I have only attended San Francisco’s Regent Theater once— for the ‘Evening with Machine Head’ tour, and they happened to be filming a concert DVD. Thankfully, the air conditioning was working this time for The Summer Slaughter Tour. As Summer Slaughter’s brand is aligned mainly with death and extreme metal, the ninth annual installment of the tour is a bit like a metal sandwich with openers Beyond Creation and Cattle Decapitation being the closest representatives of traditional death metal. The meat of the tour leans heavily on Djent-y Sumerian flavored metalcore with Acacia Strain leaning a bit more on the hardcore side of things, and Veil of Maya and Born of Osiris being more apropos of my former description. On the top of the bill, Arch Enemy is a bit of the odd man out as the only Gothenburg style, melodic death metal band.
It should be said that Obscura dropped off due to problems securing their work visas, and After The Burial decided not to do the tour because of the tragic death of their guitarist, Justin Lowe. This was not the entire line-up as the organizers intended.
Unfortunately, I missed their set, but I highly recommend their new album Earthborn Evolution if you are a fan of technical, progressive death metal like The Faceless and Allegaeon.
Cattle Decapitation are true veterans of the tour, existing for almost 20 years, and making their third appearance on Summer Slaughter. With the Regent being a fairly cavernous theater and the audience still filtering in, I wouldn’t say it was the best venue to capture Cattle Decapitation’s groovy grindcore. Despite the bouncy acoustics, the guitar player had a very tight and clear sound. It was my first time seeing them, and I was pleased to see the crowd enjoying the band’s intense engagement. I was also pleased to see persistence pays off with Cattle Decap landing good tours, and even scored their biggest debut of their career with their latest release, The Anthropocene Extinction, hitting the Billboard Top 100, and doubling the first week sales of their previous album.
The Acacia Strain
I’ve been watching this band since their early days in Western Massachusetts when they used to open for my old band, God Forbid. They were disgustingly heavy then; they are atrociously heavy now. As they line check their guitars, you hear they are tuned to dropped Z or something absurd. An evil feedback serves as a fitting intro before the first song kicks in. This is not a band you want to be in the pit for if you don’t plan on being kicked in the chest and/or head. The sound of the band is hateful and nihilistic. Vocalist Vincent Bennet’s tone and lyrics match this aural aesthetic perfectly. There is a loyal contingent amongst the crowd as you can hear a couple substantial sing-a-longs. Even though the new stuff is a bit more atmospheric, sometimes I feel like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and a little “too old for this shit.” Like listening to their albums, you feel punished by The Acacia Strain’s music once the set reaches its halfway mark. The Acacia Strain own the heavy arm of metalcore. You’ve been warned.
Veil of Maya
Enjoyably, Veil of Maya’s sound engineer played the instrumental version of Dr. Dre’s classic Chronic before their set. This seemed to put the crowd in a good mood as the room seemed to fill in a bit more. Of all the bands on the tour, Veil of Maya seemed to be carrying the best buzz. Their latest album, Matriarch, features a brand new singer, Lukas Magyar, who introduced melodic vocals to the band for the first time. From the beginning of their set, Veil of Maya’s sound was crisp and clear and they were the first band of the day to have an impressive light show. Their drummer is an absolute beast, and the band’s energy and enthusiasm really got the crowd going. Top to bottom, it was the most kinetic set of the day. That is the benefit to playing in the middle of the show, when people are warmed up but not worn out. I have to say you could hear several moments when extra guitars were on tracks, and some of the clean vocals were almost to good to be true. My issue with a killer band like Vein of Maya running tracks is it makes you wonder how much is happening in real time. Most people don’t mind, but as a musician it can sometimes take me out of the moment. Here’s an entire article I’ve written on backing tracks. Despite my nitpicking, Veil of Maya killed it, and I will be digging into their new album.
Born of Osiris
The first thing I noticed when Born of Osiris hit the stage was how the lead singer and keyboardist, who also is a secondary vocalist, engaged the crowd. Their side-swaying, pump-motion hand waving indicated they wanted bouncing and bobbing crowd movement. It suddenly dawned on me that along with the previous two bands, Born of Osiris almost always have a 1/2 time groove feel (which is standard in the Djent genre). Then I remembered the Dr. Dre being played before Veil of Maya’s set. It felt like a hip hop show. This is perhaps the primary difference between the metal bands of my era (mid ’90s-mid ’00s); this newer generation of bands grew up with hip hop culture as pop culture, and bands like Korn and Slipknot were what Metallica and Megadeth were to me. Regardless of my sudden revelations, Born of Osiris had a very solid set. I think because they have a lot in common musically with Veil of Maya, the usual power of their show didn’t come across quite as novel as I have seen in previous live performances, and there was a bit of a dip in energy from the crowd. Born of Osiris also don’t have the benefit of having a new album to support. But as usual, their tightness as a unit is machine-like and impressive.
I am a diehard Arch Enemy fan going all the way back to 1998’s Stigmata. If you’ve heard any God Forbid albums, you can probably hear the heavy influence on my guitar playing and songwriting. I was extremely eager to see the band’s current line-up. I had not yet seen them with ex-Agonist vocalist Alissa White-Gluz fronting the band, and ex-Nevermore guitar god Jeff Loomis recently joined as a second guitarist. White-Gluz’s arrival seemed to have breathed new life into the band. Her debut album with the band, War Eternal, is a a global success and getting rave reviews.
Unfortunately, the crowd thinned a bit before Arch Enemy hit the stage, but that just meant whoever was there was as diehard as I was. I also think that was more a reflection of the overall bill being a bit odd fit, and the show not being held in Hollywood, and on a Monday. Despite all of that, Arch Enemy was absolutely crushing! It took a couple of songs for the sound to get dialed in, but once the band hit their groove, everyone in attendance was hypnotized in headbanging glory. The setlist heavily favored the two most recent albums, but I (and the crowd) was more than pleased to hear old favorites like “Ravenous,” “Dead Bury Their Dead,” “Dead Eyes See No Future,” and “Nemesis.”
It shouldn’t be understated that I count Arch Enemy as a true supergroup with their recent line-up additions. They even appear that way on stage: like Power Rangers, or a collection of statues that walked off Mt. Olympus to the stage. Every male in the band stands over six feet tall. Each member at the front of the stage even had different color hair (black, blonde, blue, and red). I guess that’s also like Power Rangers. Optics aside, I don’t know if there is a more proficient collection of players in a heavy metal band going right now. They really capture that feeling of pure heavy metal in a modern sense. They are Iron Maiden for the extreme subset. The riffs are mean and larger than life. They never forget to thrash or groove. You can sing along to the Bill & Ted-esque guitar solos, high five your buddy, and think “most triumphant” without actually saying it. You leave the show feeling more powerful than when you showed up, and that’s what heavy metal is supposed to be about.