Cephalic Carnage Tour Diary: Part 1

by Jay H. Gorania

For the first half of Cephalic Canage’s jaunt on this year’s installment of the Summer Slaughter tour (that they lovingly referred to on stage and with their tour shirts as the “Summer’s Laughter tour”), Hellbound writer Kevi H. Metal jumped in their van and tagged along. When passing through Kevin’s home province of Ontario, however, he parted ways with the band to catch up with his gig as a line umpire for Tennis Canada (we hope that Kevin won’t have a John McEnroe type screaming at him regarding his calls, though I’m sure the same sentiment may not be held by one or two bands he’s reviewed less than favorably over the years).

In late July, while winding southbound toward San Antonio, the transmission on Cephalic’s van broke down in Fort Stockton, a tiny town in West Texas, before it was towed an hour away to Odessa. To (kinda) shorten a long story, Kevin called me to see if I could help out since I live 20 minutes away; my brother-in-law and I subsequently took their trailer to my family’s business; I drove Kevin and drummer John Merryman to the Austin gig the following day; and then Kevin and I headed back five hours so he could pick up the repaired van and haul ass to meet Cephalic that evening in Houston.

Since Kevin was unavailable, then, for what amounted to approximately the second half of the tour, I ended up joining them in Cincinnati. A matter of minutes after my cab led me from the airport to the venue, I was slinging merch, encountered almost immediately by a drunken young lady who was obviously there for the right reasons.

“Where are the bands partying?”

I wish that was the only time I faced that fucking question.

On the flipside, some people hanging around the merch area at venues proved themselves to be much cooler. In lovely Detroit, for example, there was an interesting coupling of friends. One teenaged dude with a Mayhem shirt, the other wearing a sky-blue Hollister shirt. Surprisingly (or perhaps obviously), the Mayhem dude wasn’t the wierd one. Bouncing around like a Home Alone-era Macaulay Culkin on crack, Hollister boy was growling the lyrics for Cephalic’s “Endless Cycle of Violence” before boasting about having exactly 420 texts on his phone at the end of Cephalic’s set.

The next evening in Milwaukee, a Cephalic fanatic talked my ear off about how much he loves the band before the conversation took a tangent toward his passion for body modification and body suspension. “Humans are ground-based creatures, so when you’re lifted, it feels like you’re flying.”

While getting hoisted into the air by the fish hooks that were stabbed into the skin of your back may be cool and all, I didn’t really know how to respond.

But the massive venue, the Rave, had in the past been home to the legendary, annually-held Milwaukee Metalfest, a metal institution at which Cephalic played numerous times. It was actually one such performance in the late ’90s that prompted Relapse to sign Cephalic. With such a rich history linking them with the venue, it was fitting that the crowd went ape shit for them, spurring on a bloody, viscious fight in the pit.

Cephalic Carnage

When Decapitated strummed their last notes and business was finalized, Cephalic had little time to party that night.

Indeed, while nonsense and debauchery had definitely gone hand-in-hand with the entire Summer Slaughter tour, it wasn’t all fun and games, as some might assume. With a ten-band package, shows were early. Very early. Load in times were normally around one, doors were normally 3-ish. This means that almost immediately after shows were over and odds and ends were sorted, it was time to embark upon the journey to the next town (and the tour’s routing had been far from perfect, to say the least).

Sometimes Cephalic did have a little wiggle room time-wise, so floor-space at the home of band dudes/friends they’ve played with in the past (Corpsicle, Yakuza, Black Dahlia Murder, et cetera) provided a couple of hours of rest, more than that which can be squeezed out of an interrupted sleep in the van; the availability of a home cooked meal was a better alternative than the usual gut-rot-inducing fast food joint; and an occasional shower meant that sweaty balls and asses could finally be cleaned before hitting the road to make it in time to the next show.

I’m not saying this is good or bad, it simply is what it is (whatever the hell that means!). What is bad, and simply wrong, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is the 15 to 30 percent cut of merch earnings that some venues took. It was as wrong as a call girl driving away with your money before she actually took care of business (whatever the hell that means!).

Even for bands like, say, U2, I’m not sure that I understand the justification for the practice of taking a cut of merch sales. Okay, they provide space for bands to sell merch, so it’s sort of like rented out space? But with this logic (as Kevin indicated in his blog for Decibel), since the venue is only making money from alcohol and concession sales because band X is playing there, shouldn’t the band get a cut of those sales?

But this is the real world, not a perfect world, meaning that logic and reason are as prevalent as there is intellectual discourse on MTV. In Chicago, the merch police were polite…in the way that they behaved like border cops searching through every piece of merch. They were only following orders (I’ve heard that one before), which was taking money away from underground bands who had rightfully earned their keep.

Legitimate griping aside, the Chicago show was at the badass, prestigious House of Blues, and the show and sound were both first class. A heavy set dude that evening was about to do his part to support Cephalic by purchasing a specific shirt, but his larger size wasn’t available. Since there are at least one or two munchie-minded, weed-friendly Cephalic fans out there, in addition to this dude, he was right in pointing out that “there are no small or medium-sized blunt smokers,” he laughed at my suggestion that he try on a medium.

There was certainly more than a handful of interesting characters at the shows. At Cephalic’s hometown show in Denver, a gorgeous brunette was walking around with a revealing, form-fitting top that was hard not to notice. At some point her shirt was apparently torn while crowd surfing. To remedy the situation, her musclebound boyfriend led her by the hand to the merch area to find something for her to cover up with.

As he was buying a skin-tight, string-shouldered Cephalic Carnage girls top, she surprisingly wasn’t looking for a spot to privately put it on. Instead, she changed right in front of the merch table.

No bra.

Maybe some guys were proper gents. Some others were probably too scared to sneak a peak since her boyfriend looked like an angry MMA fighter ready to crack skulls. Whatever the case was, most dudes around awkwardly looked elsewhere. I ain’t gonna lie. I couldn’t help but stare. I even snagged a picture!

Nice shirt.

Pleasant distractions aside, the show’s sound was consistently good, and Cephalic Carnage made the most of their home field advantage. The crowd: badass, br00tal and the rest of it. Lenzig’s banter focused on weed, weed, the uncertainty of life, aliens having sex with animals and some other stuff, thankfully providing some contrast to the seemingly mandatory stage chatter from the breakdown-friendly segment of Summer Slaughter bands. If I hear another “I wanna see a circle pit,” or hear another bass drop, I just might lose my mind.

Skipping the Indianapolis show to replenish merch in Denver due to the dwindling stock in the trailer meant that we spent a few days in Denver. A welcomed opportunity to recharge batteries (actual physical phone, computer and camera batteries, as well as the gray, gooey kind in one’s brain), do laundry and catch up on some over-due rest, the extended pit stop was refreshing. There was even an evening spent at a Primus show at the renowned Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a badass venue that basically looks like it was chiseled out of the Rocky Mountains.

Brian Hopp, the guitarist who replaced longtime Cephalic member Zac Joe (who left the band last year), was raised in Steamboat Springs, but he’s spent the last six years in Denver. He lives a short-walking distance from a cluster of hipster hotspots, pubs and restauraunts.

Sitting on his living room couch mid-day in his Denver apartment, Brian was clicking through some YouTube videos of Dr. Rick Strassman, a researcher who has studied DMT, a hallucinogenic drug that some advocates (dudes in Cephalic, to be specific) describe as dimension-transcending and spiritual.

DMT also happens to be an acronym for “Dimensional Modulation Transmography,” a track from Cephalic’s recently released album Misled by Certainty. The song’s lyrical spring-board was born from the hallucinogenic trips of some of Cephalic’s members, referencing encounters with beings from outside of our dimension (as vague as that may sound).

Cephalic Carnage

Looking across his living room at the smiling skull ‘n bones flag plastered above his TV, Brian didn’t appear too eager to share any specifics about the song, wanting its meaning to remain as open to interpretation as possible, though he was willing to say that DMT, the song, is about “being put in your place” by entities from another realm. These entities are not always “friendly ghosts,” Brian says, adding that a band member had a hallucinogenic trip in which an entity was breaking that person’s ego down, an experience that bled into the song’s creative expression.

On the surface, this nebulous description probably paints Cephalic Carnage as being a bunch of comedians at best, paranoid nutjobs at worst. Yes, several members, including their sound guy, believe there’s truth to many conspiracy theories. In 100-word write-ups, I can sympathize with journalists who might not be able to fully portray what the band is about (this goes for any band, for that matter).

That said, any fair or full assessment of their views on things as varied as extraterrestrial life or marijuana legislation needs to take into account the serious, empirical manner in which Cephalic Carnage’s members question the most fundamental aspects of life.

Man, what happened to the good ‘ol days when death metal bands sang about the devil?

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site. Plus he's the man behind heavymetalhamilton.ca.