Last Friday, August 2nd, I spent most of the day in a Washington, DC suburb to take in one of the oddest summer festivals around: Summer Slaughter 2013. Past years have found this tour loaded with distinctively death metal acts, abounding with brutality and breakdowns. This year's edition of the tour certainly included a fair bit of snarling death with Sweden’s Aeon and Cali’s Cattle Decapitation, but also flaunted the techy Revocation, the progressive compositional approach of The Ocean, the goofy crowd pleasers Periphery, the magical string ‘n’ skin shredders Animals as Leaders, and the acrobatic oddball explosion of the Dillinger Escape Plan. With so many different styles on offer, everybody in attendance came to experience the heavy bliss with their own personal tastes emblazoned on them like signs (or t-shirts). The blustery -core of Rings of Saturn and Thy Art Is Murder drew their own young crowds, many of whom sported earlobe gauges of all sizes and sh… well, they were all circles, actually. Circle pits were foretold and fulfilled, though the area’s most recognizable mosher - Chicken Suit Guy - never showed his feathers; one fan suggested that his absence was due to the lack of real death metal on the bill. The crowd was heavily surfed by grinning girls, beaming boys, and one dude and his entire wheelchair made their way overhead.
Upon arriving at the venue, my first concern was getting a chance to talk to members of the various bands, so I missed the bulk of the sets by opener Harvester and follow-ups Rings of Saturn and Thy Art Is Murder. What I heard sounded appropriately brutal, and the young’uns seemed satisfied. Then Aeon unleashed their dense death storm upon the venue and shit got real. The shift in heaviness was palpable and appreciated. Revocation tore through their set with an impressive fiery energy, while vocalist/guitarist David Davidson continually demanded more participation from the audience. The Ocean made their short set time work for them, hitting all the highs, lows and Neuro-heavy moments with equal grace and aggression. The pacing of their set contrasted starkly with most other performers, stretching out into breathing songs rather than one overwhelming beatdown.
Cattle Decapitation returned to the gore-hammer death attack, with Josh Elmore working out some serious guitar licks and Travis Ryan deriving his stage presence right out of the 28 Days Later Infected Handbook. Norma Jean ducked in and out of slow, tortured grooves. A ton of kids bounced like deranged motorized pogo sticks through Periphery’s set and lost their shit over the technical wizardry of Animals as Leaders, though these same kids made comments to each other like, “I’ve never heard Dillinger Escape Plan.” “Yeah? I’ve listened to some. They’re okay.” Fine with me, I guess. More space up front for the rest of us. This Decibel hack screamed back at Greg Puciato and Ben Weinman like a green fanboy, and loved every second of it.
When I met up with the bands, I asked them all similar questions (Hall of Fame style), which I have edited for your enjoyment below. You’ll hear from Cory Brandan Putman, Jeff Hickey and Chris Day from Norma Jean (NJ); Zeb Nilsson from Aeon (A); David Davidson from Revocation (R); Robin Staps from The Ocean (O); Travis Ryan, Josh Elmore and Derek Engemann from Cattle Decapitation (CD); Jake Bowen from Periphery; Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes from Animals as Leaders (AAL); and Ben Weinman and Liam Wilson from the Dillinger Escape Plan (DEP). Every single dude was cool to talk to, and I hope they continue to kill from the stage for the remainder of the tour.
dB: How have the shows been so far?
Jeff (NJ): Knoxville was a good time. It’s like a small town and they know how to party there.
Cory (NJ): We could definitely tell the vibe changed. As soon as we hit the South, like Texas, that’s kind of our zone.
Zeb (A): We have had shows with terrible sound on stage, but last night [in Myrtle Beach] was very good. But I saw two guys who actually yawned while we played, so that’s pretty fucked up. We played two of the most intense songs, “Kill Them All” and “Forever Nailed”, so if you see someone yawning you kind of want to kill them [laughs].
David (R): The shows have been killer. With a package like this, with so many awesome bands and great crowds every night, circle pits, crowd surfing, head banging, beer, sweat… Austin sticks out because it was an outdoor venue and it was hot as fuck outside. We were sweating balls.
Robin (O): Definitely Houston was a good surprise. We’ve never played Houston before and that was an awesome show. Austin was awesome. Dallas was really good too. We fucking like Texas. [There have been] some epic long drives but overall it’s been going pretty smooth. All the other bands are really cool. We’re a big rolling family, basically.
Josh (CD): All of California was really good, and Texas was really good as well. Every show was just… off the chain. Do people say that?
Jake (P): Myrtle Beach was particularly weird. The last time we played there it was just us and the Deftones, and it was chaotic how many people were there. Last night we played there and it didn’t even come close to selling out. Kind of a bummer. Everybody played great, but the Ocean had to drop off that show because the drummer had an injury. Yesterday nobody was feeling particularly hot, the weather was super humid… just a weird, weird day.
Tosin (AAL): Knoxville was insane. They had energy for 10 hours.
Javier (AAL): The original venue they had [the Austin show] booked at was closed and we had to move it to a different venue. The venue kind of looked like somebody’s backyard…
Tosin (AAL): But the show was sick. Greg [Puciato, Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist] jumped off a roof. It was a good time.
Ben (DEP): Honestly, LA was amazing… it’s all been good. Texas was great. Austin, Dallas… The weirdest one was last night. Myrtle Beach is like a vacation town. Nobody really lives there. It’s like doing a show on a cruise ship for the four people working in the kitchen who like metal. I mean, there was a couple hundred people and they went off, but it was definitely a weird city for this kind of tour.
Liam (DEP): We’re picking sour grapes. I mean it wasn’t like the show was bad comparatively. Everything kind of blurs, but a good blur.
dB: How are you choosing your set list?
Jeff (NJ): Right now we’re only playing one song from [Wrongdoers].
Cory (NJ): There’s some other elements from the record that aren’t songs that we’re doing.
Zeb (A): We only get to do six songs, so there’s two songs off of Aeons Black, two from the last album and then it’s one song from each other album. We want to do some old stuff, to show off all history [of the band].
David (R): Two new songs and three older songs. We wanted to give the audience a taste of the new material and get them hyped on it. We just don’t have time to play something off of every release, especially when we’re trying to push another release, so we neglected Empire of the Obscene.
Robin (O): It’s really hard to pick songs that are representative of what we do within the constraints of 25 minutes. We were planning on catering to 30-35 minutes. That wasn’t working out and you can’t just cut of five minutes at the end or the beginning. We had to completely overthrow the whole thing. I understand that with so many bands that not everybody can play an hour, but 5 minutes to us make a big difference. Right now the set feels like it either ends or begins in the middle of nowhere. We’ve chosen to let it end in the middle of nowhere. The plan is to get a few more people hooked up to us, basically, to get them in the room.
Derek (CD): We want to play as much of [Monolith of Inhumanity] as possible.
Josh (CD): People have been really responding to that online, so we just figured, “Why not give the people what they want?”
Derek (CD): We’d like to play more older stuff as well, we just don’t have much time. We drive 8 or 9 hours to play for 25 minutes.
Jake (P): We’re playing mostly [Periphery II] stuff. Hopefully the crowd will dig it. The kind of people who are still at the show at that point are [there] to see Animals and Dillinger, so we want the set to be technically cool. We don’t want fans to see us play and then see Animals and be like, “Periphery who?” ‘Cause those guys are ridiculous.
Javier (AAL): We’re playing four Weightless songs, three from the first album.
Ben (DEP): As much as [we] are a headliner, you’re not totally preaching to your crowd. So you keep a mix of stuff they know, stuff they would latch onto, and stuff we’re trying to push.
Liam (DEP): And also not being afraid to play something that’s not as brutal.
Ben (DEP): We’ve gotten to the point where a large portion of our catalog is not full-on crazy in your face all the time, and that’s some of the better moments in our set. We’ve gotten more comfortable with presenting that kind of stuff with just as much passion, energy and confidence. I can tell you that [One of Us is the Killer] adapted live quicker than any new songs we ever played in the past. It’s always been like [hesitantly], “Let’s work in a new song off the record,” and we’re not as comfortable with that one as we were with the old ones. I think immediately when we played “Prancer” and “When I Lost My Bet” it felt as comfortable if not more, because we’re more passionate about it because we wrote it more recently. I think this has been the record that’s been more conducive to a live setting more than any others in the past.
dB: Have you had any time off between dates?
Zeb (A): [After California] we went to Las Vegas, and then we went to the Grand Canyon [before] we went to the next show in Oklahoma.
David (R): Load-ins are pretty early because it’s an all day festival, so almost every night’s been a night drive. On the rare occasion we don’t have an overnight drive, we still have to get up at 8:00am. And we’re doing the tour in a van, with no driver, so we all drive and our sound guy helps out. It’s a grind.
Robin (O): We did this one-off headline show in New Orleans with three days’ notice. We played a small bar with like 100 people in the room. We played Pelagial, and then a couple older songs. It was cool to do something like that between these big shows. That’s where we come from - we’re coming from a hardcore background, we love playing squats and floor shows. We played Pelagial, and then a couple older songs.
Derek (CD): We actually did go to see the sites of Breaking Bad. We ate at Pollos Hermanos.
Travis (CD): We woke up realizing we were right down the street from Walter White’s house, literally around the fucking corner. That’s probably one of my all-time favorite shows so I was like, “We’re doing this right now!”
Jake (P): On these summer festival tours the mileage is so harsh, even on days when we’re supposed to be driving we’ll go play an off date, so we can make a couple extra bucks to pay for gas to the next town. On the last Summer Slaughter, we got to see the Barringer Crater in Arizona, a huge meteor crater from 30,000 years ago. [Actually about 50,000 years ago, but that’s with readily available internet for fact checking, not on the loading dock behind a music venue, so we’re not snarking Jake at all.]
Javier (AAL): In Oklahoma City, we got to hang out at a RV park and we went to the movies and saw Pacific Rim. For a robot monster movie, the acting was bad, the robots were cool. [You should] watch it in 3D.
dB: Are you spending time with other bands during the tour?
Chris (NJ): We’ve never toured with Cattle Decapitation or a lot of the death metal bands. [With the different types of bands on the tour,] what’s cool is that we end up respecting them and they respect us. It’s a friendship, a bond. We’re all here for music. They’re all sweet dudes. We have fun together every day.
Zeb (A): We’ve had a lot of good times with Revocation, those guys are awesome. They’re just as fucked up as we are! [Lots of laughter from all members of the two bands, and David from Revocation interjects: “We have the photos to prove it!”] I don’t think that everyone involved would be pleased with those photos.
David (R): We’ve been partying with Aeon pretty hard. Jamming with Tosin from Animals, trading licks… Javier was showing me some cool classical guitar stuff. We’ve toured with Periphery and Cattle D before so it’s always fun chilling with those dudes. Basically everyone’s been getting along great on this tour. It’s sort of like heavy metal summer camp.
Jake (P): Animals As Leaders and Dillinger are both bands we’ve been chums with for a while, so to get back out on the road with them has been a lot of fun. On Day 1 it was already like hanging out with best buds. I’ve never really listened to Norma Jean, Cattle Decapitation, Aeon and The Ocean before. Now I have the chance to see their live show before I’ve heard their recordings, and since every band on this tour is skilled beyond belief I actually want to go check out their recordings and get into these bands. It’s been a nice blend of hanging out with your best buds and making new friends.
Tosin (AAL): It’s still kind of early in the tour to really connect with, like, 70 dudes. [But] Revocation have become some of my favorite people!
Javier (AAL): Week 3 is starting today, so everybody’s just [getting] over the little attitudes they have or [questions like] “Is that dude on the tour? Is he a driver? Oh, I think he plays guitar!” Everybody on the tour is really cool. We’ve toured with Dillinger before and we knew that it was going to be awesome to hang out with them. We’ve toured with Periphery, so we know each other so it’s like, “Cool, [we’re with] homies.”
Liam (DEP): We were hanging out with the Animals guys and the Periphery guys and the Cattle guys because we know them a little bit. Other bands, like Thy Art is Murder, quickly introduce themselves to us. Even Aeon - they come off as being the most evil, hard dudes on the tour, and then two nights ago they were wasted and finally let their guard down. [Now] we’re like, “We love you guys!” After you get talking about King Diamond you’re like, “Okay, this is funny.”
dB: Are there shows coming up on this tour that you’re specifically looking forward to?
Zeb (A): I’m really looking forward to Montreal because everyone says that’s the shit, that it’s one of the coolest places you can play. I’m kind of looking forward to every show, actually.
David (R): I’m honestly pumped for the next week’s worth of shows. We’ve got Worcester tomorrow; we’re from Boston but it’s close enough, so I’m sure a bunch of our friends are going to come out. Then we’ve got Philly, which is going to be sick because our label [Relapse] is from there. Then two days off and then New York City’s going to be fucking out of control. And Canada’s going to be insane; we do really well in Montreal and Toronto.
Jake (P): Canada always treats metal right. They love metal up there.
Ben (DEP): We’re coming into our home areas. In two days we’re going to be in Philadelphia where Liam lives, then New York which is more my hood.
Liam (DEP): Pretty much every city that we hit after this [is a place] we didn’t necessarily hit on the last tour.
Robin (O): We’re doing another house show in Omaha [Nebraska] between Chicago and Denver. It feels good to be able to play the album in its entirety and not just excerpts from it. [And] the Summer Slaughter Tour is only the beginning of a larger tour we’re doing. We’re flying to Mexico to do a show, then we have 4 days off for some Mexico beach time that we’re all very much looking forward to. We’re flying from Mexico and doing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and then two weeks in China, then we’re flying from Beijing to Irkutsk in Siberia, and doing two weeks in Russia basically all the way from Siberia back west toward Moscow and St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg we’re doing four European festivals at the beginning of October. That tour concludes on October 6th. We have two weeks off and then we’re headlining Europe for the whole month of November into December, with Shining, Hacride and Tides from Nebula.
Extended Thoughts from Summer Slaughter
Zeb (Aeon): It’s cool for us to come over here. There’s so many things that we want to see, like Vegas, and take the opportunity to check out all these good steakhouses, and Waffle Houses every five minutes [along the road]. We just got back from Japan [six shows with Origin], and that was so different from anything we’ve ever seen before, so actually [the US] is not that different from Europe.
Javier (Animals as Leaders): For the first two years we hit the US a lot. After that we started seeing the demand for going overseas and little by little we’ve been trying to do that. I think it’s quite important to establish your name in some of these markets because it can have a long lasting effect.
Tosin (Animals as Leaders): We’ve done Russia this year, Ukraine, Mexico, India, Germany. The end of last year we did Japan and Australia. We find that certain markets in Europe are less fickle. You can still see bands that fell out of prominence in the US ten years ago, and they’re still packing places. There’s a lot of loyalty in places like Germany and Italy, and in Australia, so it’s cool to go over there and put some work in.
Jake (Periphery): We’ve all been talking a lot about how this tour has quite a different style than [it has] in previous years. There’s a lot more progressive music, not as much death metal. But it’s really cool to see all these different styles come together. And they’re of the same disciplines that death metal requires. You may not be hearing blast beats all the time, but you’re hearing the same amount of dedication and skill that death metal takes going into the music. I’m into the tour just for that reason alone.
Ben (DEP): There’s a couple things we’ve noticed on this tour. For one, it’s cool in some ways to be the odd band out: the older band that’s been doing it longer, is a little weirder than the other bands, a little less formula, considering there’s kind of a formula to metal right now.
Liam (DEP): Periphery and Animals as Leaders are kind of coming from the same school [of thought as us].
Ben (DEP): So it’s cool to have some of the cross over and the synergy that we do have with these bands but then also offer something different as well. The worst thing about it is playing so late. There’s sound check at noon, and then we go on around 10:20[pm]. It’s a long day for kids and it’s a long day for us. We just want to play. If we could play now [around 6pm] we’d be out there rocking.
Liam (DEP): We’re the first ones in and the last ones out.
Ben (DEP): It’s really hard for us to sit around all day and watch bands play. We’re here to play. We’re not here to walk around and go to Starbucks. We’re not on tour to socialize with bands. We’re here to fucking rock. It’s very hard to sit around and wait all day to do that.