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By Laina Dawes
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in which the focus was discussing the representation of black musicians in the rock and punk scenes. As the lone metalhead, I posed a question that compared the social interactions within the metal scene to the contemporary rock scene to a fellow journalist, one who is revered as an expert in rock music criticism. To my surprise, she sniffed and waved her hand to dismiss me. “I don’t know about that metal stuff,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “All I hear is screaming and noise.”
The reason why I bring that unfortunate incident up is because Rodrigo y Gabriela’s new album 11.11 challenges a lot of preconceptions of metal heads and metal music. While the instrumental, largely acoustic album cannot be traditionally considered as a ‘metal,’ the duo of Rodrigo Sánchez (lead guitar) and Gabriela Quintero, (rhythm) definitely has roots in classic and thrash metal. They started perfoming together after they both left a thrash metal band in Mexico, and while the music they do now is has a foundation of Spanish-influenced traditional folk, their faster and at times, gritter rhythms and rapid time changes serve as an homage to their metal foundation. Most notably the duo is known for their unique interpretations of classics like Metallica’s “Orion” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
On 11:11, every track is an ode to people who have infuenced them and they also give reccomendations as to what album interested listeners should check out. “Hanuman” is dedicated to Carlos Santana and “Buster Voodoo” is an homage to Jimi Hendix, but they to not try to fully replicate the styles of the legendary guitarists, but instead use their own interpretations to demonstrate how the gutarists infuenced their work. “11:11” which is described as “a Sanskrit word meaning the only deathless part of the human being” is dedicated to guitarist Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Damageplan) who was murdered five years ago this month. Testament’s Alex Skolnick guests on this track, providing the only electric guitar on the album and in comparison to the music of his band, it is quite surprising.
Whether the duo means to or not 11:11, as well as their previous studio and live albums, challenges the definitions of metal. Many of us lifers already know that the genre encompasses various musical styles and textures but Rodrigo y Gabriela take it a bit further, adding even more meaning and depth into an already complex musical genre.