ILL NINO couldn't exist at a better time in the United States. With a growing Latino population and a greater acceptance of the Spanish language, to the point where major cities are for all practical purposes bilingual, this band's haphazard mishmash of populist metal and Hispanic influence is perfectly-timed to appeal to a lot of people. Of course, most of the real L.A. Mexican death metal thugs I've met would rather just listen to IMPALED or DISGORGE, and could give a fuck about extra percussion or bastardized Spanglish songtitles. But there's a lot of Hot Topic kids out there, Latino and gringo alike, looking for a next big thing — who's to say it couldn't be these guys?
Without even looking at the sticker on the cover, it's obvious "What You Deserve" is the single — those over-processed, straining clean vocals and that bippy beat would appeal to any casual LINKIN PARK or HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS fan flipping through the radio dial. Elsewhere, Cristian Machado employs his clean vocals and a Max Cavalera-like yowl in varying measures — "Turns to Gray", another song with a melodic chorus, actually works better than "What You Deserve" because it maintains some of the crunchy, if derivative, metal stomp the band is known for (the guest vocal from Jamey Jasta doesn't hurt, either). Songs like "All I Ask For", though, could slot next to TRAPT and HOOBASTANK — alternarock anthems-to-be that, taken out of context, would scarcely warrant a review here.
ILL NINO call their style of music "latin metal" and it's as good a tag as any — start from a base of SOULFLY and add a whole lotta radio gloss, and a willingness to diversify things a bit, and you've pretty much hit the mark. This is definitely music for the people — it could be called predictable or even clichéd, but it's gut-level music aimed squarely at The Kids, with no pretension about being anything else.
"One Nation Underground" stacks its hits up early, leaving the second half of the album to sag a little bit. But overall it sounds great (another excellent and dense Scrap 60 production job), and comes off a lot stronger than you might expect from a band sometimes dismissed as a third-stringer in the current metal resurgence. Their overt commerciality (see "La Liberacion of Our Awakening", "What You Deserve", "All I Ask For") will alienate more underground types, but they weren't exactly lining up to support ILL NINO anyway. This is hard rock for the masses, accessible and polished, and for what it is, it's very well done.