7.20.13: Summer Slaughter, HOB on Sunset

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Okay, first off, yes the name for this package tour is Summer Slaughter and yes it seems ridiculous to even repeat that out loud, let alone us it as a headline. However, I did not name it. Nor would I have been likely to go to it, despite my rabid love of headliners Dillinger Escape Plan, if not for the fact that The Ocean (Collective) were playing. Hailing from Germany, The Ocean does not make it to the States very often to play and whenever they do I go, buy a shirt, talk a bit and try and lend both financial and moral support. Now, nearly forty-eight hours on the other side of the, ahem, Slaughter I can tell you, stupid name or not, had I not attended I would have been missing out.

First: I don’t think this is just going to be a review of the show. Of course the primary element I want to discuss is the bands and their performances, however as I stood there on the fringes of The Pit at the show something almost as interesting racked up a lot of miles in my head. What was that you ask? My relationship as a nearly forty-year old lover of music with the social dynamics of the show and the scene of heavy metal. As I chronicled the bands I also chronicled my experience watching those bands in relation to the people – some half my age, some with a good decade on me – who stood and sat, moshed and hollered all around me on Saturday night, July the 21st at the House of Blues on the famous Sunset Strip.

No matter how civilized we consider ourselves, much of our social sphere can still be boiled down to tribes. Don’t believe me? Just like every other era of history, within the complexities of our modern world you can still tell the various tribes most simply by what they adorn their bodies with: businessmen, hippies, the athletes, the counter culturalists, to name a few. This isn’t always true, but I believe it is true enough for me to use it to help define the scope and variance of this discussion.

For a large part of my younger life the metal tribe was my tribe and I wore its colors with pride: long hair, metal t-shirts, etc. etc. Then as often happens, over the years my horizons broadened and I settled – finally – into my own style. And in the last few years metal has broadened its horizons as well. No longer is it simply about blast beats and technical guitar crescendoes, now the pissed off, bastard cousin of The Blues likes to absorb and reflect a lot of other ideas and styles that are out there. As a result I’ve become more interested in metal as a whole than I have in well over a decade and that interest has in turn given me reason to reconnect with my old tribe, if in a more voyeuristic way. Thus the Slaughter was an interesting way to look in on the new scene and its denizens with the perspective that my age can now afford in a situation like this, where I’ve been aware of its icons and trends for two decades or so. In this article then I would like to try and illustrate this experience watching people half my age doing more or less exactly what I was doing almost twenty years ago, while juxtaposing that with the experience of seeing a new(er) crop of bands doing interesting things with now iconic formulas. A lot of the time this works – sometimes it doesn’t, but either way what we had at the show was, in my opinion, the best possible way an aging metalhead could re-connect with a younger aspect of himself and have a damn good time doing so amidst the backdrop of an overcast yet in my book possibly perfect July day in Hollywood.

Doors opened at 2:30PM. I showed up around 4:30 only to discover I had missed opener Rings of Saturn, whose unbelievably technical take on classic death metal can be listened to and purchased on their bandcamp here. I was presently surprised by how fast the turn around time between bands was (it had to be with nine bands on the bill) and it was only a few moments from when I walked in that Sweden’s Aeon took the stage. I had no frame of reference for the band but the crowd did. It was extremely cool to see how many people showed up early to catch the this band. Long past the days when I’d throw myself into the actual pit, I still maintain that the best spot to experience a metal show is from the floor, so I carved myself out a spot on the very edge of the madness and Aeon kicked things off in truly brutal fashion. The band had a lot of fans present and they wasted no time churning things into a frenzy that security warily tempered and vocalist Tommy Dahlström did his best to egg on.

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Not a very good shot at all, but it was taken from the edges of the pit so…

Next was Boston’s Revocation, whose classically-styled thrash was elevated by not only vocalist/lead guitar player David Davidson unbelievable virtuosity, but his friendly, smile-inducing stage demeanor. The band has a new album out on August 6th and the stand-out of the set was a track from it titled “Invidious”. I was unfamiliar with Revocation before the show, but the guys definitely earned a fan in me. You can download their fifth album, Teratogenesis, for free here, all it takes is an email address. And trust me, if you’re thirsty for classic thrash a la Rust in Peace or Souls of Black, this will slake your thirst. I’m now REALLY looking forward to the new album, as in the six days since I acquired Teratogenesis I’ve found it to be the most listenable metal album I’ve heard in a long time and have probably spun it close to fifty times.

Wait … okay, fifty-one.

Next was one of the two bands I had come to see: Germany’s The Ocean, sometimes known as The Ocean Collective. I saw these guys two years ago in Pomona and they tore it up. This was no different. The Ocean, originally described to me as a post-metal band, have basically evolved even further into what I will reluctantly call an art-metal band. I use this term because each subsequent record by The Ocean uses their ten-ton heavy sound more and more as merely one color in a fairly sophisticated palette. The heaviness is always present but it is increasingly tempered by literature-worthy high concepts and an emphasis on instrumentation that puts the needs of the music or theme ahead of what you might ordinarily expect from a band that has done songs as heavy as this.  It is not uncommon to find strings, electronics, piano and horns on The Ocean’s records. Their new record, Pelagial, is no different. It was released in late April on Metal Blade and, according to the band’s guitarist and principle songwriter Robin Straps, was conceived as one long song comprised of individual movements that were composed in a way as to sonically emulate traveling from the surface of the Earth’s ocean down into its lowest depths. As such the music moves from more serene passages to, in the final movements, deep, crushing pressure. Of course this could not be played live in its entirety on a tour where most of the bands were given 30 minute sets so they band did their best to adapt. This seemed to confuse the crowd a bit; The Ocean’s set moved through various styles and textures and as such they lost the part of the crowd who whose blood had been previously stoked to perpetually mosh. I think this and a sub par sound mix affected the band’s reception. While they played the floor was still crowded with people but a lot of them looked deflated from the sudden lack of movement and the idea that this was something that would require more than just surrendering to their more primitive aesthetics. It’s not The Ocean’s fault – they’re not yet well known enough to headline in our country so I get that Metal Blade has them on a tour like this to help increase their exposure to the crowds the label feels are most likely to buy their records. However, maybe that’s selling these guys a bit short because there’s a lot more to their sound than ‘metal’. That’s the problem with metal in general – there’s always going to be the disconnect between those who feel like anything new or ‘arty’ infiltrating their blast beat delivery vehicle is bad and those looking to expand the parameters of the craft. My own feeling is that at this point in their prolific and ever-evolving career, The Ocean would do better on the other end of the spectrum: how about co-headlining a tour with some more experimental metal bands such as Sunn 0))), or for that matter a band like Sepultura?

Okay, so with one of the two bands who I had specifically come to see out of the way I held my ground on the floor and settled in for what can either be amazing or painfully arduous at a live show of this duration: the unknown. Directly following The Ocean was Cattle Decapitation. Now, although I’m aware of the band via their unforgettable name and album covers I was totally unfamiliar with their music, so most of what I saw went by in an unfamiliar haze. However what I did know going in was that I liked Cattle Decapitation’s message. The band is very against the mistreatment of animals, abuse of the planet Earth and promoting awareness of the terrible things that we humans do to one another. I like that – a band with an insanely heavy and antagonistic sound that employs stark, brutal imagery but really only has everyone’s best interests at heart, especially all things great and small.  Because of this and the unexpected and refreshing sense of humor vocalist Travis Ryan employs while onstage I quite enjoyed their set.

Up sixth was Norma Jean, yet another band I was totally unfamiliar with. They played a tight, energetic set that reminded me a bit of my beloved Brand New, although without the subtleties that make that band so endearing. There’s a scream-o element to Norma Jean that’s not really my thing, but there’s also a lot of high emotional content and another burst of positivity that smoothed over some of my perceived rough spots with the group, so again, it was a good set.

Periphery came on my radar a couple months back via the metalsucks website. They remind me a bit of a more aggressive Dream Theatre, without the over-emphasis on the technical side or the overly-accomplished vocals. That’s not to say that they’re not technical: there’s some intense structure and musical ‘code’ that lays the groundwork for Periphery’s compositions, but there’s also a kind of alchemy that takes via their energy and aggression, a place between the individual elements is achieved that holds the material together as something more than just technical exercise. These guys were definitely the ‘rock stars’ of the day and as such they played a little too much to the crowd for my taste, but still put on a hell of a show that kept everything moving right along.

By this time I’d been standing in the same spot for hours and was finding the event alternately exhausting and energizing. The continued eruption of The Pit saw people of all kinds grinding their way past me, some times directly into me and after hours of this I began to get a real feel for the dynamic taking place in the room. There were those there simply for the violent movement, those there for show or status within the various local arms of the tribe – lots of high school kids looking to make a name for themselves among their peers with perceived daring antics on the floor. I remember being this guy – throwing caution to the wind in order to try and outlast the biggest guy in the pit, or clamoring up onto the waiting hands of my peers so as to try and surf my way to the stage. Now I was merely content on holding my ground and helping out those who fell on their faces in front of me. It was an interesting and, I think, sobering experience.

Animals as Leaders came next. A three piece, highly technical band that is about two things: musicianship and mastery. Really, every member of this band is so talented that when you put them all together, the music that occurs as a result is pretty much jazz-metal. It’s not really my thing, but it’s really, really good. This was the first band who I moved from my spot on the floor to watch, primarily at this point because after five or six hours I was absolutely desperate for a cup of water. Days gone by I’d have been adding the loose sheen of a few adult beverages to the experience, but with a show this long I recognized early on that if I started drinking beer I’d be hitting the men’s room on a regular basis, so instead I abstained from any beverages until this second to last band. As a strategy this worked quite well. I downed my water slowly while giving my combat boot-laden feet a rest by leaning up agains the bar, tipping the bartender for taking up his time and the spot at the bar. When Animals as Leaders finished I was refreshed and, after a quick trip to the water closet I made my way back down to the floor while the between-act ebb was still in effect. I spent a few minutes surveying the crowd, wondering if anyone had left. You couldn’t really tell, it pretty much looked the same number of people as for the last few bands, however when you figure shows are usually fullest for the headliners I took this to mean that some indeed had fled the coup. I shook my head for them, knowing the greatness I was about to witness that they would miss. The entire day had come down to this moment and as the strobe lights began to run brief test patterns I knew that although I wanted the best possible view I could manage, I wasn’t going to get it on the floor. Not with the insanity that is Dillinger. Instead I went up the three small steps to the next mezzanine level and stood directly to the left of that, just in front of a nice wooden pillar to ensure there was no one behind me and I’d something to lean on if I needed it. Hey, for someone who did the pit/floor thing for years I know that once a case of concert shoulders comes on it’s only moments from returning for the rest of the night. Eight bands is a lot of time spent on your feet, and I wasn’t about to risk the distraction of constant pain. Plus, turns out I pretty much ended up with one of the best views in the house – the ‘floor’ in most HOB’s seem to be considerably smaller in person than I ever remember them and as such I was still pretty freakin’ close – closer than those folks in the balcony (although as you’ll read, the band did a pretty insane job of taking things as close to the upper deck as possible).

CAM00083The Dillinger Escape Plan came out and within opening track Prancer singer Greg Puciato took a knees-up, running leap into the crowd that resembled a cannonball into a pool more than it did any singer’s crowd surfing I’d seen before. I’ve seen this band three times previously over the last decade and a half (and I recently discussed those in colorful detail here) and every time they come out I’m reminded that frankly, they scare me.

In a good way.

The entire band has an apocalytic presence, but perhaps that is most personified by singer Greg Puciato. When he moves to the foot of the stage and always beyond it’s almost as if he stands on top of the crowd and marshals over a whirling, churning army of the undead. Between the sounds the band makes and the ripping, tearing command of Puciato’s voice the vibe is so strong that you literally feel like the world outside is raining down in pieces and it is only right at his feet that you are momentarily saved – even with all guitars, speakers and mic stands that are swung and thrown around only inches from causing you real bodily harm. Dillinger performed quite a few tracks from new record One of Us is the Killer: the aforementioned Prancer, Hero Of the Soviet Union, Nothings Funny and the title track were augmented by my personal favorites 43% Burnt, Gold Teeth on a Bum and Farewell, Mona Lisa, to give you some idea of the course of the set.

Now, if you follow and read from the link to my other Dillinger experiences above you’ll get a feeling for just how insane and literally dangerous this band is live. This adds to the charm and frankly, its not done in a mean-spirited way, which adds to the sheer pandemonium going on at any given moment. Longest-running member and principle guitarist Ben Weinman thrashes in ways that those in the front row tend to baulk and flinch repeatedly, constantly afraid that one of the times he swings his guitar out above them by the strap he’s going to actually let go. Also as you’ll see from that linked-article they have very good reason to fear this, as I know from first-hand experience that it has happened at least once. Everyone in the band puts 120% into every live performance I’ve ever seen them give – and you wonder how this could possibly occur night after night – but Puciato is the one that really raises the insanity bar. And once again he topped even himself this time by scaling the stage left front of house speaker tower until he was standing on top, almost level with the balcony seating. After a few moments of taunting between lyrics Puciato hurled himself down what must have been at least twenty feet into a sea of waiting arms on the floor below. It was breathtaking.

CAM00074But they still weren’t done. The band commanded the room in a way that no other band there that night did, and they brought my experience around full circle. In 1999 my first, unexpected encounter with Dillinger re-ignited my lapsed interest in extreme music and tonight Dillinger presided over a package tour that, while I still say it has a stupid name, totally showed me that not only is the scene alive and well, stronger faster and smarter even than it was twenty years ago when I first started going to shows and throwing myself around in a claustrophobic social anomaly that scares most of the population, but it’s also still something that is very much a part of me. Dillinger played and performed at a level few musicians, let alone humans, can ever hope to achieve and as such, they helped perpetuate a subculture that is alive and well, just waiting beyond the confines of the everyday to cut loose and exercise the demons we all carry with us.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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