In August of 1992, Caifanes had toured the U.S. and sold out Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium. A few months after, on April 1993, Caifanes sold out Mexico City’s el Palacio de los Deportes with 26,000 screaming fans. To think that a rock band from Mexico City could sell out one of the biggest venues in town, and also do the same in Los Angeles was almost inconceivable just a few years prior. By 1994, Caifanes achieved everything, and then they went out with a bang.
In a major way, the history of Caifanes – comprised of Saúl Hernández (vocals and guitar), Alfonso André (drums), Sabo Romo (bass), and Diego Herrera (keyboards and saxophone) – is the history of the early explosion of rock en español in Mexico, their rise and triumph being both a reflection and catalyst of the scene in general. Their final years can be viewed as the end of the first chapter of such history. El Nervio del Volcán – which turns 25 this week – is a testament of the early years of this music in the mainstream consciousness, but it’s also a tale of friction, as this was the last Caifanes album before they broke up.
Although the album is heavy with meaning and history, there’s no self-importance in it. El Nervio Del Volcán is a front-to-back masterpiece of melody and power, detailed arrangements and rock ragers. It showcases Caifanes as a vital force, the result of a career developing quality songwriting and virtuosic execution.
By fusing many different flavors of alternative rock with various forms of Mexican music, itself formed from many hybrids, Caifanes pioneered a new way to make music indebted to centennial tradition as well as to pop tendencies. No one sounded like Caifanes, and arguably no one has since – although their influence can’t be overstated.
By the time Caifanes formed, there was already a boiling point for rock music in Mexico. The 60s rock explosion peaked with the Avandaro Festival in 1971, a chaotic gathering that culminated in media outrage thanks to the drug use and nudity that was de rigueur at the time because of hippie culture. Government officials spoke against the evils of rock music, and those musicians were then shunned to warehouses in the outskirts of Mexico City. By the early 80s, punk and new wave broke into the underground thanks to bands like Size and Dangerous Rhythm, building a more cosmopolitan and modern sound that also incorporated absurd themes. Out of this renaissance, Las Insólitas Imágenes de Aurora was born, a trio of post-punk/new wave musicians from Mexico City that made playful yet dark rock music of the era. Saúl Hernánez, Alfonso André and guitarist Alejandro Marcovich made a name for themselves in the scene, just as venues became more prominent. It also helped that they made ends meet by backing lip-syncing singers like Laureano Brisuela, Alaska y Dinarama and Miguel Bosé. By the time Las Insólitas broke up in 1986, rock music was no longer on the outskirts.
Formed by Hernández and André, Caifanes made a stir from the get go. Their first show at mythic rock club Rockotitlán on April 11, 1987 was filled to capacity, and left a line of punters outside. Caifanes expanded the new wave and post-punk influences of Las Insólitas with a bigger palette of timbers and textures; adopting goth and synthpop influences. At the center was Hernandez, who grew more sophisticated as a songwriter, composing rich yet palatable melodies and cultivating a stream of consciousness-type of lyrical approach. But most importantly, Caifanes began to explore the rich history of Mexican music within a rock context, imbibing their sound in every which way. Most notably, they covered the cumbia song “La Negra Tomasa,” released in December 1988, becoming the first rock crossover hit in Mexican history. Soon, Maná, El Tri and Maldita Vecindad followed them into the mainstream. Café Tacvba, Fobia, La Lupita, Santa Sabina and scores of others were seconds from launching into the stratosphere.
Incorporating Marcovich on lead guitar from their second self titled album (known as El Diablito) and on, the band became bigger with the passing of time. They churned out hits like “La Célula Que Explota,” “Antes De Que Nos Olviden,” “No Dejes Que…,” and “Nubes,” among many others. Internally, things were not as rosy, even if things were kept mysterious as was the nature of the band. After their third album, El Silencio, Romo and Herrera quit Caifanes. By 1994, the band was at the top of their game yet fragmented on the inside. To say that El Nervio Del Volcán was a big gamble is an understatement.
The album opens with “Afuera,” arguably the band’s biggest hit and their biggest arena rock moment – its chorus is a singalong for the masses. Considering that the band had lost two of its original members, it’s surprising that Caifanes sound so assured in every track. They kept the course of their trajectory upward, making bolder choices and landing them squarely into great, original sounding songs. Marcovich, in particular, sounds more confident than ever, pulling off guitar heroics as textures to lift up already catchy tracks like “Aquí No Es Así.” He put his virtuosity in the service of the song. Songs like “Miedo” and “Aviéntame” go for the throat, learning a trick or two from U2 on how to make ethereal stadium rock without landing on (too much) cheese; while “El Animal” and “El Año Del Dragón” take their cue from Jane’s Addiction and Living Colour by combining rock riffs with a funky rhythm section. There are also ballads like “Ayer Me Dijo Un Ave,” “Quisiera Ser Alcohol” and “Pero Nunca Me Caí” that sure made a few lighters obsolete during concerts. Their influence of traditional Mexican music is almost imperceptible yet it’s there, more obviously on the closing tune, the Saul Hernández-penned “La Llorona.”
El Nervio Del Volcán was one of the biggest albums of Latinx rock in 1994 along with Re by Café Tacvba. The hit singles “Afuera” and “Aquí No Es Así” became rock and pop radio staples and their videos were in heavy rotation. Caifanes toured into 1995, all the while things kept falling apart; on August 18, the band played their last show in San Luis Potosí. Mexican rock as a whole was going strong but a changing of the guard was imminent. The following year, Control Machete debuted with Mucho Barato, a hip-hop album from the North of the country that shifted the focus away from melody to rhythm and to Monterrey instead of Mexico City.
Caifanes remains one of the biggest references in the genre. In 2010, the band reunited with the classic five member lineup after years of a speculative fight between Hernández and Marcovich; the shows were full on nostalgia trips, gathering masses at their headlining set in Vive Latino and their own shows, even with Marcovich exiting the band a second time in 2014.
Arguably, there are no bad Caifanes albums, but their catalog has been pared down to a greatest hits package. El Nervio del Volcán is an artifact of the grandiosity of the era and invites for a deeper dive. A relic from the height of the rock en español era, and a timeless piece of music where the ancestral and the then-modern come together as one.