Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival - Big Fish Eats Little Fish: Working Up The Metal Fest Food Chain

July 21, 2013, 4 years ago

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by Mark Gromen

Strangely enough a trio of these bands were on last year's Metal Hammer UK Trespass America jaunt, an initial foray into the domestic market. At least three more were lifted from Warped Tour 2012. An interesting way to guarantee present day success, but simply rotating the same bands, through various big-gig incarnations, builds nothing for the future. Part of the reason Rockstar Energy drink's second outdoor trek, Uproar Festival continues to flounder. Having just returned for three weeks of European festivals, the dichotomy between the two approaches is striking. Yes, the big name acts overseas make the rounds, but seeds are planted, domestically, as well as internationally, to insure potential new headliners five-to-ten years down the line.

"Gonna get this place hotter than Hell," KISS screamed on their vaunted Alive double album. Today, in Camden, NJ, might have been as close as I every intentionally want to get: with humidity, it felt like 110 (43 degrees C). Not the perfect weather for an all-day, outdoor festival, but nevertheless, Mayhem Fest was in town."Die For metal?" Not if it's preventable and in this heat, paradoxically, consuming plenty of alcohol and/or sugary/caffeinated beverages can lead to dehydration, or more dire consequences. Appetite for destruction, indeed!

Gates opened at 1pm and music shortly thereafter, although an interview with CHILDREN OF BODOM founder/guitarist Alexi Laiho prevented me from getting to HUNTRESS till the later portion of their set. There was Jill Janus, shrieking out lyrics, wearing a cape over black body suit and stockings. Mystical (bewitching?) arm movements accompanied her onstage persona. Later in the day, in Eagles (local football team) t-shirt, she served double-duty, as the judge of a guitar shredding competition. Early attendance was abysmal, the parking lot where the three smaller stages (sponsored by Jager, Musician Institute and Sumerian Records) virtually empty. ATTIKA 7 is the new outfit for former BIOHAZARD bassist/singer Evan Seinfeld, where he's only on the mic. Ira Black (at one time part of METAL CHURCH, LIZZY BORDEN and HEATHEN) is also part of the band. Surprising how mainstream rock/metal sounding the likes of 'Serial Killer' and Dance Of The Dead' are, given Seinfeld's previous forays into hardcore.

Said it before, will say it again, bearded, wild eyed BATTLECROSS singer Kyle "Gumby" Gunther is the spitting image of the "It's" guy, who started each episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. These Michigan-ites bring their own style of flying circus to town, usually of the pinwheeling hair variety, during 'Breaking You', 'Man Of Stone' (dedicated to "The hard workers who took today off to come see us.") and a pair from the just issued War Of Will album, 'Forcefed Lies' and 'Flesh & Bones'. BUTCHER BABIES, the dual female-fronted outfit drew a large crowd, mostly for the wrong reason: guys wanting to see some skin. The rumors were unfounded, as the girls remained covered, delivering a rap-rock hybrid. Blond Heidi Shepherd and brunette Carla Coates are the focal points, but drummer Chris Warner was alone, in wearing his blood splattered, skeletal make-up.

More interviews, in the sanctity of the air-conditioned (free water!) pressroom, then back to see MACHINE HEAD. The stage was a matching collage of red & black banners, insignia and even Roman legion style placards on pikes, all bearing the MH logo. Odd seeing Rob Flynn and Co. on such a minute stage, after several Wacken appearances in front of 50,000 or more. No matter, 'This Is The End' paradoxically kicked things off, followed by 'Davidian', up second! Just a short ride to where freedom first rang (no shotguns though, just muskets). While there was a call for circle pits, was more enamored with repeated requests for old-school headbanging, the guitarist/singer questioning this younger generation, "Do you know how to headbang? Let's see it!" Could fit just five songs into their 35 minute set and in the closing 'Halo', Flynn teased, "Men, want to see the ladies get naked? Ladies, want to see the guys get naked? OK, guys, show 'em!"

As with MACHINE HEAD, seen CHILDREN OF BODOM overseas play 90+ minutes, to close to 70,000 or so, even in a pouring rain. Their stage has had a full size car, oil drums, fire cannons and a flashing "COB" logo, ala KISS. Today, you'd be hard pressed to fit an automobile onstage, by itself. Regardless, they are the last act before everyone heads inside, to the main stage, and as such, many miss the final portion of the 35 minute set. The Finns are unfazed, beginning with 'Sixpounder', on to 'Living Deadbeat', only now does keyboardist Janne Wirman really have anything to do. Laiho and six-string partner Roope Latavala storm through 'Bodom After Midnight', the younger guitarist occasionally playing vertically, the instrument resting on his knee. Only the title track from the new Halo Of Blood is tested on the crowd, preferring to stick with old favorites like 'Angels Don't Kill', 'Blooddrunk' and 'Hate Crew Deathroll'.

Although, as drummer Fredrik Andersson informed me, it basically broke them (financially), the dragon-headed longboat looking out from the main stage was an impressive sight. AMON AMARTH deserve to be higher up the pecking order, but like their forefathers, they conquer and leave no prisoners. Opening with 'Destroyer Of The Universe', Johan Hegg, with mighty ale horn strapped to his side, bellows from either side of the sailing vessel bisected stage, headbanging wildly, as are the rest of the Norsemen. From time to time, they each venture into the ship, where Andersson is aloft, playing and peering over the sides, a few stories above the crowd. 'The Pursuit Of Vikings' and 'War Of The Gods' whiz by. Even though they're a "main stage" act, they don't get any longer than those that headlined the smaller venues. When 'Deceiver Of The Gods', the titular cut from the stellar new album (their best?), the mountainous Hegg says, "Been a sticky one today, hot as fucking Hell. What do you say we turn up the heat? Here's an old one, 'Death In Fire'!" No pyro accompaniment, as it would be overseas, but still a blistering attack. Across the front of the stage, four of them headbang, as smoke pours from the dragon's snout. "Let's see those Viking horns," demands the singer, fans throwing the universal metal symbol skyward. A rollicking 'Twilight Of The Thunder God' finishes their day, all too early, by most accounts.

At least in Philly, the Swedes got a bigger, more boisterous ovation than MASTODON, whose set featured 8 of 10 from their latest, The Hunter CD. A god portion of the crowd remained seated in the pavilion, as the more progressive strains overtook the Susquehanna Bank Center. There were more histrionics with the guitars than the spasmodic motions of the trio down front. Troy Sanders (bass/vocals), was the most active, quick jerks to the side, when not singing, but he rarely addressed the crowd. The light show featured a dozen white searchlights, not necessarily focused on any individually, waywardly crossing the stage. Lots of blues and reds, an an occasional glow-in-the-dark blacklight. 'The Sparrow', which closed things out, featured a lengthy instrumental jam, Sanders departing with, "We come here a lot. You guys are always awesome."

Although it's the second time I've seen FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH in as many years, still not sure what to make of them. Their stage was elaborate, an array of gargoyles across the front, giant metallic brass knuckles logo hanging overhead, an elevated center console, four poster drum cage and ornate, steel plated backdrops that mimicked Eastern Orthodox altars. While they claim to be a metal band, sounds otherwise, but if (like AVENGED SEVENFOLD, another "big" atypical sounding American act) this is what gets kids to find the real McCoy, then I'm down with it. Ivan Moody, short Mohawk singer, in sleeveless red shirt and camo pants commands the stage.and does his part for charitable causes. 'Burn It Down' and a more subtle 'Hard To See' are up early, the playful Moody dousing the crowd with water. Duck photographers! Prior to their cover of BAD COMPANY's signature tune (plenty of strobes, despite the mid-tempo pace), Moody asks military personnel in the crowd to raise their hands. He says, "See that? Shake their hand. Buy them a beer and thank them for your freedom." He also did between band public service announcements asking fans to text $5 donation for supporting armed forces men and women. Calling a female fan/recovering cancer survivor onstage, Moody later asked fans to donate to onsite cancer cause. A refreshing change from the "smoke weed," admonishments from earlier today. A lightning storm of strobes greets 'White Knuckles', again belying the more tender nature of the song, as a massive clap along ensues. As the stage goes black, purple spotlights and liturgical organ introduce a drum solo, then newbie 'LIft Me Up'. In a photo op, Moody calls the production team and Mayhem Fest promoter onstage, for a round of applause. Prior to a pink/purple lit 'The Bleeding' finale, the frontman joked, "Instead of competing with ROB ZOMBIE' s fire and brimstone, I've got this," he holds aloft a single Bic lighter.

ZOMBIE came onstage in a two-story tall facade that prevented photographers from really getting a good shot. Perhaps he wanted his bandmates to have the opportunity for some pub, but when the next two songs were a wash of deep reds, virtually useless in the cinematic world, I cut my loses and headed for home.

Hopefully the next installment of Mayhem Fest won't trivialize the accomplishments of overseas acts and look to reward some new faces with an opportunity to work up the ladder.

More photos from Mayhem In NJ can be seen here.

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