Mayhem Festival Recap

This year, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival celebrates its fifth birthday with one of the most solid, and yet, on of the most confusing lineups thus far in their career. Having replaced Ozzfest as the premier metal festival in America, Mayhem Fest has been able to deliver five different, unique, and special lineups of fantastic and important bands. I feel America has a real problem when it comes to summer tours because most bands just seem to flip flop between one and the next every other year, but Mayhem has always been diverse and slightly unpredictable, which makes it exciting. This year’s lineup, while deservedly received some mixed reviews, is incredibly solid and has potentially opened the gates for a wider audience for future tours.

My Mayhem experience took place on Friday, July 27th in Camden, New Jersey. I was joined by a few of my friends as we passed through the main gates and entered the arena, thus launching a long, but memorable day to come. The first band for me to see was I, the Breather, a Sumerian records act starting to make waves with their most recent release Truth and Purpose, which is an epic christian metalcore powerhouse of a record. Along with Dirtfedd and Betraying the Martyrs, Mayhem has really started to launch smaller acts. Ever since the beginning, Mayhem Fest have tried to promote some local acts. One band, Beyond the Scar, have been the Jager Band since the beginning (which says a lot about the band) and this lineup features a lot more local acts and smaller acts. For those of you that remember, Ozzfest was responsible for putting a lot of now-famous metal bands on the map (e.g. System of a Down, Slipknot, Down, Lamb of God, etc.) and was big on promoting lesser known bands by putting them with some of the biggest bands around. Apart from Beyond the Scar, Mayhem Fest have never really promoted local bands or tried to put certain bands on the map until now.

I think I, The Breather’s performance might have really won some people over. They’re heavy enough for some of the more straightforward metal kids and have enough breakdowns for the hardcore people. Everything was very clear and concise and while they aren’t really doing anything new and there are certainly bands out there doing what they do better, but I’m a fan of this band and was really happy with their performance and that’s all that counts. I then saw a few minutes of one of the local acts. I can’t quite remember their name and their music was less memorable. Just an average thrash band sounding like a sum of their 80s influences. Nothing new or captivating whatsoever. On the opposite end of the spectrum though, we have Whitechapel. One of the heaviest bands around, Whitechapel stormed through their set like a pack of rabid tigers attacking and killing a whole herd of Gazelle. Their newest self-titled album was released earlier this year and the new songs sound absolutely amazing live. I saw them at the Electric Factory back in December and they sounded just as good, if not better, this time around being outside. Great new album, great live band, it was all great.

Immediately following Whitechapel was Dirtfedd, a fairly new band that I had never heard and didn’t plan on hearing. From what I did happen to overhear though didn’t seem all to special, but I heard some people say that they were good. Maybe I’ll look into it next time. Which brings me to The Devil Wears Prada, another band that I had seen back in December with Whitechapel.  They were good, but I thought their show at the Electric Factory was better. Their mix wasn’t really bad either, I just think they sounded much better at the other show (probably because they were the headliners on that tour). I think adding The Devil Wears Prada was a risky, but smart move on the part of the powers that be that book the bands. The Devil Wears Prada have enough metalcore/hardcore elements that attracts more of a Warped Tour crowd to the show and the past few releases have been the heaviest in the bands career. Surely heavy enough to attract the heavy metal crowd that populates this festival. The problem is there are plenty of metalheads that are snobby and automatically discredit bands that aren’t 100% metal, so converting those people is the main goal for a band like The Devil Wears Prada and I think overall they most likely did so to an extent. I also feel like this band are the bridge between bands on the bill like As I lay Dying and Upon a Burning Body with Asking Alexandria (a bog upset this year, which we’ll address soon enough). I think we are going to start to see a lot more bands of this ilk and a lot more metalcore bands on the Mayhem Fest stages.

Next up we have Upon a Burning Body, a band that have already their stripes and proved that they can work a crowd unlike half the bands on this tour. They were playing the Sumerian stage, which wasn’t much of a stage. For the past few years, there were always the two side stages next to each other, but for whatever reason this Sumerian stage was merely a little tent with a stage that’s only an inch or two off the ground and the guard rail right up against the stage. As a photographer, I found it inconvenient and hard to get some great shots from the sides and behind the stage. Still got some decent shots, but I just don’t understand why they had a pitiful excuse for a stage set up all the way in the farthest corner of the entire parking lot and not right next to the Jagermeister stage like always. But like I said before, this is a very new and different spin for the Mayhem Festival. Anyways, Upon a Burning Body sounded amazing, playing a short set filled with mainly newer songs. I quite like the new album, but a lot of my friends have been slagging it off a bit and saying there are only three or four good songs on it. While I don’t think Red. White. Green. is as good as The World is Ours, I don’t think you should shy away from it at all. To me, I think the problem lies in the fact that a) Upon a Burning Body are one of the best bands to come out of the scene in the past decade and b) released an 8/10 debut record and toured relentlessly proving that they are a powerhouse live act and were more than capable of headlining shows on just that one album alone. When you look at it like that, no album can truly compare, but I happen to think that Red. White. Green. certainly does justice as a sophomore release.

After seeing As I Lay Dying, I got very excited for the new record and wanted to go back and rediscover some of their older material. I was also surprised at how fit Tim Lambesis is. In pictures he looks big, but his muscles were absolutely huge; much larger in person. But speaking of follow up records, I’m interested to see what this band will pull out of the bag for us this time around. “Cauterize” is a new song they released a short while back and is one of the best songs of their career, but to me, As I Lay Dying are the perfect 7 out of 10 band. Lots of good stuff, but nothing great. Nothing to really make them a headliner for a big festival or anything other than maybe headlining a second stage. I really liked The Powerless Rise and I hope this new album is better than it.

Probably the biggest surprise for me came from French metalcore and Sumerian records band Betraying the Martyrs. I had heard their debut album a couple of times and liked what I heard, but never expected to enjoy their show as much as I did. They kick off their show with the bombastic and brutally heavy “Martyrs” and continue to be relentless throughout their set. I was nearly blown away by just how heavy they were and how crazy their keyboard player/clean vocalist was. They really put on a good show and I think they’ve tripled the size of their fan base. Now all that’s left is a new record.Speaking of new records, how are Anthrax going to top Worship Music? Thanks to that album, Anthrax have made themselves in the limelight again and are getting some much deserved attention. I’ve always felt that Anthrax were one of the most criminally underrated  metal bands ever, but Worship Music completely blew me away as well as almost everyone else who thought they had this band figured out. Their live show blew me away just as much as the album did. Having never seen them before, I got starstruck seeing Scott Ian and Joey Belladonna right there in front of me. I just wish they were put on the main stage instead of Asking Alexandria. I get the rotating main stage idea, but apparently Anthrax preferred to not be on the rotating lineup and instead have chosen to headline the second stage every show. A noble gesture; I just hope everyone can appreciate what this band have done and recognize their importance and validity in this world.

Like I said, Asking Alexandria were opening the main stage during this particular leg of the tour. A lot of mixed reviews followed this band being booked. I think the logic of it makes sense in a twisted sort of way. They are one of the biggest metalcore bands around and will attract an enormous crowd just for them alone and they are part of the Sumerian records family. I would be prepared for a much larger Sumerian input from now on. If this particular Mayhem Festival is popular enough, we could certainly see more Sumerian bands like Periphery, Born of Osiris, After the Burial, Veil of Maya, and The Faceless (hopefully with a bigger stage as well). As far as Asking Alexanria’s show, I really just couldn’t be bothered. I honestly can’t stand them anymore. They’ve been unashamedly been ripping off Slipknot’s stage moves and are full blown alcoholics. In fact, for those of you that went t the festival and picked up a program, flip to their page. For all of the bands on the tour they have a general info box with a spot of a quote regarding your feelings towards being on the tour. Asking Alexandria’s quote was: “If we drink less, we’ll get a hangover…We keep drinking so the hangover never hits.” Not only is that completely irrelevant to the tour, but it makes them all look like assholes. I like some of their music, but I don’t want to be associated with a band that puts partying and debauchery first before the music. We already got enough of that with the glam and hair bands, but at least they wrote better songs. They just have some catchy choruses over some heavy breakdowns. Not a lot going on in the “song department” and for that, I just can’t respect this band anymore. I also felt their sound was muddy and indistinguishable between songs. I’m sure the die hard fans had all of their dreams come true seeing them, but I was not pleased.

I was pleased though with Motorhead’s performance. In fact I was more than pleased. I thought it was fantastic. My starry eyes from Anthrax had worn off so I needed to see another living legend to bring them back into view. I mean, when you think about it, none of these bands would be around if it weren’t for Motorhead. They are so important and I think they don’t get enough credit either. I personally can only really stand about a half hour of Motorhead’s music before I’ve had my fill, so it was good that they weren’t too high on the bill, but they really should have headlined. I was still more than pleased with their performance and the place just went off when they broke into “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill.”

Seeing Slayer allowed me to cross their name of the big four list. I have now seen all of the big four thrash bands, but out of all of them, I think Slayer were the worst.They were still really good, but Slayer should never just be really good. I mean, they’re fucking SLAYER! for a reason and I know that they are capable of better performances. Tom Araya practically looks like Santa Claus nowadays with his big beard and graying hair and Gary Holt certainly stepped up to the plate in order to fill in for Jeff Hanneman while he fights his spider-bite infection. That being said, I was happy to finally see Slayer and hear those great songs be played, but I know deep down that they are capable of better performances and so that makes me slightly disappointed.

Thankfully this last band was not disappointing at all. You know who I’m talking about. You know what time it is. One of the biggest, best and most important bands in the last decade, Slipknot were absolutely amazing.  Playing a blistering set, they stormed through with little banter in between. My only complaint was that I thought Corey’s mix wasn’t perfect. There was a little too much echo on the vocals, so with songs like “Wait and Bleed” and “Spit it Out” where the verses are close together, it sounded a little muddy, but overall, it wasn’t a big deal. There were also other songs that I wish they had played. Slipknot have so many killer songs that they could have played for another hour and would still have some great songs leftover.  It has honestly been a dream of mine to see Slipknot and especially to be a part of the Spit-it-out-zero-bullshit, so being able to finally be a part of that was really special for me. This was the closest I could ever come to seeing them in their Download 2009 performance. Now that Paul is no longer with us, there is this new sense of unity and I feel theres more of a connection between them and the fans. Aside from Metallica, they are the only other band that has welcomed me and every single other person in attendance to their family. I’ll probably spend Thanksgiving with Slipknot and Christmas with Metallica this year and then I’ll switch off next year. All in all, it was a perfect band to conclude a perfect day.

This was truly a unique festival lineup. A lot of surprises, a lot of heritage acts, and a lot of questions concerning next years lineup. I think every year has been very strong and I think whatever direction they decide to take will please a lot of people. Hopefully High on Fire will sort themselves out so that they can come back and redeem themselves for stepping out this year. Until then, I’ll see you next year.

Luke Helker

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