We’ve previously looked at the tenacious and underappreciated beginnings of Heavy Metal in Latin America. The 90s and 2000s were, just like the 80s, a tumultuous time of change, instability, and never-ending violence for the region. While Central America in particular ended their long-lasting civil wars and military dictatorships, the so-called Northern Triangle spiraled out of control into rampant crime and continuing misery. Yet for a few other nations, the end of military dictatorships brought about periods of relative stability and progress.
As media, communications, and technology became more accessible, the Latin American region saw an ever-increasing rise in metal bands. For this Demo Dungeon special, we look at some demo-only bands from various countries. As these are demo recordings, sound production tends to be of low quality, but just like with the pioneering bands of the early and mid 80s, the rawness of these recordings are part of the charm. These bands, like their predecessors before them, had to fight tooth-and-nail to play a demonized style of music in dangerous and neglected parts of the world.
León Heráldico (Bolivia) – Tiempos Duros
Bolivia had a surprising amount of quality bands since the mid 80s. With bands like León Heráldico keeping the flame alive in the 90s, the decade didn’t slow the local scene down. Trends in extreme and alternative Metal be damned. This band greeted the 90s by embracing the essence of traditional metal in its purest form. Even if they were confined to their small corner of the world, León Heráldico’s powerful 1991 demo, Tiempos Duros , makes the underground proud.
The opening track is like straight from an 80s US power metal release. The following songs take on a slower, early-Manowar approach. While the bad production may add to the underground charm, sometimes there’s still an annoying hissing sound that doesn’t do the music any favors. Permeating the time span of this demo we find dueling guitar solos a la Iron Maiden, passionate vocals (even if hindered by the production), heavy bass, and pounding drums. The lyrics are about social and political themes as commonly found in the Latin American pioneer bands of old.
León Heráldico’s demos have been re-issued by the Bolivian labels Goatvomit and Tritono Records on CD and cassette format – hopefully this brings the band more exposure. Give this 24-minute demo a listen as you march on through these hard times.
Aquelarre (Chile) – Aquelarre
Named after the Akelarre – the gathering of Basque “witches” – Aquelarre released their self-titled demo in 1997. This is a special release among the region because it’s one of the rare Latin American bands that opted for a doom metal sound. Even stranger, they adopted the more up-tempo style of the subgenre associated with the Maryland-Doom scene and added some punk influence. In this sense, comparisons could be made to bands like The Obsessed.
A one-demo wonder band, it’s a shame this is all they released, as this demo shows much promise across all departments – vocals, lyrics, themes, and instruments. In spite of the thin, lo-fidelity production, all instruments are clearly audible and we even get the treat of some nifty bass lines. If you’re in the mood for those rocking, heavy riffs from the Maryland-Doom scene with the typical rawness of old Latin American bands, check this out. It’s worth the 24 minutes.
Trance (Venezuela) – La Vida No Espera
Plastic melts – but metal resists. One of the very few all-female metal bands in Latin America, Trance formed in 1989 and released their sole demo in 1992. Influenced by famous bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica, they also take cues from local Venezuelan heroes like Arkangel. A socially irreverent band going against the grain, they play straight forward heavy metal with passion. The instruments are well executed and the band displays competent song writing. The riffs, song structures, tempo changes, and vocal melodies and harmonious chorus make this an enjoyable oddity.
Trance reformed in 2009 and made some new recordings with some new members. However, the band seems to be inactive since then.
Shock (Mexico) – Mensajero del Rock
Originally formed as Sacro, the band changed its name in 1990 and released Mensajero del Rock, their only demo, in 1991. This is a high quality release and the musicians are clearly very talented. Every instrument is audible and gets a time to shine – nothing gets overshadowed, even if the drumming might be pretty standard. One of the highlights are the vocals of singer Coker. While she keeps a higher range in the first few songs, she later switches to a charismatic tenor-type of range which matches very well with the mid-paced hard rock sound of this demo. Every now and then she reaches for even higher pitches with might sound jarring, but not awful. Another highlight is the warm and bright guitar tone which is particularly audible in some of the solos and bridge sections. All in all, this is such a professionally executed demo that it very well could have been a commendable debut album with proper production.
Arpía (Guatemala) – Demo
Aptly named after the mighty neotropical raptor, Arpía delivered two strong one-song recordings from 2001 and 2002 later compiled into a demo. With an unfortunately short career, the band went through several members – some of them scene veterans such as the drummer of the mighty Serpiente Visión.
The two songs in question, Desierto Sirio and Caballería Infernal, are some of the best performances from the local scene. With galloping riffs, tempo changes, and chord changes, they bring to mind Iron Maiden’s epic-oriented works such as “Alexander the Great”, albeit less ambitious in scope. The sprinkled keyboards and fantasy themes only add to the sense of epic metal here. The songs have well crafted song structures, being rather linear instead of the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus format. Vocals are somewhat reminiscent of thrash metal, with a coarse, aggressive approach yet still staying in tune. Additionally, the rhythm section (drum and bass) are solid on their own as well; the bass lines stand out particularly in the Western-sounding Desierto Sirio.
These songs could definitely use some re-mastering for a re-issue. Here’s to hoping!
Tyrano (Honduras) – Tercer Mundo
No tyrant from the Third World can stop the power of this one-demo wonder. Formed as a side-project from members of another band named G.O.D., this release from 2004 is one of those rare displays of real talent not always found in demo recordings. While the band doesn’t break any new ground, they perform nothing but quality heavy/speed Metal and they are all competent at their instruments. Comparison might be drawn to early Ángeles del Infierno, 70s Judas Priest, and early Accept, particularly with the screaming vocals and riffing style.
Even though the demo is nearly 44 minutes long, it stays consistent throughout and makes for a very fun listening. This is definitely worth checking out – expect nothing less than head-banging heavy metal.