By Avinash Mittur
August 24th 2012, The Fillmore, San Francisco CA: For the last few years or so, the Summer Slaughter tour has been offering heavy metal fans a full day of music supplied by many young bands and usually a veteran act or two. This year the tour was no different, offering a great time to fans of death metal full of technical proficiency and instrumental talent. For me, a metalhead who has spent the last five years listening to just about every subgenre of metal not represented at Summer Slaughter, the show really wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but for the other one thousand attendees, the concert was a full day of consistent and quality death metal. For what was advertised, the Summer Slaughter tour’s stop in San Francisco was a huge success, and I’m sure many fans will be happy to once again patronize the show in 2013.
After being stuck in traffic for what felt like forever, I finally made my way into the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco’s Japantown. I entered the venue in time to catch Sacramento’s Conducting From The Grave. The band’s bassist Jackson Jordan was who impressed me the most, constantly having his right hand fly about the strings, but guitarists John Abernathy and Jeff Morgan’s sweep-heavy soloing was fun to see as well. I’ll be the first to admit that the band’s style of death metal wasn’t my cup of tea, but the audience was in the palm of their hands and were more than happy to answer singer Mikey Powell’s calls for an old school circle pit.
Next up were my personal favorite band of the day, Exhumed. Despite playing on their home turf, the seasoned act had to win over a bunch of kids who had probably never heard of them before. After being completely blown away by their Scion Showcase set in LA last February, I was confident that they would once again deliver the goods live. Matt Harvey is still one of the most energetic guitarist/vocalists I’ve ever seen, refusing to stand still when he wasn’t singing. He and Bud Burke, a former Exhumed alumnus returning to the band on guitar, could frequently be seen trading off solos next to each other. Bud himself seemed incapable of not headbanging and he and bassist Rob Babcock constantly traded places onstage. The set covered every one of Exhumed’s albums, and anyone who hadn’t heard the band before (probably most of the kids in the Fillmore) were given a great intro to their music. Exhumed easily won over the young crowd, and the band was met with a huge cheer when they left the stage.
New Orleans’ Goatwhore took the stage next and were the last of the older acts until Cannibal Corpse played. This was actually my first exposure to their music, and I have to admit that I was pretty surprised at what I heard. What I heard was old school (think Celtic Frost old-school) with driving, yet somehow sludgy riffing. Singer Louis had a truly menacing and imposing presence onstage while guitarist Sammy was content to headbang along to his low, downtuned riffs. One thing I noticed was that despite having only one guitarist, the band had a huge, monolithic sound that didn’t falter at all, even during guitar solos. I’d be happy to credit this to bassist James- his playing wasn’t too complex, but he held the back-end down remarkably well. I later found out that the band’s set was almost entirely made up of songs from their new album. This was a risky move, but the fact that I still came away impressed with their set shows that it really paid off.
After grabbing some food, I headed back to the floor to see Job For A Cowboy. I had last seen the band on this year’s Metal Alliance Tour and I came out with pretty much the same impression of them as I did last time. I’m still not a fan of the borderline deathcore vocals, but I remain impressed with the unrelenting aggression in their songs. Singer Jonny Davy and guitarist Al Glassman were the most active members of the band onstage and they were rarely still if they could help it. The crowd gave them a solid applause, and I think that most of the audience enjoyed their set.
Veil of Maya were next to play- simply put, this band had the craziest physical reception from the crowd. The audience was thrown into a frenzy from their first song onward, and their energy didn’t go down at all for the whole set. Marc Okubo’s riffs were perfectly synced with Sam Applebaum’s double bass bursts, which was a pretty cool feature of their songs. In addition, the band had an odd presence onstage, opting to jump in unison instead of headbang or run across the stage. The audience was happy to join in, and hundreds of kids piled in the front would leap about with the band. Marc’s playing style was the most unique out of the bands playing tonight, mixing Meshuggah-like lines with harmonics and bursts of other high pitched notes. Again, I’m not sold on the music and songs themselves but the kids really went crazy for them, and that counts as a total success for the band in my eyes.
The last of the opening acts, The Faceless, gave the Fillmore a set that I’m not entirely sure lived up to the standard set by Veil of Maya. One thing that immediately impressed me was the vocal style of Geoffrey Ficco. When he wasn’t doing a high pitched screech, his low death grunts were powerful and clear and remind me of a more brutal Johan Hegg oddly enough. However, Geoffrey was the only one who really moved onstage- the times when he went backstage during guitar solos and other instrumental sections only helped to show that the other bandmembers had close to no stage presence. I did enjoy guitarist Michael Keene’s soloing though I wasn’t a fan of his clean vocals, which were pretty tough to hear and were buried in the mix. Yet again, the crowd gave them a solid level of cheers and applause, but I’m not entirely sure it was well earned. I’m in no position to comment on the quality of the music, but I really would have liked to have seen more energy from The Faceless, especially considering how rabid their fans acted on the floor.
Finally the first of the two headliners, Between the Buried and Me, appeared and the audience gave their loudest effort yet. I had seen the band two years ago at the Missing Link festival in Oakland with Mastodon, Baroness, High on Fire and a few other bands and I came away in awe of their technical ability, but not quite a fan of the music I heard. Every member of the band is insanely talented though, and anyone who enjoys progressive metalcore would certainly find something to like, if not love about them, but BTBAM just aren’t for me. That being said, I have to say that the band’s performance was once again astonishing. I could easily watch Blake Richardson play his drums for hours on end, and Tommy Rogers is probably one of the most dynamic and skilled frontmen in modern metal. Every one of their songs was met with a massive applause from the crowd, who remain engaged throughout the entire hour long set. There wasn’t a single hiccup or off note to be heard in the full set, and the band’s tightness as a live unit was truly remarkable. Tommy was greeted with boos when he announced that “Fossil Genera” would be their last song, but that only goes to show how dedicated the fans were on this night.
Sadly, a huge amount of kids left the venue before the final band of the night. When Cannibal Corpse began playing, it was as if the collective age of the audience jumped by twenty years. The older metalheads seemed to appear out of nowhere, and all of the high school kids bolted for the exit. It was cool to see a veteran act like Cannibal Corpse headline Summer Slaughter, but this changeover in the audience made me feel as if they were a bit out of place. Indeed, their brand of straightforward death metal stood in sharp contrast to the technical death metal and deathcore presented by the other bands on this night. I just have to admit though, Cannibal Corpse’s live performance was absolutely punishing, and the young fans who didn’t stick around really missed out. The band collectively didn’t move an inch during their hour-long set, but there was a sort of monolithic stage presence to them. Corpsegrinder’s nonstop windmilling hair combined with Pat O’Brien, Alex Webster and Rob Barett’s collective headbanging was a powerful force, even though it probably shouldn’t have been. Pat’s solos were also mindblowing- there wasn’t a single bum-note played and every pinch harmonic screamed clear through the air. It was gutsy of the band to open the show with three songs off their new album, “Torture,” but the audience didn’t seem to mind. However when Corpsegrinder announced that they were going to play an old classic, “Covered in Sores,” the crowd really lost it. This being my first time seeing the band, Corpsegrinder’s speeches were frequently hilarious, even if they were some of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard (I’m a 19 year old male college student, offensive humor brightens my day). The pit was active and the front rows were chaotic for most of the set, but when Corpsegrinder announced that they would finish with “Hammer Smashed Face,” the Fillmore simply exploded. Of course, the band lied and finished off the show with an additional song, “Stripped Raped and Strangled,” but the audience wasn’t complaining. From what I later heard from those who had seen the band on numerous occasions, this was about as good of a Cannibal Corpse performance as they come, but this being my first time seeing them I came away pleased. It wasn’t earth-shattering and it probably wasn’t even my favorite death metal set out of the relative few that I’ve seen, but it was a good time regardless.
All in all, for fans of death metal, Summer Slaughter was an absolute success. Fans probably paid around 30 to 40 dollars for a ticket, and I think that the vast majority of them came out extremely satisfied. There was a ton of great music to be heard here, and for the most part fans of one band would find themselves liking the rest. I was certainly an exception to this rule, but then again I’m not the kind of metalhead that this tour would appeal to. For those older fans who came only for an hour of Cannibal Corpse, I think their money may have been better spent elsewhere, but I’m sure the hundreds of kids who loved the other younger groups had the time of their lives.