Rodrigo Y Gabriela are a pair of Mexican guitarists who have been playing and recording their own original take on nuevo-flamenco, rumba, and acoustic guitar music for nearly two decades, touring the world and playing for heads of state in the process.
While the pair flirt with many Spanish and Latin guitar styles, the duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quinetero deny affiliation with any one genre, having developed a sound all their own that is influenced by several traditional styles along with healthy doses of modern rock and heavy metal.
9 Dead Alive is the fifth studio album by Rod and Gab, but the first album written and recorded after the romantic break-up of the band’s two members, which, according to both parties, has greatly improved their professional and artistic rapport—their mutual passion for music remains fully intact, as is demonstrated throughout the record.
This new era for the band marks a shift from the more Latin-centric sound of their previous works towards what could be classified as acoustic rock (picture a straight-faced Tenacious D without the whimsical singing of Jack Black). The album is comprised of nine instrumental acoustic duets, each dedicated to the living memory of a deceased individual of persisting historic significance, hence the title.
A great deal of tonal ground is covered, bringing to mind at moments Jonny Greenwood’s somber, off-kilter progressions , and at others, James Hetfield’s aggressive attack and rude riffage, all filtered through the post-flamenco guitar style original to the duo. It’d be very easy to imagine Thom Yorke cooing and crying over the beautifully desolate “Megalopolis”, just as the headstrong rhythms on “Torito” wouldn’t sound out of place on a track off “Master of Puppets”. It is impressive to hear the band demonstrate the diversity of their unique style and the influences that created it.
The conceptual themes of the album can be traced through a song’s mood versus the individual, or in the special case of the track “Torito”, the vague concept to which it is dedicated. “Torito”, to use as example, is dedicated to nature and animals. The track’s tone is ambiguous, yet majestic, and its riffs are wild and unyielding but never particularly dissonant or “mean spirited”, while at the same time retaining an unmistakable metallic edge.
The track that follows, “Sunday Neurosis”, is dedicated to Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian-Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust who used his horrific experience to inspire the foundations for logotherapy, a form of therapeutic existential analysis he would later popularize. This song contains the only real vocals on the entire album in the form of spoken word samples that accompany the loud-quiet-loud crescendos that build and fall across the track’s length.
The concept behind the record presents entertaining food for thought. If anything, it provides an interesting reading list to skim on wikipedia while you listen, not that your focus would be easily diverted.
9 Dead Alive isn’t snooty, adult contemporary background music.
It’s pure, heavy rock—stripped down and raw—presented by two highly accomplished players who’ve spent the better part of two decades paying their dues. These are clearly two musicians who have found their voices, speaking loud and clear through the six-string, commanding the listener’s attention with their fluency and charisma.
From Deafheaven’s now infamous blackened, post-hardcore debut demo, to Mastodon’s modern magnum opus Crack The Skye, many great songwriters of the plugged-in variety have written classic albums in entirety on one acoustic guitar. The idea behind this method is to build the songs around riffs and parts that are strong enough to work in any context.
Such is the case for 9 Dead Alive with each song standing tall, complex and fully realized and being played only on a pair of acoustic guitars. It’s easy to forget that you are listening to an unaccompanied duo while headbanging to the infectious melodies played over percussive, body-slapping rhythms.
The music is heavy blues rediscovered by way of heavy metal and filtered through the Latin-American guitar tradition. It all makes perfect sense in practice. The flexibility of the pair’s signature sound combined with their smart song writing allows them to take what could very easily become novel, and imbue it with palpable authenticity. They are masters of re-contextualizing guitar sounds that we are not used to hearing together and making it feel natural.
9 Dead Alive has a steady pulse, but its consistency is never a limitation. It’s inspired work, which is inspiring in its own right.
“9 Dead Alive” is available on Spotify for streaming, and currently available for purchase.
Image courtesy of Rubyworks Records
Emory is a RVA-based writer, hard femme, and heavily-tattooed queer who’s always on the look out for a house show where she might crash the mosh pit and discover her next favorite band. When she’s not over-analyzing pop culture, you can find Emory with her head in the clouds, brain-storming her next creative endeavor, or just staring blankly into space.