Rodrigo y Gabriela's 9 Dead Alive is their first album of new material in five years. Written, arranged, and co-produced by the pair, they deliberately attempt to forgo the Latin influence in their music in favor of an all-rock (albeit still acoustic) approach -- which marks a return to their pre-recording roots in heavy metal. (That they don't entirely succeed is part of what makes 9 Dead Alive so compelling.) Each tune was composed for a different inspiration: authors, philosophers, activists, scientists, and a queen. The set was exquisitely recorded in Mexico by Fermin Vasquez Llera. There isn't a dull moment in these 41 minutes. "The Soundmaker," for 19th century luthier and guitarist Antonio de Torres Jurado, commences with Rodrigo's knotty riff and Gabriela's chugging rhythmic vamp. Two things are immediately apparent: that their collective playing style owes much to heavy metal -- where they came from before studying flamenco -- and, divorced from its bombast, metal is steeped in lyricism. "Torito," with its careening interscalar soloing and riffs, possesses some of Gabriela's most inventive rhythmic technique, slapping and frenetically strumming her guitar with controlled, yet passionate, aggression in dialogue and argument with his leads. Her cross-cut syncopations drive Rodrigo's attack and melodic inventions in "Misty Moses" (for Harriet Tubman), a tune that changes directions several times and shifts its central harmonic focus with dazzling clarity. "Somnium" (inspired by 17th century writer, feminist, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) employs twinned, stacked melodies that move from allegrissimo to presto, and employ reverse arpeggiato, all the while overflowing with emotional resonance. On "The Russian Messenger," Gabriela creates a menacing rhythmic attack of palm slaps on the wood of her instrument, interspersed with slashing minor sevenths; Rodrigo counters with delicacy in a flurry of lithe single notes. On "Megalopolis" (for poet Gabriela Mistral), Spanish music comes shining through in gloriously articulated fingerpicking, doubled melody lines, and a narrative structure that recalls Spanish folk music. "La Salle des Pas Perdus (for Eleanor of Aquitaine) articulates musical themes from her "art of courtly love" era in the melody. The two guitars fluidly exchange tightly woven lines in nearly songlike interplay (here too, Anglo and Spanish lyricism entwine) before tempo and tension briefly increase, then dissipate elegantly. The dialogue that transpires throughout 9 Dead Alive is lively, eloquent, and actively intellectual, but it is also intimate. Between them, Rodrigo y Gabriela engage in musical and even cultural queries, and sometimes -- provocatively -- leave them wide open. This album evidences an expanded creative reach for the pair, even as it re-engages the sharp edges they displayed on earlier recordings.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek