No other concert experience combines soaking in the August humidity and listening to the finest sounds of heavy metal quite like my full-day excursion at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival. Rising from the ashes of Ozzfest in 2008, Rockstar Energy continues to introduce large-scale audiences and social outcasts to the finest batch of upcoming talent and established acts across heavy metal. When amphitheaters are packed with metal fans and energy drinks, “Mayhem” is guaranteed!
Celebrating its seventh summer, Mayhem Festival outdid itself this year by organizing an all-star lineup that fairly represents all of the different subgenres in metal. Seriously, where else in America will you see Avenged Sevenfold, Veil of Maya, and Cannibal Corpse perform during the same day? Prepared for the long day ahead, I crammed into the car with my best friends and took a trip down to South Jersey where I attended Mayhem’s stop in Camden, New Jersey. Despite experiencing some nerve-wracking travel issues, this amazing pool of talent absolutely made the trip worth every second. When I witness a band and crowd harmonize together in unison, I live for translating those breathtaking moments into words. Just like everyone else, I profusely sweated and stuck it out in the rain so I could hear some badass heavy metal.
In fact, I felt the finest acts of Mayhem were those who went against the grain by straying from modern genre clichés like cookie cutter vocals and generic breakdowns. In particular, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Darkest Hour, Trivium, Suicide Silence, Cannibal Corpse, and Miss May I were the cream of the crop at this year’s festival. Unfortunately, I missed some acts including Veil of Maya due to time constraints. From what I gathered from a few trustworthy friends, this progressive outfit from Chicago dominated the early afternoon portion of the festival and I will most certainly catch them on tour next time. Getting back on track, these following groups crushed their peers by eliciting a relentless crowd reaction indicative of heavy metal scholarly.
Speaking of musical excellence, Korn managed to push the barrier of a stereotypical metal show in the vein of how their debut LP changed the music scene during the mid 90s. Don’t freak out – Korn’s stage setup resembled modern EDM festivals like Ultra and Tomorrowland. Taking the candy culture vibe one step further, samples of dance music were played in between each song as the music syncopated with a brightly colored stage. Glittered with strobe and neon knights…I mean lights (get the Sabbath reference), Korn tapped into an arsenal of classics and delivered a full-fledged knockout that left the audience high on adrenaline. Let’s put it this way, Korn opened with “Falling Away From Me,” so talk about setting the tone right from the start. When Jonathan Davis walked on stage carrying his signature bagpipes for “Shoots And Ladders,” every goosebump on my arm immediately rose after hearing the crowd’s deafening roar. Till this day, Korn’s musical output manages to draw a variety of reactions whether it’s older fans disliking the modern dubstep elements or loyal fans supporting their experimentation. Regardless, few experiences equate to seeing those dreadlocks bounce across every square inch of the stage.
Speaking from my past experiences, the headlining slot at Mayhem is typically the most challenging set of the entire day. Even though big names attract the largest portion of concertgoers, most fans are too exhausted by nightime after spending the day outdoors listening to quality bands. The co-headliner typically climaxes the festival and leaves fan’s quenching more like a helpless addict. During Mayhem 2011, I watched the co-headliners Godsmack blow Disturbed off the stage like they were amateurs. While Sully Erna commanded the crowd like a military general leading his soldiers to battle, David Draiman couldn’t even garner that kind of excitement during Disturbed’s biggest hits. Even though I saw a whole bunch of A7X t-shirts and tattoos throughout the arena, would this modern metal titan fall victim to Korn’s mastery?
Looking back at Avenged Sevenfold’s history, this band is known for thriving off adversity and channeling that resentment into commercial success. The majority of smaller acts on the bill gun for the headliners yet Avenged Sevenfold didn’t even face an uphill battle in winning this audience over. I’ll put it this way; this group didn’t suffer from the Mayhem curse. For whatever reason, I shamefully admit to never seeing Avenged Sevenfold live beforehand even though City of Evil, the self-titled LP, and Nightmare are some of my favorite albums from the 00s. I discovered them during Waking The Fallen, but I missed my opportunities over the years. On a different note, they don’t play shows in New Jersey often and this needs to change immediately!
I recently interviewed heavy metal legend Zakk Wylde who called Synyster Gates the modern torchbearer for young guitarists. This quote actually caused a slew of controversy after irate metalheads questioned Wylde’s guitar knowledge…. notice how ridiculous that sounds? I witnessed a crowd of young teenagers absolutely gleam when Gates stood in the middle of the stage and shredded during his solo’s in “Nightmare” and “Afterlife.” To his credit, Zakk Wylde’s compliment ultimately triumphed the haters. When Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance harmonize during “Bat Country,” thoughts of Metallica and Iron Maiden level grandiosity immediately send chills up my spine. In terms of persona, vocalist M. Shadows incorporates the relatable personality traits of James Hetfield and Mike Patton into his own repertoire, whether it’s his authoritative stage presence or increasingly dynamic vocal range. Very few groups could perform an eccentric track like “A Little Piece of Heaven” during the encore of a festival and A7X absolutely tore through this rendition as tribute to their fallen drummer “The Rev.” Add in a gothic castle packed with heart-rattling pyro…. could this stage get anymore metal? At least one young band is out there selling out arena’s and carrying the torch for metal by playing songs filled with hooky choruses, powerful guitar riffs, intricate solos, and progressive drumming. This is directed towards those so-called “haters,” what other metal acts achieved consecutive number one debuts on the billboard charts lately?
Even if my positive compliments for Avenged Sevenfold rolls some eyes, don’t forget how the small acts benefit from Mayhem attracting the headliner’s fans. Throughout Mayhem’s run this summer, I’m hoping thousands of unfamiliar Avenged Sevenfold and Korn fans watched Darkest Hour absolutely deliver marathon-worthy performances on the Sumerian Stage. It’s infuriating to know that Darkest Hour is so disgustingly underrated, especially when equating the brilliance of their catalog. Better yet, their eighth studio album just released on August 5th might possibly be the best album of their career. How many bands could produce such high-quality material almost fifteen-years after their debut? If you’re a fan of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, Darkest Hour’s Mike Schleibaum and Mike “Lonestar” Carrigan are virtuosic assassins when it comes melodic guitar solos and thrashy guitar riffs. If you’re a drummer, search for Travis Orbin on YouTube immediately! I guarantee that you won’t find another ambidextrous drummer play with such jazzy feel and metal precision. Let’s put it this way, I stood in the photopit during Darkest Hour’s set and frontman John Henry commanded the stage like he was possessed by the music. Even though most metalcore vocalists replicate the same regurgitated styles of screaming/singing, Henry’s snarl is immediately recognized as one of the most distinctive voices in modern metal. Hailing from Washington D.C., this group is guaranteed to deliver a fistful of metal and cannot be missed for any reason during Mayhem.
When nearly twenty bands perform during the same day, some acts will barely acknowledge the crowd due to time constraints. This is unacceptable considering how the artist’s and audience share the live experience together. If some groups are looking for a tutorial on crowd interaction, I nominate Trivium’s Matt Heafy as the professor for Mayhem Festival. Towards the latter part of the performance, Heafy spoke to his audience and asked them to give him every ounce of energy they still possessed whether they liked Trivium or not. Regardless of the heat index or potential unfamiliarity, the fans responded in dramatic fashion by bouncing off the wall’s during an intense rendition of “In Waves.” I would fully support Trivium if they decided to promote current touring drummer Matt Madiro to a full-time member. Something just clicked when he sat behind the drumkit and he fits into the band’s style more naturally than their previous drummer Nick Augusto. It’s scary to think, Trivium is only in their late 20s and already six albums into their catalog. I imagine this Florida four-piece will only tour for a few more months longer before hitting the studio again, so I highly suggest catching one of metal’s finest before the touring cycle behind Vengeance Falls concludes.
In what’s become the year’s best comeback story, Suicide Silence’s triumphant performance showcased a group of brother’s bonded together for life following the heartbreaking loss of vocalist Mitch Lucker. Just two-years ago, this band quickly shot up the ranks in metal and played on the same stage graced by legends including Slipknot, Slayer, and Motorhead. Seeing this five-piece headline the second stage of Mayhem once seemed impossible, yet the addition of new frontman Eddie Hermida officially removed the dark cloud hovering over Suicide Silence. For further proof, listen to the group’s excellenet new LP You Can’t Stop Me. Still grieving from such a traumatizing experience, this therapeutic energy translated into an unforgiving batch of songs and live performances. Hermida’s focus on the stage resembled a musician looking to prove his worthiness to his detractors. One of Mayhem’s best moments occurred when Hermida dropped the microphone and jumped into the crowd. I’m not exaggerating; the audience absolutely lost their minds! From my perspective in the photo pit, the entire band rallied around their frontman’s energy and the body language resembled a huge sense of relief. Suicide Silence spent years paying their dues to reach this level, so I’m happy to see them keep this group alive by bringing in someone as charismatic inspiring like Hermida.
When Mayhem revealed its lineup earlier this year, my excitement immediately rose up a few notches after Cannibal Corpse graced the billboard. While death metal isn’t foreign to Mayhem Festival, I think it’s critical for audiences to discover the godfather’s of the scene. On a package comprised of mostly younger acts, Cannibal Corpse’s veteran presence will teach unfamiliar listeners about the exhilarating dynamics of death metal. One glimpse of Cannibal Corpse’s live show will convince naysayers why listeners are drawn to extreme metal. I wore earplugs in the photo pit but I thought the amplifiers were going to send me flying backwards. Seriously, this band’s musical precision is off the charts, especially when considering the constant time changes and explosive bursts of rapid drumming, brutal death growls, and deafening guitars. Even if this style doesn’t fit your tastes, Cannibal Corpse deserves respect for proving the odds wrong after twenty-five years.
Somehow, I never mentioned how thunderstorm forecasts made me worry about a potential cancellation. For a few hours, the sunlight completely vanished and the raindrops began to fall. I‘m sure for many attendees, they questioned their decision to purchase lawn seats. In the midst of the downpour, Miss May I approached the stage like a predator waiting to attack its prey. Ironically, this group’s latest LP Rise Of The Lion fairly represents their performance from last Friday. Detractors like to criticize metalcore, but Miss May I’s heart cannot be questioned. Speaking from experience, my conversation with Levi Benton last October revealed a sense of professionalism and determination that blew me away considering the group’s young age. In one of those magical moments, the rain just caused an enormous chain reaction where the climate condition’s enhanced the crowd’s energy to peak levels of insanity. Talk about powerful scenery; just picture these massive circle pits continually increase while the rain worsened. Despite the poor weather, Miss May I exerted every ounce of energy possible during their 30-minute set. I mean; Levi Benton even called the Camden show his favorite show at Mayhem, and he praised concert attendees for going absolutely bonkers in the rain. Could there possibly be a more credible source?
Regardless of society’s negative demeanor towards heavy metal, it’s incredible to see different generation’s of listeners come together for Mayhem Festival. Before the summer concludes, I urge potential concertgoers to attend the last few stops of this tour. Truth be told, I walked away from Mayhem feeling optimistic about the future of metal. Young audiences will always need to vent those feelings of frustration through a positive music outlet. When parents pass down their love of Korn to their children, I know something is right in this world. Despite the overwhelming odds, each generation produces a band that carries the flag during times of struggle. In the words of Pantera, heavy metal will forever remain “Fucking Hostile!”