On July 8th, those within the confines of Auburn’s White River Amphitheatre were treated to a full day of one of the most consistently strong annual metal/hard rock festivals in the United States, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. After 2013’s wishy-washy array of acts including Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch and the Butcher Babies, the festival came back around this year with one of the most explosive and diverse lineups in its six-year lifespan.
We arrived at the festival around 1:45, just in time to catch the first band of our day, Upon a Burning Body, a band best described as a party deathcore band, with a very noticeable backbone in southern metal. Think Attila, but made up of patriotic southerners instead of loud, urban retards. Not really my cup of tea, but they did certainly know how to work a crowd. Every song they played, the crowd was off of their feet, jumping around, fists in the air, many forming mosh and circle pits, and just all around having a good time. It was a good way to start out our day.
Afterwards, I sat around at the Sumerian Stage for a half hour or so, so I could get front row seats for the next band, Veil of Maya, who was the band I was most excited to see going into this festival. I’ve always been a fan of their very technical and melody-heavy approach to deathcore music, and I was curious to see how it would translate in to a live show.To put it simply, Veil of Maya completely threw down. Their live dynamic was abrasive and in-your-face, but still with a lot of emphasis on melody and complex instrumentation. The band – specifically frontman Brandon Butler – were huge on getting the crowd riled up through means of walls of death, mosh pits, crowd surfing, etc. They were one of my favourites I saw that day.
Following Veil of Maya (and Mushroomhead, whose set I unfortunately missed) was Ohio metalcore quintet Miss May I, on the Coldcock American Herbal Whiskey Stage. I knew practically nothing about this band before going into their set other than their very Fearless Records-friendly sound, but I thought their live show was entertaining. The only song I’m familiar with by them “Hey Mister” closed off their set nicely. They aren’t a band I’d go out of my way to see again, but as a nice half-hour time killer in between bands I wanted to see, you could definitely do a lot worse, and I thought they were fun.
After them was Emmure, whose set I’ll summarise with a personal story. One time whilst writing on a long and tiresome night, I wound up falling asleep on my keyboard with my faced pressed up against the 0 key, occasionally rolling over to hold down the 1 key. Then one band decided to steal the document and use it as guitar tabs, and thus Emmure was born.
World-famous deathcore act Suicide Silence took to the Coldcock Stage immediately thereafter. This was a band I was really interested to see live, especially after their replacement of their late former lead vocalist Mitch Lucker. They were an absolute delight to watch. They completely took me by surprise. New vocalist Eddie Hermida clearly knows his way around this kind of music, and he brings a needed level of aggression to a band that I think can sometimes have really underwhelming and repetitive instrumentation. The mood, lyricism and unrelenting fire of Suicide Silence will either work for you or it won’t, but love them or hate them, I do think they are a band worth seeing live in concert. It’s the kind of thing that translates better into a live show than on tape, in my opinion.
I spent the next hour and a half of my time in Suicide Silence’s ensuing autograph line for a friend, effectively missing the sets for Body Count, Cannibal Corpse, and Trivium. Luckily I wasn’t too concerned with seeing any of those bands, and I managed to get it done and over with just in time to see what many considered to be the worst metal band in history, Asking Alexandria, on the main stage.
I’d like to take this moment to say that I think Asking Alexandria gets an unfair amount of hate among music fans. They’re very commonly cited as the “worst thing to happen to metal” by 40-somethings who violently masturbate to Screaming for Vengeance before wiping up their cum with their God Hates Us All T-shirts, but I don’t see it. Sure, save for “A Prophecy”, their first album was atrocious, and any time they pretend to be all badass and rebellious, they come across like those kids in your high school class that thought they were edgy and hardcore because they listened to Dead Kennedys, but I find Reckless & Relentless to be a solid entry to the metalcore genre, and for a while, they did have a certain unique flavour to them that set them apart from the endless amount of bands like Like Moths to Flames and Issues that give the genre a bad name.
That said, just like with their latest LP From Death to Destiny, I was completely let down by Asking Alexandria’s set, although it played out exactly how I knew it was going to. This was actually my second time seeing the band, the first time being when they played a side-stage of the Mayhem Festival in 2012, and I consider it to have been far better for a couple reasons. For starters, they were playing a smallish stage in 2012, which I feel they fit better than a big stage, with their somewhat minimal movement and visual accompaniment. Most importantly, in 2012, they had only the material from their first two albums (read: their interesting material) to work with.
Save for two songs, the entirety of their set was music off of From Death to Destiny, which I knew was going to happen, but I was really hoping to be surprised. Their set really lacked any one huge song to really get the audience pumping, like Suicide Silence had with “You Only Live Once” or Avenged Sevenfold had with “Shepherd of Fire”. Ironically, the closest the audience at large seemed to be completely enthralled was when they played their two non-From Death to Destiny songs, “Breathless” and “The Final Episode (Let’s Change the Channel)”. They could’ve had a monumental audience shout-along with “A Prophecy” or a satisfying slow burner of an opener with “Welcome” proceeded by “Dear Insanity”, but nothing particularly substantial came out of what they worked with. They sounded good, I suppose, but their 35-minute set left me pretty cold.
Luckily, any mixed feelings I had walking away from Asking Alexandria’s set was instantly whisked away the moment Korn took to the stage, performing their 1999 banger “Falling Away from Me”. The band’s stage presence was unmatched, their sound was terrific, and they knew just the right things to do to make the audience completely lose it, and this mastery of live performance maintained and progressed throughout the hour they dominated the Mainstage.
One of the things that impressed me the most about Korn’s set was their balancing of all of the different eras of their music. They played a few of the more popular songs off of last year’s The Paradigm Shift, but they also played a hefty amount of songs off of their older albums, including “Freak on a Leash”, “Shoots and Ladders”, “Got the Life”, and also playing a couple of songs from their 2000’s records like “Coming Undone” and “Here to Stay”. Also, much to my delight, they played “Get Up!” from their 2011 album The Path of Totality, which I think is the most underrated Korn album by a country mile.
Another thing that completely took me by surprise about Korn’s set was how well they fit in at a metal concert and environment. I’ll be the first to admit, when their guitarist leaked at NAMM that they and Avenged Sevenfold were headlining Mayhem, I, like many, were quick to denounce the tour as having completely lost their edge, and were now just selling out to the Hot Topic kids that are generally the minority at their shows. But now after seeing Korn live in concert, I’d say they kick a hefty amount of ass live, and they aren’t that unheard of in a metal environment. From the explosive choruses of “Coming Undone” to the opening bagpipes of “Shoots and Ladders”, the crowd was going wild for these guys, jumping all around, headbanging, there was even a mosh pit in the Lawn area, which didn’t happen for any other Mainstage band. While Korn may not be the most face-melting and violent band to grace Mayhem, to me the festival is more about bombast and just having a kick-ass time rather than only being home to what geriatric Rolling Stone journalists consider “true metal”.
Up next was the main event, Avenged Sevenfold. Now, I have a small list of musical artists that I consider to be the best live acts I’ve ever seen – Godsmack, Born of Osiris, Young Fathers, While She Sleeps, and Crossfaith – and I feel confident in saying that Korn and especially Avenged Sevenfold are two of the best I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t that excited for Avenged Sevenfold going in, since they haven’t really wowed me with their music since their self-titled record in 2007. I find that with the exception of a couple singles dropped since then (“Shepherd of Fire”, “Welcome to the Family”), the band has kind of lost themselves, and are now just struggling to do what used to come naturally.
However, right from the moment the curtains parted and the band started into “Shepherd of Fire”, I was sold. With a stage setup that would make Rob Zombie jealous, more accompanying fire than the Yellowstone National Park, and an absolutely devastating opening song, Avenged Sevenfold made the audience their bitch, and we just kept wanting more and more, and they were more than happy to deliver.
Their set was mostly comprised of songs from Hail to the King and Nightmare, though they did have the occasional older track with the likes of “Bat Country” and “Afterlife”. Even for the just okay sound of the venue, Avenged Sevenfold sounded fantastic, perhaps even better than on tape. Their guitar solos were fantastically-executed, their explosive musicality had even more punch to it thanks to explosions of fire, fireworks, etc, and M. Shadows’ instantly recognizable voice sounded great as it always has. The band also has a very powerful ability to butter up the crowd with asking them to “make some fucking noise” seemingly between every song, as well as bringing up how awesome the Seahawks are. The crowd collectively lost their voices by the end of their set. I know that thanks to them, the next day I felt like I’d blown up a sparkler bomb in my throat; worth it.
Hail to the King’s latest single “This Means War” closed off their set, at least before they came back out to ask the crowd if they wanted one more song. The audience exploded in screaming with what was left of their larynx, and so they played “A Little Piece of Heaven”, followed by 2003’s “Unholy Confessions”, which was a marvelous way to end an overall marvelous day.
I went into the 2014 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival not really expecting a whole lot, and what I got was one of the fiercest, most showy and adrenaline-pumping shows I’ve been to in a long time. While there were certainly some limp and uninteresting moments throughout my day, but they weren’t enough to ruin what was overall a complete thrill ride.
While I have a feeling that Mayhem will continuing going in the direction of younger, more “with it” bands until it only vaguely resembles the festival in its first few years of existence, it’s at least a dependable tour for if you’re just looking for an ostentatious and highly-satisfying concert experience.
(Below are a handful of pictures taken at the White River Amphitheatre. All photo credit goes to Glen Casebeer. To view more pictures from Mayhem in individual albums, click here.)