Interview with Ill Nino: Family Ties

Rising from New Jersey with a debut EP in 2000, Ill Nino quickly rocketed to stardom in the metal community with an aggressive sound that also flaunted the members’ Latin heritage. The band could be pulverizing one minute, then drop a groove-laced Latin guitar and percussion break into a song from seemingly out of nowhere. Fans were hooked.

And 14 years later, Ill Nino are still going strong. Till Death, La Familia, the band’s seventh studio album, was released on July 22. Fans of the group’s molten metal style should be satisfied with the new material—but this time the crunching riffs and confrontational vocals are joined by some modern, even electronic, touches.

The band is hitting the road hard this summer as part of the Rockstar Mayhem Festival, performing on stage with fellow Victory Records artists, and sharing a bill with acts like Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Trivium, Body Count, Cannibal Corpse and Asking Alexandria.

Moments before hitting the stage for Ill Nino’s Mayhem set in Phoenix, vocalist Cristian Machado phoned me to chat about the tour and new album.

How’s the Mayhem Festival going so far, Cristian?

It’s been amazing. I’m positively surprised at the turnout we’ve had on the side stage. I wasn’t expecting that many people to remember us. It’s been amazing and the crowds have been so active and into the show. I’m just honored to be out here and have so many people remember us and come watch our band.

In general, how do you like playing these types of outdoor festivals? Is it a lot of fun?

So far it’s been great. I think that there’s a very big festival-going audience in America. In Europe, festivals are a lot more common, but here I guess you could say it was a trend started by the Ozzfest. And so I think it’s a great chance for a band like ours that hasn’t been around as much in North America for the last seven or eight years, to come back and remind everybody that we’re still around. We haven’t stayed as active in America as we have internationally.

I’m glad to see the Mayhem Festival thrive and be such a powerful format for bands to introduce themselves, or re-introduce themselves. In America, a country where trends and fads are so media-driven, this allows the music to take precedent over that. If a lot of people are watching your band, you don’t need to be on the forefront of media. As long as fans are involved, that’s the biggest thing.

How much material are you doing from the new album? Are you working in any of the songs now?

We’ve been keeping the set mostly old-school so far, but we’ll soon be adding a couple of the new songs.

How much interaction do you have with other bands on the tour? Is it like one big family?

It’s definitely a big family. We’re friends with a lot of the bands. There is a lot going on during the tour. Even as an artist, it’s a lot for the brain to take in on a daily basis with all the bands playing. We’ve done a bunch of signings, too, and been able to meet a lot of new fans. And we’ve been hanging out with a lot of the bands.

It is a brotherhood here. There are no negative attitudes, and it’s a very friendly competition. Even though everybody is trying to outdo each other on stage, it’s all very friendly. It helps the bands focus a bit harder and push the envelope on their performance.

You’re such a high-energy band on stage. Would you say that you write songs with live performances in mind, thinking about how they’ll translate to the stage?

That’s an interesting question. But I don’t think we’ve ever deliberately done that. I think that we try to impress ourselves as friends and musicians, first and foremost. I think what our fans like about this band is that when all of us get together and make creative decisions, something cool comes out of it. But with that said, I think probably in our subconscious we have a live audience in mind as we’re writing music. I can’t imagine it’s not happening subconsciously.

Let’s talk about the new album, Till Death, La Familia. What was the inspiration for the title?

The title of the record is a testament to all of the fans who have stuck by us for a very long time, and also all of the loved ones who have supported us for so many years in this dog-eat-dog music industry. Those who stuck by us and allowed our career to continue.

The lyrics were heavily influenced by the birth of my daughter and also the passing of my grandmother. That had a big effect on the theme of the album. It hits a very soft spot, especially a song like “Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” which is largely about the passing of my grandmother, and going through that experience. Everything that I have in my life, I credit to her, and her travel to America. She was the person who allowed my family to come here. If I didn’t come here as a child, I wouldn’t have the chances that I have now—making albums, even doing this interview with you. The album is a testament to our fans and our families for supporting us and sticking by us.

Does it also speak to how tight you are as a band? You guys have been together for a long time now.

Absolutely. The longer that we stay together, the more we become like a family unit. The more that we understand each other, and the more that we appreciate our differences. Not so much point them out but appreciate that we’re all different people, with strong characters and different personalities. It’s very much a brotherhood.

It’s very similar with our fanbase. We’ve been around for a long time. Our fans create a bond with each other that is very influential to us. It’s inspiring. I’m sure that bond and brotherhood will continue to inspire us to make good albums that speak to unity and also standing up for people that can’t speak for themselves.

The new record is very good, and I think you stay true to the classic sound that your fans enjoy. Do you have any particular favorites on the new album?

“Blood Is Thicker Than Water” is definitely a very special song for me. “Not Alive In My Nightmare” is another one that I enjoy a lot. It’s a very violent song, but I think it was mostly me observing the world that my daughter will be forced to grow up in. Also, “Breaking The Rules” is a really cool song that I like a lot.

I enjoy listening to the whole album overall, and that’s not something I’ve been able to do over my entire career. Usually by the time we finish a record I’m kind of burned out of it. But this one I really like listening to. I really enjoy what the band did musically. I think it’s allowed me to push a little bit harder to try to complement that vocally.

On many songs throughout the band’s career, you’ve proudly displayed your Latin influences, and some critics describe you as a “Latin metal” band. How would you describe your sound?

Our sound can be considered Latin metal, but above and beyond that, I guess I would call it “culture metal.” We’re definitely not one of the only culture metal bands that exist. Obviously, Sepultura is a culture metal band. When they put out their Roots album, it opened up a lot of people’s minds. There are many cool bands that incorporate their heritage and culture into metal music—bands like Soulfly, Skindred, or Turisas from Finland, who incorporate Finnish folk music into their metal.

Your lyrics are usually very thought-provoking. Is songwriting a challenging process for you?

To be honest with you, on this album, everything came very easily. As soon as I started receiving music from the guys in the band, I was just impressed with the modern approach they were adding to the older style of the band.

On some albums in the past, I thought we were sometimes trapping ourselves in a box just for the sake of nostalgia. On this album, the guys wrote some really killer songs that not only influenced me to write better, but to tap into the abilities that went untapped on prior albums.

Well, I’ll let you get going now since I know you’ve got a set to do.

Yeah, we actually go on stage any minute now!

Thank you so much for your time, Cristian. I look forward to seeing you guys later in the tour.

Thank you, brother!

Ill Nino will perform at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival on Aug. 1 at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ and on Aug. 2 at Toyota Pavilion in Scranton, PA. Till Death, La Familia is available now on Victory Records. For more information, go to