Stuffed between a car lot and a liquor store, The Bancroft Bar in Spring Valley is roomier than it looks on the outside. Its L-shaped interior leads its patronage nicely along a path to maximum enjoyment — booths for socializing at the starting leg of the L, a cozy bar located in the bend, and finally a long yet wide hall leading to the back of the stage. Bands brought in their gear and set it on each side of the floor in front of the stage, but it’s still a big space to fill. The local presence seemed solid for a Sunday night, and more groups shuffled in as showtime neared — metalheads making the mecca for friendly support or dedication to the out-of-towners.
By the Power of Greenskull
I’d first seen Greenskull (San Diego) years ago by way of a few mutual high school friends. But seeing them set up at the Bancroft Bar, none of the members looked like who I remembered all those years ago (having a strong social media presence didn’t mean shit back then). As the lights went down and the fog machine went up, it was anybody’s guess whether this was even the same band.
As Greenskull tore into their first song, the band I’d known seemed to have left behind their blackened death trappings along with their old members. Left in its wake was a more derivative, albeit strong, traditionally black metal band. Tremolo guitars and blast beats drove their songs forward, aided by harsh, rasping vocals, as well as the occasional band-backed gutturals. Although I didn’t find their music particularly inventive, they had enough standout moments (good melodies, full dynamic stops) that came across powerfully in a live setting. Greenskull might not be the band I remember, but I’m still proud to support them today.
If You Can’t Beat ’em, Xantam
A big dude who had spent the previous set stumbling around in a drunken one-man mosh pit had somehow leapt backward (?) off the stage and popped his knee. Paramedics arrived, and the poor guy was wheeled out to a chorus of cheers and claps from the smokers who’d gathered outside. “It wouldn’t be a metal show unless someone broke something,” I overheard time and again.
A quick Facebook search revealed the second act, Xantam, as a one-man death metal band from my very own city. He brought a full lineup with him tonight, wearing bullet belts and wielding Jacksons. An unfortunate series of technical difficulties for the stage right guitar led to the downsize of their half-stack cab to an amp a third its size (all the while shaving precious minutes off their set time). I recognized that they weren’t a touring band from some faraway location, but having driven all the way out here like I did… I felt for them.
Once they got going, Xantam delivered decent-sized songs pieced together by too-long, yet triumphant, Mesarthim-esque synth intros. The way the intros gave way to clashing, cacophonous attacks brought to mind a more cosmic, space-y Qrixkuor — Xantam wielded a similar kind of whirlwind tremolo and constant blasting style that was never lacking in energy. I thought that the drummer could have benefited greatly from a metronome, especially for landing his fills, but other than that the band was pretty solid — the other members did a serviceable job picking up wherever he brought them (a telltale sign, to me at least, of a group that plays often together and compensates for each other’s mistakes).
Xantam had to call their set early (an unfortunate result of having spent too much time getting their gear going), but I had enjoyed what they played. Overall, a bit rough around the edges, but not at all so much that I wouldn’t see them again. Gotta represent the local scene.
The Glamour and the Grim
Run to the Hills had the drinking crowd in the back of the bar screaming with ‘ol Bruce, showing that even at 11 PM the Bancroft still had enough energy for a couple more bands.
Up next was Maledict (Los Angeles), a three-piece decked out in heavy corpse paint and silver-studded bondage — but I knew from Icon of Phobos a month earlier not to judge by appearances. Good thing, too — Maledict served up a cool, old-school kind of speedy black metal that seemed almost black ‘n roll (if not in performance than certainly in spirit). Their glitzy outfits felt fitting for a band from LA, as well as their stage presence; their grimacing was as camera-hungry as their strong performance. Vocals switched between the bassist on stage left and the drummer, who was able to keep in time while belting out a few hellfire-fueled incantations. Maledict is a perfect example of the kind of band I wouldn’t necessarily seek out but whose memorable live show will stick with me for a long, long time.
In Service to The ‘Master
12:30 was fast approaching — I was definitely not making it home until 2ish. The bar had mostly cleared out in the face of the impending start of the work week, but I knew my loyalties lay what the late night had to offer.
One Master (New York) blew through their four-song setlist with blistering precision. A four-piece consisting of vocals, guitars, bass, and drums, they pulled off their live sound in a way that was every bit as minimalist and effective as their recordings — oppressive and organic, without a hint of sterility. When not screeching maledictions into the mic, the vocalist/guitarist was staring indifferently toward the back of the bar, his guitar playing almost robotic. Some might be turned off by that lack of stage presence, but sometimes what you get out of that is what you put in. I was up front by the bassist, whipping my head and feeling my soul lashed by Will of the Shadow, and that’s what I came for. And the drummer — someone give that guy a medal, he was working harder than anyone the entire night. Each of One Master’s songs were filled with nonstop, mid-tempo blast beats; I thought by the closer, Erosion, that his right arm was going to fall off.
East Coast bands with the kind of cult status One Master has don’t often bother to come this far west, but I felt truly grateful I stuck around to see them. It’s also rare that all the bands of the night would more or less land in my preferred genres, and you can bet I’ll be returning to the Bancroft Bar sooner than later for more of that.