Ill Nino 

One Nation Underground (Roadrunner)

Ill Nino distinguishes itself from the nü-metal masses with subtle salsa rhythms, thunderous tribal percussion, and breezy tropical jazz guitar. But the sextet mostly confines its compelling cross-cultural experimentation to introductions and interludes, leaving plenty of room for standard stutter-riffs and chiseled breakdowns.

Like old-school Latin rapper Mellow Man Ace, frontman Cristian Machado obsesses about liars (mentirosa) and switches between English and Spanish as syllabic requirements dictate. Bilingualism aside, Machado remains a ludicrous lyricist, prone to posing absurd questions ("Did you ever ask the stars not to shine no more?") and engaging in endless self-flagellation. In this context -- and only in this context -- his album-ending line "Why the fuck am I a victim to myself?" makes perfect sense.

Machado barks those words, but he spends half the album singing in a casual tone that makes 311 sound confrontational. This passionless delivery renders almost every chorus anticlimactic. Especially egregious are the tunes on which Machado croons over swelling synthesizers. The intermittently heavy One Nation Underground should appeal to nü-metal holdouts, but it would be a better album if it concentrated more on the band's own unique identity, devoting more time to its instrumental siestas and Latin-metal flourishes instead of aping the tired touchstones of its dying subgenre.

More by Andrew Miller


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