Rodrigo y Gabriela have become unlikely stars, a pair of Mexican metal guitarists who reinvented themselves as wild flamenco players after moving to Ireland. They’ve carved an admirable niche for themselves, with fiery playing and adventurous ideas that draw heavily on their rock past. Area 52 takes that basic formula one step further, teaming the duo with a 13-piece Cuban orchestra for a fresh look at some of their older material that offers a vibrant, unusual union of Latin cultures, an imagined place where Mexico, Cuba and the sense of old Spanish culture swirl effortlessly together.
Opener “Santa Domingo” sets the tone for much of the album; beginning with a heart-pounding riff, the duo crank up the tension until there’s an explosion of brass, all of the elements powered by the punch of the wah-wah pedal – almost a trademark of the couple these days – before sprinting to a breathless finish. The album is deliberately brash, laced with incendiary guitar work (listen to the electric playing on “Hanuman,” for example), and Cuban rhythms making a loud, colourful wrapper around the songs.
But it’s not all relentless; the group injects plenty of light and shade, as on “Diablo Rojo,” where flute and guitar breathe softly together before spiralling through some intense, slick picking to a satisfying climax. Or “Logos,” with its delicate interplay between guitars and piano, the calm before the whirlwind of the two final cuts. Area 52 roars with Latin fire throughout, full of passion and sweat, a workout for all the senses. Yet at the same time, this re-imagination of old material, not matter how adventurously it’s done, feels like the end of a chapter. It’s as if Rodrigo and Gabriela had one final statement to make with these pieces before moving on to something fresh and different, a new phase in their career. And they’ve done it in spectacular fashion.