Pressed in an edition of 750 green translucent LPs, Death Sessions begins with a faded-in wash of cymbals, a warm bassline, and soon unfolds a special stage in the life cycle of one of Argentina’s most pivotal heavy rock acts — definitely of their generation and perhaps of all time. Buenos Aires trio Los Natas released five proper studio full-lengths in their decade and a half together, as well numerous jam collections, shorter offerings, EPs, splits, compilations and so on, and their work ranged from the pivotal desert fuzz of their 1996/1998 debut, Delmar (discussed here), on Man’s Ruin Records, to the socially conscious motor-thrust of 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), on Small Stone, never failing to offer something different and distinct along the way.
The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian — see also: Ararat, Soldati, his Sergio Ch. solo work, etc. — bassist Gonzalo Villagra and drummer Walter Broide called it a day circa 2012 after the 2011 release of the compilation Rutation (review here), but their influence has continued to thrive particularly in South America, where Chotsourian has spent the last several years building his label, South American Sludge Records, as a go-to outlet for underground heavy rock from the across the continent. Death Sessions comes stamped with a South American Sludge logo on it, arrives simultaneously with a reissue of the 2002 third album from Los Natas, Corsario Negro — also limited in its number — and again, finds Los Natas at a very particular point in their career. Tracked live in its eight-track entirety, mixed and mastered by Patricio Claypole at Estudio El Attic, it captures the last time they were in the recording studio together.
As to what they were doing in the studio that day in 2010, I’m not entirely sure. Four out of the eight inclusions on Death Sessions come from Nuevo Orden de la Libertad — that’s “Las Campanadas” and “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” on side A and “Ganar-Perder” and “10.000” on side B — and the rest of the material derives, one song each, from the rest of their full-length catalog, so the clearest impression from the platter is that what we’re hearing is a live set being rehearsed. Why this particular rehearsal wound up being recorded, I couldn’t say. Maybe Los Natas were a band who always tracked their practices, as some do. If so, there should be countless such tapes out there, but Death Sessions of course feels special for both its context as well as for the immediacy of the three-piece’s delivery. Hearing songs like “Soma” from Delmar at the outset of side A feeding into “Las Campanadas” or hearing the track “Rutation,” which originally appeared on their second album, 1999’s Ciudad de Brahman (discussed here), close out after “10.000” not only shows the stylistic swath that Los Natas covered during their years together, but underscores how much their sound was their own across that time.
A live set ideally would function much the same. But live sets come and go. The difference with Death Sessions is in the clarity of the presentation. True, they grew tonally rawer over their records, moving away from the sandy warmth of their early work to incorporate influences from punk rock, Motörhead, and so on, but Death Sessions gives them an opportunity to draw the various sides of their personality together. “Humo Negro del Vaticano” from 2006’s El Hombre Montaña seems to find middle ground between the quieter opening of “Soma” and “10.000” still to come as it rounds out side A, and this is preserved it in a way that even a concert film — which would certainly be welcome but inherently about more than just the audio progression of the band — couldn’t do.
From the tiny stops in the winding riff of “Nuevo Orden de la Libertad” to the soothing patience in “Ganar-Perder” and the psychedelic mini-jam at the end, leading to the crashes at the start of the rolling, jazzy tempo-play of “El Cono del Encono” from Corsario Negro with Broide joining Chotsourian on vocals, Death Sessions ends up summarizing Los Natas‘ career in a way more fitting than even a greatest-hits-type compilation couldn’t, because it unites the songs in tone and performance, rather than simply drawing from various studio sources or other recordings.
Chotsourian leads a trail-off jam at the end of “El Cono del Encono” as well, which brings “10.000” around to reground the proceedings with a more straightforward push ahead of the finale, following that uptick in energy with another punkish drive, building in speed as it gets going, headed for a chaotic crash. This very obviously isn’t the first time Los Natas have finished a set with “Rutation,” and they seem to have a good time with it, adding some swing to the delivery, Chotsourian and Broide shouting out lines together. It’s a last bit of fun that, again, in the context of this being the final time Los Natas would record, puts emphasis on their chemistry, which if there’s an underlying message to Death Sessions at all, it’s that that’s where the emphasis belongs.
I’ll be blunt and say I continue to hope for a Los Natas reunion. As a fan of the band across the sundry points of their development, I think they broke up when they still had more to offer sonically, and to me, they seem all the more relevant now in the half-decade that’s passed since they stopped. A new album, whatever form it ultimately would take, feels like a prospect that would only build on their legacy. Whether or not that will happen, I don’t know and won’t speculate, but especially as a piece for fans, Death Sessions reinforces much of what made Los Natas so special in the first place. Though it may have been recorded in happenstance — that is, the band may or may not have known their time together was coming to a close — as a document of who they were and what they did, it is fortunate these songs and this moment can be so righteously preserved.