The original line-up included frontman J. Neo (Marvin), bassist Alan Korn (formerly of SF's The Catheads) and drummer Michael "Mick" Freeman. Neo offers this explanation of the band's name: "Still no agreement on a band name until Maati [Stojanovich, Neo's girlfriend] sees a graffiti on a sidewalk in the Tenderloin reading 'XTAL.' No one hates it; it grows on you. Somewhere along the line a hyphen is added to make it easier to pronounce, but for the next 13 years, confusion ensues as to whether the letter 't' is capitalized. (It's not.)"
The trio's first two gigs were at San Francisco's On Broadway in late 1983. The band put out a demo in 1984, then broke up in 1985, with band members moving on to other projects.
When two songs from X-tal's demo were included on the 1987 SF Unscene compilation and attracted some attention, Neo and Freeman reformed the band, eventually settling on a lineup with Mitzi Waltz on bass and Jimmy (Demetrius) Broustis on guitar. (Broustis hails from Libertyville, Illinois, a small town that produced a number of alternative music figures; Broustis was in the same class at Libertyville High School as Adam Jones of Tool.)
This lineup played frequently at San Francisco's Albion, and released X-tal's first album, Reason is 6/7 of Treason, in 1990. The CMJ New Music Report (March 30, 1990) said the record "scoops up the morning-dew innocence of the least embarrassing Haight-Ashbury petal-babies of the '60s with the world-bleary wisdom of all those SF/LA punk-worn people who turned their matured underground gaze upon gentler, more introspective directions."
With Allison Moseley replacing Waltz on bass, X-tal recorded Die Monster Die, released in 1991. This second album was called "wiser and angrier" by CMJ (March 29, 1991), which deemed it "first-class world punk music." The disc's more political songs included "An Old Colonial's Hard Luck Story" (the band's first and only single), about the self-pity of Rhodesian exiles, and "Domino's Theory," a six-minute protest song tying together Domino's Pizza's labor policies and food quality to CEO Tom Monaghan's alleged support for the Nicaraguan Contras and Operation Rescue:
A fortune made on cardboard crust
Is a gun pointed at our subversive lust
And a Midwest multi-millionaire
Can finance right-wing guerrilla warfare
The same band members, with guest Carrie Bradley of Ed's Redeeming Qualities, produced 1992's Everything Crash, which Allmusic called "an excellent album that makes the brain dance." After this release, Broustis left the group, eventually replaced by Mark Zanandrea. The two albums recorded with Zanandrea were released in Germany, where the band had a considerable following. In 1996, the last incarnation of X-tal broke up. In 2006, they played a well-attended reunion concert in San Francisco.