forget I’m Here,” which like the earlier “Es Mi Sangre,” nestles into a slow-paced sprawl, offering a last-minute surprise in leaving the drums out of the equation for all but its last two minutes or so. That allows de Ferrari to embark on a grander feel, stretching tones through echoes and resulting in a wave colorful and nearly psychedelic and pushing Londoño to a more melodic vocal approach to match — precisely the kind of creative drive that marks out the progress from the last record to this one, but it’s buried way at the end and easily missed by a listener just making their way through checking the album out. Further obscuring is the near-15 minutes of droning noise at the end of “Forget I’m Here,” which pushes Rezando al Miedo from a tight, crisp 40 minutes to a less manageable, less vinyl-ready 55. It’s not like the songs were lacking in ambience, and true, Cultura Tres bring it gradually to a swell, but that’s hardly the same as using that time to add some diversity of arrangement or atmosphere, or as expanding the scope of the album as a whole; the band’s focus becoming almost as much anchor as foundation. Cultura Tres are a solid band, and Rezando al Miedo is a strong, consistent offering with a firm grip on aesthetic and a noteworthy tension — I’m just left wondering what might happen if they let that tension go a little bit their next time out, and if they can take the anger fueling these songs and develop the critique to be as pointed as the tone in de Ferrari‘s solos. Could the psychedelic aspects of “Forget I’m Here” bleed into and meld with some of the aggressive thrust of “Es Mi Sangre” or the creepy vibes of “La Selva Se Muere” or the penultimate “La Ley del Dolor?” Nothing I hear on Rezando al Miedo stands in opposition to the idea that Cultura Tres couldn’t take their sound anywhere they want it to go. The only question is how far they’re willing to take it.

Cultura Tres, Rezando al Miedo (2013)

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Cultura Tres on Bandcamp

Devouter Records

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