“Viva la Revolucion!” - These words, made famous by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, served as a battle cry for the Latin world in the 1950’s and 60’s and have continued to permeate our culture today. Perhaps it is fitting then that 40 years later Ill Nino titled their first album, a combustible blend of Latin rhythms, distorted guitars and Spanish/English lyrics, Revolution, Revolucion. And much like the Guevara, Ill Nino has never been content to rest on their laurels; rather they continue to dig deeper and deeper into their Latin roots and create music that is at once intense and soulful, scathing and hopeful, Latin and universal. The product of a lifetime spent between two cultures, The New Jersey sextet’s fourth album, Enigma, is their most innovative and powerful to date. Incorporating all of the disparate elements that have made Ill Nino what they are today, Enigma seeks not to blur but to obliterate the geographic lines that separate us and prove that music is one medium that no know boundaries.
Formed in Northern New Jersey in 1999 by drummer Dave Chavarri, vocalist Cristian Machado and bassist Laz Pina, Ill Nino quickly made a name for themselves with a unique blend of decidedly American metal fused to a backbone of Latin percussion. An early demo landed in the hands of Roadrunner Records and the band was signed in 2000. Their first album, 2001’s Revolution, Revolucion saw the band burst into the worldwide spotlight with the single “What Comes Around” and stints on Ozzfest and the Jagermeister Music Tour along with tours with Linkin Park, Soulfly and Drowning Pool. In 2003 the band released Confession, an album which eased up on the aggression while adding a greater Latin flavor to their sonic stew. The album debuted in the Top 40 and the single “How Can I Live”, which was also the lead single from the film Freddy vs. Jason, helped further expand the band’s reach both at home and abroad. Tours with Godsmack, Korn and Sevendust ensued, with the band selling nearly 200,000 copies of their sophomore release in the U.S. 2004’s DVD Live In The Eye Of The Storm and 2005’s One Nation Underground followed, both cementing the band’s status as true innovators in the Latin and hard rock genres.
In 2006 Ill Nino amicably parted ways with Roadrunner and were quickly signed to Cement Shoes Records. The band released a five song limited edition EP, The Undercover Sessions, and headed out on a six week headlining run in support of it. Upon their return, they got down to the task of writing a new album. “We have a tremendous amount of artistic freedom now,” explains Chavarri of the band’s new home. “We´re able to express ourselves without boundaries on Enigma.” And that new-found freedom is evident from note 1.” Enigma is a much more natural-sounding album than any of its predecessors, with Latin rhythms and Spanish vocals snaking in and out of the more traditional numbers.
While the heaviness still remains on tracks like “Finger Painting (With The Enemy)“ and “Guerilla Carnival“, Enigma is more about surprise than comfort. The band’s Latin roots anchor the album with percussive rhythms and Spanish vocals making up the key ingredients to tracks such as “March Against Me“ and “Estoy Perdido“ rather than just offering some South-of-the-border spice. “Me Gusta La Soledad“ is a ballad sung entirely in Spanish, whose sweeping, yet tender scope transcends any language barrier. The first single “ Pieces Of The Sun “ sees Ill Nino firing on all cylinders; melodic guitars squeal above a thunderous rhythm section, all combining to create a chorus that rumbles around in your head long after the song’s undeniable groove is done smacking you silly.
Starting with over 30 songs, the band took their time in choosing which tracks would make the final cut. “On past albums we spent about 4 months to record, mix and master. On Enigma we spent almost 7 months, as we wanted to make sure everything was the best that it could be,” Chavarri notes. More time combined with a new setting, the addition of rhythm guitarist Diego Verduzco and close proximity to one another also affected the outcome of Enigma. Bassist Pina explains, “We were able to spend all our time together without any distractions. It was all about the music 24/7 and I think that shows.” Beginning with Cris, Laz, Dave and guitarist Ahrue Luster, the songs began to take shape, with Verduzco and percussionist Danny Couto fleshing the numbers out with their contributions.
Once completed, Cris would add his lyrics to bring the true identity to each piece. “It’s really about the deterioration of our planet and the policies that have contributed to the current situation of the world,” Machado explains of the lyrical bent of Enigma, “ It´s a story about destruction and consequence. Life and death. Elemental fury and spiritual awakening.” And yet for all of it’s scathing indictments, the album is one of both anger and beauty. “Ultimately I think our message is a positive one. We promote self-awareness and individuality.”
It is Ill Nino’s individuality, their willingness to buck trends and to stay true to both their individual and cultural identities, that has allowed them to grow. “I think that we are a Latin bad with heavy metal roots and a metal band with a Latin core; we’re not just one or the other,” explains Chavarri. “We were raised listening to Latin music so to us it’s second nature.” The duality of Ill Nino’s culture clash is fully realized on the appropriately-titled Enigma; an album that is equal parts reinvention and evolution. So perhaps Guevara’s words are not the best way to describe Ill Nino’s music.