Everyone's favourite thrash metal duo turned acoustic, Rodrigo y Gabriela stand out amongst their peers not only for their heavily metal-influenced Latin pieces, but also for their impeccable proficiency and astounding musicianship. Their latest album, Area 52, pairs the fiery duo alongside the ensemble C.U.B.A., the first time they've recorded their work with such full instrumentation.
Let me tell you, the difference is noticeable. And I'm not just talking about the uncharacteristically louder and fuller sound, though that is undeniably a factor. All of the songs are significantly rewritten from their original versions, featuring extended passages and solos in addition to the heavy embellishment from C.U.B.A. What's more, the arrangements significantly augment the original pieces while nonetheless staying true to their original form. They're exciting and stand well on their own, while also not overshadowing their original versions--a balance that many artists struggle to accomplish when recording new versions of their work. Though it goes against my very nature to say these versions are strictly better than their originals, they undeniably are a lot more fun to listen to. I mean, anyone who's not currently in a coma would be hard-pressed not to get up and dance to music this intense and vibrant. The marriage between Rodrigo y Gabriela's Latin acoustic stylings and C.U.B.A.'s Caribbean flair is absolutely perfect, especially when you mix in the hint of heavy metal that the duo are known for.
All right, maybe it does ruin a bit of the magic of listening to a Rodrigo y Gabriela album that the music is made by such a large ensemble rather than two musicians with two guitars. And, I'll admit, it can feel a bit of a cheat when C.U.B.A.'s presence becomes so large that it overshadows the main duo--it does feel like Rodrigo y Gabriela get relegated to afterthoughts on occasion. But you know what? That doesn't really matter. The music is still absolutely beautiful to listen to, even if it is of a significantly different nature than their normal fare. And I'm completely okay with that. Any band that takes the risk of significantly reevaluating their own work gets immense amounts of respect in my book, no matter how it turns out. That Area 52 is as good as it is is just a welcome bonus.
Okay, it's not strictly new material, but who cares? If artists rerecorded pieces with this level of intensity, I'd buy them over again in a heartbeat. This album is pretty much everything you didn't know you wanted. For any fan of Latin music, acoustic rock, or even classic rock and heavy metal, this album is a must.
8.5 / 10
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