Mayhem Festival is a unique experience in the American concert industry. It balances the deeply influential, currently popular and the recently rising in a mini-festival environment played out in the mostly Live Nation-owned Amphitheatres (all of which featuring a massive general admission “lawn” where consumers can buy cheaper tickets). Last year in 2012, we saw Slayer, Slipknot and Anthrax render thrash and brutal approaches to metal making for a quality bill. The year before that in 2011, Dethklok did a disappointing job headlining on top of the curious additions of Disturbed and Godsmack. Like those two years, 2013 was a similar mixed bag. Some bands thrilled, other bands seemed odd by their inclusion. The best of the bands made the experience all worthwhile, but it begs the question whether a smaller-scale approach with newer bands might make for a more consistent experience.
All photos by Owen Ela
This year, the fest took advantage of 3 alternating stages, the smaller Sumerian Stage and the equally sized, side-by-side Jagermeister Stage and Musicians Institute Stage. These three stages collectively accounted for the entire festival’s undercard. The side-by-side stages were expertly timed so each band was setup and ready to go, the very minute the preceding one finished. That meant no downtime between sets, and a massive crowd planted largely without moving in front of both. Motionless in White was up first for us on the M.I. Stage, bringing an angry roar to the audience in their own metalcore style. It was a blast as overwhelming as the heat, which topped off at a balmy 105 degrees.
Arizona’s Job For a Cowboy were up next, delivering impressively in their own trademark, imposing presence. We first saw the band at the famed Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2008, and were wowed by their menacing energy even then. Now, behind last year’s stellar album Demonocracy, they’ve come even farther. The band may still be finding their audience in the U.S.A., but they’ve more than earned what they have, and the larger crowd they will earn in the years come. They ended on the political anthem “Constitutional Masturbation.”
The following band, Emmure, were far less engaging. Not bad per se, but the band is a run-of-the-mill mallcore band. Singer Frankie Palmeri comically asked, “All the ladies in the house say, ‘What the fuck?” Then asking for the men to chant, “fuck yeah.” Not to be harsh, but it was kind of an embarrassing call-and-response. They then played a song called, “R2deepthroat.” No, not making that up.
Curiously, Machine Head were headliners on one of the side stages this year. Last we saw them at Mayhem, they were first up on the main stage. They did an outstanding job two years back, and this set was no different. Their set here on the side stage meant only a shorter set, so the band opted for longer songs and had time for only five. The band played “Old” from their first album Burn My Eyes, “Halo” from The Blackening, “Imperium” from Through the Ashes of Empires and a pair of tracks from last album Unto the Locust. The highlight was the band’s worked out rendition of “Locust,” drawing heavily on intricate leads from both lead singer Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel.
Finland’s Children of Bodom finished off the afternoon’s set on the side stages, playing death metal littered with keyboards and triggered samples from movies. “Hate Crew Deathroll” gave way to the elongated, murderous speech Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman delivers in American Psycho which introduced “Bodom Beach Terror.” Overall it was a good offering, and the band’s the technical guitar work was enjoyable.
Perhaps the day’s best set came next at the main stage. Swedish Viking rockers Amon Amarth delivered the best tenets of Scandinavian death metal. Fronting a massive mural of their new album Deceiver of the Gods (depicting Loki’s showdown with Odin at the beginning of Ragnarok), the band also proudly displayed a full-scale Viking battle barge as the centerpiece of their set design. Their drummer Fredrik Andersson was perched atop semi-hidden by the ship’s bow. The group’s equally large lead singer Johan Hegg bounded from one side of the stage to the other bellowing in his demonic howl. The title track from their new album and “Death in Fire” were both great, but it was “Twlight of the Thunder God” that packed the most punch and fury.
Mastodon on the other hand—and unsurprisingly given all previous times viewing them live—lacked the showmanship and power that all of their albums have exhibited. The band has always performed more than competently live in terms of musicianship, but they lack something in terms of stage presence. Certain portions of the set brimmed with searing psychedelic nuance, but generally it comes off just as the band standing still, hammering out riffs. There’s just something missing, and their set never stands out as exciting as it ought to.
The curious addition to this year’s lineup followed on the main stage was Five Finger Death Punch. It’s hard to understand the appeal, but apparently this band is popular enough to be second highest on the bill for this event. “Death Before Dishonor,” “Under and Over It” and “Hard to See” all have a certain degree of accessible crunch (largely in the mixed clean and growly vocals of lead singer Ivan Moody) but generally speaking, the band is, well… generic. The band’s sound is metal without the dissident aggression. Anger without the necessary purpose. It’s great that the band has fans and that the audience seemed to enjoy the show well enough, but is this what metal was meant to be?
And lastly, the horror-inspired visual spectacle of Rob Zombie had the headlining honors. Zombie’s band is tight, wickedly skilled unit. He’s backed up by former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish, Piggy D. on bass and the amazingly talented John 5 on guitar. Amidst the litany of White Zombie and solo career classics “Superbeast,” “Living Dead Girl,” “Never Gonna Stop” and “Thunder Kiss ’65,” the band stood upon and in front of a series of a gigantic video screens, all nonstop displaying found and created imagery from horror and science fiction movies. At one point Zombie rode a giant dragon car of sorts, a 15-foot robot danced behind the band and later an even larger cartoonish devil strode around the stage. It was appropriately colorful given Zombie’s material, but it’s hard not to remember another tour from way back in 1996. Called the War of the Gargantuas, it featured Pantera, White Zombie and the Deftones. Hard to transport back in time, but that performance was something special to behold. Fans were elated to see White Zombie and Pantera. Heavy music seemed raw, vital and a window into a world far more interesting than the button-down, conservative world at the time. This event, while fun and worthy of existence, seemed far from the driven brilliance of those times. It’s hard to imagine any metal band in 1996 covering Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band” with red, white and blue flags streaming behind them. It certainly happened here though.
All photos by Owen Ela
More photos from Mayhem Festival 2013