When Brujeria’s debut album Matando Güeros was released in 1993, the discordant genre of death metal was engaged in a game of “Can you top this?” with their notoriously gory album covers, searching for imagery that was as brutal as the music. The L.A. band one-upped everyone by placing an image of a real decapitated head, the victim of a gruesome drug-related slaying in Mexico, on their album cover.
“I got a call at 7 a.m. from Roadrunner Records the day after Matando Güeros came out,” Brujeria vocalist Juan Brujo remembers. “They told me the album was getting banned in a bunch of countries. They were screaming at me about the records that were going to get returned. I said, ‘Great, everything worked out!’”
Brujo led a group that was eventually revealed to include members of other metal acts of the time such as Faith No More, Napalm Death and Fear Factory. Shielding their identities behind masks and bandanas and portraying themselves as Satanic drug lords, the group’s lyrical content matched the over-the-top gruesomeness of their album cover. Brujo’s all-Spanish lyrics spun sordid tales of drug-fueled mayhem, grisly violence and corrupt police, serving as a twisted death metal take on narcocorridos.
“When we formed the band we wanted the music to be hard, so it made sense for the lyrics to be hard as well,” says Brujo. The lyrics “were so fucked up it was over the top and funny. Some people got legitimately scared. Others laughed really hard because they got what we were doing. That’s the magic of Brujeria.”
Though word would eventually spread about the true identities of the rest of Brujeria’s personnel, personas adopted by members such as “Asesino” (Dino Cazares of Fear Factory) and “Güero Sin Fe” (Billy Gould of Faith No More) added to the early mystique surrounding the band.
“We didn’t want people to know that Brujeria members were in other bands,” says Brujo. “With no internet back then it was hard to find out who we were. There were guys that weren’t in Brujeria that would say they were in it! But little by little, some of the members started leaking and then the internet came along. I think it worked for a long time though.”
Even as the metal community figured out that Brujeria (Spanish for “witchcraft” or “black magic”) were not real-life Mexican drug lords, the public image of the band would occasionally make traveling across the border difficult. Brujo describes instances of what would normally be benign experiences for other bands becoming lengthy ordeals.
“I was taking four boxes of CDs to Mexico City to sell down there,” Brujo says. “When I went to fly out of Tijuana, they opened my bag and saw the stacks of CDs. They started grilling me, thinking it was bootlegs. I told them it was my own band, but when they saw the band name they started asking me if I was in a secta. I just didn’t answer.
“Five cops started questioning me, but then one guy comes in and recognizes our band. He takes the CD out and starts playing it. Some of the guys start laughing, but then their boss comes walking into the room. He asks me again if I’m in a Satanic drug cult. I tell him again that I can’t answer that. He closed the box and just told me, ‘I don’t want to see you again, get the hell out of here!’ It always starts off ugly, but then it ends OK.”
Though Brujo seems to be softening up a little bit in as he gets older, one source of ugliness for him these days is a man who has been outspoken in his distrust of Mexican immigrants. Back in the ‘90s, then-California governor Pete Wilson’s support of anti-immigrant bill Proposition 187 inspired Brujeria to lead off their 1995 album Raza Odiada with an anti-Pete Wilson diatribe. In 2016, Donald Trump inspires even more venom than Pete Wilson did 20 years ago.
After the recording of Brujeria’s newest record, Pocho Aztlan, Brujo led his band back into the studio for a Donald Trump-inspired single, “Viva Presidente Trump.” The sleeve for the single features a Photoshopped image of Trump with a machete lodged in his head and the words “Fuck You Puto” stamped across his eyes.
“He got everyone in the States hating each other again within a span of six months,” Brujo says. “Things had been getting better the last 15 years, and now he’s got people fighting each other in the streets again. [So many members] of the U.S. Army are Mexican or Hispanic, I don’t know how he’s going to force the Army to build a wall!”
Throughout their first decade of existence, Brujeria never performed live. Other members have come and gone, but Juan Brujo has remained the lead singer throughout. While Brujeria has been performing live in some form or another since 2003 and released a handful of one-off singles, it has been 15 years since a proper Brujeria full-length. That will change when the group's new record, Pocho Aztlan, is released this Friday, Sept. 16 — appropriately enough, on Mexican Independence Day.
The trademark dark humor and hard-driving death metal remain strong in the Brujeria blueprint, though Brujo admits that he has slightly toned down the drug-dealing side of his metallic tales.
Writing for the new record “was slow,” Brujo says. “The world in general was getting better, and I didn’t hate everyone and everything as much. The drug situation in Mexico is getting worse so I didn’t really want to glorify that, or be seen as taking advantage of it when it’s the worst it’s ever been. This is the ‘nice’ Brujeria record.”
Brujeria's Pocho Aztlan is available for pre-order now on Nuclear Blast.