It's hard to tell what's real with the Los Angeles band Metalachi.
The group aesthetic is Mad Max party-band — all worn leather and spikes. The members all have names like Pancho Rockafeller, Vegas de la Rockha and El Cucuy and the official biography on the band's website is outrageously tongue-in-cheek in its description of "the brothers Espinoza cinco" and its brand of mariachi-infused metal music.
The short version is this: They are quintuplets, abandoned by their karaoke-singing mother to make their way from Juárez, Mexico, to Los Angeles in the saddlebags of a burro. The trip took 14 years and the animal died of exhaustion, but the brothers crossed the border, found a discarded Black Sabbath record and became the "greatest heavy metal band to ever live."
The story told by El Cucuy, the band's trumpet player, is slightly less outrageous.
The band has been playing together since they were children, doing mariachi at weddings and quinceañeras to make money for the family.
"We did it. But we loved the heavy metal," El Cucuy says.
At the time, that meant Black Sabbath. The band did have a copy of Sabbath's "Paranoid," and it was the only record they owned.
They would have been a metal band, El Cucuy says, if they had money to buy electric guitars and a drum kit. Things being what they were, they settled for reworking the music with the instruments they had.
They discovered a niche.
"We played 'Iron Man' for a grandma at a quinceañera and she got up and danced. So we thought, hey, we're on to something, you know?" El Cucuy says.
The band started listening to more metal music and creating mariachi versions of classic metal songs like Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and Dio's "Holy Diver." They got a "gringo" manager and gave up weddings for bar shows.
Along the way, the band has found its share of fans within the metal community, among them Dave Lombardo, the drummer for the thrash-metal band Slayer, and Vinnie Paul, drummer of Pantera, who shows up to see the band every time it plays Las Vegas.
"With some mariachi guys, they get mad. They get offended," El Cucuy says, but mostly the reaction is positive. Several schools have contacted the band about sharing its musical accompaniments. "A lot of the young mariachi are loving what we do."
The band seems to take any popularity in stride. After all, these are five guys who never thought about much more than playing music and making it with girls, El Cucuy says.
"Our first and only goal was to see more chi-chi's."
Metalachi, 9 p.m. today at Strummer's, 833 E. Fern Ave. Tickets are $12. Details: (559) 485-5356, www.numbskullshows.com
This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, email@example.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.