Summer Slaughter is a Beast with an Identity Crisis

Summer Slaughter is the last place you’d want to realize you don’t exactly fit into the metal community. Though I consider myself to have a fairly hardcore taste in music, this happened to me. The tour features some of the heaviest metal bands in the world and caters largely to a demographic that doesn’t try hard to stray from the metalhead stereotype. I’m talking band t-shirts with things like, “Who needs God when you have Satan?” written on the back, chains and long hair. Standing in the queue outside the venue, Irving Plaza, my blue shirt and beige shorts stuck out among a sea of black, and the fact that I had no piercings or tattoos was an anomaly. Also, I seemed to be the only one to have applied deodorant (or showered). I went into Summer Slaughter fully aware that I wouldn’t like half the bands in the lineup, but the other half was made up of several of the most innovative bands in metal today, a group which rarely gets together on the same stage. I couldn’t pass up getting to feel the bass pound on my chest, feeling my ears ring as guitars blast and watching my idols get lost in the music onstage.

The concert was opened by Cerebral Bore, a brutal death metal band from Scotland whose vocalist is female, a rarity in metal. In addition, she’s only eighteen. Having never heard them before, I was excited when I was told that they were considered original. But when they came on stage, their music became a soup of chugging guitars, blast beats, pinch harmonics, tremolo picking and power chords. Each song they played sounded exactly like the last. All of this occurred while a pit formed in the small, dark venue. The bottle-flinging and crowd-surfing began soon after. By the time Cerebral Bore had gathered their gear, there was little time for special guest, The Contortionist, to set up, adjust their levels and play their set. The progressive metal band, known for their richly textured songs, seven-string guitars, and multitalented singer/screamer/keyboardist, only had time for three or four songs. The majority of the audience stood still and listened. They were followed by Exhumed and Goatwhore, two entirely forgettable and generic bands that were formed in the 90s and should have stayed there. To see a thirty or forty-year-old man wearing gauntlets galloping around on stage and swinging his hair was not something I could relate to. Others in my age group seemed to love it. I don’t know how reckless metalhead youngsters reconcile rebelling against their parents with listening to a band whose members are as old as their moms and dads. At one point during Exhumed’s set, a man with long hair, a doctor’s mask and a bloodied lab coat pranced around stage with a chainsaw. I later saw him posing for pictures with fans of the band. I tried to be respectful of the bands, thinking to myself, “I don’t like this but I can understand why some people would.” But hearing boring song after boring song, as if the music was on loop, my feigned appreciation was lost.

Job for a Cowboy provided a departure from the wackiness of the bands prior. With more intricate guitar work and lyrical themes that discuss politics and propaganda rather than blasting God, JFAC maintained the intensity with a more modern and relevant edge (though the lyrics were hard to decipher). Veil of Maya, a highly technical deathcore band, followed, getting the audience more hyped than any act before. With heavy use of syncopation, VOM’s weird rhythms in fan-favorites “Punisher” and “Dark Passenger” turned my light head nod into a full headbang. Unfortunately, I was standing next to a seven-foot-tall, sweaty, tanktop-wearing chubby man who I later dubbed Marshmallow Boy. Holding his beer high in one hand and raising his fist in the air and pantomiming guitar playing, he took up the space of three normal men and had me, not a scrawny guy, pushed up against the barrier next to the sound mixing station. Fed up with chilling in the back, I proceeded to the front of the venue during the next act, Periphery. The band played songs from their new album like “MAKE TOTAL DESTROY” and “Ragnarok,” getting the audience wild singing, jumping and thrashing. After their final song, my shoes had almost fallen off, I was covered in sweat (mostly belonging to others) and more satisfied than I’d been since the concert began (a good three hours before).

But I’d read that on other stops of the tour, Periphery had played almost twice as many songs. Same goes for The Faceless, the band that came next. The show was on lead guitarist Michael Keene’s birthday and he seemed eager to impress, performing difficult solos flawlessly. Bassist Evan Brewer and drummer Lyle Cooper delivered equally stunning performances. The Faceless played two tracks from their new album Autotheism, “The Eidolon Reality” and “Deconsecrate.” Yet, when it seemed like there were a good two or three songs left to play, the vocalist informed the audience that the band had run out of time, leaving many furious. Time wasted on the tiresome and mind-numbing (in a bad way) songs of Goatwhore and Exhumed could have been used more wisely. It felt as if the geezers of metal were given precedence over fresh faces. Then, Between the Buried and Me, a well-respected heavy metal band that’s been around since 2000 and released a huge amount of albums, took the stage. They’re known for their fifteen-minute long, weirdly structured songs and often perform medleys at concerts with no interruptions between them. Usually, I’d appreciate BTBAM but their set was nearly an hour long. Furious, I left before the headlining band, Cannibal Corpse, that I knew didn’t fit my tastes, played.

Summer Slaughter, or at least the stop on the tour that I went to, has an identity crisis. It seems that one half is in the past with generic bands that are all heavy metal shtick and little substance and the other is in the present with more progressive bands. I’d have no problem with the eight-hour long show if The Contortionist wasn’t on stage second but instead followed Job for a Cowboy, a more appropriate position in the lineup. That way, I could have avoided Cerebral Bore, Exhumed and Goatwhore entirely and not had to wait three hours for a block of bands I actually liked to come on stage.

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