Review by Jeff Maki
Arch Enemy, Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, The Acacia Strain, Cattle Decapitation, Beyond Creation
With all the drama surrounding the 2015 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and its lack of true headlining bands and low attendance, the timing of the 2015 Summer Slaughter Tour couldn’t have been any better.
But wait, there’s no one here either …
Now in its ninth year, Summer Slaughter is billed as “The Most Extreme Tour of the Year,” offering fans a diverse mix of a who’s who in extreme metal. Past tours have been headlined by Necrophagist, The Black Dahlia Murder, Suffocation, Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Morbid Angel. This year’s task was bestowed upon melodic death metal supergroup Arch Enemy. But at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, Maryland, you wouldn’t have guessed it.
The show’s attendance was low to begin with and the entire balcony was closed—let’s just skip all the speculation and go with, “It was because it was a Thursday.” But why did about half the crowd leave prior to Arch Enemy taking the stage? Because the younger crowd on hand was clearly here to see Born of Osiris. Already veterans of Summer Slaughters 2008 and 2009, with four studio albums under its belt, the band has built a strong fan base here on the East Coast. The kids ate up its style of deathcore, djent riffs and electronica, and there was a constant wave of movement in the pit. Vocalist Ronnie Canizaro has stage presence and charisma, and the kids were hanging on every lyric and crushing riff. They’ve got a few strong songs that stood out for me, like “Machine” and “Divergency,” both from the album Tomorrow We Die Alive (Sumerian Records, 2013), but other than these, it seemed like one song blended with the next. The stage setup was fit for a true headliner, with lighted pyramids and the album’s astonishing artwork as the backdrop. It’s just that this djent style is a metal subgenre we haven’t tapped into too much. But never say never, right?
Born of Osiris Set List: “Open Arms to Damnation,” “Divergency,” “Empires Erased,” “Exhilarate,” “Recreate,” “Illusionist,” “Bow Down,” “Throw Me in the Jungle,” “Machine”
Despite playing to a crowd of about only 200 fans who remained, if you’re Arch Enemy, the show must go on. I don’t think I have to delve too deeply into the band’s history, as it’s one of the more well known extreme metal bands around the world. Now fronted by Alissa White-Gluz (formerly of The Agonist) and led by guitar hero Michael Amott, Arch Enemy is touring in support of its 2014 album, War Eternal. Guitarist Jeff Loomis (formerly of Nevermore) also joined the band during the touring cycle, replacing Nick Cordle, who replaced Michael’s brother, Christopher. I was stoked to see the new lineup and hear the War Eternal material, and they delivered.
New songs “War Eternal” and “As the Pages Burn” slid right in between fan favorites “Ravenous” and “We Will Rise.” The best crowd reaction came from “My Apocalypse,” “Bloodstained Cross” and the first Arch Enemy song I know of to feature orchestration, “Avalanche” (also from War Eternal). Alissa has developed her own fashion sense and is more than 10 years younger than former vocalist Angela Gossow. So she freshens things up a bit even if she’s basically a blue-haired version of Angela at this point. All band members wore their trademark logo armbands, black uniforms, had choreographed moves and rehearsed repertoire, right down to Alissa marching back and forth across the stage waving the Arch Enemy flag during “No Gods, No Masters” (just as Angela used to do). And I think that’s another reason Arch Enemy didn’t fly over too well with this crowd—they weren’t here to see rock stars.
Arch Enemy Set List: (Khaos Overture), “Yesterday is Dead and Gone,” “War Eternal,” “Ravenous,” “Stolen Life,” “My Apocalypse,” “Bloodstained Cross,” “As the Pages Burn,” “Dead Eyes See No Future,” “Avalanche,” “No Gods, No Masters,” “Dead Bury Their Dead,” (Encore) “We Will Rise,” “Nemesis” (Enter the Machine)
They were here to see a bunch of dudes who looked like they just woke up, brushed the crumbs off and rolled out of their van in last night’s clothes, a la The Acacia Strain. With T-shirts for sale at the merch booth that said things like “Rest in Piss,” “Worst Band Ever” (which was a The Simpsons parody) and other offensive shit, the band seems like they know they suck, albeit in a “Primus sucks” kind of way. Yet this is another one the crowd ate up during the violent set of deathcore anthems and indecipherable lyrics out of vocalist Vincent Bennett, who stomped about the stage trying to contain his uncontrollable rage. I don’t know what they were playing, or what any of the songs were about, and I really don’t care, but the energy reached its peak at this point at Rams Head Live.
Veil of Maya is a lot different from when I last saw them in 2012 opening for In Flames. They’ve got a new singer, Lukas Magyar, who replaced their vocalist of the past seven years, Brandon Butler. They also have a new, fuller sound, incorporating more clean singing and song structure to go along with the breakdowns and technical playing. Guitarist Marc Okubo is still the draw. (Imagine Tom Morello playing in a deathcore band.) Vincent Bennett from The Acacia Strain warned us that Veil of Maya was going to come out next and “do a fucking algebra problem on our heads.” OK, but I was never any good at algebra. It seems the band is starting over at this point with the release of its new album, Matriarch (May 12, 2015, Sumerian Records); nevertheless, they received a strong response.
Though I was excited to see the new Arch Enemy lineup and it delivered, Cattle Decapitation was who I was here to see (plus, I was on their guest list.) With its colossal new album, The Anthropocene Extinction (read review), which I wrote “states the case for underground metal album of the year,” this could be the year they “cattle-pult” into the upper echelon of popularity in extreme metal. I also had a great Summer Slaughter preview when I talked with guitarist Josh Elmore one week into the tour. (read interview here).
Vocalist Travis Ryan is an extraordinary talent, belting his death growl over the band’s grindcore death blasts and monumentally epic riffs, but also screeching to black metal levels on catchy choruses on new songs like the set opener “Manufactured Extinct” and closer “Pacific Grim.” The first pits of the day opened up during Cattle Decapitation, and the band members were up there working their asses off. You could see it on their faces—the ferocious speed, the tempo changes, the complexity—this shit does not look easy to play, but the new material was even more devastating live, as it should be. Despite the still ridiculous name, 2015 is the year for Cattle Decapitation.
The surprise of the day for me was Beyond Creation from Montreal, Canada. I didn’t know anything about the band but gradually was immersed into its style of progressive death metal, not too dissimilar from someone like Enslaved. There are long instrumental sections of songs, with guitarist/vocalist Simon Girard growling and screaming short spurts of lyrics in between. The band as a whole was completely in sync and captivating. Standouts were “Earthborn Evolution” and “Fundamental Process” from the band’s 2014 album, Earthborn Evolution (Season of Mist, 2014).
The 2015 Summer Slaughter Tour offered a wide mix of extreme metal, and I have no major complaints. Why would I? I had the day off of work for a metal show, discovered a cool new band in Beyond Creation, witnessed the live destruction that is Cattle Decapitation’s The Anthropocene Extinction, and it was the first time I saw Arch Enemy with Alissa as vocalist. A great show, even if it was a Thursday.