San Diego’s Til-Two Club has history. It bears the ancestral name from its first incarnation in the 1940s, before it shapeshifted into a bizarre hybrid salon/bar/chain live venue called the Beauty Bar. You can read plenty of online articles chronicling its transformation into its current form, but one crucial detail they all seem to leave out is that the Til-Two Club is a hallway. A generous hallway, but a hallway nonetheless. A pleasant, refurbished aesthetic is unified by warm, low lighting, comfy booths, and a jukebox stuffed with old tunes. A Roku supplies the TV above the bar with on-screen diversions, and a generous stage rises from the floor at the back.
A few pockets of black-clad people milled around the entrance, seemingly waiting for permission to begin the night’s rocking. Bands slung their gear in, taking over nearby booths, and I situated myself near the jukebox. Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” sat behind the glass. Nice. I’d been in dives before, but I was curious how the Til-Two would stack up. Surely for all its newly beautified amenities, they didn’t forget to install a decent sound system, right? The night’s lineup would test that theory.
I knew from their soundcheck half an hour earlier that Fallen Angel (California) were devout worshippers of Cannibal Corpse. Low, guttural growls that transitioned into last-second ear-splitting screams; breakneck tempo changes; near-constant Mazurkiewicz-ian blasting; badass, beastly bass-playing — this was flattery at its finest, but it was hard to deny the effectiveness of this Californian four-piece when they were playing such a fine-tuned style of death metal.
As derivative as their music was (and despite their rather uninspired name), I rather enjoyed what they offered. The stage-right guitarist showed infectious enthusiasm, and they got a good reaction from the crowd. Not a bad way to start the night, not at all.
After Fallen Angel, I had somehow been charged with guarding someone’s GoPro, which was being used as a drum cam for the night. I didn’t mind, as I wasn’t going anywhere — I still had four more bands to see.
Up next was Impure Consecration (California), a band I had pegged as thrash-tinged black metal but whose Facebook page classified as “occult death metal.” I guess the band’s bullet-belts, corpse paint, and grim countenance threw me off, but what do I know? It was an effective image nonetheless.
Impure Consecration ripped through a relatively short set of murky guitars and hectic, battering rhythms. The drumming was a high point for me, as the drummer played in an open-handed style (possibly influenced more from Dominator of Dark Funeral than Gene Hoglan, the more well-known user of that technique?). Unfortunately, the lead guitar (and bass?) was out for a couple songs, which lessened the impact of their sound — but it didn’t seem to affect the frequency of “fuck yeah!”s tossed their way after each song. Overall, their music mostly reminded me of “Nightside”-era Emperor, particularly in the raspy vocals — but maybe that’s still my black metal bias coming through. Their last song was a flurry of nonstop tom fills — fatiguing to watch, but sonically impressive — which I feel saved their set. Aside from the ferocious playing of the drummer, their energy levels seemed low, but I wouldn’t blame them if that was attributed to the technical difficulties. You gotta wonder how many once-in-a-lifetime gigs are dampered by shit like that, but alas — it happens. Still, they put on a good show, and I’m always thrilled to see more bands from my state.
The Til-Two was packed by now, the hallway crowded like a high school between class periods. Snazzy, black-dress-shirted members of the next band weaved through clique-ish clusters to reach the stage, where they began setting up a fog machine. A corpse-paint-and-robes-wearing vocalist wandered in front of the stage, and there was no bass player in sight. From these observations, I thought Icon of Phobos (Los Angeles) had the potential to be supremely goofy, but like all opening bands I was rooting for them anyway. A few moments later, their soundcheck rewarded my resolve, revealing a clicky, Dimmu-esque kick trigger, a promisingly powerful guitar tone, and a vocal-check that reverberated like a Tibetan monk “What are we in for?” I thought, as they got the go-ahead to start their set. Well, what we were in for was half an hour of evocative, vehement black metal.
A veritable stormfront of fog cloaked the majority of the band, giving spotlight to an entrancing vocal performance. The robed vocalist twisted and writhed with possessed drama, seamlessly adding his own vocal effects for harsh screams and operatic Attila-esque proclamations into his theatrical routine. Icon of Phobos didn’t lack for a bass player — one guitar augmented unnerving atmosphere to the other’s body-flogging brutality. Constant double bass propelled the performance, punctured by frequent, dynamic stops aided by thudding toms. The four-piece put on an absolutely thrilling show that erased all my preconceived notions. They’re exactly the kind of band that benefits from the live experience.
No matter how you sliced it, Icon of Phobos was going to be a tough act to follow — especially for me, who was a little out of my element. Death metal isn’t my preferred genre these days, but I’d been intrigued by the “weirder” side of the genre. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait for the headliner to get it.
With fists raised in the air, Qrixkuor (UK) launched into an intoxicating abyssal attack. Cacophonous, catacomb-crushing heaviness fell upon the audience like an Old Testament plague as the two guitarists’ shredded their stringed implements with tempest-force tremolo picking. I was fixated on the drummer’s mercilessly clean tom rolls and ultra-efficient blasting — but Qrixkuor pulled off an immense-sounding set overall. The only visual effects they subscribed to was one of the guitarists who had donned an executioner’s mask and some kind of occult pendant ’round his neck — for the most part, Qrixkuor focused their every effort on delivering a razor-sharp set of massive, apocalyptic metal.
12:45 AM had creeped its way in, but the room buzzed with anticipation for the headliner. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite revere Blood Incantation (Denver, CO) quite the way many others in the metal community do, but I was looking to change that.
The previous bands had asked the venue for more vocal reverb; such requests aren’t uncommon to achieve the sound envisioned by the artist. Blood Incantation was no different, although their requests seemed to swing the other way — the guitarist/vocalist told the engineer for no reverb, as he’d brought a fleet of pedals to do it all himself.
If “weird” death metal was what I was after, I got what I wanted with Blood Incantation. With mesmerizing musicianship, they manhandled their set of complex compositions brimming with odd-time extensions, tempo shifts, and ruthless death metal bludgeoning. Blood Incantation met each technical feat head-on, returning each challenge ten-fold with ferocity and skill. The colossal Vitrification of Blood (Part 1) was a notable thrill, ripping the audience through thirteen minutes of twisting tempos and swelling, sweltering structure.
Aside from their musical prowess, Blood Incantation was surprisingly high on entertainment value. I saw the reason for the vocalist’s earlier request — he used his pedal rig for more than enhancing his roars to cavernous depths; it was integral to a kind off-kilter, unexpected stage banter.
“Ever wonder why no one can read ancient Sumerian tablets?” he quizzed us, as the band prepped to launch into The 5th Tablet. “Because ‘They’ don’t want you read ancient Sumerian tablets.”
Over time, his warnings against government cover-ups, which seemed genuine at first, later seemed a bit more tongue-in-cheek as we warmed up to his timing and delivery. Whether they believe in any of that or not (they don’t have a Facebook page, after all; talk about staying off the grid) was irrelevant — their skill as musicians was enough to make me highly suspect that aliens do exist, and they go by the name Blood Incantation.
A rousing chant from the audience convinced the venue to let the band have an encore, and Blood Incantation finished with the excellent (and relatively short) Hovering Lifeless.
True to its name, the Til-Two Club emptied its occupants just as the 2 AM hour approached. Another night of successful live music. I’ve always considered the live setting to have the ideal conditions to experience new bands, and despite a few technical misfortunes for Impure Consecration, all the groups that night were at the top of their class. Regardless of whatever unforeseen errors that come up, watching bands perform can’t ever fully translate from a recording — Fallen Angel’s energy; Impure Consecration‘s evocative appearance; Icon of Phobos’s theatrical flair; Qrixkuor’s ruthless focus; or Blood Incantation’s precision playing and banter. This is a lineup I think I’ll remember for a long time.