A SLAM IS A SLAM IS A SLAM: NEW ENGLAND DEATHFEST, DAY 2
It’s not like there weren’t slams at Saturday’s edition of New England Deathfest: Sexcrement and Putrid Pile had them in spades. But Sunday was the Slam Expo to Saturday’s Death Metal Enthusiasts Convention, finally acknowledging the dirtbag elephant in the room: while many will always admire brutal technical death metal and deathcore has become child’s play, slam is THE big thing in death metal right now, divisive as it is. Though it’s redundancy can lead to DMF (once again, Death Metal Fatigue) more easily than other death metal strains, it has great potential for ridiculous heaviness. This made Sunday a little less rewarding than Saturday, but also a lot more fun. Though it’s hard to say if slam is here to stay, it’s certainly here right now, and if Deathfest wanted to be a proper barometer for what’s going on in death metal, it would have to at least tip its hat to slam, if not give it its hat for a while altogether.
Much like Saturday, Deathfest’s lineup explored the subtle niches of slam: ugly, mean slam (Goreality); lower-than-low tuned slam (Short Bus Pile Up); if-Big-Black-were-a-slam-band slam (Gutted Out); regular dude meat ‘n’ potatoes slam (Dysentery); avant-slam (Composted); deathcore with a side of slam (Fit For an Autopsy); and Goratory. Admittedly, if you weren’t paying attention to it, yeah, it all pretty much sounded the same. But if you were into it, Sunday was like a United Nations of slam, right down to pesky old wigger slam being left out like Kaddafi (at least for all that I know, in that “wigger slam” seems to be a very fluid term that can apply to all slam or just the varieties that employ rap video arm motions and guys that sell Amway). For the most part, Sunday was all about skipping to the good parts and bathing in the simplicity within. Some scowled and longed for more blast beats and sweeps; others took it for what it was, scowled, and engaged in a slow nod-along.
For all this talk of slam, the first band I saw (I sadly missed Living Void and Boarcorpse, due to not getting my ass in gear) had nothing to do with it: Massachusetts noisy grindcore upstarts Hivesmasher. Like Converge with a longer attention span filtered through radio static, much of what the band did was lost in a wall of noise. But what was tangible in their set was interesting and promising, and definitely worth a second look. Following this was when Sunday properly kicked into gear, with Goreality’s down and dirty combination of groovy death metal, grind, and slam. The title of their closing song – “Psychotic Dementia” – had me groaning, but redeemed itself after by incorporating what could quite possibly be the meanest riff ever written ¾ of the way through. After a wonderfully solid set by Metal Sucks-approved Parasitic Extirpation, Short Bus Pile Up provided rib cage rattling lowness that garnered– or at least should have garnered– a smirk from any of those in attendance. While the band do have fast, grindy parts, they’re like plots in pornography: you know why they’re there, but no one comes to Short Bus Pile Up for their velocity. Michigan’s guttural Gutted Out added an extra layer of abrasiveness by employing a drum machine for its rhythmic backbone, which, though tiring after a while, allowed the band to stand out amidst others employing similar traits that weren’t drum machine-related.
Standing out was important at Deathest, especially during Sunday’s lineup, which is why Woburn, Massachusetts’ own Composted had what could have been the best show of the day. Appearing on a stage decorated with balloons, two large stuffed frogs, and two beach balls, the band tore through a set of what might have happened if Ken Kesey wrote for Family Guy, with slams. While the audience used the set pieces to their moshing delight – the stuffed frogs apparently offered up for sacrifice and torn into bits, with white stuffing-innards all over the floor – the band seemed to be almost second fiddle to the colossal, Day-Glo surreal mindfuck the show’s surroundings provided. About halfway through and in mid-song, Composted slowed things down by – and I shit you not, as why would I lie about this? – playing the theme to PBS mainstay Reading Rainbow and handing out children’s books to members of the audience. To top off the set’s bizarre triumphs, they invited everyone in the audience onstage to sing their EP’s hidden track (and YouTube hit) “Land on a Cock” as sort of a “We Are the World” of slam. By the end, I wasn’t entirely sure what in the hell had just happened, but I was completely sure that I enjoyed it, and that Composted were a band with which I wanted to remain familiar.
Of course, Composted were just the midpoint in the slam festivities (slam-stivities?), as they were followed by Dysentery, whose bile-blooded rendition of the genre resulted in easily the most violent pit of the day. After them came Fit for an Autopsy, the day’s sole nod to deathcore. Though this isn’t to say it was a floppy haired, triggered-everything affair: the band’s brutal, glowering take on it reminded one of the squandered potential of the genre (hardcore grooves and swagger, when incorporated correctly, blend quite well with death metal). To top it off, they include former Through the Eyes of the Dead/Premonitions of War frontman Nate Johnson in their ranks, whose serrated vocals provided the oomph needed to put the band over the top (much like with his aforementioned former bands). After FFAA, DMF set in, and I couldn’t bare to hear one more band play death metal at an impossibly slow speed anymore.
This made Inherit Disease’s relatively straight up approach a breath of fresh air, and Mucopus’ brutal deathgrind (with Skinless frontman Jason Keyser at the helm doing a surprisingly endearing carnival barker routine and also giving a shout out to recently departed Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, making him quite possibly my new favorite person) a welcome change as well. The old timers that closed out the evening brought the energy back into the proceedings: a compact version of Viral Load featuring only vocalist/guitarist Shawn Whitaker and a drum machine, while not matching the excellence of Putrid Pile’s similar set the night before, managed to impress; a reunited Goratory sounded as fresh and vile as ever; and Sunday headliners Cephalic Carnage played a predictably brilliant set, proving that there is literally no event not made better by a Cephalic Carnage set.
At the corner of the stage during Cephalic’s show was festival organizer Blue Spinazola, headbanging along with the rest of the crowd. He was a fairly ubiquitous presence, despite either briskly walking or running to another part of the venue more often than not. But he managed to make time for at least part of every band’s set (well, the ones in which he wasn’t playing, as he pulls triple duty in Sexcrement, Dysentery, and Parasitic Extirpation), briefly slipping between the roles of head honcho and adoring brutal death/slam fanboy. It was his love of scraggly-logo’d death metal that brought this fest into existence, and it seemed almost masochistic to organize a festival with all your favorite bands, only to have to miss most of it making sure everything’s running smoothly. But remarkably smoothly it did run, more of a convention with moshing, headbanging, and ripe man-stench than a festival with a clusterfuck of bands and vulgar cross promotion. There was a subtle beauty in its proceedings, as a little-loved niche of the universe briefly got its due. But as with death metal, beauty was mostly foregone in lieu of another slam riff rattling the room floor to ceiling, shaking the feet of those above or below it with a throng of dudes shoving each other in between. But Sunday ceded into Monday, and most of Deathfest’s patrons went back to work to force a reply through gritted teeth to the question, “Oh, so you like metal? Then you must love Disturbed, right?” For two days, not only did people know who Goratory was, but chances are, there were some dudes around who somehow liked them MORE than you. And that’s not a small thing.