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By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, August 4, 2016 @ 1:10 PM

At Ram's Head Live

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Photos By Peter Atkinson

I couldn't make it to this year's Maryland Deathfest – since I was traveling for real job work to Alaska, a tradeoff I would make again in a heartbeat - so I was glad to get another chance for a fix of death metal in mass quantities when the Summer Slaughter Tour rolled into Baltimore. And in the air-conditioned comfort of Ram's Head Live, no less, as opposed to the shadeless parking lot that is Deathfest's primary venue, a welcome turn given that swamp-ass heat and humidity had descended on the Mid-Atlantic with a vengeance.

The bill for the 10th anniversary of Summer Slaughter was the “deathliest” it had been in several years, with more traditional death metal and deathcore bands and no overtly proggy acts to speak of. And it was a chance for the wily old-schoolers like headliners CANNIBAL CORPSE, SUFFOCATION and NILE to show the new-schoolers a thing or two. Whereas CANNIBAL, et al, ruthlessly blend crushing brutality and technical grace, and deliver it with little fanfare but lots of sheer vehemence, the likes of AFTER THE BURIAL and CARNIFEX rely too much on turgid breakdowns, histrionic vocals and flash/theatrics to get the job done. And while everyone on the bill – at least that I saw – was undeniably heavy, CANNIBAL, NILE and SUFFOCATION felt much more genuine.

As usual, traffic sucked getting from D.C. to Baltimore, so even though I left early in the hopes of catching Brazilian powerhouses KRISIUN – who I hadn't seen in like 10 years – the trio was done by the time I finally arrived. As were SLAUGHTER TO PREVAIL, INGESTED and ENTERPRISE EARTH who had preceded KRISIUN at the show, which kicked off at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, and I suspect played mostly to the Ram's Head staff.

Filling roughly the same slot on the bill as it did at the last Summer Slaughter I saw in 2013, Boston's REVOCATION had just plugged in when I got there. The tech-death/thrash quartet peeled off a lively 30-minute set highlighted by a couple of tracks from its brand new – and quite excellent – Great Is Our Sin album and some pretty stellar guitar teamwork from frontman Dave Davidson and Dan Gargiulo. But while tight and energetic, the band isn't especially charismatic, so what could have been a great set was merely decent.

San Diego deathcore brutes CARNIFEX, on the other hand, try too hard. The quintet was the only band that brought any semblance of a production – two pedestals topped by votive candles and some small stage banners – but still came away as kinda cheesy. Frontman Scott Lewis' “Crow”-like getup gave the band a weird gothic air – as did some dramatic sound effects – and his clichéd stage banter and crowd baiting grew tiresome. And while CARNIFEX's brown-sound bottom end certainly got people moving, I found it all rather tedious.

Similarly, AFTER THE BURIAL's djent-core offered more bark than bite, although the quartet was looser and less forced than CARNIFEX and just seemed happy to be there after having to bow out of last year's Summer Slaughter following the death of founding guitarist Justin Lowe – which frontman Anthony Notarmaso acknowledged during the set. And when the band let loose with the jaunty poly-rhythmic shudder of “Collapse”, “Mire” and the ominous “A Wolf Amongst Ravens”, it was quite triumphant. During the metal/deathcore thud of older tunes “Bezerker” or “My Frailty”, though, not so much – especially with Notarmaso's shit-fit vocalizing. Still, Trent Hafdahl won the prize as guitar hero of the night with his unassuming but quite sensational lead work.

Meanwhile, death metal stalwarts SUFFOCATION and NILE just ambled out and killed it. Despite a lineup at Summer Slaughter that was 60 percent new from when I saw the band at the 2015 Deathfest – with fill-in vocalist Ricky Myers of DISGORGE, who has been substituting for Frank Mullen for a couple years, and recent additions in guitarist Charlie Errigo (replacing Guy Marchais) and drummer Eric Morotti (taking over for Kevin Talley) - SUFFOCATION didn't sound like it had lost a step. Given its long history of lineup shuffling, I guess the band can take even this kind of turmoil in stride.

Opening with the menacing “Entrails Of You”, SUFFOCATION thundered its way through a gnarly eight-song set that included “Liege Of Inveracity”, “Infecting The Crypts” and “Jesus Wept” Myers' mighty growl may actually be more forceful than Mullen's. And though he doesn't have near the personality of the legendarily nutty Mullen, Myers has grown comfortable and fearsomely capable in his role.

I hadn't seen NILE's dazzling technical death metal since it toured with CRADLE OF FILTH eons ago, so it was good to get reacquainted. And the band certainly didn't disappoint with its triple vocal/twin lead guitar/Middle Eastern-flavored attack powered by George Kollias' almost inhuman drumming. NILE's proficiency is matched by its utter effortlessness, and the band eased through a bludgeoning yet meticulous six-song set without seemingly breaking a sweat. Amazing.

And speaking of bludgeon, CANNIBAL CORPSE brought it by the truckload. On what is at least the band's fourth tour through the states on behalf of 2014's A Skeletal Domain, the quintet was as bruising as always on this hometown gig for frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who jokingly apologized to his sister in the crowd before introducing “I Cum Blood”.

CANNIBAL opened mostly low, slow and murderously heavy with “Evisceration Plague”, “Scourge Of Iron” and “Death Walking Terror” before bringing the hammer down with “Stripped, Raped And Strangled”. New tunes “Icepick Lobotomy” and “Kill Or Become” - with its “fire up the chainsaw!” cheerleading – blended seamlessly with old nuggets like “Unleashing The Bloodthirsty” and “Skull Full Of Maggots” as the band simply mowed everyone down. It was a punishing hour to be sure and capped a long day of metal – good, bad or otherwise - with resounding finality with “Devoured By Vermin”.

Summer Slaughter bills itself as “the most extreme tour of the year” and this year it certainly lived up to that. And after the last minute problems that dogged last year's tour – AFTER THE BURIAL's tragic withdrawal and OBSCURA dropping off because of visa problems – Summer Slaughter got itself back on track by essentially getting back to basics and reveling in brutality. Which was probably a good idea.

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