Billed as "the most extreme tour of the year," the annual Summer Slaughter tour is a U.S. death-metal extravaganza. The traveling package of sonic pain includes the genre's top bands and has spread, like some virulent disease, to Europe and Australia. This year, the acts are louder and more lethal than ever—with The Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel, and Darkest Hour, just to name a few.
But this article isn't about Summer Slaughter bands.
It's about the bands that, well, didn't quite get enough Facebook votes back in April to land the much-coveted "up and coming" spot on the tour. But instead of getting pissy about it, they—with the assistance of the very same booking agency that shaped Summer Slaughter, of course—teamed up to create the inaugural Slaughter Survivors tour, running all the way from West Hollywood, Calif., to Trenton, N.J., with a stop right here in Tucson.
"This is a great way to showcase young, next-generation progressive metal bands," says Robby Baca, guitarist for Indianapolis quintet The Contortionist. "Honestly, we had a couple of other bands in mind for Slaughter Survivors, but they ultimately joined other tours. Still, these bands we're playing with survived the experience of Facebook voting. And being a survivor is better than being called a leftover."
There's nothing reheated about the fact that The Contortionist received nearly 10,000 unique votes, while ultimately losing to Westfield, Mass.' Within the Ruins.
Had Baca even heard of the other Slaughter Survivor bands—Conducting From the Grave, Rings of Saturn, Scale the Summit, Volumes, and Structures—before signing on for the tour?
"I'd known of pretty much everyone, except for Rings of Saturn, which is a new name for me," he reveals during our phone conversation several weeks ago. "But I checked them out, and they're sick. Scale the Summit—we've been listening to those guys now for years. We haven't met Conducting, but we're looking forward to spending time with them on the road. Our first show is in a few days, and I'm literally loading our van right now as I'm talking to you."
The Contortionist self-released two EPs during the late '00s before signing with upstart metal-label Good Fight, and releasing the massive and massive-sounding concept album Exoplanet in late 2010. The CD continues to sell well—at least a few thousand copies so far—for an indie product. Produced by Unearth's Ken Susi, Exoplanet tells the story of the human race hundreds of years in the future, faced with a poisoned Earth and having no choice but to escape for the fairer climate of an extra-solar planet just outside of the Milky Way.
If that sounds a tad heady for the Hot Topic crowd, that's because it is. And without the benefit of a huge headliner at the top of the bill, it seems like Slaughter Survivors might not be the easiest way to move beyond mid-tier popularity.
Baca himself admits opening for, say, The Acacia Strain would probably do more to elevate The Contortionist's overall profile. But as many heavy-metal news sites have already pointed out, seeing a lineup of young and dazzling bands is often superior to trudging through long sets by a bunch of older, veteran death-metal acts.
"There were so many kids voting for their favorite bands to be placed on Summer Slaughter that our manager and booking agent understood the demand," explains Jeff Morgan, guitarist for Conducting From the Grave, the Sacramento, Calif., group signed to Sumerian Records. "... I've seen so much promotion and hype about this tour. With our name at the top, and by putting our name out there so much, I think this tour will draw a lot of people."
It's also, says Morgan, a great opportunity for Conducting From the Grave fans to see the band play a fuller set, and to hear the band in its full capacity.
"Usually, we only play a 25-minute set when we're not headlining," reveals Morgan. "Now, as a co-headliner, we'll be playing 45 minutes or more."
While it's true that the Slaughter Survivors tour is getting underway at the same time that the more established Summer Slaughter is carving its bloody path across the U.S., the tours head in different directions and never cross, ensuring they never compete for the same audience.
Of course, the younger bands will have to cope with the limitations of smaller venues like The Rock.
"As far as vocals go, being in a metal band, it can get really hard to sing in an environment where there are no stage monitors to be had, and you really can't hear yourself," admits The Contortionist vocalist Jon Carpenter. "I've figured out how to monitor myself with my own vocal amplifier, though, so I'll be ready for whatever."
Will these young bands be ready when their turn comes to headline a big tour?
"My band and I have been joking about calling this the Slaughter Rejects tour," laughs Morgan. "But I don't think we've been rejected by our fans. If anything, we've been embraced by them—and now they've given us our own headlining tour."