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An almost religious experience
on 5 January 2009
Rodrigo and Gabriela are a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with, a tour de force, they are the dark side of the force, they are... well, forceful's the wrong word. While they are certainly powerful, they are also sublime.
For the uninitiated, this Mexican duo have carved out a niche for themselves by playing what many describe (inaccurately in my opinion) as 'Mariachi Metal'. This demeans what they have actually done though, which is bring a breath of fresh air and an immediacy to acoustic guitar music which I have never experienced before.
This album, recorded live in Tokyo, is possibly the best expression of their phenomenal talent yet released (although I really would like a new studio album - please?). Gabriela manages to make her guitar sound like an entire rhythm section for Rodrigo's ultra-fast melody lines: her guitar booms like bass a drum, rattles like a snare and seems to become both guitar and bass at the same time, all of which combine to deliver high-octane, complex rhythms which at times one simply cannot believe is coming from only one instrument. The accompanying DVD (worth the asking price alone!) shows off her style best - her hand is oftentimes a blur across the strings. I find myself wishing they'd filmed it with one of those hummingbird cameras they use for nature documentaries, just so I could slow it down and make sense of what she's doing (as a guitarist of fifteen years, this girl showed me how talentless I really am!). If this was a Gabriela solo show, I'd still buy it.
But it's not a solo performance, and Rodrigo is every bit as talented (but in a completely different style) as Gabriela. His fast picking style nods to his love of metal, but with his choice of notes he creates something new, not just 'metal on an acoustic', but a subtle blend of his cultural background and contemporary leanings. His melody lines perfectly complement Gabriela's syncopated rhythms and can take a song from a whisper to a scream with a deft expertise and seamless expression.
I played the accompanying DVD to some friends I had over recently - all hardened metallers who would never usually listen to this type of music. As one they were entranced and transfixed. The only sounds they made were laughs of disbelief at the sheer awesome spectacle of it all. One said after that it was an almost religious experience - high praise from a dedicated atheist.
But lest you think that this album is just a technical exercise, a 'look how fast we can play' kind of thing, let me reassure you that there is real songwriting creativity at work here, an emotional character that hypnotises as much as it amazes. The reworkings of their album material for the stage are brilliant, and in many cases surpass their studio equivalents.
A slice of fried gold.