The heat may have sapped the strength of some, but the magic word for Mayhem this year was energy
Review by David Feltman
The weather was mercifully downcast for 2012’s Mayhem fest, offering some cloud coverage and a nice breeze, but there was still plenty of heat and the sun willfully fried flesh. Yet, metal fans seemed impervious, particularly Slipknot fans garbed in hoodies, jumpsuits and jackets. The heat may have sapped the strength of some, but the magic word for Mayhem this year was energy. Almost every band that played brought an abundance of energy to the stage that engulfed their fans.
Bands on the Jagermeister and Sumerian stages filled the early afternoon with 20-to-30-minute sets that were quick, clean and sledgehammer hard. White Chapel unleashed a barrage of chugging riffs and cookie monster vocals and their fans responded in kind with fist pumps and slam dancing. The best part of Mayhem is the chance to discover some new metal gems in the festival’s vast lineup and this year did not disappoint. The modest Sumerian Stage, which was really more of a pavilion, housed two of the most surprising bands of the day: Dirtfedd and Upon a Burning Body.
Dirtfedd is a band that takes the punk heritage of its metalcore stylings seriously. Dynamic vocals, switching from growls to screams to clean melodies on a dime, kept the set fresh and interesting. But, my personal favorite find of the day was Upon a Burning Body. Coming out in an explosion too big for the Sumerian Stage to contain, Upon a Burning Body brought a big deathcore sound to compliment the dirt bike acrobatics of the Metal Mulisha. The south-of-the-border-themed band came out in suits and ties despite the heat and kept the crowd at full tilt its entire set.
And while The Devil Wears Prada wades too far into the screamo elements of metalcore for my tastes, there was no denying how tight the band was live, seeming to communicate with each other at a glance. The enthusiasm they brought to the Jagermeister stage was overwhelming and, even though I don’t consider myself a fan, I couldn’t help but be won over by the show.
Anthrax capped off the evening before the headliners took the main stage. Purposely choosing to play the smaller Jagermeister stage, Anthrax took a no-frills approach to its set: starting strong with “Caught In A Mosh,” running down the hits at break-neck speed and leaving the audience riled and ready for the main event. During “Indians,” Anthrax managed to incite dual circle pits, one in the front of the stage and one in the middle of the crowd. Concert-goers jumped and smashed and one crowd-surfing young man dressed as a banana inspired a moment of pure wonder for lead singer Joey Belladonna (right) as he paused mid-song and said, “Hey, look! A banana!” The end of the set left clumps of fans elbowing and gouging one another for guitar picks. It was pure frenzy.
As I Lay Dying opened the main stage with a surprisingly quick set and Motorhead followed keeping pace. Sadly, the acoustics for the Motorhead set had a muddy, bathroom quality reverb that marred a performance by one of metal’s most iconic bands. In spite of this, the speed metal legends did their best to keep the crowd engaged. Lemmy and Phil settled into an ultra cool and relaxed pace and let the drumming tempest that is Mikkey Dee propel the concert forward. Dee pulled out all the stops, treating the audience to a drum solo and flinging stick after stick in a wild arc above his head between snare strikes.
Slayer played next and held nothing back. While some bands use blasts of fire fountains to accent their songs, Slayer set the whole damn stage on fire. The effect is a Hell motif complete with amplifiers stacked in the shape of upside down crosses. Moshes broke out all over the lawn and fans crowd-surfed downhill toward a steep drop onto the sidewalk. Having seen the Big 4 of thrash live individually, I can definitely say that Anthrax and Slayer present the best live shows of the lot and it was a blast to see them play together in the same venue.
Slipknot, the Blue Man Group of the metal world, closed the festival with a literal bang. Where other bands use pyrotechnics, Slipknot used gunpowder. With a stage show filled with kegs and baseball bats, hydraulic lifts, explosions and blinding lights, Slipknot constitutes something more akin to performance art rather than a traditional concert experience. The set was pure spectacle and provided a sure to please fan experience.
Despite some last minute drop outs (it was a shame to miss out on High on Fire) this year’s Mayhem Festival was among one of the best lineups so far. This is a summer staple for metal fans and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring.
Check back for David Feltman’s interview with Joey Belladonna of Anthrax and view more photos by John Ward below: