On their first two albums, Ill Niño, crafted songs out of crushing riffs, surging beats and urgent vocals. They then took those songs and infused them with elements of their Latino heritage, including tribal percussion, flamenco guitars and Spanish lyrics. But as innovative and refreshing as their sound was, Ill Niño still felt somewhat constrained by self-imposed limitations. So, for their third album, One Nation Underground, the band decided to act on impulse and do what ever felt natural, even if it seemed unconventional.
"We wanted to make a record that would make us happy as musicians first and foremost," says vocalist Cristian Machado. By stretching their boundaries and catering only to themselves, Ill Niño were able to create music that broke new ground and reflected the savagery, rage, disillusionment, beauty and melancholy the band members felt within. "There was nothing holding us back this time," drummer Dave Chavarri says. "We wanted to let it rip and jam on different Latin rhythms and see where it led us"
The result is Ill Niño's most intense, consistent and challenging album yet. "This Is War" begins as a striking mélange of textural chants, propulsive riffs, scouring vocals and a memorable melodic chorus, then shifts into a Latin jam reminiscent of Santana. "Everything Beautiful" starts with tribal instrumentation, then builds through a jagged riff and yearning vocal redolent of Tool.
While Ill Niño have always been in touch with their Latin roots, on One Nation Underground they blend Hispanic flavors and styles with more fluidity and confidence than ever. Chavarri explains, "We listened to a lot of old salsa and merengue rhythms and beats as well as a lot of Afro Cuban and Santeria rhythms." All of those seemingly disparate elements are blended seamlessly thanks to Laz Pina's Salsa-infused bass lines, guitarists Ahrue Luster and Jardel Paisante's infectious acoustic guitar work, and Danny Couto's tribal percussive attack.
The fruit of their labor doesn't only showcase a more musically developed Ill Niño, it also debuts Machado's new, more prescient lyrical approach. "The easiest thing to do is write about relationships and your family," Machado says, It's much harder to make observations about the world around you. This record is about society being controlled and divided through all sorts of different influences both internal and external. Its about looking at the world around you and realizing that there are things that are going on that are hidden from normal people like you and I, so that's why record is called One Nation Underground."
Of course, not all of One Nation Underground is so political. "My Resurrection," for example, is about metaphorically washing away the sins of the soul and being born again. The lead single What You Deserve is about the consequences faced when you think you know it all. Says Machado, Its about the circumstances that come with believing we actually have the answers to everything. When we turn knowledge into a possession, and intelligence into a vanity, we leave no room for possibilities.
Ill Niño formed in late 1999, signed to Roadrunner in 2000, and went on to record 2001s Revolution, Revolucion. Strong airplay for their first single What Comes Around and slots on both the Ozzfest and Jagermeister tours in 2002 helped the album sell almost 190,000 copies. 2003s Confession spawned the hit How Can I Live which was featured on the Freddy vs. Jason soundtrack, and went on to sell 200,000 copies in the U.S. and 400,000 worldwide.
But while Ill Niño is still very happy with both of those discs, they don't consider them as truly representative, viewing them more as twisty staircases to reach the plateau of One Nation Underground. "We wanted to step up and be more intricate in our writing and more articulate in what we say," Chavarri explains. "We all pushed each other and refused to hold back. I feel like this is the first real Ill Niño record. We busted our asses on this one. This is what Ill Niño should have been since the very beginning."
The endless toiling and imminent patience paid off. One Nation Underground is the sound of a band who has grown album by album; a band that has discovered that volume doesnt necessarily equal power and that the emotion of a salsa rhythm can at times surpass a barreling thrash riff. One Nation Underground is Ill Niño at their finest.