Ancestral Worship and Aztec War Campaign – interview w/ Blue Hummingbird on the Left

Based in South California, the notorious Black Twilight Circle has long been lauded among underground scene for their furious and ingenious executions of Black and Death Metal that no others can compare, acts like Volahn, Arizmenda, Axeman, Shataan, etc, has maybe redefined Black/Death metal with their touches of Mayan/Aztec elements in their music and themes. Of them all, Blue Hummingbird on the Left is definitely one of the most unique. We had the honor to interview the front man Tlacaelel in the early 2019 as they were about to release their debut full length Atl Tlachinolli and had just finished their second European tour, about the concept behind each of their release, touring and performing live, and some questions regarding BTC itself.  

Interviewed by Aymparch

Aymparch: Greetings, Tlacaelel! Thanks again for accepting this interview. Recently BHL and some other BTC acts are on your second European Conquest tour. How did things go so far for the tour? Do you like it?

Tlacaelel: Things went well, though it wasn’t a tour. Just a festival in Brussels and a last minute show in Denmark. It was our best time so far.

ATLC 2019 @ Brussel

AP: Among your recent tours, the performance at Brussels’ A Thousand Lost Civilizations fest seems to me the most epic show that best captured the essence of BTC’s live performance (judging from few video clips and photos). If I’m not mistaken, they also helped to organize your European Conquest tour last year. How do you think of working with those ATLC folks and your own performance at this year’s ATLC fest?

Tlacaelel: They are a solid team and we would like to thank A.T.L.C. and Iron Bonehead Productions for bringing us out to do last years European Conquest tour. As for this year’s festival, there were some sound difficulties for Blue Hummingbird on the Left. So I would have to say we have sounded better but overall felt it was a strong performance.The reviews I read all were very positive for Blue Hummingbird on the Left and Volahn. Moreover the feedback we received from veteran acts in attendance was something quite special in itself.

AP: Let’s talk a little more about you guys’ European tour last year. I think that was the first time that BTC bands ever play shows in Europe right? How did you like it in general? Did it feel different to play for European audiences than for Americans?

Tlacaelel: Yes that is correct, we enjoyed it very much. We are used to a little more movement from the crowds here in the states. European audiences were for the most part very calm and still as if in a state of awe. Although crowds would vary from country to country. Somewere more boisterous than others,but all very appreciative.

AP: Alright, let’s shift to your latest album, Atl Tlachinolli. For me this is absolutely among the finest I’ve heard so far this year. Nine war hymns full of raw and punching riffs, which proves again that BHL is one of the most unique acts under the banner of BTC. There are two songs from the first ep, plus a track from the 2015 BTC compilation, and it took you guys almost a decade to record this full length. So why take such a long time? And normally howdoes the writing/composition process look like for BHL?

Tlacaelel: As we formed and recorded an EP in about a weeks time. I was in no rush to record the full length any time soon.We were still finding and refining our sound. Over the years we have altered our style, music and vocals.As we began to record the full length I worried that other vocals track were a bit too much and if this was the direction and sound I wanted for Blue Hummingbird on the Left.

There were even talks of returning to BHL’s classic “Bloodflower EP” sound for the album. Then continuing from “Debajo Del Simbolo De Sol” under a new banner. This delayed the album release for a while. As you can hear in Atl Tlachinolli, we chose the fuse the two sounds. We had the album completed a few years ago with Tenochtitlan as an instrumental.That’s when we decided to look for a label to put the album out. After the European Conquest tour, we had Iron Bonehead’s interest. I went back in to record the vocals for Tenochtitlan and it was ready to be pressed. Our writing process is usually lyric followed by music, but in some cases it’s been music followed by lyric.

AP: Of course we all know that BHL is about praising war and embracing ancestral roots, I’m still quite interested in the concept behind this full length (Atl Tlachinolli) and did some researches. To me it seemed to have certain notion of dualism, which is also evident in the organization of tracks (starting with Sun while ending with Moon). Since I’m not familiar with this topic, why don’t you tell us more about this album’s concept, and how it relates to your general theme? (also the cover art is brilliant, who did that?)

Representación del ideograma atl-tlachinolli Códice de Huamantla. Fotografia de Gerardo Montiel Klint / Raíces.

Tlacaelel: A key concept in Azteca/Mexica culture and mythology was duality, a balance between two equal and opposing forces. That’s why Sun and Moon, water and fire, life and death are all themes we have incorporated in our songs. All were valued in daily life. The over all concept I had for the album was that each song would be written through the eyes of a warrior poet, sacrificial captive or in the case of “Campaign” and “Hail Huitzilopochtli” the grand Tlacochcalcatl/Cihuacoatl Tlacaelel. He was an important figure to the Mexica’s rise to power. (I was referred to as Tlacelel “Greatest Hero” on the Bloodflower Ep) I changed my name soon after to honor him, in my roll of leading the Mexica War Tribe. Simply put, Alt Tlachinolli is a history lesson.I was very pleased with the art and the layout, a beautiful record. Cover art was drawn by Raf The Might!

credits: Jahvo Joža

AP: Like I mention before, Atl Tlachinolli is raw, straightforward, with tasty riffs that bring back memories of late 80s (something we not often see in today’s black metal in general), while the elements here are actually pretty diverse: we have some slow passages in tracks like Precious Death and Tenochtitlan; some pagan-ish riffs in Rain Campaign; usages of traditional Aztec/Mayan percussions and flutes (you use the Death Whistle right?); and last but not the least, your trademark war cry (more reverb!!!).So I guess my question is, how do you manage to capture all these elements when performing these tracks live? Is it different from sitting at the studio and recording them? And in general, how important are live shows for BHL (since relatively you guys are among the most active acts of BTC)?

Tlacaelel: I am frequently asked that question. It’s actually a jaguar flute. I really wouldn’t know how to answer how we capture it all, other than we are always prepared for battle. I do feel the album lacks the intensity you would otherwise experience at a live show. While recording one can be quite particular about the timing of a vocal or instrument track. On stage, every night is a new take.Shows aren’t very important to me, but we are a band and on that matter we take everyone’s opinion into consideration.

Blue Hummingbird on the Left | Magasin 4 (credits: Shade Grown Eye Photography)

AP: Let’s talk about Black Twilight Circle if you don’t mind. BTC has been thriving throughout the past decades and definitely achieved a lot, becoming one of the most unique black metal groups in the global scale (believe it or not, you guys have a huge Chinese underground “fanbase”). So what essentially bind you all together for all these years?

Tlacaelel: I can’t speak on the early BTC days, as I was just a fan. But from my perspective it started with a passion for chaotic music then turned intoa pride that came from honoring our cultures and traditions through song.

AP: This question is kind of related to the previous one, when working with other folks of BTC in different acts, do you normally perceive it as more of a collective force, or sometimes-individual values are more important?

Tlacaelel: Most acts are usually led by one individual. Though we often run ideas through each other, the lead individual in that specific act has final say. The collective aspect of the Circle is most musicians’ play live in numerous projects.

AP: This is kind of a general question: how important is the role of language in your music? I noticed in the previous two splits (plus the opening track in the debut) the lyrics were written in Spanish, while the lyrics in the At Tlachinolli are all in English. Are there any specific reasons for this?

Tlacaelel: Just continuing from the Bloodflower EP, as well as simply wanting our songs to be easily understood by everyone around the world. I do plan to write most if not all-future Blue Hummingbird on the Left lyrics in Spanish and Nahuatl. Now that we have the worlds attention.

AP: I had this conversation with my boys the other day, where they brought up the topic of cultural appropriation, and we had such debates that whether what you guys are doing here – that is, combining Aztec/Mayan elements with black metal and praising the ancestral roots – counts as “cultural appropriation”. So I’m curious how your own opinions towards this issue. Also, there are lots of bands nowadays that adopting Aztec/Mayan/other Native traditions or elements into extreme music, to an extent that traditions almost become a selling-point, what do you think of it?

W2-0027: The Great Goddess – Reconstructed Mural, The compound of Tepantitla

Tlacaelel: In regards to Black Twilight Circle, no! This is our culture, it’s in our blood it’s our mindset and is our identity. Everything we do is only to honor and pay homage to our roots. To shine light on the strengths and wisdom of our forgotten ancestors. Now in regards to these other bands that shamelessly try to connect two nations from opposite sides of the world, who lived centuries apart from each other. Then slap hybrid symbols of both cultures on analbum cover, throw in Nahuatl and German words and consider that Indigenous National Socialist Black Metal or “Nican Tlaca”. I hardly believe those people have any sense of pride and I consider that cultural misappropriation.

AP: Are there any plans for future releases for other BTC acts? You guys ever thought about having an Asia tour in the future?

Tlacaelel: Zulxaxeku is my favorite current BTC project, expect a devastating release soon. Also, Xaxamatza’s full length is coming along quiet nicely I look forward to hearing its completion in the near future as well. And yes, we would love to tour Asia! I personally have a huge admirationfor old Asian civilizations and traditions including martial arts.

AP: Alright, thanks again for accepting this interview, a really great conversation indeed. Are there any last messages you guys have for our Chinese readers?

Tlacaelel: Thank you for the interview and kind words !  Bring us out to tour Asia!

AP: As a tradition of our interviews, please let us know your favorite booze (hahaha!

Tlacaelel: Modelo Negra, Guinness and Belching Beaver Mexican Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout. Salud!

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