Lingering cigarette smoke from the upstairs balcony fogs the midsize open floors packed with shaggy, sweat-stained concertgoers at the Airliner bar. Located off North Broadway in Lincoln Heights in Los Angeles, the club offers a dark, packed crevice of underground culture with a low cover charge and multiple music acts throughout the week.
On many weekends, the Airliner transforms into a communal hub for local metalheads. Backyard and basement bands from the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas are given the opportunity to migrate to a proper stage and venue with the help of an events-promotion company called Metal Invictus.
Founded in 2011 by Angie Gabriel and Jim Armenta, both musicians themselves, Metal Invictus' philosophy is to help the area metal scene and promote unsigned bands in lieu of the common pay-to-play rules set by other venues across the city. Instead of being forced to sell $200 to $500 worth of tickets to play first at venues such as the Whisky, bands booked at the Airliner through Metal Invictus play for free. Gabriel says bands still have the basic requirements to promote themselves as well as the show through Facebook, fliers and photos.
"I'm really strict with bands publicizing and making sure they have the drive to sell themselves as much as I want to sell them," Gabriel says with an authoritative laugh before sipping a cocktail at Blind Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita. "Bands need to be out there handing out fliers after concerts."
Talk of the metal weekend nights has been spreading to areas other than Los Angeles; Gabriel says Metal Invictus has been adding more northern California bands and a cluster of Orange County groups whose fans have followed them to the Airliner–among them Lake Forest's Madrost, Rancho Santa Margarita's Infinite Death, Fullerton's Nihilitus, Anaheim's Gravehill, Santa Ana's Sacred Ruins, Lake Forest's Xanthochroid and Costa Mesa's Lords of Ruin.
"Metal Invictus furthers the exposure that an OC band like ours can gain from the shows it puts on," says Tanner Poppitt, lead guitarist and vocalist for Madrost. "It's not every day that a promoter comes along who wants to not just help out LA or OC bands, but also help to build a scene that will gain momentum. Angie is one of the most important aspects the scene needs."
For Gabriel, the love from the OC metal scene is mutual. "The professionalism and talent that is coming out of the OC bands right now is carnal and unparalleled," she says. "The presence of OC is apparent in the LA metal community."
After three years of successful metal shows, the promotions company is celebrating a landmark 50th production featuring Dr. Know, Night Demon, Hellbender, Madrost and Brilliant Machine on Sept. 6, with the support of the Razor KXRZ radio station and a fellow events company called Church of the 8th Day. Tickets run relatively cheap at $10 a pop and come with an 18-and-older general-admission policy.
Although Metal Invictus has expanded in team members and successful show dates over the years, its start-up years were filled with the stress of competing with similar concert-planning companies. Gabriel juggled a rigorous 12-hour event-planning day job and mom duties, all while paving her own path in the male-dominated metal industry.
"I've overcome the challenge with a lot of bands that don't want to book with me because I'm female," Gabriel says, adding, "This is my personal opinion, although nobody would ever admit that.
"Sometimes Jim has to contact certain bands because he can work with them better," she continues. "Now that I'm getting more credibility, I'm not having that much trouble anymore and getting the respect I want as a person."
Metal Invictus books groups in the subgenres of thrash, power, black, death, power violence, grind, folk metal and more to be featured on two stages. Although the Los Angeles band Doomsayers had frequent appearances on the company's early events, Metal Invictus does not tie in a residency band at any of their shows. All bands booked on its rosters are new or evenly spread out to keep music fresh to attendees and offer opportunities to more bands. No matter the event, a Los Angeles band that is within a close radius of the Airliner is booked on each bill.
"I have to have local bands within close proximity, so their friends can walk to the show," Gabriel explains. "Once they are booked, I can throw in an Orange County band or a group from Bakersfield because there are going to be people there to see them."
The Airliner originally told Gabriel she could only have 21-and-older shows. Not satisfied with that, Metal Invictus took its shows elsewhere–to the Vex Arts and an art venue called Lethal Amounts. "[The Airliner] wanted us back after we told them how much money we made," Gabriel says. "Eighteen and older allows us to host a wider audience that can enjoy our metal shows."
For the company's annual Maidens of Metal event in May, nine female powerhouses of local and statewide metal, including black metal's Divination of the Damned from the Sacramento area, dominated the stages and produced the largest turnout for Metal Invictus.
A longtime supporter, fellow musician and alumnus of Maidens of Metal, Necro Nikki will have her own Metal Invictus-sponsored show on Sept. 27 to promote her X-rated DVD release. The mutual support between Metal Invictus and Necro Nikki has been firm since day one, Gabriel says, and the company endorses whatever she pursues. The colorful and eclectic show will feature the infamous punk-rock sleaze band the Mentors and other "porno grind" bands, a subgenre of grindcore. (According to Gabriel, it's as dirty as it sounds, with a lot of noise, growling vocals and adult-rated lyrics.)
Among the advancements Metal Invictus has made with its shows is to hire sound engineers specific to heavy metal's sound intricacies such as Cesar Escobar.
Photographer/videographer Adrian Mejia was also hired to shoot concert photography and produce video, with installments fitted for insider drum views and guitar fret boards.
The promotions company continues seeking out bigger shows with more crowd-gathering potential, as expected. With the added support of Poor Kids Radio, Skidrow Studios and Arrogant Behavior, the continuation of accessible, affordable and quality heavy-metal shows will uncover advances for underdog local bands and nurture a community for music lovers.
"The LA and OC metal scenes aren't just about the glamorized bands on the Sunset Strip in the 1980s," Gabriel says. "We are building a culture that is unique in itself and should be exposed."
To follow Metal Invictus and its events calendar, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook/metalinvictus.com.