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.
When it comes to band names in the metal genre, oftentimes the more outlandish a group is named the more attention they get. This could certainly work in Necrolytic Goat Converter’s favor, as the one-man project from New York caught my attention for that reason. On debut full length ‘Isolated Evolution’ (due out August 18th as an independent release), founder Chris Voss blurs the lines between old-school black metal and depressive black metal while adding in a number of other influences. Today we’re premiering the third song The Dark Within, which showcases a rock/punk swagger mixed in with the abrasive black metal tone. But don’t just take my word for it, as we have a full review of the album below courtesy of Shrivatsan. ~Chris Dahlberg
It’s been my quest this year to bear witness to as many live underground metal shows as possible. I’ve seen so many I’d forgotten what it was like to go to an actual music venue instead of an endearingly homely dive bar. San Diego’s Brick by Brick is the real deal — a regal layout of bar, merch/waiting area, and a monstrous stage and show floor. Posters of upcoming entertainment cover the walls; I could pick out a handful of shows I’d be returning to the Brick by Brick to see in the months to come.
Much to my puzzlement, tonight was a free show with a killer lineup — I bought a vodka and Redbull to make up for it and assumed a spot on the floor near the stage. It was the day before a national holiday, so less than a handful of patrons occupied various parts of the bar area — band members or roadies, I couldn’t really tell. All I knew is I was there for one thing: my patriotism to metal.
Burnin’ for the Witches
I was feeling properly liquored up for Witches of God (Los Angeles — or so they say), a doom-heavy rock quartet sporting ‘70s and ’80s flair. With their tight dual-guitar instrumentation and occult/overtly Satanic lyrics, they reminded me of Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and other good stuff of that era. But they were that much and more — their punker bass player (clad in bandana, sunglasses, and sleeveless tee emblazoned with a yellow radioactive symbol) proved they accepted more influences than their first few songs hinted at. A couple punk-fueled cuts warmed me up to the Witches considerably, and that, in addition to their unified presentation, made for a worthy opener.
Worming Their Way In
A handful of people had crawled in since I’d last turned around, but oh, yeah — holiday, Monday. The anathema to crowds. I knew not everyone shared the same dedication I had, but I sincerely wish they had because up next was a band I’d been looking forward to seeing for months.
I’d been sold on Wormwitch (Canada) after several spins of their first full-length album, “Strike Mortal Soil.” I’m always sniffing around for bands that unleash a death/black deliverance that’s anywhere on a level of Skeletonwitch (and the fact that both bands share a suffix was music to my ears). As for their performance, a fog machine began rolling a hefty amount their way, casting the trio in hazy light. The poor attendance didn’t seem to affect Wormwitch’s delivery — they spent the set amping up the largely absent crowd with effortless playing. Guitarist Colby Hink brought plenty of black-rocking riffs that, surprisingly, I thought came across as more punky than another trio I’d had the pleasure of seeing the night before. Energetic bass player/vocalist Robin Harris spat and roared with unhinged aggression, but I’ve got to give it to drummer Cam Saunders, whose inventiveness was highlighted by the live setting. Seeing his fills performed up close was a real treat. I’d recommend Wormwitch to anyone who like a little rock ‘n’ roll with their grim spiked gauntlets.
Which Witches Were These, Again?
I’d grabbed myself a tallboy PBR (happy holidays, America) and watched, perplexed, as the same gear of the first band, Witches of God, was wheeled back onto the stage. Several of the same members returned as well, although gone was the heavy rock garb (as well as the punker bass player) in favor of more modest duds. The lead singer/guitarist was now on drums, the drummer was on bass, and the mostly-rhythm-now-sole guitarist had taken on vocal duties. Rechristened Sierra (Canada), my first thought as they began their set was if they would get paid twice…
Sierra had been added last minute onto the bill, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. At first they reminded me of Filter, although that was mostly in the low croon of the vocals. Their music became more assuredly doom metal as time went on, which didn’t endear me to the genre any more than usual — but what they were doing was tight (I could see how playing in two bands every night would have that effect on one’s musicianship). The drummer seemed a little stiff — the tubs didn’t seem to be his instrument du jour — but his playing was perfectly acceptable and solid, and the other members seemed natural in their roles. To sum, Sierra wasn’t really my jam, but damned if they didn’t do it well.
Tolkien ’bout Black Metal
It was almost 11 PM — it’d be a relatively early night for me if the headliner, Numenorean (Canada), finished in a reasonable amount of time. Then again, they played a depressive sort of post- black metal, which as you know tends to gravitate toward longer songs (the better to swirl in the sadness, my dear). I’d been listening to their debut album “Home,” which favored songs in the 10-minute range — not a bad thing by any means, but I was curious if they’d fare similar to another recent black metal band I’d seen.
I’ll be frank — Numenorean is a phenomenal live band. Their excellent sound that night (courtesy in part by the Brick by Brick’s commendably affable sound guy) was achieved where each member contributed to colossal, sweeping waves of grief-stricken melodies and painful, pummeling rhythms. Multiple mics appointed to several band members gave voice to the songs they performed, which were all (as far as I could tell) from “Home.” From the cacophonous intro to the cathartic closer, Numenorean’s set was unified by thematic melodic motifs; it felt like a cohesive package rather than the usual disjointed, song a la carte setlists most bands prefer. Overall, a powerful performance and one I’ll be remembering as a gold standard for live black metal.
Laying a Future Foundation
As a (mostly) lifelong San Diegan, my first visit to the lauded Brick by Brick was as stellar as I could have hoped. Four great bands, two of which were right up my dark, morbid alley (get your head out of the gutter), and a chance to support my local music venues — you know, the ones NOT charging $30 bucks for parking. I’ll be visiting the Brick by Brick a lot over the next few months. Witches of God, Wormwitch, Sierra, and Numenorean each are relatively young bands — only having been around for several years each — yet they all performed like seasoned vets. I wish all of them long, healthy careers and can’t wait to catch ’em again.
It turned out to be quite a mix at the month end list this time around. With equal parts big releases (Relapse, Prosthetic, Season of Mist etc) and independent outputs, there’s something here for everyone. Many of the releases highlighted here have a ‘name your price’ offer on their Bandcamps, so make sure to check out the music and buy the release if they please you. ~ Shrivatsan R
Abhorrent Decimation (UK) – The Pardoner (Death Metal, Prosthetic Records)
It’s not often that we get requests for acts such as these. And that’s more than welcome. Anything out of the ordinary is. Like MRTVI and their 2017 album where they take what can be barely called black metal to different extremes, TELE.S.THERION are doing it on a different plane altogether – eschewing noise or anything that’s sonically harsh on paper in favour of atmospheric, subliminal, near-subconscious noise/music that’s meant for a select few. Here’s the full album premiere of this stubbornly obscure band that has provided us with different band pictures which are but completely black and incomprehensible.
‘Luzifers Abschied’ which translates to ‘Lucifer’s Farewell’ serves more as a soundtrack to a horror movie than music from an ostensible black metal band. There are hardly any intense parts unless you describe the severity of the overall mood, which made me think that the preliminary track is but an intro, when in fact, the entire album wafts through your mind turning its contents upside down. There are creepy vocal lines, drawling voices that fade in and out, with multiple instruments such as saxophone, waterphone and whatnot making a fleeting appearance every now and then. There is indeed a semblance of a structure to it all but it requires a mind that is capable of withstanding what might not otherwise pass off as metal music. It’s dark ambient with black metal ideology to an extent, and those who’re remotely into it will probably feel rewarded after listening to even one of their tracks. The first two tracks itself consume half an hour but they get shorter from there on, and probably easier to endure too. There are noticeable albeit not drastic changes in the mood and rhythm and that’s what makes this fascinating. So plunge right in if you want to experiment with music that will most likely end up giving you nightmares – and I mean that in a good way, of course.
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.
Rise of the Fallen
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.
Consecrate Impure Enthusiasm
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.
I’m Likin’ the Fog-bos
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.
Crushing Consecration, Courtesy of Occult UK Quartet
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.
Anticipation for the ‘Incantation
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.
‘Til Next Time, Til-Two
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.
Lithuanian black metal band Au-Dessus released their debut full length ‘End of Chapter’ back in May via Les Acteurs de l’ombre Productions, and it’s the type of album that is capable of leaving a lasting impression. While Lithuania doesn’t have quite as expansive of a metal scene as some other European countries, these guys could definitely put their country on the map for quite a few listeners. Rather than simply sticking with the tried and true black metal sound, Au-Dessus pushes outwards and pulls in elements of post hardcore and sludge into their dense arrangements. Sometimes the way that they layer their instrumentation is reminiscent of French acts like Celeste, as the haunting melodies and density of the music feels like it’s going to completely overwhelm you. But there are others that have build-ups similar to post metal like Mouth of the Architect, where dark melodies continue to increase in volume until they’ve reached absolutely crushing proportions. The balance between black metal’s grit and the dark emotional aspect of these other genres works perfectly, giving Au-Dessus a cinematic feel that will bring plenty of vivid imagery to mind.
Although Au-Dessus has been around since 2014, ‘End of Chapter’ might be many listener’s first exposure to this promising newcomer. To find out a bit more about what went into the album we had the chance to ask drummer Šarūnas some questions. ‘End of Chapter’ is available now on Les Acteurs de l’ombre Productions.
Over the past year, Swedish label The Sign Records has been exposing listeners to a number of promising bands from their home country. Rather than sticking with one particular genre, they’ve put out releases from almost every sub-genre of metal. One of their more recent signings is black/thrash group Nekrokraft, whose debut full length ‘Will o’ Wisp’ originally saw release in November of last year. With the end of year timing this one may have slipped under your radar, but with an official North American release of the album set for July 7th now is a great time to fix that. Today we’re streaming ‘Will o’ Wisp’ in its entirety so you can hear for yourself how well these guys have this style down.
Can’t believe that half of this year is gone already. With an every increasing writing staff here at Transcending Obscurity, our tastes have become much more diverse as evidenced by this month end list here. As always, we have tried to keep things a bit obscure, so as to cover ground not often tread by metal blogs in general. Here’s what’s been keeping the TO scribes occupied over the past month. ~Shrivatsan R
Aether Realm (USA) – Tarot (Melodic Death / Folk Metal, Self Released)
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