The Swedish headbang as performed by Aeon. Photo: Megan Kennedy
I hopped off Trax and headed west on Saturday afternoon with a few hundred other metalheads to The Complex for the Summer Slaughter Tour, or as I prefer to call it, the “Drummers Making Shit Look Easy” Tour. It’s got a heavyweight lineup of varying extreme and progressive metal acts that probably won't appeal to the majority of folk attending the more mainstream fests the US has to offer. Predictably, the crowd wasn’t huge, with plenty of room to start a circle pit and still have decent borders for the opt-outers, but just enough voices and bodies to make sure the bands had plenty of support. The population grew throughout the night as the headliners approached.
With the day starting at 3:30 p.m., I wondered how they were going to get through so many bands starting so late. This concern was only compounded when I realized they weren’t utilizing The Complex’s multi-room format, sending the crowd back and forth a la Mayhem Fest, leaving no downtime (a private event occupied the second room). Regardless, the tour crew of Summer Slaughter was crazy efficient and made the day fly by. Those dudes work their asses off and it shows—there was hardly time to hit the head and grab a drink between sets. All the kudos to their tireless efforts.
When I arrived only fifteen minutes after doors, the first band was already into their set. They had a frontman whose crowd talk was received like a Michael Scott improv skit. At one point he told a totally classy joke about female Mormon virgins and their rumored penchant for anal to maintain their purity, a move that surely made the ladies in the crowd feel warm and fuzzy. The band had a clean, tight sound, but didn’t really get the crowd going (early bands have the hardest job in that respect). Unfortunately I never heard their name and can’t find any indication on Summer Slaughter’s websites about who they are or whether they’re part of the tour, only going off the instinct that they didn’t seem local.
Up next was Aussie deathcore act Thy Art Is Murder, and what super cool guys they were. Lead vocalist CJ McMahon had such cordial stage banter, and even dedicated a song to the Utah Jazz and Stockton/Malone. Who knew Australia even gave a shit about the NBA? The crowd went suddenly and blazingly wild for their extreme, thumping sound, and blessed them with circle pits and plenty of lyrical scream-along. I really enjoyed the harsh, almost gravel-dragged vocals overlaying the technically beautiful guitar lines and intense drum work. McMahon met fans afterward while working the band’s merch table like a champ. They definitely made a fan out of me.
Next was Rings of Saturn, more deathcore hailing from the Bay Area who blend their vicious, highly-technical sound with keyboards and electronic effects and space/alien themes. Everyone’s sets were unfortunately short, but this one seemed more so. Their sound was tight and well-performed but there was something about it all that felt phoned in, disconnected. There wasn’t much passion in the display, and the band didn’t ride the wave of energy created by Thy Art Is Murder so much as deflate it. I didn’t see a pit break out the whole set. I’d probably chalk it up to tours being stressful affairs and our stop being on the downhill slope of this particular one, but it still sucks. At least they were on point music-wise, though I find more power in their album performances than was demonstrated at this show. It seemed like a lot of their technicality and unique flourishes didn’t translate terribly well.
Aeon took the stage, being, along with Cattle Decap, kind of the odd band out given the rest of the tour’s young and/or progressive feel, but they were carrying the traditional death metal torch in both sound and performance. They are a group of huge European dudes with fantastic long hair whose only stage tricks consisted of shredding and helicopter headbanging, it was a strong performance and had its own type of fire. Their brutal sound was difficult to mosh to, but the crowd enjoyed their set regardless and mostly did their own headbanging instead of starting a pit. It was during their set that I realized a weird quirk about myself: I love, fucking love watching death metal live. When it comes to recorded music, traditional death metal is not a genre I pick up frequently, but seeing it live always makes me glad I’m there, gets my blood pumping and reaffirms my appreciation for the genre and its talents, well represented by these Swedish overlords of metal.
Luckily, for the pit monsters, Revocation was next on the bill and ready to pump some life back into crowd. What shred masters! Vocalist/guitarist David Davidson (seriously) has a bellowing scream live—it sounds much stronger live than on their records—that mixes with the band’s death and thrash cocktail to create some markedly energetic moments in their sound. Apparently the dude is a Berklee grad with a background in polyrhythmic jazz, which he puts to interesting use, giving Revocation a unique twist in their technical sound and a monster presence. The crowd was all over them. I admittedly did miss the latter half of their set, finally succombing to my ravenous hunger and getting some pizza and caffeine before the lines got ridiculous, but I loved what I saw and heard.
Next was The Ocean, a band who’s received some press in the last few days thanks to their public complaining about the Summer Slaughter Tour and its alleged hypocritical stance on stage diving while promoting themselves as being the “most extreme tour of the year.” It’s not clear which member left the Facebook complaint about stage diving and the certain venues that have not allowed this crowd interaction, but the rant drew the attention of Sumerian Records’ president, who issued a pretty fierce and business-smart rebuttal regarding the realities of the act and chastising bands who consider jumping off of things such an integral part of their act and as “proof” that they are extreme. It sparked an interesting debate on the metal news sites, which is worth checking out. So I was surprised to see their vocalist participate in his stage diving during The Ocean’s set, although he’s certainly the most considerate stage diver I’ve ever seen, basically easing himself up onto the crowd from the stage. Their sound is decidedly modern and progressive, with atmospheric portions and a lot more melody than most of their tour-mates. The crowd fucking loved them—the band was full of energy and really enjoyed interacting with their audience.
This was my first date with Cattle Decapitation, and I’m stoked to be able to cross this band off my concert bucket list. Like Aeon, they brought the old-school look, and a different kind of brutality than their younger counterparts, with their grinding chaos and haunting melodies. They seemed disappointed about their short set time, with vocalist Travis Ryan remarking how they “drove eight hours for a twenty-minute set,” which makes me wonder if SLC was unusually short, or if the drive just enhanced the feeling. But damn these guys were beastly, giving us a thick, dark set full of aggression. I was particularly impressed with the stage presence and performance of bassist Derek Engemann, who has only been with the group since 2010.
Time for Norma Jean, members of the Broship and all-around lords of metalcore, whose recent release Wrongdoers is setting fire to the scene and has captured this humble journalist’s heart. I’ve been spinning that record for weeks and I was so stoked to see them live. I did disappoint myself a bit by looking up their set list beforehand and seeing they were only playing one song from the new record, but it really didn’t matter. Their set was amazeballs. They opened with the doom metal closer from the new record, a kind of sludgy interlude, before launching into a set spanning their entire catalogue. There was lots of crowd interaction and love given to SLC, which they referred to as their “second home,” something I always love to hear. They closed with “Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste” before launching into the doom interlude again to bleed the set out—a classy touch. They absolutely had the biggest pits of the night up to that point. They were all so acrobatic on stage, throwing guitars and their own bodies around like madmen. After so many years of missing their shows, the one I finally saw was worth the wait (aside from the shortened set, of course).
The crowd stayed crazy for giant prog outfit Periphery, which surprised me and made me very happy, as I love the genre and seeing crowds flip out for it. And talk about on-stage charisma—what a band full of goofballs. Vocalist Spencer Sotelo was barefoot the entire set as he jogged around the stage. Half the band beelined into the audience with their wireless instruments early in the set to get up close and personal with their fans. The guitarists returned to play a mid-song game of rock/paper/scissors for some secret reason, but it was funny to watch. They seemed more than any other act to be having genuine fun onstage and there was a string of lads in the front row that just worshiped their set. I knew their melodic, progressive sound had gained popularity in the last few years, but seeing their fan base in front of me really drove home how much these guys have grown on the scene. Their set was one of the highlights of the night for sure—heavy but fun, these talented dudes don’t take themselves too seriously and just want their fans to have a great time.
Next, instrumental prog group Animals As Leaders returned to a Salt Lake stage. With only three members live and no vocals, they were an entirely different spectacle than Periphery. They had set up dual video screens behind each guitarist that ran psychedelic videos of geometric shapes in motion, like the inside of a tripping shaman’s eyelids. The videos complemented the band’s complex and hypnotizing sound, and filled up visual room on a stage with only two mostly motionless individuals. It’s definitely not a live show for everyone’s taste, but if you truly enjoy watching musicians at the top of their craft, it’s quite a set. Luckily this crowd was mostly receptive and gave them much deserved love. He didn’t talk much, but lead guitarist Tosin Abasi did suggest we crash the quinceañera next door after the show. Too bad it didn’t pan out—we could’ve taken bets on how many of us get our asses kicked by a dude in a cowboy hat.
Finally it was time for Dillinger Escape Plan, and there was a good buzz in the air. I’d heard nothing about their live show except for “dude, they’re crazy,” which just puts them in good company with many of the bands on this tour. As a photographer, one of their “crazy” aspects sure made my job a lot harder: the ever-pounding strobe lights during their show that were admittedly a bad-ass stage effect. It added a disorientation that enhanced the emotions of the music even further, even if it made getting clear shots a lot harder. The long, hot day did not dampen the crowd’s appreciative roars, and just a few songs in there were already dudes finding a way to scale the stage and run around with the band or scream into the mic before security escorted them off or they took a dive into the crowd. The band didn’t seem to mind it either way, welcoming the energetic participation (which seemed to be an important theme to most of the bands’ performances), although security seemed less than pleased, but what are you gonna do? Those’re metal hooligans for you. They were a powerful and incredibly energetic closer, exploring their catalogue, including their newest critically-adored release “One Of Us Is The Killer.” Plus, they played “Sunshine the Werewolf” which made this darkheart very happy.
This was my first visit to the Summer Slaughter Tour and I really fucking enjoyed myself. It was a great collection of extreme bands that made for a hell of a show, and I can’t wait to see their lineup next year.
Click here for the exclusive online photo gallery of the slaughter.