Album: Ah Puch
Genre: Sludge/Doom Metal
Release Date: October 19, 2018
There’s a strange dearth of concept albums about Mayan/Aztec mythology and history. It’s a fascinating subject, but one that just isn’t approached often for whatever reason. Dirge’s debut album Ah Puch fills this gap quite nicely with a well-executed hybrid of sludge and doom.
As this is a debut album, some attention needs to be focused on the band’s overall sound. Metal is a saturated genre – new bands need to be innovative, or risk sounding like the same rehashing of the ‘old masters,’ as it were. Dirge occupies sort of a strange middle ground in this regard. Ah Puch is a blend of sludge and doom, and the hybrid itself is something different… but there’s not a lot of “new” in this album. The combination of genres seems to mostly happen in sections, e.g. you can easily pick out the parts that are more “doom” than “sludge” and vice versa. Where Ah Puch really shines is where the parts overlap, such as the end of “Invoking the Demigod.” The issue, however, is that the parts that you can pick out as being individually “sludge” or “doom” sound like straight-up band worship. As an example: The first 4:30 of the song “Swamp of Blood” sounds like it could have been ripped directly from an EyeHateGod album. Similarly, there are sections in “Montezuma’s Revenge” where if you told me it was written by Cathedral or Candlemass, I would believe it.
On a different tack: Thematically, is a decent concept album. It revolves around the resurgence of the Maya death gods during Hernan Cortes’ conquest of the Yucatan peninsula. Ah Puch was one of the several Maya death gods… maybe. It’s actually a point of contention among historians whether or not there actually was a Maya god named Ah Puch. That aside, the album Ah Puch does a great job of building an atmosphere fitting for a death god. It also covers the actual historical events during the 1500s. There’s not a whole lot in the album that musically suggests “Aztec” or “Maya,” but the music reflects the bloodshed, betrayal, and death around the conquest. “La Malinche” is a high point here. La Malinche, in a historical context, was Cortes’ interpreter and advisor during his conquest. She also gave birth to his first son. “La Malinche” explores the betrayal of her tribe as she helped Cortes conquer Mexico, which is a subject so intense that I’m frankly surprised I haven’t heard any songs about it before. I like to believe that the song “La Malinche” is performed from the point of view of the indigenous people, because the song is so full of raw anger that it’s really moving for the listener, once the context is known.
“Invoking the Demigod” starts this album off by embodying everything already discussed. It opens with an ambient, Candlemass-esque opening, and features a lot of EyeHateGod feedback throughout. The drums in this song give it a bit more motion than your normal sludge track, and it has really good growth throughout the track. The song peaks about 8 minutes in, when there’s finally a seamless merging of sludge and doom – it really seems that the more layers Dirge has going on, the more cohesive and unique their music is. There is one exception to this: The quieter, clean guitar parts in “Invoking the Demigod” are drowned out by the sludge. It is a cool effect, but given that the section is one of the rare Mesoamerican-sounding bits, I wish that it was more prominent.
Most of the other songs on the album are more of the same. There are shining points throughout, but this is an album that you really have to listen as a whole – probably multiple times – to “get.” The high points on this album are probably “Montezuma’s Revenge” and “Corpse of Cortez.” “Corpse of Cortez” in particular is excellent. It has good motion and rhythm, and is one of the points where the Aztec theme comes across the best. It has excellent melodies after about halfway through the song, and there’s excellent use of total silence. “Montezuma’s Revenge” is one of the more “Doom-y” songs – you can hear the Candlemass influence, plus a bit of Neurosis – but the riffs in the song flow well and it’s very cohesive.
Ah Puch is an excellent debut from a band with very strong EyeHateGod and Candlemass influences. This album is nothing revolutionary, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Dirge is capable of once they start breaking free from their influences and exploring their own style.
1. Invoking the Demigod
2. Montezuma’s Revenge
3. Swamp of Blood
4. The Dilemma
5. La Malinche
6. Corpse of Cortez
Total Playing Time: 52:47
Jake has a bachelor’s degree in percussion, and currently works as a CPA in Tulsa, OK.