Gig Report: Slaughter by the Water 3

A 12-hour metal festival—featuring Autopsy, Absu, Abysmal Dawn, Impaled and Exodus—on a WWII aircraft carrier. How fucking metal is that? Slaughter by the Water 3, the Bay Area’s own metal festival, was held this year aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda, CA. In this epic, exclusive TOTD feature, we sit down with the show’s organizer, then step aboard for a gig report on a venue that could literally destroy all other venues. All horns on deck!

by Jordan Itkowitz & Photos by Noel Holmes
Nick Gomez is a very busy guy. Not only does he still front thrash/punk band Zombie Holocaust (or simply ZH, nowadays), but over the past three years, he and his partners have assembled Slaughter on the Water, a Bay Area metal festival that celebrates the glory days of the original ’80s San Francisco/Bay Area thrash movement while featuring the latest waves of thrash, death and beyond. And all before his 26th birthday.
Where did the idea for Slaughter on the Water come from?

Nick Gomez: Slaughter by the Water started in 2010. It was me and my partner Brian Montague. We were hanging out in a club in San Francisco called Deathguild – actually, it was a goth club – and we saw a big group of people there, about 700 people. And we thought, we can grow a show for the same amount of people, and give Bay Area metal fans something even bigger.

I’m a part of a scene that was really prominent around 2007, 2008, and it was what we like to acknowledge as a mirror image of the 80s thrash scene, just on a smaller level. It included bands like Hatchet, Devastator, Fog of War, Zombie Holocaust and Laceration, and we wanted to recreate the caliber of that early scene. And the only way to do that was to utilize the talent in the Bay Area, which of course are bands like Exodus, Testament, Vio-Lence, you know, all the Bay Area legends.

What were the first two versions of the show like? Who was on the roster, and how did you assemble this year’s line-up?

So year 1 was connected to the scene I mentioned. With Zombie Holocaust, I had connections to bands like Bonded by Blood, Fueled by Fire, Laceration, Fog of War – all the bands from the current scene for my age group. So we called up all of our friends and booked that show, and then decided we needed a headliner and got Toxic Holocaust – who are still a really huge thrash act. So we assembled that show with a lot of locals – even a band from Portugal called Prayers of Sanity, who are doing the exact same thing we’re doing here in the Bay Area over in their country. We had about 700 people show up, and it was way more than we anticipated.

A year later we started on Slaughter by the Water 2, and we were going to do it at the same level, same location at the Oakland Metro. We were gonna have Whiplash this time, and also some bands that weren’t part of the local scene like Vindicator and Dread, and then the line-up grew bigger than we’d originally thought when Nuclear Assault came aboard. Now we needed a larger venue and found the Craneway Pavilion, a 45,000 square foot facility that’s now a museum for old WWII tanks – it was a beautiful spot.

After that, people saw the caliber of the show and it got a lot of momentum with Nuclear Assault and Whiplash on there, and then Autopsy came aboard, then Cattle Decapitation, Skinlab and a bunch of others (JI: Ludicra, Witchaven and Warbringer were also on the bill), and so year 2 wound up growing far beyond than the small show we were trying to throw.

How big was it last year?

Up to 1500 people in that room. And so for year 3, we started planning as early as we could, called everyone we could and actually spoke with a lot of amazing bands and a lot of people who really wanted to be a part of Slaughter. And out of all of those bands, we decided, who was better suited than Exodus to be the headliners for this Bay Area thrash festival?

The excitement around that announcement was huge.

Oh yeah, definitely – they’re the ones who originated the scene that kids like myself are trying to recreate. They’re the godfathers of Bay Area thrash.

And then how did you get Chuck Billy to come aboard as the emcee?

That’s actually a really cool story. I was backstage at an event in Mountain View, and we were walking around and we got kicked out ‘cause we weren’t allowed to be back there (laughs). So we ate some lunch and decided we were going to meet three people: Chuck Billy, Dave Lombardo and Joey Belladonna. We had a theory going that no matter what you believe in, it’ll come true.

So we wrote that down and decided to sneak backstage again and hang out, and the first person we met was Joey Belladonna. He was very nice, and then the second person we met was Dave Lombardo. I mentioned to Dave that we were with Slaughter by the Water, and then he took us to meet Chuck Billy. He set up a little conversation, and I told Chuck about the event, what we’re doing, that we have some Native American charities involved. Another conversation later, he decided he’d like to anything he could to help us out – emcee, promote. I’m totally down with you being the emcee, Chuck Billy (laughs).

Awesome that it worked out so easily. So the obvious question is, was there any discussion of Testament playing the show as well?

Yeah, it was definitely brought up, but due to certain circumstances, regional circumstances, prior obligations, they just weren’t able to do it. They were definitely interested, though.

Well, it’s still a fantastic lineup anyway. Not to mention that the show this year is being held on an aircraft carrier. How did you pull that off?

Oh, man (laughs). It was kinda awesome. We were just driving around Alameda, scoping out places to have the show, and we were like, hey – let’s have it at that aircraft carrier! So we asked our other partner, Kristina Wolf, and she’s a go-getter and got ahold of the (USS) Hornet and asked if we could perform there. We had to convince them quite a bit, but they were definitely interested by the end.

Nick Gomez letting off some steam during ZH’s set on the Pier Stage
What were some of their concerns? Had they hosted a show like this before?

I think the most extreme music they’d ever had was the B-52’s, and you can’t call that extreme in any way. (laughs) They’d had events there with a lot of people, but they were very afraid of one thing, and that was the name – Slaughter by the Water.

And you know, for obvious reasons – they know it’s heavy metal, they know what heavy metal people do, and we would be the first people to ever have a moshpit in their WWII museum. (laughs) There were definitely concerns about the safety, but I let them know that our track record was zero police calls, zero accidents, zero injuries. Now they’re totally excited to host the event.

Yeah, and once they see that metal crowds take care of their own, it’ll be all good.

Oh, very true. They’ll see the camaraderie in metal. People have a bad image of metal and think that we’re all murderers or psychos or drunks, but once people go to a metal show, and see people helping each other up in the pit, or hugging each other during their favorite songs – it was just one of the hurdles we had to overcome in our name, Slaughter by the Water, and it turns out it’ll be a music festival of peace, love and rock n’ roll.

Speaking of which, you mentioned that some local Native American charities would be participating.

Yeah, the first one we contacted was the Native American Health Center in Oakland, and I let them know that I’m a young Native American and I’m from the Bay Area, and would like to benefit any organizations I could, starting with Native American organizations. I had a meeting with them, and they were very, very excited about the idea. They were never once turned off by the name, or heavy metal or anything.

They decided to promote their You Are Loved campaign, which is suicide prevention for teens – they provide hotlines, cards, groups, anything that could help kids in need. They will also be doing onsite rapid HIV testing, which is something they’re currently promoting a bunch right now. They’ll also be selling Slaughter by the Water Native American canteens to help fund their campaigns and also try to limit plastic bottle pollution.

Another charity we’re working with is the Native Warmth project, which was founded by a friend of mine named Maggie, and she makes and collects blankets for the people of the Pine Ridge reservation, and then sends them over there, because the conditions are third-world country conditions. It’s happening in our own country – people who are poor, hungry, dying of cold – really, really sad conditions, and most people have no idea that this is happening.

It’s really impressive that you’ve linked the attention that the show is going to get with these causes, and that you’re bringing this kind of legitimacy to the metal scene.

Thank you.

So what have been some of the bigger challenges you’ve had over the years as a promoter?

Well, there’s bad and good on each side of everything, but with the bad you still learn so much – an incredible amount. I don’t want to focus on any of the bad issues, but Brian, myself, Kristina and all of our partners have become better businesspeople through it all. We didn’t go to school for business or anything like that – we learned it all during our shows, and in real time. Business out there can be very, very tricky, and there can be snakes out there, but we also learned that there are a lot of people who will stand up and help. People who are going after their dreams. And there’s actually more people willing to help you than willing to hurt you.

Well, I hope that with the attention and help you’ve had this year, the festival continues to grow even larger in the coming years.

We have no plans of slowing down – this year alone has been day after day and blessing after blessing of meeting people that I never thought I’d meet. I’m 25 years old and Dave Lombardo knows who I am. Chuck Billy is a friend. I get to meet my heroes.

And the momentum that we’ve had has already gotten bands of such an extreme caliber willing and wanting us to sign them immediately for next year. Slaughter by the Water will continue to grow.

Looking forward to hearing about them next year.


Now you’re playing at the show with ZH as well, right? Is that stressful, to be putting the festival together and then you’ve gotta get up and do a set in the middle of the day?

Yeah, maybe a bit stressful, but imagine if you were running the most stressful day of your entire life – the best way to give yourself a bit of wind-down time is to pick up your guitar and jam with your band. It’s definitely stressful going from being in charge of an entire event to switching over to being the frontman of a band that will always put on the greatest show we can, everytime we go up there.

But here’s the thing, I was one of the kids that used to go to these shows, well actually, I still am – I’m still excited to go to shows and see the line-ups, but now I also get to perform and be in charge, have all the sides of it, and make it all the most enjoyable experience I can.

I want the fans to have a good time, and my partners and I are able to provide that because we’re fans ourselves.





And now, the gig report:

The USS Hornet, a United States Navy aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1943. It conducted raids and bombing attacks in some of the major Pacific battles of WWII, including Guam and Iwo Jima, before carrying troops home in Operation Magic Carpet. Later, it also waged battles in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and famously recovered Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they returned from their trip to the Moon.

This last point was on everyone’s minds on August 25, 2012, as Armstrong had just passed away that day. And here we all were, on the ship that had borne him home, preparing for a night of sheer metal mayhem. That alone made Slaughter on the Water 3 kind of surreal and comical, but no one could deny that this was a really special place to hold an epic night of thrash, black and death metal.

Overlooking the Pier Stage

First though, let’s back up to the first half of the show, held – for free! – on the concrete pier in the shadow of the Hornet’s control tower. The crowd was smallish when I arrived, though there was a nice cross-section of veteran metalheads and younger teens and families cruising the merch booths, food tents and the pier stage. Nice call on Gomez’ and his partners’ part to make this half of the festival for free, so that all ages could come and enjoy the show. Sorry to say that I missed most of the afternoon (it was my birthday, and I had other plans earlier), so I didn’t get to catch the sets from local acts Enemy in Peril, Desecrater, Mudface, Necrosin and Hemotoxin.

However, Scars of Envy was up next, and had admirably flown out to the festival all the way from New Jersey. They performed an energetic set of their Pantera-like groove/hardcore, but unfortunately, the power went out on the band at least once. That’s because the Rock the Bike stage was, true to its name, bike-powered. About 6-7 stationary bikes were set up to the left of the stage and hooked up to the generators that were powering the amps and speakers. It was literally “put the pedal to the metal,” but although the bikes were always filled with volunteers from the crowd, who were pedaling furiously through the set (and had been all day, I presume), the power still dipped down at times. Cool concept, but one that, in reality (and in the absence of a backup generator), had to be frustrating for the bands.

Putting the pedal to the metal at the Rock the Bike stage

Zombie Holocaust closed out this segment of the pier stage line-up, and Nick Gomez looked positively jubilant as he took the stage. Chuck Billy introduced him and his band, and then after thanking the crowd for showing up for the day’s festivities, Gomez and ZH kicked out a crackling set of shouty punk-inflected thrash. Given all of the thousand-and-one tasks and dependencies that had to be swirling through his head, the guy seemed completely comfortable and focused on giving a great show.

And then, the gangplanks were opened and it was time to step into the belly of the great gray beast… Now of course, the first thing on all of our minds was beer. There had been a nasty rumor circling around the pier that the show would be dry, but not only was there a nicely stocked bar, it was also set up on the large platform elevator used to carry planes up to the flight deck. The view overlooked the cranes and towers of the Alameda shipyard, and it was a memorable place to kick back and enjoy some drinks.

As for the rest of the venue, the show was located at the end of a long hangar as wide as the ship. The hangar was once obviously used to store aircraft, weapons and equipment, but is now home to several interesting exhibits including a recreation of the Apollo capsule, and the quarantine unit that the astronauts stayed in for several weeks after their trip to the moon. It’s also worth mentioning that the Hornet featured the coolest bathroom I’ve ever been to at any metal show – a tight cramped little space with a metal portal you had to step over and into (complete with one of those valve-wheels on the door and pipes running along the walls like crazy steel capillaries). Anytime you went to take a piss, you were reminded of one single, simple thought: “I’m on a fucking aircraft carrier!”

The stage itself was set up in a nice wide space at the end of the hangar, and bracketed on either side by old jet fighters (again, how metal is that?), but not so big as to dwarf the performers. Acoustics were certainly a question prior to the show – we were all about to be subjected to hours of high-decibel extreme metal resounding off the walls of a metal box. Surprisingly, the sound was decent throughout the night, though it varied per band.

I only caught the end of Severed Fifth’s set (another groove/hardcore band, this time from nearby Oakland), but got a good vantage point at the edge of the pit for Fog of War and their follow-up, Witchaven. Both thrash, from the Bay Area and L.A. respectively, though where Fog of War has a classic, irreverent skater-thrash vibe, Witchaven has a blackened, rougher and nastier sound. Compare Anthrax and Overkill to Slayer or Possessed and you’ll get the difference. I also think the razor-sharp, straightforward riffs and ratatat drums of both acts sounded particularly good and crisp in the space.

Fog of War setlist: “No Evacuation,” “The Glow,” “Victims of Progress” and “They Live, We Sleep”

Witchaven setlist: “Skinned Alive,” “Terrorstorm,” “ADD,” “Blasphemous Cunt,” “Black Thrash Assault,” “Empty Chasm”

Next up was my favorite show of the evening (yes, that includes Exodus), and the sole technical death metal act on the bill: Abysmal Dawn, from L.A. After the back-to-back speedy gallop of the thrash acts, the churning, intricate and mechanical maelstrom of Abysmal Dawn’s sound created quite a different atmosphere in our cozy steel abattoir, and a huge, pummeling pit along with it. This was my first time seeing the band, and they played a tight and professional set opening with the title cut off of 2008’s Programmed to Consume, and followed by tracks from last year’s Leveling the Plane of Existence. Highlight of the set (and the night) was hearing the roiling, stuttering beatdown of “In Service of Time” booming off of those steel walls.

Abysmal Dawn

Abysmal Dawn setlist: “Programmed to Consume,” “My Own Savior,” “Rapture Renowned,” “Perpetual Dormancy,” “In Service of Time”

The death metal continued with the Bay Area’s Impaled, who took to the stage with short-sleeve gray button-downs, armbands and thick glasses. If you weren’t familiar with them, you might have thought they were a bunch of ironic hipsters, but their sound was so loud and so brutal that it would’ve boiled the PBR in their veins (I had been drinking Newcastle all night; not a fan of that hipster swill). The crowd ate it up and paid tribute with another huge pit, as Impaled was one of the two straight-up death metal bands of the night. Only five songs, and oddly enough, from the band’s first and most recent albums, with nothing from Mondo Medicale or Death After Life. Boo.

Ross Sewage of Impaled

Impaled setlist: “G.O.R.E.,” “Masters of Ordure,” “Spirits of the Dead,” “Gorenography,” “Up the Dose”

I had a quick break before Absu, and rushed back off the ship – and into the freezing winds coming off of the Bay – to catch a surprise acoustic set by Scott Kelly of Neurosis on the pier stage. A few other bands had been added to the bill just a day or two before the show (including trippy post-rock act Space Ape and Blue Oyster Cult cover/jam band Flaming Telepaths), but their turnout was basically limited to the folks standing in line to come aboard the ship. You had to applaud the bands’ devotion though.

As for Kelly, his turnout was shockingly low as well – I don’t know if the crowd inside knew that he was playing, or perhaps even cared. Still, I enjoyed the chance to see the man up close and very personal – it was just him, the mike and his guitar as he strummed and moaned his way through a haunting set of lonely, sonorous laments. Not a single roar or bellow from his grizzled vocal cords, either; instead, think Tom Waits covering 16 Horsepower. The dark bulk of the ship behind him and the chill winds whipping down the pier just added to the desolation.

Scott Kelly, out in the cold

Back inside for Absu, the night’s lone black metal act (up from Texas), and also, I’m sorry to say, the first real disappointment of the fest. First off, I just don’t know if Absu’s blistering, hyperspeed compositions play well in a live setting to begin with, let alone ricocheting off the metal walls of the stage area. I heard bagpipes nice and clear (from the beginning of Tara), and then just a cacophonous, clattering battery of sound, accompanied by harsh rasps. The songs were indecipherable, but the band looked pretty cool. Ezezu and Vis Crom had black make-up streaked across their eyes like goth-hellions from The Road Warrior. Proscriptor, however, was sporting a glittery silver headband and a puffy afro to match, and between songs, he addressed the crowd in a hissing, high-pitched Invader Zim screech. Odd and comical and well, I didn’t know what to make of it. Someone else tell me if this is their normal shtick.

Ezezu of Absu

Anyway, I was listening hard for “Amy,” off of 2009’s self-titled release (I figured it, among most of their discography, would have played extremely well for the thrash-hungry crowd), but didn’t hear it because at one point between songs, there was a loud pop and explosion from one of the speakers, and then the set abruptly ended. The band left and never returned. I didn’t even see them in the crowd for the rest of the night – as opposed to Chris Reifert from Autopsy, who was happily making the rounds all night.

I would say half of the crowd was still at the bar when Autopsy was ready to start their set, and given that they had a good hour, Reifert had no qualms about standing up from his kit for several minutes and yelling all the way down the corridor for people to get the fuck down to the show.


As the crowd started making their way down the hangar, the pit swelled, and Autopsy tore into an hour-long set. It was the longest of the night so far, and appropriately so – these guys are old-school death metal, and their triumphant return with last year’s Macabre Eternal made them an absolute must for a festival celebrating Bay Area metal. Oddly enough, they only played one track off of that (“Seeds of the Doomed”), and instead decided to give their longtime fans a treat with a setlist dominated by Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, with few additional selections from Ridden with Disease and Acts of the Unspeakable. Highlight for me was the doomy splatter of “Pagan Saviour” off of Severed Survival. The guys looked like old pros – especially Reifert, who was quite the showman even as he was imprisoned behind the kit. He always made sure to pop up every once in awhile (like a Disneyland ghoul from The Haunted Mansion) to make a vomiting noise in the mic. Funny guy.

Autopsy setlist: “Charred Remains,” “Severed Survival,” “Pagan Saviour,” “Embalmed,” “Dead,” “Voices,” “Slaughterday,” “Seeds of the Doomed,” “Mauled to Death,” “Gasping for Air,” “Ridden with Disease,” “Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay.”

Now, how do you follow up a drummer showman like Chris Reifert? Lombardo, that’s how! Dave Lombardo sat center stage with his new three-piece, PHILM, which also features Gerry Nestler of experimental prog band Civil Defiance and Pancho Tomaselli of War. Haven’t heard of either of those two acts, and not sure I will check them out now, because PHILM didn’t impress me when I sampled them prior to the show, and they were even more of an odd duck at the fest. Simply put, the band came off like a cold sneeze on a warm stripper. They sound like an arty blend of punky spoken-word, discordant Nirvana-esque bursts and jazzy, psychedelic warblings, with Nestler crooning and shouting like Serj Tankian of System of a Down. Lombardo gave his drums the ass-beating of their lives, which was always mesmerizing even if the rest of the music left the crowd bored and confused. This is the second time I’ve seen Lombardo play with a fiercely avant-garde act (the first was the debut of Mike Patton’s Fantomas, in 1998 in San Francisco), and both times the bizarre music left the crowd in a funk. I kept waiting for someone to yell ‘Slayer!!!’


Ah no matter, because here was Chuck Billy after the set (who I only saw up on stage a few times throughout the night, though he was mingling with the crowds at the bar like a good metal ambassador) to prime us up for Exodus. First though, a moment of silence for Neil Armstrong – again, how surreal to be hours into a deafening metal festival aboard the ship that brought him home.

And here, I have to digress for a bit, because I want to call your attention to the red-shirted, elderly veterans and museum officials who were standing by all night, watching the eruption of metal in their normally quiet and reverential museum. Although the crowd was pretty well-behaved and having a good time, I wish I could have read these mens’ minds. They were probably wondering, first of all, how the hell any of this could be considered music, and also marvelling at the chaotic, undisciplined lunacy going on in the pit. This hangar floor had once been home to ranks of uniformed soldiers and engineers in foreign seas and under enemy fire, and now it was a seething, sweaty vortex of arm-swinging, shoving and gleeful insanity. Makes you wonder how the guys back then blew off their steam.

And then, it was time for the headliners: Exodus. The bar emptied and the crowd at the stage packed in, their average age jumping up by at least 15 years. Quite the cross-section of metal – young thrashers and old biker dudes with grizzled gray beards shouting their approval as Rob Dukes, Gary Holt, Tom Hunting, Jack Gibson and Lee Altus stomped off stage, fresh from their recent appearance at the Tuska Open Air in Helsinki, Finland (covered here on the site a few weeks ago). Now, somehow, in all of my 20+ years of metal fandom, I’ve never seen Exodus before. Metallica, Overkill, Forbidden, Testament, Megadeth, yes, and Slayer countless times, but Exodus and I have never crossed paths. So I was looking forward to seeing them on their home turf, and in one of the most memorable venues you could imagine.

Exodus – back in the Bay!

First off, Exodus boasted one of the flat-out funniest pits I’ve seen in years. People were going batshit crazy during the entire set. It was complete and utter chaos with a hilarious cast of characters – the bros, the heshers, the thrash kids and the misfits, all out of their fucking minds. Here was an endlessly circling, bare-chested macho dude looking like the Chinese Garry Shandling lookalike villain from Bloodsport. Here were young hesher pups crashing into each other, and then there was the drunken fat guy roaming around in the wrong direction, giving half-hearted love taps to anyone he could put his grubby paws on, and countless more doing their own spastic, cathartic violent man-dances. There were at least two fights and a dozen man-down-pick-him-up scuffles which usually ended up in more people going down, and all the while, Exodus kept them churning and boiling and shouting for more. I spent half of the show just watching the pit. Endless entertainment.

As for the band, they played with a relentless intensity, tearing into classics like “A Lesson in Violence,” “Piranha,” and, most appropriately, “Scar-Spangled Banner” off of Tempo of the Damned. (Controversy alert – I far preferred Dukes’ thicker vocals on that one to Zetro’s on the album). Most of the rest of the set came from Exhibit A, Exhibit B and Shovel Headed Kill Machine, with the two closers off of Bonded by Blood (the title track and “Strike of the Beast”). Speaking of beasts, Dukes lunged, snarled and prowled the stage, while Holt and Altus held down the sides of the stage like towering stone colossi.

Rob Dukes, prowling the stage

Unfortunately, the sound did go down again during their set, and it took at least 10 minutes to fix, so we all got an impromptu performance of the Rob Dukes Comedy Hour. The guy is a great frontman, but public speaker, ehhh not so much. (Got a good joke out of it, though: What’s the only good thing about child molesters? They don’t speed in school zones.) The crowd stood patiently during the delay though, and once the power came back on with “A Lesson in Violence,” everyone got revved up again to close out the night with a final burst of insanity.

Exodus setlist: “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles,” “Beyond the Pale,” “Scar-Spangled Banner,” “Children of a Worthless God,” “Piranha,” “Deathamphetamine,” “Blacklist,” “A Lesson in Violence,” “Iconoclasm,” “Bonded by Blood,” “Strike of the Beast”

All in all, a very memorable concert on a once-in-a-lifetime venue. The line-up was obviously chosen with care, and the crowd of metal faithful reflected that – not a trend-hopper or ‘core kid in sight. The power issues at the Rock the Bike stage and during Absu and Exodus‘ sets were black marks, and the reverb in the main stage area didn’t always do a lot of favors for some of the bands’ music, but these issues weren’t so debilitating that anyone lost patience. Had this happened at a normal venue, I think the mood might have been more sour, but the excitement of partying on an aircraft carrier for the night more than made up for these hiccups. And once again, I have to applaud Nick Gomez and his partners for putting together such an epic event. I don’t know where Slaughter on the Water IV will be held next year, but if it’s not on the USS Hornet again, those of us that attended this year will have been part of something truly unique in the history of Bay Area metal.



  1. Commented by: Apollyon
  2. Commented by: stevenHI

    Great writeup. Sounds like it was a blast!

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