This year, Rockstar Energy Drinks presented the 2nd Annual Mayhem Festival for 26 dates in the U.S., all with the intention of upping the ante of last year’s inaugural blowout. If you recall, that initial docket featured the likes of Slipknot, Disturbed, Dragonforce, and Mastodon. It’s hard to imagine how any organizer could top that line up, but here we are in 2009, and sure enough, they did. On August 6th, Virginia Beach prepared for the chaos, the purported destruction, and the foreboding…mayhem. On the contrary, there’s no real way to prepare, it just hits you.
There are certain things one expects at a rock show, including dedicated fans from every background in full gear, as if suited for war. From the wet grass to the muddy hillsides, young rockers and veteran metal-heads, boiling in the humidity of a typical August afternoon, banded together and waited. Most were dressed in black mascara, chains, and red Tripp denim, though what differentiated one from another were their favorite band t-shirts. Bad Brains…Smashing Pumpkins…ICP, and then some….whilst dirt merchants of every sort sold overpriced novelties and drinks by the truckload. All part of the experience, though not by any means the primary one.
We came to rock, and that’s exactly what we did.
All That Remains
Hailing from Springfield, MA, All That Remains has continued to seamlessly thrive through a constantly changing line up, reflected well in a four album discography. The band’s former drummer, Shannon Lucas, left to join Mayhem tour mate The Black Dahlia Murder in 2007, while the band’s current drummer, Jason Costa, is on hiatus due to a broken hand — Nile’s Tony Laureano filled in back around June. If that weren’t enough, bassist Matt Deis (currently of CKY) was replaced by The Acacia Strain’s Jeanne Sagan around the time of 2006’s The Fall Of Ideals. Despite all of this, All That Remains treks on, supporting their latest release, Overcome.
They might be inconsistent with their line ups, but their set is anything but that, as the band made great use of their Jagermeister Stage slot. The melodic hardcore northerners brought forth a slew of crowd surfers over the barricade, never missing a beat as the band began performing its current single, “Two Weeks”. Laureano shined spectacularly on double bass by this point, showing off the Nile chops on a slower scale. Ex-Shadows Fall vocalist Phillip Labonte utilized his typical stage bravado — especially during “Air That I Breathe” and “Undone” — and continued playing to the crowd a la Fred Durst, never letting up with each song, as Sagan presented every complementary low-key thud cool and calmly in pure Paz Lenchantin fashion. There is something to be said about a band that changes members like Manson changes costumes, but no one that day seemed to care. They were having too much fun within the half hour to bother.
The Black Dahlia Murder
With an even longer list of former members than All That Remains, and a catalytic charisma for the death and thrash metal scenes, The Black Dahlia Murder added a taste of Swedish speed and American ground pounding to Mayhem this year. There were hardly any breathers between songs, and everyone at stage side was completely engulfed in energy, regardless of who they originally came to see. Doses of every album made a presence here, with the haunting “What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse” from Nocturnal and the freshly constructed “Necropolis” to ever-popular show closing “Funeral Thirst” from Unhallowed.
However, the issues with this band’s performance lay in imprinting, as this set did not feel so memorable compared to similar acts on the tour. The Hot Topic stage, where the band was assigned, bears the title of “extreme metal” stage, and frankly, The Black Dahlia Murder did not stand out next to the more abrasive punishing like Job For A Cowboy or Behemoth. This is unfortunate, as the band has a significant following, and is probably better known in its respective circles than the aforementioned groups. While this band’s set list was hyped, diverse, and could have made for an excellent prelude to Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder felt ego-stamped and reactive like its presence was obligatory at best.
Here’s a heavy metal band that never seems to stop. After touring with label mates Slipknot and Coheed & Cambria during this year’s All Hope Is Gone tour, Trivium now travels with Mayhem to continue supporting its newest release, 2008’s Shogun. During its live sets, fans of all sorts did not feel at all disappointed as the group blasted forth with a five-song set that included crowd favorites “Rain”, “When All Light Dies”, “Throes Of Perdition”, “Down From The Sky” and “Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr”. The dedication and fan service one gets during a Trivium show was prevalent during both tours this year, though Mayhem’s lack of a larger stage provided less room for theatrics and flair.
This did not stop our staple Florida metal act from delivering a knock-out performance, with vocalist Matt Heafy asking the crowd to “fucking explode” during the onset of “Throes Of Perdition”. Guitarist Corey Beaulieu thrives on audience feedback as readily as an acoustic wall, nailing every riff like a champ as he remained cohesive with band mates through to the end of “Pull Harder…”. All things considered, Trivium was yet again thrilling live, and we hope to catch a headline tour soon.
As of late, Killswitch Engage (or KsE) has been riding the on coattails of their Dio cover “Holy Diver”, but this metalcore band does have its share of unbridled passion and humor. Playing before Slayer is not an easy task, but these boys did it without a single shred of hesitation, actually bringing the entire main stage audience to its feet in no time with little effort. Kicking their set off with a literal explosion, KsE came on stage wearing tuxedo shirts and self-aware machismo before cracking open “Rose Of Sharyn” and “Starting Over”.
The most notable trait of KsE during the Mayhem show was vocalist Howard Jones and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz’s intermittent shout-outs. There was hardly a moment between songs where either member did not antagonize or motivate the audience, specifically Dutkiewicz’s claim of “sniffing every 18-year-old chick’s panties” by the end of the night or demands for a “wall of death” from fans and gazers. Sadly, the crowd was hungry for Slayer by then, and energy for moshing was stored up for the next set. Our Massachusetts metallurgists hammered out a stellar set list — despite a “Holy Diver” finale — throwing in personal favorites “My Last Serenade” and “Fixation On The Darkness”. Killswitch Engage couldn’t compete with the many Slayer fans present, but they certainly warmed the people up at the start, keeping up a steady one-two-punch for the duration of its time slot.
This American thrash metal powerhouse is from a school of rock shared by bands like Anthrax and Metallica, and has stuck around just as long to bring new generations into the fold. Mayhem Festival 2009 gave Slayer one hour to melt our minds, and the performance did not disappoint by any means. Between unleashing the newest single “Psychopathy Red” and doling out classics like “Angel Of Death” and “War Ensemble”, Slayer knew exactly what the crowd wanted at every turn, delivering blow after blow of heart-pounding drums and monstrous guitars.
Virtuosos Kerry King (guitar) and Dave Lombardo (drums) were in peak form during the set, the former brutally dealing out face-melters galore as the latter displayed true expertise, sans two toms traded in for extra cymbals. King collaborated phenomenally with Hanneman on “Mandatory Suicide”, alternating solos that could make anyone simply say, “How the hell did he do that? What just happened?”. Trading up signature guitars between songs, Hanneman was a star on strings with every chord, while Araya thudded and screamed alongside Lombardo for enough bass to quake the foundations.
Obviously Slayer has been around long enough to accumulate a slew of dedicated listeners (there is no such thing as a “casual Slayer fan”). There was moshing, there was thrashing about, there was sweat and profanity galore, and all for the sake of entertainment, because we were excited to be there watching history before our eyes. With too many significant moments to list, and too many pains in my neck to account for the headbanging, Slayer takes the cake for best performance of the evening overall.
As a single band entity and as a front man, Marilyn Manson has been through numerous incarnations in terms of theme and sound. From humble horror beginnings to modern goth pop-metal, the controversial icon has influenced fans in their musical taste for over 15 years — so what the hell happened besides heartbreak, “et cetera”? Earlier that afternoon, Manson fans were everywhere, all adorned in accoutrement befitting the luckiest of brooding and madness in adolescence. During his set? A veritable mass disappearance (or trampling, given Manson’s opener).
I want to be the guy that tells you all was well, but none can deny the sub-par quality of this full performance. “We’re From America” was plagued with intermittent sound loss and a rather spastic lead vocalist; Twiggy had returned as the band’s guitarist, and against fair playing, he seemed alive enough to register as a cadaver docketed for organ surgery. All of the die-hard fans were in the pit, save maybe 10; the audience elsewhere glistened corpse-like, whereas Manson himself never stopped moving, playing to anyone who would have him. You want to feel bad for this otherwise amazing individual, who continually altered wardrobes and practically wheezed toward his finale…and that is fucking depressing.
I blame Manson’s lackluster musicians, in tandem with some annoying stagehand who kept cleaning the set like an OCD Tanner child. Staple popular inclusions like “The Beautiful People” and “The Dope Show” had some crowd members singing along; “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” did rouse the middle fingers in us all; during “Four Rusted Horses” and “Sweet Dreams”, it seemed half the set was strictly Manson’s various outfits and antics, which barely held it all together. Sorry to say, but to support crew and allegedly fatigued spectators, letting your front man do all the work is not a show, it’s an unreachable pedestal.
Photography by Sabrina Roman.