PICTURED: Metalachi comes to the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Sept. 12. Photo courtesy of Metalachi

by Alan Sculley for Last Word Features

For most music acts, there were some signs ahead of time that the COVID-19 pandemic might interrupt their touring plans. For Metalachi, the new reality hit in a most untimely manner, literally as the group began its year of touring.

“When the quarantine happened, the very first night was our first show of our first big tour of the year,” violinist Queen Kyla Vera recalled in a phone interview over Labor Day weekend. “We actually had a pretty decent crowd. They said it [the crowds] had been dying off, and when we went, I think they said it was two-thirds of the capacity it normally would [be]. So it was still pretty good, but the venue said they wouldn’t be able to stay open after us for awhile. We ended up having to go home because almost every venue had to close.”

That was six months ago, and Metalachi has been out of action pretty much since then. But this weekend, the band, which blends metal and hard rock songs with mariachi styles, will be back on stage, but in a setting nobody would have predicted for a concert at the start of 2020.

The group will perform a drive-in show Saturday at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. While some in the music industry have been cool to the unusual forms concerts have taken during the pandemic, Vera is relishing the creativity that is being shown as the touring industry figures out ways to present live music while most conventional venues remain shuttered.

“I think it’s really in a way really cool to see everything evolving. It’s just an evolution,” she said. “We’re learning new ways to do things and to be able to give people performances and bring joy into their lives. But it’s just a different setting. It’s innovative and it’s fresh, and I think it will be really cool to try something new.”

“It seems really exciting,” Vera continued. “I’ve seen a lot of footage from other peoples’ drive-in experiences, and it seems like there are a lot of cars. And the stage, I believe, is 360 degrees. I guess the cars go all around the stage. So that will be pretty cool.”

For a band that does a lively, very visual and interactive show, complete with elaborate outfits, some band members wearing face paint and others wearing huge sombreros that have blinking lights, playing a drive-in show will require some adjustment, but Vera thinks the band’s show will translate fine.

“I think audience participation will be a little bit different, for sure, because they’ll be obviously sequestered in their cars or next to their cars,” she said. “So we have been thinking, how are we going to have to change that up and still keep the audience engaged when they’re unable to be right up at the stage? But I think overall it might be easier in some ways because, for example, they have the radio station they tune into while we play, so they’ll probably be able to hear and understand better. Sometimes with a PA system, not everyone is in the right spot to hear everything clearly or everyone else is being noisy. So I think they’ll get a better experience that way.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that a band that defies typical rock music conventions would be one of only a select number of acts doing something as unconventional as a drive-in show. The actual details about Metalachi’s history have remained sketchy, as band members don’t divulge their real names and have created a colorful tale to explain the origins of both the band and its unique musical hybrid.

As the story goes, the original lineup of five brothers were born poor in Veracruz, Mexico and sent by their mother on a journey to the United States as babies inside saddlebags on a burro. The arduous and slow journey ended some 14 years later when the burro arrived mere yards from the American border. The brothers emerged and ran across the border where as luck would have it, they found an album sleeve of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on the ground. 

The brothers were fascinated by Sabbath’s dark, face-melting metal, and one evening while listening to the classic metal album, they were struck by the idea of playing the song “Iron Man” in their native mariachi style and Metalachi was born. That’s the band’s story and they’re sticking to it.

Today, a decade or so since forming, Metalachi has released three albums — Uno, Dos and Tres — filled with their reinventions of songs by a who’s who of metal and hard rock bands, including Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Alice In Chains, Led Zeppelin, Guns ‘N Roses and even Queen, which got a Mexican makeover of its epic hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” on Tres.

The band has gone through some personnel changes over the years, with the current lineup featuring Coco Caliente on vocals, Vera on violin, Johnnie Sucio on guitarron, Paco Halen on guitar and Diablo Huero on trumpet.

The five members of Metalachi are all accomplished musicians, and their talents are quite evident, both on album and on stage. While there is certainly some kitsch to what Metalachi does musically, the arrangements of the songs are consistently inventive, as the group takes the heavy originals and transforms them into mainly acoustic, drummerless versions done in the mariachi tradition. The arrangements usually take some work and trial and error before they come together, Vera said.

“I know as a group, the first thing we do is, we determine what kind of beat we want for the song,” she said. “So are we going to make this a cumbia? Are we going to make this a faster song? We pick out the beat and then we go from there. We pick out the style of mariachi we’re trying to emulate when we cover the song . . . And it evolves. It takes a little bit of time. There are very few songs that we’ve written all the way through, arranged all the way through, without playing it a bunch first.”

Vera said the band had begun working on new material before the pandemic hit and may play a couple of new covers during the Ventura Fairgrounds show. The band will also have a special treat with a guest appearance by Alex Lopez, drummer of Suicide Silence. He figures to add some thump to Metalachi’s sound.

“Yeah, he’s a killer drummer and he’s Mexican American as well and he has all of those beats,” Vera said. “I feel like we mesh really well together and he has a deep understanding for what we do. It’s going to be great. We’re really excited.”

Metalachi performs on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m. for Concerts in Your Car at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For tickets and more information, visit www.concertsinyourcar.com.