Brujeria could be the metal band of this moment in time. But can they hold it together before the moment passes them by?
I’ve long been fascinated with Brujeria. I was working at Tower Records when their first full-length album, Matando Güeros, hit the shelves. All I knew about them was this: they were made up of Mexican Satanic narco-terrorists who recorded under assumed names and wore balaclavas or bandanas over their faces to shield their identities. It was rumored that the severed head featured on the cover was one of their victims. “Holy fuck,” I thought, “these guys are serious.”
Of course, none of it was. Fronted by the enigmatic Juan Brujo, the band was largely made up of California metal veterans like Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares and Faith No More’s Billy Gould, alongside participants such as Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra and legendary radio DJ Adam Bomb on drums. Since the initial lineup, they’ve also featured members of At the Gates, Napalm Death, Carcass and Cradle of Filth in their roster.
Their subject matter, despite their last album being released in 2000, is completely current to US politics today. But can they manage to take advantage of this? Always plagued by shifts in band personnel, hiatuses imposed by members’ commitments with their primary bands (this being chiefly a side project for most involved), and now bad blood between Juan Brujo and Cazares (leading Dino to start a rival band, Asesino, which he claims is the “new Brujeria”), can they manage to capture the spirit of the times and become the musical anti-heroes we need?
They first appeared on the scene in 1989, largely to answer the underrepresentation of (and often outright hostility toward) Latinos in the extreme metal community. A case can be made that the band’s larger-than-life celebration of sex, violence, drug trafficking and pro-revolutionary political stances places Brujeria’s lyrics not too far away from then-contemporary gangsta rap. However, a more direct link can be made to music already familiar to a Latino audience. Narcocorridos, or “drug ballads” praising outlaw drug dealers, had been a presence in Mexican culture going back to the 1930s, and traditional corridos celebrating fighters in the Mexican Revolution date back to the 1910s. These glorifications of the outlaw, the revolutionary, the anti-hero and freedom fighter—paired with metal’s traditional veneration of all things Satanic and evil—laid the foundation for Brujeria’s over-the-top lyrical attack.
At the time, Brujeria’s use of that attack to take on current politics was relatively limited to specific regions. The highest-profile political target on any of Brujeria’s albums is probably California Governor Pete Wilson, who was portrayed by Jello Biafra and “assassinated” on the opening track of Raza Odiada (“the hated race”). Wilson had introduced Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented aliens from using social services in the state (including health care and public education; meaning, that if you were here illegally, you could be turned away and left to die if you tried to go to the emergency room). But not a lot of people outside of California (or party politics) paid Pete Wilson much mind.
However, in recent years, the Republican party has made immigration into a nationwide wedge issue, with similar laws passing in states across the country. Arizona’s Jan Brewer has even revived the specter of ritual slaughter with her unsubstantiated tales of decapitated bodies being found along the US-Mexico border. Robert Rodriguez’ film Machete uses similar iconography to Brujeria’s to depict a growing Mexican rebellion against a corrupt American system, while couching its politics in the hyperbolic style of exploitation filmmaking.
Now, then, is the time for Brujeria. Using shocking imagery and content to grab attention, while delivering fuel for rebellion and food for thought at the same time, is not only the province of Rodriguez and Machete. It’s the method behind the madness of the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Slayer and N.W.A. It’s the perfect moment for Brujeria to exploit the fearmongering of the Right and take advantage of these politically-charged times to have some fun screwing with people on a much larger scale than they’ve been able to before. Best case scenario: N.W.A. Worst case scenario: Body Count’s Cop Killer. And both scenarios are better options than where they are right now.