When I first touched down in Mexico City about three weeks ago, one of the first sayings imparted by my host and guide, local concert photographer Jaime Fernandez, was “Nada funciona como debería funcionar en la Ciudad de México,” which translates to “Nothing works as it’s supposed to in Mexico City.”
At the time, he was referring to a malfunction with the airport parking lot pay machine, and certainly it was somewhat of an exaggerated generalization – every major city has its issues. But the proverbial nugget did apply to intermittent situations, including our December 5 drive to/arrival at Knotfest México, the first Latin American extension of Slipknot’s annual metal festival, which launched in 2012. The excursion to Centro Dinámico Pegaso in nearby Toluca that should’ve taken 90 minutes lasted more than three hours due to fest traffic, and a massively disorganized parking layout delayed us even further, causing us to miss opening shows from the likes of Tanus, Here Comes the Kraken, 36 Crazyfists, and Atreyu (sorry, dudes).
Truthfully, though, nearly every large-scale concert event spends its premiere working out some kinks, and – though riots reportedly nearly erupted when organizers delayed the gates’ opening by an hour – the one-day festival ultimately achieved what it set out to do: Slipknot made metal history in Latin America by presenting an experience that overloaded the senses with stunning visuals and titanic tunes, including those from Lamb of God, Megadeth, plus their own at the first Mexico gig in the band’s 20-year history.
For the 40,000 fans in attendance, the 10-plus hours of festivities – which, along with the music, included carnival rides, a bungee jump, and a Slipknot memorabilia museum – represented Metal Heaven. Though half the audience seemingly didn’t make it in until Lamb of God’s 7:30 p.m. set, Orlando, Florida-based outfit Trivium’s early afternoon performance drew chants that carried out to the sprawling parking lots, and New Jersey hardcore harbingers The Dillinger Escape Plan managed to rile close to a thousand faithful into one massive mosh pit that reached its pummeling pinnacle when vocalist Greg Puciato climbed the scaffolding late in the set.
Afterward, NJ state mates Ill Niño swept up even more masked metal-heads into a maelstrom at the smaller second stage with marked nu-metal stylings and frequent Spanish invocations from dread-headed vocalist Christian Machado. Meanwhile, 25-year hard rock vets HIM fell somewhat flat across the field on the main stage. Thousands turned up to watch the classic Finnish act, but attendees’ reactions were as weak as the floundering vocals of Ville Valo, who looked uninspiring with his almost intert, Brandon Boyd-esque aesthetic.
The bloodcurdling banshee screams executed by Cradle of Filth frontman Dani Filth marked the first real turn to merry mayhem – several thousand pushed as powerfully as possible to claim their spot near the pit’s pulsating front ranks. Afterward, the festival became a main stage-only event, and Lamb of God certainly benefited: The “grande” circle pit called up by singer Randy Blythe for final cut “Black Label” could’ve engulfed a city block.
Then it was time for Megadeth, who are no strangers to Mexico. The quartet celebrated their return in triumphant form, first introducing new Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro (also of Angra) with the opening mammoth march of “Hangar 18”, then showing their love for the frenzied fans – who continued the tradition of chanting, “Mega-deth! Mega-deth! Aguante Megadeth!” – by performing a Spanish version of ’97 heavy-hitter “Trust”. Following that was “Fatal Illusion”, the band’s sole preview of upcoming album Dystopia (due January 22). The tune’s furious thrash thrust, plus the crushing finale of “Holy Wars … the Punishment Due”, provided a promising preview of the seminal group’s just-announced 2016 North American tour.
While Megadeth’s frills came in the form of intensely complex riffs and polyrhythms, Slipknot’s extended far beyond mere metal into the realm of performance art by drawing on glam roots (at least in terms of over-the-top visual and costume schemes). They expounded on those this night with a dramatic double-S curtain drop to intro opening song “Sarcastrophe”, then with plumes of flame erupting to backlight the nine masked figures during “The Heretic Anthem”, which incited a deafening all-in crowd chorus on the lyric “If you’re 555, then I’m 666!”
“We have a lot, and I mean a lot of good fucking shit tonight,” proclaimed frontman Corey Taylor, looking terrifying yet exultant as he grinned through his Silence of the Lambs-inspired, dried-skin mask. He made good on that statement right away by launching into rarity “Me Inside”, a three-minute sonic pummel from the outfit’s 1999 self-titled debut. The set was heavy on material off latest full-length .5: The Gray Chapter and 2004’s Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses), with the driving melodies-turned-vengeful-screams of “Duality” marking the strongest of the bunch late in the set. But truly, this gig was all about gifting the Mexican fans a show that most of them had been waiting almost two decades to witness, which meant leading a 40,000-strong mosh-jump on old-school cut “Spit It Out”, throwing in the 10th-ever performance of “Metabolic” to close the main set, plus shooting off fireworks during an encore of first-and-second-album material (“Sic” > “People = Shit” > “Surfacing”).
“The thing that I love most about here,” said Taylor, who had visited Mexico previously with Stone Sour, “is seeing the passion that you all have for real fucking music. And that passion is what ties all heavy metal fans – the heavy metal family – together across the whole fucking world.”
Taylor’s sentiment was dead-on. As I mentioned in my Corona Capital review, the fervor of fanfare there – even for opening bands – was astounding, and it was downright jaw-dropping a week later during Pearl Jam’s Foro Sol coup. Knotfest was smaller than that arena show, but no less indicative of how Mexico City boasts one of the most galvanic live music scenes in the world. “See you in 2016,” read a sign above Knotfest’s exit gates. My immediate thought: you better fucking believe it. Hasta pronto, Mexico.