Summer Slaughter – Louisville, KY

Summer Slaughter
Tour 2011 at Expo Five, Louisville, KY: A Concert Review

By Matt Albers

            The annual Summer Slaughter tour
offers fans of the heaviest of the heavy of the world of metal with a mixed bag
of bands across the extreme metal spectrum. This year’s edition of the tour was
no exception, regardless of negative responses to the initial announcement of
the 2011 lineup. Fans of extreme metal may be more divided than of any other
subgenre, even when compared to fans of other annual metal tours like the
Mayhem Festival. With bigger named bands from the deathcore scene typically
headlining Summer Slaughter while occasionally more traditional death metal
bands fill the supporting slots, it’s become almost expected for fans’
dissenting opinions to become combative with one another; while traditional
death metal fans shun progression of extreme genres into new territories such
as hardcore, the typically younger deathcore fans may not appreciate the
subtleties and songwriting of the older extreme metal forms that helped lead
the way for modern extreme metal waves.

            Because of this common behavior of
today’s extreme metal, it’s unsurprising that the crowds that attend tours like
Summer Slaughter are more segregated than the diversity of the tour’s bill.
This trend was evident at the Louisville, KY date of the 2011 Summer Slaughter
tour on Thursday, August 4. The tour stopped in the city at a venue called Expo
Five in what appeared as the shadier, impoverished portion of Louisville, just
inside the city limits. The giant, round-structured venue, resembling a bomb
shelter, is part of a system of warehouses that serve several functions
including a flea market, and is surrounded by some of the dirtiest bars and
strip clubs imaginable (basically, think Sauget, IL on steroids). Even the most
wary fan could not deny that this venue and location was, at least visually,
the ideal location for an extreme metal festival.

            The first band on the tour was
Italy’s Fleshgod Apocalypse, whose visual appearance alone, donning tattered
tuxedos and smeared greasepaint, demanded attention. This unrelentingly brutal
band combines dark, technical death metal guitars and insanely fast and precise
drumming with gothic, symphonic keyboards. The band’s vocals are mostly
generated by the growls from guitarist Tommaso Riccardi, but bassist Paolo
Rossi would occasionally support the epic, symphonic black metal elements with
his signature high range operatic clean singing. The only downside to Fleshgod
Apocalypse’s performance that kept them from completely blowing away the crowd
was the venue’s very poor sound quality; Fleshgod Apocalypse’s vocals and
guitars sounded like nothing but muffled noise and was barely even audible over
the volume of the keyboards, which were far too high. Regardless of these
technical problems, which would continue throughout the night, Fleshgod
Apocalypse persevered with their intense stage presence, complete with crowd
participation demands and practically synchronized windmill headbanging.

            The next band was the surprisingly
eclectic As Blood Runs Black from Los Angeles. Although widely considered just
another deathcore band, As Blood Runs Black exhibited their unique and precise
blends of other metal styles beyond their thick, epic breakdowns, including the
strong songwriting abilities of Swedish-styled melodic death metal, with
soaring guitar shreds that were both technical and fluid. With their latest
effort Instinct – their sophomore
album released almost five years since their 2006 debut Allegiance – and after enduring countless member changes, As Blood
Runs Black showcased their finest and most professional lineup, featuring an
exceptionally strong and aggressive stage presence fronted by vocalist Sonik
Garcia, who effortlessly traveled through the range of extreme vocal styles,
from deep, guttural growls to strong barking shouts to high-pitched screeches.

            Third on the day’s bill was Oceano
from Chicago, IL, led by the bold extreme vocals of African-American front man
Adam Warren. While Oceano’s groove, breakdowns and strong stage presence were
as tight and consistent in Louisville as any other of their performances,
Warren’s attitude toward the crowd seemed more than a little displeased. Its
one thing for a metal front man to demand action in a mosh pit, but it’s
another to encourage actual, uncontrolled violence as he did, with comments of
fans not pummeling each other nearly hard enough. Warren’s negative view toward
the audience was most evident when, after not receiving a strong enough mosh
pit during their last song, called the crowd pussies, threw down the microphone
and walked off stage before the rest of the band finished playing the song.
What’s more, during a sudden break in a song earlier in their set, Warren
spoke, “Whether you’re in the Bible belt or not, your God never fucking existed
anyway.” While you have to give him credit for taking the risk of saying this
to the crowd, many of which could have easily been members of the Christian
hardcore/metal fusion community, this was more than likely a cocky attempt at
shock value more than anything, especially for any band aware that the venue’s
security would protect him from offended fans.

            After the first dose of newer bands
on the bill, the first of two traditional death metal veterans took the stage
at Expo Five, Dying Fetus. This groovy death-grind hybrid band showcased their
confident professional musicianship in a live setting to a rather accepting or
at least pleased crowd consisting of both traditional death metalheads as well
as enthusiastic young mosh maniacs. Focusing mostly on songs from their latest
effort, 2009’s Descend Into Depravity,
Dying Fetus were not able to squeeze in some of their fan favorites to their
understandably short festival set, such as “Pissing in the Mainstream,”
“Justifiable Homicide,” “Epidemic of Hate” or “Killing On Adrenaline.” There’s
really not much else to say about a band like Dying Fetus; they have been
around for twenty years and continue to crank out quality death metal records,
and judging by their set, they continue to genuinely enjoy doing what they do
and are definitely not just going through the motions.

            After Dying Fetus, some fans were
anticipating the supposed “Summer Slaughter half-time show” featuring a set
from instrumental metal band Powerglove, known for covering theme songs from
video games and cartoon shows, ranging from the nostalgic and vintage to the
new and modern. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s taste)
instead of Powerglove, the Louisville date of Summer Slaughter featured a set
from the band Kingdom of Sorrow, which was surprising considering that Kingdom
of Sorrow was a featured act on the Mayhem Festival, which was traveling the
U.S. the same time Summer Slaughter was as well. Kingdom of Sorrow’s presence
seemed to be well-accepted by the Louisville crowd, as both prominent members (Crowbar
and Down guitarist Kirk Windstein and Hatebreed front man Jamey Jasta) are
famous and well-respected personalities in today’s metal world. Although the
band’s style did change the momentum and feel of the show due its vast
differences from vast plethera of extreme metal, a set from Kingdom of Sorrow
was still probably better received than one from Powerglove. Although a fun
embrace of nerd culture through extremely talented – as well as fast – metal
musicianship, Powerglove’s band nature and musical style, amplified by their
oversized, GWAR-esque, video game-influenced costume armor would more than
likely have been shunned if not booed off stage by a more than likely small
crowd paying attention to the satirically humorous break from brutality.

            After the surprise set of Kingdom of
Sorrow came the four 2011 Summer Slaughter “headliners.” The first of these
bands to share the highest billing on the tour was the return of Six Feet
Under, the legendary groove-laden death metal outfit of former Cannibal Corpse
front man Chris Barnes. After parting ways with fellow founding members,
bassist Terry Butler and drummer Greg Gall earlier this year, Barnes recruited
the talents of Chimaira guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries and reputable
metal drummer Kevin Talley, known for his past work with bands like Dying
Fetus, Misery Index and Daath, as well as Chimaira’s 2005 self-titled album.
Now as a five-piece with Arnold on rhythm guitar and DeVries on bass, Six Feet
Under’s live sound is even more dynamic, amplifying the experience already led
strongly by Barnes’ stage presence, showcasing the solid, confident aggression
of a seasoned veteran who exhibited his genuine enjoyment of being on stage.
Six Feet Under’s ten-song setlist spanned not only the length of their career
but was even framed by songs from Barnes’ tenure with Cannibal Corpse, opening
with “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” and closing with “Hammer Smashed Face.”
The Louisville crowd seemed very enthusiastic about Six Feet Under’s
performance, although their sizable audience mostly consisted of fans of
traditional death metal rather than most members of the deathcore crowd, most
of which seemed to find something else to do during their set.

            After Six Feet Under was easily the
most melodic and possibly out of place band on the bill, Washington D.C.-based
metalcore/melodic death metal band Darkest Hour. Having previously toured on
the Summer Slaughter tour in 2009, Darkest Hour may have anticipated the
smaller, less-than-enthusiastic crowd on the tour from past experiences, but
were not fazed by this or their technical malfunction during the middle of
their set; halfway through their set while vocalist John Henry was introducing
their song “The Sadist Nation,” their oldest song on their set list, Henry’s
microphone began to short out and eventually failed. The band pressed on
throughout a handful of songs with Henry screaming into a failed microphone
while a sound tech constantly jumped on and off the stage to attempt to install
a new microphone. With both the faulty and functioning microphones installed,
either Henry or the sound board op became confused on which mic was which.
Rolling with the punches, Henry quickly decided to use both mics, holding each
mic with one hand and screaming into both, finally bringing vocals back to
their set. Although Henry’s handling of the technical difficulties added
positive professionalism to Darkest Hour’s show, the sound issues appeared to
bring the already unimpressed extreme metal crowd down further, along with the
band playing some of their more melodic and less heavy songs, particularly
“Savor The Kill,” “The World Engulfed In Flames,” and their solemn, almost
power ballad-esque “Love As a Weapon,” all from their latest album The Human Romance released in February
2011.

            At this point of the night, the vast
majority of attendees re-entered the main auditorium of Expo Five for the first
of the two top-billing co-headliners. As the sun began to set, Knoxville, TN
deathcore band Whitechapel treated ecstatic fans to a unique set of thick
breakdowns, surprisingly professionally traditional groove, and front man Phil
Bozeman’s signature extreme vocals, ranging from his deep guttural growls to
strong barks and screeches, all displaying his impeccably fast diction. Bozeman
also pointed out that one of their three guitarists was unable to perform that
evening due to food poisoning after allegedly eating undercooked roast beef
from a submarine sandwich chain that will remain nameless. Whitechapel did not
have to put too much effort into their set in order to impress the already
captivated crowd of fans, but took pride in showcasing their musical abilities
with an instrumental interlude that was calm and atmospheric as well as heavy,
brutal and groovy. It’s interesting to note that only three years earlier,
Whitechapel were one of the lowest bands on the bill of the 2008 Summer
Slaughter tour. By supporting their musical “coming into their element” so
strongly, Whitechapel not only pleased their own fans but those new and
unfamiliar to their music as well.

            Returning to headline the 2011
Summer Slaughter tour was The Black Dahlia Murder, who had also headlined the
tour in 2008. After already establishing and solidifying their place as one of
the most famous and widely-appreciated bands of modern extreme metal, The Black
Dahlia Murder brought every bit of their signature sound and show to Louisville
at Expo Five. Their zany antics and humor during their sound check alone was a
precursor of their high-energy and highly enjoyable stage presence that makes
them stand out within their own subgenre, as well as the metal world in
general. Vocalist Trevor Strnad’s eccentric mannerisms, mimicking a conductor
of an orchestra, was all part of the fun that fans come to expect from the
band, and actually works in their fun-loving favor against their music, which
is not only brutal and extreme, but surprisingly well-orchestrated for a band
that is often labeled as just another deathcore outfit.

            The 2011 Summer Slaughter tour was
indeed an experience all its own, especially at the Expo Five venue in
Louisville, KY. The setting alone made the presence of so many different,
original metal bands both fitting as well as a bit foreign. The only real
downside to the show at this particular venue was the highly noticeable poor
sound quality. While some bands enjoyed the good luck of working sound during
their set, other bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse and Darkest Hour were not so
fortunate, which is considerably disappointing as two of the most uniquely
outstanding bands on the bill. Perhaps with better sound quality, both bands
may have had more enthusiastic and positive crowd responses. Still, the 2011
Summer Slaughter tour successfully delivered the heaviest of the heavy once
again to satisfied fans far and wide, for a break from their lives and a day of
some of the loudest, most obnoxious music on the planet.

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