Live: Summer Slaughter Brings Hours And Hours Of Death Metal To Irving Plaza, Including The Polish And Their Goddamn Strobe Lights
Veil of Maya, thankfully not causing epilepsy.
Sunday, August 1
The fourth-annual traveling circus known as Summer Slaughter rolled through town last night, offering NYC an overview of the modern extreme-metal scene. This year's lineup tilted heavily toward the 'core-influenced end of the spectrum, a mixed bag that forced more traditional death-heads to endure endless chug-your-beer-bro riffs as they salivated over the prospect of reactivated Polish headliners Decapitated. It was a long, hard, but frequently rewarding road to get there.
First, the bad stuff, starring Carnifex, flying the flag for all that is generic and kid-friendly in modern metal: Sure, the riffs are heavily distorted and dissonant, but they ultimately follow an accessible groove. It's just a little too clean for anyone who's already spent a few years trolling the sewers. (Still, if it gets the kids into the harder stuff....) Illinois' Veil of Maya represented the breakdown contingent more ably and enthusiastically, halting their occasionally progressive death-metal attack every minute or so to get the young crowd jumping up and down to a half-time groovy chug. I'm pretty sure I heard "Stairway to Heaven" in there somewhere, too. Co-headliners the Faceless (not doing themselves any favors with that one), though technically capable and mostly free of breakdowns, were still a little green as performers, suggesting that their spot on the bill was earned solely by their Billboard-charting album Planetary Duality. Too much of their set was spent with their eyes locked on their fretboards--better to nail every note of their nimble tech-death--instead of engaging the crowd.
No tour is perfect in this age of genre-spanning mash-ups, but some of this year's diamonds in the rough were flawless. Brutal Cali death-metallers Decrepit Birth announced their presence with caveman vocalist Bill Robinson's bellow of "Smoke fuckin' WEEEEED" before launching into the devastating opening salvo of "The Living Doorway." Riding high off their new release, Polarity, DB are catching a lot of comparisons to the legendary Death, and with good reason: They've admirably mirrored that band's Chuck Schulidner (who died in 2001 from a brain tumor) in his transformation from straightforward brutality to the incorporation of nimble melodic overlays and prog passages.
Cephalic Carnage, Denver's self-proclaimed "hydro-grind" unit, kept the smoky green theme going with machine-gun blasts peppered with spastic guitar freak-outs and squeals. With lyrics about killing for weed and sex-slave robots gone mad, it's clear they're just out to have a good time. And Boston's the Red Chord, despite their use of breakdowns, share enough of CC's "weird" death-grind DNA to keep them from slipping into mediocrity with loopy guitar slides and odd-timed riffs. They also have a good-hearted and hilarious frontman in grizzly bear Guy Kozowyk, who helped restore the confidence of the tour's stage manager, Dale, after a recent mugging: Kozowyk led the crowd in chants of "DALE! DALE! DALE!" while they passed the man of the hour over their heads.
Placing Decapitated in the headliner's slot was a shrewd move, forcing pure death-metal fans to stick around throughout the show. Sure enough, most of the more colorfully dressed individuals filed out before their set, leaving the floor full of ill-fitting black shirts with illegible logos. Summer Slaughter should represent a kind of victory lap for the band, their last U.S. run in 2007 being canceled due to the death of their drummer, Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka, and the hospitalization of vocalist Adrian "Covan" Kowanek, but a few nagging elements kept this from being the momentous event metalheads were hoping for.
First, because they are from Poland, they have to open the show with a three-minute sound-and-light show to kill the momentum. (Seriously, look at any Metal Mind Productions DVD from the early 2000s. The Polish really love strobe lights). Second, new frontman Rafal Piotrowski seemed better suited to pumping up crowds at MMA events with his false bravado than conjuring the atmosphere of pure evil that Decapitated needs. They also focused on "newer" material from their 2007 release, Organic Hallucinosis, neglecting the more brutal cuts from their first three albums that garnered them legendary status in the early part of the decade. They made up for it, though, with the stuttering closer "Spheres of Madness" and a guest appearance from Skinless' Jason Keyser on "Day 69," but they had better include "The Fury" in their setlist next time. A missed opportunity.