On August 12, 2015 Summer Slaughter, in partnership with the All-Stars Tour, took over all three floors of Webster Hall for a crushing night of metal. With old-school death metal legends including Arch Enemy, and Cattle Decapitation sharing the venue with more modern progressive acts such as Born of Osiris, the diversity of the audience was clear. While the 2-block line outside of the venue featured a typical sea of black t-shirts, the logos ranged from Carach Angren to The Used. Could this unusual range of fans truly come together in peace?
As the doors opened the stage was set by two local acts, Destruction Upon Us from Salyorsburg, PA, and Proletariat from New Brunswick, NJ. With the crowd properly riled up, it was then time for Beyond Creation, the first act of the touring line up, to take the stage. Despite playing early in the evening, and a relatively short set at only 30 minutes, the progressive death metal act may have been my surprise favorite band of the night. So many bands working under the genre of progressive metal sacrifice melody for technicality, but even in through their first song “Omnipresent Perception” it was clear that Beyond Creation intends to break that stereotype and combine the best of the two elements flawlessly. Their musical prowess is obvious with expertly executed tap solos, and even the occasional fretless bass solo provided by their brilliant fretless player, Hugo Doyon-Karout. However one cannot deny they are still incredibly heavy, harkening back to the near-black metal days of Morningrise Opeth. The show was clearly beginning on a positive note.
Next up was Cattle Decapitation, and I knew shit was about to get heavy. Anyone who’s seen these death metal behemoths live can attest to the fact that Travis Ryan’s vocals are ear shattering. His dynamic ability to constantly shift between low growls and glass breaking shrieks can be rivaled by few (maybe Glen Benton in his younger days).  That being said the crowd responded aptly, opening up what was probably the largest pit of the night to classics like  “Forced Gender Reassignment” (famed for it’s incredibly NSFW music video) and “Your Disposal.” They closed with their room-shakingly savage new track “Pacific Grim” solidifying their place as the heaviest band on the bill, and probably the most brutal vegetarians ever. 

As fans gathered for the third band, the Acacia Strain, there was an obvious change in the crowd. It was clear that a great deal of younger attendees were coming up to the main stage from the partnering All-Stars Tour on the floor below. This shift was even more apparent as the group began to play their first song and most recent single, “Human Disaster.” Quickly the pit went from standard moshing and headbanging to a barrage of karate kicks and floor punches. Frontman Vincent Bennett truly captivated the audience, leading them viciously through the pre-breakdown chants of their unyieldingly slow and heavy brand of deathcore, in between bouts of spitting water in the faces of the front row. However, in a rare tender moment, the band took the opportunity to dedicate their track “Woah! Shut it Down” to Justin Lowe who was supposed to play along side them on the Summer Slaughter Tour. These tributes would continue throughout the night with both Veil of Maya and Born of Osiris dedicating tracks to the late guitarist of After the Burial.

As the Acacia Strain finished their set with their final song “JFC” more fans continued to pile into the already packed ballroom for the next band, Veil of Maya.  The change in mood from the previous act was clearly evident, as soon as the group walked out onto the stage to the opening of “Circle of Life” from the Lion King. The band’s new vocalist Lukas Magya’s addition of clean falsetto vocals not only proved to be a major change for the festival but for the sound of the group itself. Up until their recent record Matriarch and the 2014 departure of former vocalist, Brandon Butler, the band had exclusively used screams and growls. Still the new material managed to maintain the technical brutality of their previous work, and the crowd responded just as enthusiastically to new songs like “Mikasa” and “Leeloo” as they did to classics like “It’s Not Safe to Swim Today.”

The final supporting act, Born of Osiris, truly proved the variety encompassed by this year’s Summer Slaughter.  With an audience of screaming teenage girls and a stage set up including a series of flashing rainbow colored lights in the background, the 360-degree shift from earlier acts like Cattle Decapitation was complete. The mood of the room seemed almost too happy for a tour whose claim to fame is being the “heaviest of the summer.” This is not to say the band wasn’t incredibly talented. The use of classically influenced keyboard passages in between chugging, rhythmic guitar riffs in songs like “Machine” provided a beautifully technical contrast.  

The crowd endured one final shift before headliners Arch Enemy took the stage, as many of the younger fans who were there for the previous acts left the venue. Yet somehow the energy of the room increased ten fold. It was clear that those who stayed were ready to give their all to the final act of the night. To be honest, this was my first time seeing Alissa White-Gluz live and I was skeptical. I was a massive fan of Angela Gossow and I wasn’t sure of if she’d be able to match her predecessor’s intense power. However, as soon as Alissa took the stage it was clear she was a tour de force. Not only were her vocals spot on, but her command of the audience was unrivaled by any other frontman on the tour. She was clearly queen of that room and we were all her subordinates, singing melodic passages and chanting lyrics on her whim.

Jeff Loomis also stepped into his role as the band’s new guitarist (replacing Christopher Amott) surprisingly well. Obviously we all know that Loomis could easily be considered a virtuoso, so there was a bit of concern that he’d either overplay the bands relatively simple riffs or look like a caged animal up on the stage. However he took the position in absolute stride and truly enhanced what was already an incredible band.

In terms of the songs played, the setlist was a fairly even split between the band’s new material, with tracks, like “War Eternal”, and Angela era hits. “Ravenous” and “Nemesis” were obvious fan favorites, yet “Blood Stained Cross” easily had the hardest pit of the night despite it’s comparatively slow chorus. I was admittedly hoping that they’d throw back to some of their Johan Liiva material, if only the songs that Angela covered like “Bury Me an Angel” or “Diva Satanica” but it certainly made sense that they didn’t due to their surprisingly short set time of only one hour.

In conclusion, one can’t deny that the genres encompassed by the tour have changed since its inception. If you’re going into it expecting only the death metal of previous years, you’re in for a rude awakening. However, with an open mind Summer Slaughter 2015 truly provides something for every type of metal fan and I look forward to seeing how it progresses in the future.