Why you might want to check out Summer Slaughter

I typically would not attend a festival tour like Summer Slaughter, but this year’s lineup caught my eye. Many of my favorite groups were playing including The Ocean, Revocation, Animals as Leaders and The Dillinger Escape Plan. This same lineup probably infuriated long-time followers of this fest, which since 2001 has featured more traditional death metal groups (Necrophagist, Suffocation, The Black Dahlia Murder, Cannibal Corpse). In fact, I KNOW many of them were disappointed as was evidenced by comments on all the social media sites.

About a year and a half ago I became acquainted with the members of post-metal group The Ocean, and they were kind enough to comp me and a plus one into the show in Philly at the Trocadero. In hindsight, we should have also rearranged our schedules to hit the fest stop in Silver Spring or figured out how to go to The Ocean’s headlining show at Saint Vitus on August 6. The festival set times were way too short, and it’s always better when you can see your favorite bands play a full set.

We arrived at the “Troc,” which is located in the heart of Philly’s Chinatown, while Aeon was playing. I am not a huge fan of Rings of Saturn and am not familiar with Thy Art is Murder, so we did not rush to get to the show at doors. We actually encountered Luc Hess and Jonathan Nido from The Ocean on the street and chatted with them on the sidewalk out front.

The Troc is an old theatre, very ornate inside with lots of gilding and a wrap-around balcony (21+ only) with cushioned seating. The venue has some dumb policies such as there is no re-entry after 6 p.m. except for smokers 21+.  So while a beautiful day and fresh air beckoned outside between sets, we were trapped inside a paint-encrusted monstrosity that smelled of pizza and hot dogs with about 1,000 people for the next five or more hours. Ugh,

Aeon represented more or less what past fests have been about: straight ahead dead metal. There was a good deal of crowd surfing. I am not super familiar with their work, but they were fun to watch.

Revocation owned their 25 minutes in the spotlight. David Davidson is a masterful technical death metal guitarist with an extremely solid band alongside him. I don’t know what’s not to love. Their songs are memorable and their playing unequalled. They looked like they were having fun as well, which makes a world of difference when you are watching a band.

Next up, were my friends The Ocean. They are still riding high off of excellent reviews and reaction to their latest recording Pelagial. But when the average running time of one of your songs is 10 minutes, it is extremely difficult to assemble a cohesive set into 25 minutes. Somehow, they managed. Vocalist Loïc Rosetti trusts the crowd so much that he took two graceful swan dives off the stage into their waiting arms. Robin Staps leads a team of pros here and, while I could tell that some die-hard death metal members of the audience were unmoved, Ocean devotees were very excited and wishing for more when their aggressive set concluded.

I completely sat out the sets of Cattle Decapitation and most of Norma Jean. I could hear them though, of course, because I could not get further away than the  lobby. They were okay, but just not my thing.

Then Periphery took the stage. Now, first let me say something about Periphery’s merch table. They had all these different t-shirts designs (there are tons more on their website) referencing inside jokes I couldn’t figure out or just spoofing other commercial logos.  There is one with comedian David Cross (as Todd Margaret, maybe?). Two mocked black metal band logos, and that irked me (because as a devotee of black metal, of course, it would). I have this hypothesis that the more different t-shirt designs a band has, the more terrible they are likely to sound. But I have seen Periphery before, so I was confused because I generally consider them to be interesting and talented. I was even more confused when they started their set with what sounded like the “bounce” of nu-metal. As their set wore on, they returned  more to how I remember them sounding, which I will describe as Meshuggah-esque. But maybe this band has just gone in a direction I don’t care for.

Then came Animals As Leaders, another band I have enjoyed seeing before and for whom I have great respect.  No surprises here. An exciting, clean and tight performance with lots of visual enhancements to make it trippy. They ended with CAFO, the song that sort of propelled this group into the metal public’s eye. Music like this is technically beautiful, but I think best sampled in small doses since its frenetic pace can be overwhelming after a while. Forty minutes was about right for them.

Speaking of frenetic, let’s talk about our headliner, The Dillinger Escape Plan. After all this time, I had never seen them live. Or maybe I was afraid to see them based on the rumors that I had heard. I was told they put on an “energetic” show. That’s so much of an understatement. I watched one guitarist nearly tumble backward off of an amplifier during the first song.  Later Greg Puciato lept from the upper balcony about 12 feet down into the swirling mass of humanity that made up the audience, He apparently does this all the time. I know he has done far worse. At least he didn’t take a dump on the stage. Not this time, anyway.

I concluded that, while the band sounded really great live and Puciato’s voice carried beautifully even above the chaos, the REAL reason people go to see TDEP is to take bets on which member of the band will die first during a live show. Greg has already “died” once before, and I am sure he will give himself the opportunity to do it for real at some point in the future. The game the audience plays when they come to a TDEP performance is to guess in which song someone will be mortally wounded.  (My bet is on “43% Burnt” ) They keep you coming back to their shows until it finally happens. I am so glad I finally got to witness this madness live, and I will be back, but only if I can watch from a safe distant.

Overall, the Summer Slaughter tour was a good fit for my ears and eyes. Though if this franchise built its reputation upon a death metal landscape, then they have certainly strayed from that path.

There are still several dates left in this tour if you want to join in the fun. They are listed here. My photos are below. No photo pass, just snaps from the Lumix here.

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