Original at Atwood Magazine here. Archived below.
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s new album Mettavolution simultaneously draws more heavily on flamenco’s past and its future than any of their previous albums, blending them into a poignant tribute and an ambitious manifesto.
When Rodrigo y Gabriela release a new album, the release always begs the question on how they’ll evolve. There’s surely only so much two people – even ones as palpably talented as Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero – can do with two guitars, after all. Their Area 52 saw them pushing the boundaries by teaming up with a Cuban orchestra called C.U.B.A. and radically reimagining their past hits, including a lavish and sensitive arrangement of “Ixtapa” with Anoushka Shankar. Yes, that one, and a guest reflecting the duo’s vital connection to Indian spirituality.
9 Dead Alive was a nine track album that favored the rock elements of RodGab’s music and dedicated itself to a wild palette of historical figures from Dostoyevsky to Eleanor of Aquitaine. While still a terrific listen, it was impossible to not feel like 9 Dead Alive was a contraction from the lofty arrangements with C.U.B.A. on Area 52.
You’d forgive the duo, then, if they just decided to release an album of solid but safe tunes in pounding, expressive flamenco-metal-whatever else they feel like style.
Mettavolution is not that safe album – it is an electric revolution of the defining nueva flamenco act. The album is still definitively Rodrigo y Gabriela, but the two flamenco magicians somehow push the limitations of their outfit’s structure even further than Area 52 through a combination of technical virtuosity, innovative playing, and raw adventurousness.
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s new album simultaneously draws more heavily on flamenco’s past and its future than any of their previous albums, blending them into a poignant tribute and an ambitious manifesto.
The title track, “Mettavolution”, kicks of the album and immediately introduces some dissonant funk weirdness into the mix. While the stinger sounds out of place for the first go around, the duo quickly subsume it into the stampede of Quintero’s rhythm playing and use the electricity to segue more naturally into Sanchez’s distortion dominated passage. Sanchez capitalizes on the tension and bounds into a cavernous solo, outlining the contours of what timbres are possible using a nylon stringed guitar.
Rodrigo y Gabriela also draw on flamenco’s traditional side as a multidisciplinary art. The song takes a short but rousing detour into a chorus of dislocated vocals, and their performance on Jimmy Kimmel adds dancers into the mix. Far from the rhythmic intensity of traditional flamenco dancers, these are ornaments to RodGab and serve to visualize the emotion in the song.
Mettavolution as a title encapsulates the album’s ethos and a deep swath of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s values. As Quinter says,
“Metta” is a Sanskrit word for the meditative condition that produces compassion and benevolence. It is also a practical state of mind, something you practice like an instrument to become a better citizen, in a more evolved place.”
While ‘evolution’ hardly needs explanation, the duo often speak about liberation, whether of person or spirit, and coupled with the album’s radical sonic departures from their typical sound there’s no doubt the title also encompasses revolution.
“Terracentric” introduces new textures early – the immaculate slide and swagger of country guitar, played with more expression than the best in Nashville and with far less baggage. “Cumbé” experiments with a simpler and lyrical folk melody. This ultimately makes space for Sanchez’s wah heavy solo and intimates a contrast between the old folk melody and the new boundary pushing solo. It’s the revolution in a few bars.
Eventually, there comes “Echoes.” Atwood Magazine looked extensively at this closer – a breathtaking reimagining of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” – upon its release. In context, it becomes even more apparent that “Echoes” is the capstone to one of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s most ambitious projects yet, and not just because it occupies a solid third of Mettavolution’s runtime (though, yes, partially).
Their rendition of “Echoes” sounds like flamenco at the edge of a cliff, a daring and dramatic departure from flamenco’s roots. If “Cumbé” is Mettavolution’s deepest connection to the roots past of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music, “Echoes” is a full throated synthesis of their influences writ large. It is the only song that could have ended the album and it’s clear with Mettavolution that Rodrigo y Gabriela have successfully forged an evolution of their spirited hybrid-flamenco.
Photos © Tina Korhonen