Rodrigo y Gabriela - 11:11
Sensational again. The Mexican mavericks, whose marrying of classical virtuosity with leanings towards both heavy metal and latin jazz influences continues to be as baffling as it is invigorating, return with a third album that exceeds their previous efforts by some distance.
Those of you already under their spell will know it’s as easy to love their genre-blurring originals as it is their smartly chosen covers. While, no doubt, their electric live shows will continue to be spiked with angular takes on the likes of Pink Floyd's ‘Wish You Were Here’ and Metallica’s ‘One’, 11:11 is entirely of the duo’s own making and that confidence is borne out and then some.
This time, the tunes really do deliver on an altogether more satisfying level. ‘Buster Voodoo’, with its skewed nod to Hendrix’s ‘Voodo Chile’ sets the tone, a riot of scale scaling that dazzles. No matter how genuinely Gabriella takes us through this one on the (excellent) accompanying DVD’s tutorial section, I’m left shaking my head. (You can slow it down as much as you like, love, but that pull-down with the little finger part way through the riff ? Nah …) The heart-stopping tempo change during ‘Triveni’, where fevered fingering gives way to a passage of absolute lyricism, is just one high spot. The gentle arpeggio that frames ‘Logos’ is another (alarming similarity to Lily Allen’s ‘The Fear’ aside.) ‘Master Maqui’ is all summer and latin jazz and as reviving as a margarita on a Cancun beach. On the breathtakingly beautiful ‘Chac Mool’, which recalls, not so bizarrely, the delicate intro to Metallica’s ‘Battery’, the two guitars entwine like lovers in the surf. By the time it melts into the tumult that is ‘Atman’, which features an electric guitar solo by Alex Skolnick from Testament, I’m gone, done, spent. Closer ’11:11’ is shadows and light, rarefied and refined, and as unearthly as they’ve yet dared to be. Play it to someone who hasn’t smiled in a while. Hell, play it to someone who hasn’t cried in a while. There is more but these are the immediate highlights. More will come, no doubt, but 11:11 casts an insistent spell. Just when you think 40 minutes of guitar instrumentals is maybe too slight to take absolute hold, you end up sticking it on for a bit more … and see the whole thing through once again.
For such seemingly spiritual, almost immaterial, music, Rodrigio and Gabriela’s dextrous duelling is a ride and a half. Lack of a rhythm section, notwithstanding their ever-present playing of the guitar body to fill in when required, does nothing to lessen the impact. Those of us who’ve seen them set light to a heaving crowd need no reminder on that score. 11:11 is a fantastically rewarding record and the thought of how it will play live is almost too much to bear. A dozen or so plays in and it starts to reveal itself layer by layer; hooks, motifs, startling flourishes that repeat, overlap, dance around themselves like whirling dervishes. For the first time, crucial this, R y G’s tunes have kept pace with, and overtaken, the duo’s undoubted technique – compositional depth trumps industry with ease this time.
All said, I still, even as a rapt convert, say it’s the weirdest thing. Is it not ? Run it by me again : two friends, stumbling in and out of the Mexican heavy metal scene, take up busking to pay the bills, form a repertoire consisting of daring originals and iconic rock songs, move to Ireland where they’ve heard they might get more of a hearing … and end up becoming bona fide recording artists, their acoustic alchemy filling halls the world over. Is that a story or what ? Call me a soft old fool, but as far as classical guitar playing heavy metal duos go, I’d say they’re up there with the best.