You know, really thinking about what I’ve reviewed in the past, I’ve come to realise that I next to never talk about Brazilian metal bands. Or metal bands from South America in general. I swear it’s not deliberate, I just don’t happen to listen to a lot of Brazilian metal bands and most people don’t point me in the direction of them (aside from the obvious ones of Sepultura and Angra, who I keep meaning to get around to, but never really have the chance).
Luckily, Hibria fit that bill. And it’s pretty timely to cover them, too, as they should have a tour of the US and Canada kicking off tomorrow (no UK dates at the time of writing, unfortunately, but who knows, maybe that’ll be announced in the future) and this is pretty close to the release date of the record, so…yeah, call it excellent timing if you want, as I only got sent this on Monday myself!
Anyway, for those of you who don’t know who Hibria are (which is probably everyone), I’ll quickly fill you in on them. The band are a power/speed metal band that formed in 1996 and have thus far released five records (this is technically an EP, despite it having a roughly 40 minute run time, because it only has seven tracks and four of them are live recordings), which are 2004’s Defying the Rules (which got a re-recording in 2014, but I’m not counting that because I prefer to count new material for the purposes of this and it was only released in Japan anyway), 2008’s The Skull Collectors, 2011’s The Blind Ride, 2013’s Silent Revenge and 2015’s Hibria. The band members have shuffled around a bit since their founding, but lead vocalist Iuri Sanson and guitarist Abel Camargo have been in the band since its founding and drummer Eduardo Baldo has been with the band since 2005, so he’s kind of like the band’s Neil Peart in that he’s been with them for so long that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a founding member when he actually wasn’t even on their first record (the fact I know that fact off the top of my head probably means I need to get out of the house more, doesn’t it?). Guitarist Renato Osorio joined the band in 2012 as a replacement to other founding guitarist Diego Kasper (I’m guessing he got tired of the jokes about being a friendly ghost…OK, I’ll admit, that joke was pretty bad!) and bassist Ivan Beck joined earlier this year, replacing Benhur Lima (in case you’re reading this and thinking “that has to be a stage name!”, I must inform you that that is his actual birth name, as far as I can tell!), who was the band’s second bassist and is actually quite the busy guy, being part of five bands at the minute (though most of them aren’t doing much at the minute, so I don’t know how active they all are).
So, considering XX is a celebration of the band’s twentieth year in the business, this is a surprisingly important release for them. So what do I think of it? Well, it isn’t without its issues and it’s more aimed at the band’s already established fans rather than a newer audience, but, in its own right, it’s actually not a bad EP!
Let me start by admitting that this is not the most original of albums on a subgenre level. You don’t exactly have to have a deep knowledge of the genre to spot that they are basically doing speed/power metal and they’re not really trying to bring any new elements to the metal scene. That said, Hibria do have their own unique way of doing things on this EP which manages to come across as surprisingly fresh, despite the fact that it’s not really bringing anything new to the table, so they’re actually better than most other bands in this style because they don’t just sound like everyone else: they have their own unique approach to their music which helps them stand out from the pack. I particularly like what they do on “Leading Lady” in this regard, because they approach the music in a way which is very atypical from what you might expect from a speed metal band or a power metal band, going for something which I find sounds a bit bluey in approach, but still firmly metal in execution. This crops up a bit in “Music” as well, but it’s purely in one section of the song rather than the full song, so it’s not quite as noteworthy as it is on “Leading Lady”.
The actual songwriting suffers from one major flaw, but, beyond that, I have to say that the band deliver very well on this front. The flaw with the songwriting on here is that I think the songs just go on a bit longer than they should do, as they start to drag and a bit of tightening up would have strengthened them. However, the actual songs themselves are pretty solid overall in spite of that one flaw: the guitarwork is actually surprisingly varied for what you might expect from a typical band in this style (with some moments pushing towards prog territory), the drumming is very varied, the vocals demonstrate a reasonably wide range to them (with Sanson’s vocals sounding pretty good for a guy who has been performing for about two decades), the bass…does what it has to (yeah, the bass doesn’t really do much of huge interest across a lot of the record, which is a shame, because the times it DOES get a chance to shine, it’s very well played!) and there’s a lot of very memorable moments across the whole record. The live tracks are also very well performed, with the band sounding like they’re clearly enjoying the show alongside the audience. The only real moment which stood out to me as a clear mistake was the first scream by Sanson in “Tightrope”, as it feels like he needed to hit a note that was higher than the one he actually hit. He also sounds a bit strained here, as if his voice is a bit tired, but that can arguably be excused because, well, you usually don’t expect a flawless performance of live material anyway and such is the nature of touring that it’s not really reasonable to expect voices to hold up well to extended periods of touring. Less good is that, as “Lonely Fight” is fading out, you can clearly hear the band starting to play a song which isn’t “Tightrope”. I know that’s a bit of a nitpick, but the performances are all from the same show (their performance at Teatro CIEE on the 15th of November last year), so it feels weird that they didn’t either release the show as a full live album or made sure the songs were all taken from a part of the show that flowed into everything together.
I already kind of talked about the performances, so I’ll skip towards the production. On the studio tracks, I think everything sounds pretty good! The mix is pretty great overall, with a good bass presence (still a bit on the quiet side of what I like, but definitely better than what I usually hear and, a reasonable good balance between all of the instruments, so nothing feels like it is dominating the mix too much (maybe a TINY bit too much guitars overall, but, even then, it’s not excessively dominating the mix, just maybe could have done with a slight turn down to give everything else a bit more space). The production is definitely digital production, but it actually doesn’t detract from the final recording too much here, so I don’t see it being too big a problem with the average person, especially as it manages to avoid the trap of feeling like the drums have hit an invisible wall between the listener and the band (which has an unfortunate habit of happening with modern day drum recordings). I think my only issue with the studio tracks is that they have a louder-than-reasonable mastering job to them, which I appreciate is required to give the songs some kick, but you only have to listen to other recently released stuff like Jewel of the Vile by Necromancing the Stone to know that you can do that without pushing the volume to the point where you run the risk of causing ear fatigue in your listeners. Beyond that, though, the studio tracks sound great and I’d definitely like to hear more from this production team! The live tracks also sound pretty good overall, offered a good replication of the live experience (they definitely don’t SOUND like they’ve been touched up much in post) and sounding huge. My only real issue is that I think the bass got the short end of the stick and should have been given a bit more space in the live venue, as it often was dominated by the guitars in the sound, but I still found it reasonably easy to hear overall, so that’s not a major criticism.
Ultimately, while I would certainly not suggest this as a starting point with Hibria, XX is certainly not a bad EP at all, with some great songs and performances on it and a mostly solid production job! I don’t think I can fairly call this the best EP I’ve heard this year (I’d say that, on a personal fondness level, I’m more fond of Mouichido by Without Mercy than XX), but I definitely would like to hear more by Hibria after this and I’m really glad that I got the chance to cover this, as it’s introduced me to a band that I think deserves a lot more attention in Europe than they’ve been getting. Here’s to the next twenty years, guys!
XX will be released on the 9th of August by Test Your Metal Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.