When I was first moving to America one of the things I was most curious to check out was the famed “Touring festivals” Of course now, Mayhem Fest is dead and gone and Summer Slaughter is the last real legitimate touring metal festival out there. And yet, as I continued through the day I was shocked to see how poorly it felt like the festival was doing. With a mere 200-odd people showing up to check out 6 fairly huge extreme metal bands you couldn’t help but feel a sense of let-down. That being said, the bands I got to see where all on point – and it reflected the internal might that extreme metal will always have, even if this particular soiree was on a far more mainstream stage than I might ever dare to normally look upon. All things considered, Summer Slaughter 2015 was an interesting experience and certainly one that I feel should keep on going. With Beyond Creation, Cattle Decapitation, The Acacia Strain, Veil of Maya, Born of Osiris and the by now legendary Arch Enemy all taking the stage, it was hard not to really get into the grooves of what this festival represents.
Unfortunately I missed Beyond Creation due to a condition common in the suburbs known as “Fucking traffic” and so, when I arrived, after a brief chat with one of the Season of Mist dudes it was time for Cattle Decapitation to play. Easily the most extreme band on the bill, their set was, as always, wonderfully brutal and left me gasping for air. One of the things I had been concerned about with Cattle Decapitation live would be their execution of the new stuff which is… a departure to say the least featuring some borderline clean vocals. And yet Travis Ryan seemed to have no difficulty belting out lyrics in his various vocal stylings and making for some of the most interesting death metal out there today. Sure a lot of the kids in the crowd weren’t ready for something this fucked up, but for the few true metal brethren who showed up, it was impossible to look away.
As a result of my awe from Cattle Decapitation I was afraid I might not be able to fully appreciate The Acacia Strain. The Acacia Strain are one of those bands I never really got in to (Probably because I am a bit too young for that mid-2000’s deathcore thing) so I was curious to see what their live experience would bring. I was pleasantly surprised at the destructive breakdowns and occasionally atmospheric guitar work. It shows a band who have found a sort of holy union of styles and deliver it with a deliciously fucked up intensity. Sure, The Acacia Strain conform to a lot of the day to day rules of modern death metal (Or is it deathcore? I don’t even know anymore), but at least they do it well, and at this point, I’m not sure what else you can ask from a death metal band, beyond things like that. I may be too underground at heart for this band, but I gotta say, I can see the appeal! I think I can live in a world where bands like these guys are the titans of the scene.
One of the bands I had most wanted to see on the day was Veil of Maya, and largely just for their song It’s Not Safe To Swim Today, one of the first truly insane guitar pieces I learned in high school. Long story short – they played the song to close a truly exciting set. While I’m not sold on their new singer (Unrelated: he looks exactly like some coked up dude who helped me and a friend change a tire at 3 in the morning on the way home from MDF) but I think the band might be on to something. The clean vocals felt reminiscent of 2010 metalcore, but maybe I’m just being an asshole. That being said, Veil of Maya remain one of the most technically proficient and sonically interesting bands out there, I just wish that they could get a better mix so you could hear all of those triumphant melodic lines in all of their spiraling glory rather than the thudding 8 string bass lines that so cruelly dominate the sound.
It was around this point that the night started to get a bit nutty. I was running around trying to score interviews, yelling shit in multiple languages (Beyond Creation are Quebecois) and I suddenly started to wonder if this whole thing had been worth it. The thing is, with music journalism, your entire job is based off trusting people who are famously not trustworthy, that is to say, musicians. You run around trying to figure shit out, and then you find yourself waiting, and then in the end realize you were waiting for nothing. Why I love it I don’t know, but it always feels like the best job in the world for some stupid fucking reason.
By the time my interviews were done Born of Osiris were already halfway through their set. Though they remain very similar to Veil of Maya I couldn’t help but be charmed by their hardcore edge. The djentier moments that infiltrated the sound made me nostalgic for 2011 and I smiled at the crushing power of the bands bottom end. I hadn’t realized that the band has essentially two frontmen, with the keyboardist occasionally taking the stage alongside the main vocalist. This was actually really interesting to see, especially as their dynamic was so perfectly put together. I don’t think I’ve seen something like that since I was about 16 watching French legends L’esprit Du Clan. What I’m saying is that Born of Osiris understand how to craft a tight song, and get a surprising amount of mileage from a seemingly limited sonic palate, it makes their live shows strangely rewarding.
Finally it was time for Arch Enemy, a band mostly famous for having a chick singer. I wasn’t too interested in staying for their whole set, but I decided to give it a shot. I will say this – their frontwoman is a fucking monster. She has a great stage presence and understands what it means to get a crowd riled up. It felt… distinctly European, but for me that was part of the charm, adding a bit of nostalgia to what they do. The Philadelphia crowd was freaking out over their live sonic explosions, frothing in the pit and singing along even to the new songs. It’s fascinating to me how Arch Enemy have been able to craft such a distinct spot for themselves in the metal underground, even now when they stand as one of the biggest bands in the genre, or as one of my buddies put it “Practically a legacy act”. Despite all that, Arch Enemy seem to have what it takes to keep going for decades longer.
Overall, though the lineup may have gotten a tad monotonous, I feel Summer Slaughter should get more recognition. Even though the crowd was fairly diverse, with old metal dudes standing alongside middle school girls, there was a sense of disappointment, at least among the elite. Sure, high school kids had the time of their lives, but does the fact that a band like Arch Enemy can’t fill a fairly small venue mean that metal is suffering? Or does this just mark the end of the touring festival? These were the questions that haunted my mind as I drove home, swearing through traffic, and these are the questions that need to be answered before next summers festival season starts all over again.