The penultimate night of Tee Pee records double-header European tour brought California’s Ancestors and Night Horse to the UK and to the basement den that is South of the Border, underneath Shoreditch’s Old El Paso bar.
Night Horse are balls out rock’n’rollers with a formula of big hook riff plus driving rhythm plus attitude vocals plus solo timesed by eleven. The set was engaging, with strong song-writing, the right amount of cocksure presence and good interplay from the two-guitarists — knowing when to pack the riff, when to harmonise it and when to spring off it into a solo. One of the guitarists, Justin Maranga, also plays with the night’s lead-headliners Ancestors (also in the latter band is local London boy and our very own zap bang founder Chico Foley).
As well as sharing a member, Ancestors and Night Horse have a few other common traits — namely a love of both high volume and classic rock musics — however their past-times influences are distinctly different and the overall beasts rear very different heads. Where in Night Horse you can hear southern rock, NWOBHM and classic acts like Humble Pie or Thin Lizzy framed with an edge of modern grunge and hardcore, Ancestors evoke seventies British prog and classic rock with the added heaviness of nineties/two-thousands doom and stoner metal. Night Horse’s attack is sharp and straight down the line, where Ancestors is equal times as strategic as severe.
Opening with “Bounty of Age”, off recent album Of Sound Mind, Ancestors displayed an expansive sound from the off, with solid drum-work and exploratory bass rooting the wide-reaching meld of sustained distorted guitar notes and the twin keys attack (here with rotary organ and atmospheric synth noise). The addition of the harmonising vocals brings in the edge of Canterbury prog, though the music quickly shifts from this “verse” (if you can introduce such terminology into purposefully unclassifiable pieces) into a heavy “chorus” of meaty, doomy riffs and much more aggressive, emotive vocals. The music shifts between the two before delving straight into the kind of soaring lead over ambient sprawl that wouldn’t seem out of place in early seventies Pink Floyd. Then a muted riff within the pattern brings in a welcome mathy, prog-ness which the organ matches in activity. Though the guitar is often king in the Ancestors sound (being the only instrument to actually tackle full-on solos and often taking the fore in the recorded mix) the thing that makes the band separate from other epic heavy rock acts is the imposing presence of the keyboard instruments, adding a width and mass of texture (sometimes indistinct from the stringed instruments) as well as polyphony and interplay. Though Asva or Tarantula Hawk among others offer impressive examples of keys in similar contexts, Ancestors effective deployment alongside their open set of classic influences can be particularly effective. The sound in the enclosed downstairs South of the Border space actually levelled out a lot of the instrumentation further than on record, with the keys, bass, guitars and vocals too all becoming part of a dense wall of noise and atmosphere. With big builds, pastoral pauses, spacey plateaus and a break into a healthy dose of riff-heavy classic rock on “The Trial” and “The Ambrose Law” the band offered a large chunk of their well-received recent LP for an absorbing set on their first visit to London.