Sound — 8
Ill Nino's first release on Cement Shoes Records following their split with the Roadrunner label delves largely into cover songs rather than new material, and the results are generally successful. The Undercover Sessions highlights the band's ability to take well-known songs and bring something completely new to them -- particularly when you're taking on artists like Faith No More, Nirvana, and Peter Gabriel. During it's best moments, Ill Nino calls on it's Latin roots to add a little something extra that would never be heard in a Kurt Cobain or Peter Gabriel song. The EP starts out with Arrastra, one of only a couple original songs on The Undercover Sessions. The track begins with Ill Nino's (vocalist Cristian Machado, guitarists Ahrue Luster and Diego Verduzco, bassist Laz Pina, drummer Dave Chavarri, and percussionist Danny Couto) trademark Latin percussion sound, but quickly merges into a heavy stream of distortion and growls. Arrastra is a pretty solid song and rocks from beginning to end. Percussionist Couto and drummer Chavarri do keep a steady dose of the Latin rhythm in most of the songs -- which actually gives the songs their most original aspects -- but unfortunately that rhythm sometimes does get lost among the other instruments and vocals. The Undercover Sessions will probably remembered most for the diverse cover songs on the album. Zombie Eaters, originally done by Faith No More, once again is given a new sound through the percussion and some nice Spanish-style acoustic guitar work. Deftones' vocalist Chino Moreno helps out on the track, although the vocal delivery isn't done too differently from the original. It's a bold move to take on a Mike Patton song, and while Moreno and Machado do a good job at Zombie Eaters, it still doesn't quite live up to Patton's incredible range. The band closes the EP with Nirvana's Territorial Pissing, a song that is injected with a completely new surge of energy on The Undercover Sessions. The grunge rock sound is transformed into a more straightforward metal track. The band isn't afraid to tone it down at one point, though, with a breakdown that focuses on a beautiful acoustic guitar solo. It's hard to say if diehard fans of Nirvana would embrace the new version completely, but Ill Nino's style does transform Territorial Pissing into a very different song.
Lyrics — 7
There are only 2 original songs on the EP, but both include the themes of rejection and deception. While at times the lyrics do sound like what's heard from a lot of other bands these days, they do seem to fit the music behind them well. Reservation For Two conveys the emotions of a lover who is watching his relationship fail. Machado sings, And I don't ever promise you anything; No I don't ever promise your diamond ring; I keep you right here; And now we've come undone. There's definitely honest emotion throughout the song, and it's likely plenty of people can relate to them. Arrastra deals more with internal conflict rather than with another person. The song does seem to involve self-deception and an uncertainty of where to belong in the world. Machado sings, I sold my soul for my reputation; Lost my balance and now I'm losing control; Can't stand when nothing feels right. While there are a lot of songs that do have a similar theme these days, it's still courageous of Machado to make his personal feelings public.
Overall Impression — 8
While there is not much new material on The Undercover Sessions, Ill Nino has in some ways made 3 well-known songs completely its own thanks to its injection of the Latin sound. While Zombie Eaters is a good effort, Territorial Pissing is the most unique out of the all the covers with it's faster tempo and acoustic-driven breakdown. Fans of Ill Nino will enjoy the latest release, even if there are only 5 songs to tie them over for now. The band is at its best when you can hear the percussion and Latin-flavored acoustics coming through, and hopefully the band will make that sound even more prominent on its next full-length.