Mariachi meets heavy metal

Hybrid band Metalachi performs at SLO Brewing Co. this week

slinn@thetribunenews.comDecember 16, 2013 

Vega De La Rockha of Metalachi.

GERMAIN GARCIA

Peanut butter and jelly. Cookies and milk. Metal and mariachi music.

Metalachi, which performs Thursday night at SLO Brewing Co., marries together two seemingly disparate genres — hardcore heavy metal and traditional Mexican folk music — to create a surprisingly cohesive sound. Imagine the head-banging hits of Slayer, Judas Priest and Twisted Sister interpreted by a bunch of guitar-strumming, trumpet-blasting badasses.

“Once we put those two genres together, we were like, ‘Oh wow,’ ” said Vega De La Rockha, the band’s spandex and sombrero-clad lead singer. “Even we were pretty surprised at how (good) it sounded.”

De La Rockha and his bandmates — trumpet player El Cucuy, guitarist Ramon Holiday, guitarrón player Poncho Rockafeller and violinist Maximilian “Dirty” Sanchez — are utterly committed to their onstage personas. They refuse to reveal their real names or their actual back story, insisting that mysterious manager Warren Moscow came up with the idea for the band, its colorful costumes and its unique sound.

According to band lore, the five musical brothers were born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, but grew up in east Los Angeles. They allegedly discovered metal after finding a copy of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” buried in the sand.

“We’re all classically trained banditos, musically,” De La Rockha said, adding that they’ve been playing together for about five years. “We were doing mariachi before we started doing Metalachi.”

Much like Gwar, the legendary metal band known for its wild onstage antics and out-of-this-world outfits, Metalachi simultaneously celebrates and satirizes the machismo and mayhem associated with the hard-rocking genre.

The band specializes in covers of familiar rock and metal songs such as Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” and Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” as well as mariachi tunes by the likes of Vicente Fernandez and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. One song, “Iron Tapatio,” combines Black Sabbath’s classic “Iron Man” with the mariachi standard “El Jarable Tapatio,” better known to gringos as “The Mexican Hat Dance.”

“Musically, it’s interesting how we were able to combine both worlds,” De La Rockha said, describing the melding of metal and mariachi as the next stage in a “musical evolution.” “It just grows and it flows and it feels natural.”

Visually, the band takes its cues from rock’s proudest peacocks — strutting onstage in denim, leather, sunglasses and sombreros decorated with scarves, studs and blinking lights.

El Cucuy, who takes his name from a mythical boogeyman, wears platform boots, Kiss-style face paint and Gwar-influenced armor; he even has a cast-iron lime juicer as a codpiece.

Those accessories can prove pretty alluring to Metalachi’s fans, who include British rocker Billy Idol, Dave Lombardo of Slayer and Eric Wilson of Sublime. Once, a female member of Metalachi Nation attempted to walk home with Sanchez’s sombrero; fortunately, she was stopped in time.

According to De La Rockha, Metalachi’s fanbase spans the spectrum from teenage head-bangers to their gray-haired grandparents, defying age, gender and race barriers. Whether white, black or Latino, concertgoers tend to “fall in love” with the band’s energetic sound.

“They go in skeptical and come out loving it,” he said, stressing the importance of seeing Metalachi live. “Especially at the end (of the concert), we hear ‘Ah, man, you changed my life!’ ”

That’s not to say that Metalachi hasn’t received its share of flack from metal and mariachi purists.

“(If) people don’t get into it, it’s because they don’t really like to have fun and (they) take themselves too seriously,” De La Rockha said. “To have anger about something that’s fun is kind of weird, I think.”

Despite those few detractors, Metalachi is gaining ground. The band released its debut album, “Uno,” in April 2012.

De La Rockha said Metalachi plans to return to the studio in February to record a yet-to-be titled sophomore effort. Although he remained mum about specific details, he said the new album will feature more covers, a few original songs and some special guests.

“If we have fun, then people have fun,” the singer said. “If it puts a smile on people’s (faces), we’ve done our job.”

IF YOU GO

Metalachi
8 p.m. Thursday
SLO Brewing Co., 1119 Garden St., San Luis Obispo
$12, $13 at the door
543-1843 or www.slobrewingco.com

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