It’s 0930 and already what feels like a billion degrees outside, but fortunately for this day and the live experiences that it holds will all occur indoors. Three hours of travel sans sweat (to the sweet sounds of Florence + The Machine and neo-prog monsters Frost*) came crashing down in the 30 or so minute wait to actually get into Knoxville’s Valarium. A venue I had some familiarity with, having watched Mastodon and friends here a couple years before. Google maps anomalies aside expecting my compatriot (also named Matthew) and I to drop 50 or so feet from the edge of the interstate to the front door (“you have arrived at your destination”) arrival came as a painless process.
Outside in the minutes leading to open doors consisting of the usual crass menagerie of assorted band t-shirts and accessories. The usual biker vests riddled with patches and pins and a deluge of Whitechapel clothing (hometown blues) and even one peculiar fellow with a Dr. Dre shirt. All in all he failed to stand out anymore than those surrounding him, all sweat drenched and rapt with flat-billed hat pride beneath the punishing Tennessee humidity as the line crept forward. The most amusing aspect of this portion of the day lay in the aspiring local band hero in front of us as he detailed his band names and experiences. While the specifics have sadly been lost in the furor since, Fetal Impalement, Putrescent Blanket, and Ratfist Apocalypse all ring similar to the nonsensical (if hilarious) things he spouted. Mutton chops for days, a hero for one and all.
Being new to the Summer Slaughter layout I was unsure how initially the event would be set up, whether in a festival-type scenario with multiple bands going at once or a traditional set up with the bands all playing sequentially in order. It didn’t take long to find out the latter was the case, nine bands by default with two bonus bands varying by region. For our stop in Knoxville that meant local group SWINGSHOT would be at the tip of the opening spear and Nashville natives Enfold Darkness would follow soon after. Whether or not SWINGSHOT is any good I unfortunately cannot say, for when the doors opened at 2 we were still waiting outside, and while hearing bits and pieces as we made our way in, the band was packing up, our first sight of the stage one of white lights and a hustling crew to set up for the next act.
A quick trip to the bar (though water only at a show of any capacity) and a quick survey of the venue saw us find our location that would serve as home for the majority of the day: the central area of the upstairs balcony. Under normal circumstances we would attempt to navigate as close to the stage as possible but given the long term endurance of a 9+ hour marathon event like this requires, blowing it all trying to stave people off for the first two hours would have been extremely unwise (if more metal). Set up before the line of merch tables and free from having to be mindful of the several hundred surrounding people, it was time to settle in and run into the first surprise of the day: Cerebral Bore.
The lone band on the tour (aside from the locals) I lacked any sort of formal acquaintance with, the initial shock of course came in seeing vocalist Simone Pluimjers and hearing her throat shredding vocal work. The band’s music aside from the vocals a standard (if bland) brutal/technical death metal/grind onslaught against the senses that flew by with relative quickness, for in no time the band’s 20 minute set was over. The peculiar oddity here being as Cerebral Bore was a tour mainstay, that they would come second in the order ahead of semi-local veterans Enfold Darkness. This likely owed to ED being a Sumerian band and bigger within the area, but peculiar all the same. Notable for vocalist Adrian Perez’s mustache and being the only band on hand with black metal leanings. The band made the most of their 25ish minutes however, their closing two-part monstrosity “exaltations” coming across in glorious fashion. Hail Satan indeed!
Exhumed took the stage in an odd feeling fourth place, odd due to their long tenured and semi-legendary status but like true grizzled road warriors wasted no time in getting straight to the chase with modern force in “All Guts, No Glory." Two things immediately became clear: the band is as sharp as those half their age and lead guitarist Bud Burke plays like a man possessed by an entire coterie of methed –out demons. Truly a sight to behold as the band drilled deeper into their vast back catalogue as the set went on, raging through notables “Limb From Limb” and “Distorted and Twisted to Form." Finishing off in colossal fashion the band launched into and absolutely killed with their set closer “The Matter of Splatter” and brought all on hand to their knees with the close of their much-too-short set. Deathgrind legends to the last.
With Exhumed exiting this marked a transition to slightly longer sets, every one to follow (aside from the pair of headliners) being a slightly longer 30 minutes, fairly paltry but enough for most bands to squeeze in a couple of extra songs. Fatigue, even in the safety of the vantage point, had begun to kick in by this point, already a nigh three hours into the day, waiting on Goatwhore to get set up. Forewarned by the boss that they left something to be desired live, I still waited with a fair amount of excitement (and a new shirt tucked safely away in my bag) to see Sammy Duet and crew take to the stage and lay waste with their super-tight thrashy-death loving.
To that end, across the seven songs the band fit into its allotted time there was little to be disappointed with aside from how inaudible James Harvey’s bass was in the mix (…the man is super huge though, goddamn!). At the same time there were few in the way of surprises regarding the setlist: “Collapse In Eternal Worth” and “An End to Nothing”, like most in drawing heavily from the recently released Blood For the Master. Opener “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult” and the decimating “Apocalyptic Havoc,” each non-Blood For the Master cuts, came across strongest, the latter in particular taking zero prisoners in its blistering pursuit of annihilation.
And with Goatwhore exiting the stage it became painfully obvious that it was due time for a food break and more water, my bag coming in more handy than I could have ever considered in packing shit around for hours on end. Exiting the cavernous dark of the venue back out into the still humid (but cooling) Tennessee evening provided a pleasant change. Struggling initially to make sense of how to order food the barista (…of sorts) and his Agalloch shirt delivering unto me arguably the most glorious (cheese only) quesadilla in the history of time. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was the joy in finding something vegetarian friendly in the place, maybe it was both, but seriously, guy in the Agalloch shirt if you happen to read this, that quesadilla was amazing. The dinner break unfortunately coincided with the aural onslaughts of Job For A Cowboy, only bits of “embedded” and “Unfurling A Darkened Gospel” filtering through to the outside. Of note during this time however was the kid out in the outside area longing for Immortal to show up and plow through the entirety of their seminal 2002 release Sons of Northern Darkness, a curious moment that did not repeat. As JFAC finished up their set we headed back upstairs and took our familiar places on the balcony and waited for the real fire of the night to begin.
Opening up the trio of top tier Sumerian acts, Veil of Maya wasted no time in creating havoc with their jagged, polyrythmic, and manic take on metal with the intro track 20/200 serving as a build into the primal fury of “Divide Path.". Focused and relentless throughout, every song barely seeming to register a couple minutes before ceasing and eclipsing into another. Infectious and groovy throughout, the crowd steadily grew across the course of the set, partly because of VoM, partly due to what was to come. By the time closer “Punisher” had punished the crowd (pun intended, two people were taken out by security) the band gave a quick cut and left the stage in black.
New age progressive titans (and personal love) Periphery jumped into the fray immediately and went straight for the jugular with “Zyglrox”, easily the most aggressive song from the debut album and losing none of its ferocity in a live setting. Long a point of contention for some (whether on album or live), the biggest curiosity lay in whether or not vocalist Spencer Sotelo would be able to nail his constant on-album vocal gymnastics, especially those nasty highs. Free-wheeling banter with a playful turn on the tour’s title and making it known as the Summer’s Laughter tour, he put to rest all doubt, killing clean and harsh sections alike, taking fantastic center stage during the super intense high note in set closer “Ragnarok." Other new live staples “MAKE TOTAL DESTROY” and “Facepalm Mute” showcased a band super tight and well versed in playing life. The only particular negative aspect of the band and its performance being in the sound setup, eschewing traditional amplification measures and feeding directly into the sound board made the band at times particularly overwhelming sonically, occasional bits of ear shredding bleed and distortion, though admittedly this could have been a venue problem.
Unabashedly the biggest surprise of the night came in the form of The Faceless and their night-stealing show. Quickly becoming something of an ‘it’ band and sparring fairly well for the top band spot on Sumerian’s roster, the band made their presence felt immediately, ripping into long-time favorite from Planetary Duality “Coldly Calculated Design.” Between songs though a couple of fascinating things emerged: both the made-for-tv speaking voice of Geoffrey Ficco and the sheer enormity of presence in vocalist/guitarist/band maestro Michael Keene and his dominating influence on the shape of the band. While seemingly apparent throughout the first couple older songs it became readily apparent on “Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate” (and becoming later confirmed by the phenomenal release of Autotheist proper), that through Keene the band is aspiring to and reaching unheard of heights. Another new song (…at the time) surfaced in “The Eidolon Reaility” with long time staples “Xenochrist” and “An Autopsy” finishing out the set and leaving an enormous impression, an enormous and loving surprise. Hail Science!
At this point in the night only the two headliners remained, the first up of course being Between The Buried And Me. Seeing fit to use this tour to showcase their epic side, opening the night with the ridiculous 14 minute Colors-closer “White Walls.” A long time personal favorite, the song having lost none of its power over the last few years, indeed stronger than ever, shaped by a band relentless in its production and touring ethics. “Specular Reflection” and “Telos” both made for new listens in the live setting, the latter a sweet introduction for what is likely to be a killer marathon of an album later this fall. “Sun of Nothing” came across as a completely surprising, having been frustratingly absent from all my previous four viewings of the band. “Fossil Genera,” ever the familiar song to those who watched the band during The Great Misdirect era and having been played every time I’d seen the band previously, having lost none of its appeal or intensity. Despite the length of the songs, BTBAM’s setlist melted by far too quick, the hour having passed seemingly no sooner than they began. With lights out for them we stood, exhausted, waiting for the final boss of the night: Cannibal Corpse.
Given exhaustion at reached a near bursting point, I have admit the idea of a straight hour of Cannibal Corpse wasn’t exactly enticing and perhaps much to the chagrin of some readers I felt it possible that cutting loose and skipping out altogether on their set might be in order (also admittedly, I’m not a big CC guy, they’re something of an AC/DC of death metal). My friend would have none of it, “YOU HAVE TO COVER IT!” he said, refusing to let me skip out so we hunkered down, steeled our resolve, and were as prepared as we could be when Fischer and cre took the stage and let loose in a room-crushing “Demented Aggression”. For someone unversed in the ways of Cannibal Corpse the transition from newer and slower ‘serious’ songs to older, frantic, and seemingly ‘campy’ songs was a fascinating one to behold. Across the 15 song setlist however most of it sorta bled together at times, regardless of era, the hilarious banter that introduced “I Cum Blood” and “Priests of Sodom” being standouts, along with encore staples “Hammer Smashed Face” and ‘Stripped Raped & Strangled.” Though largely inaudible in the din of the venue, the bass playing of Alex Webster was particular feast for the eyes, though long documented, it was nonetheless fantastic.
As the night came to a close and the ~3 hour journey home began, a necessary stop being made at an Ihop on the fringes of Knoxville (our go to place after any Knoxville show). Though faced with an abhorrent waiter and an unruly midnight crowd, the egg, cheese, and I think Spinach (whatever, it was something) crepes I indulged nothing short of fantastic (and even better the day after microwaved). With truckers giving angry looks at my Goatwhore shirt (hey, had to change into something after leaving the venue) we made our break for it and journeyed off into the waiting night, fully slaughtered and still listening to Florence + The Machine.