Napalm Flesh: Mayhem Fest Review

Posted July 12, 2012 in

As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis. Photo: Megan Kennedy

Welcome to Napalm Flesh! This week we have a review of the July 4th stop of the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest in Nampa, ID. We also have reviews of new music by From Ashes Rise and Master.

America and the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest? Was this the best Fourth of July ever? As the sun rose on a gorgeously temperate (compared to SLC, that is) summer day in Nampa, Idaho, it was hard to imagine a better one. Despite the lack of sleep thanks to other metalhead hooligans in my hotel, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement build as I watched bus after bus wheel up to the Idaho City Center amphitheater. I had such a blast last year, and was stoked to be returning, especially with a lineup as legendary as what this year boasted: Motörhead, Slayer, Slipknot, Anthrax. It was gonna be a hell of a day.

When I arrived at the amphitheater grounds, everything was more or less identical as far as placement as last year. The walkway near the main stage was lined with all sorts of crazy merch tents supporting pot smoking and heathen activities and cancer-free boobies. Down the hill, the Jägermeister stage was already up, and the surrounded field was lined with the merch tents of the bands. The skyline was strangely low, however, and after asking for directions, I realized that this year’s second stage, the Sumerian Records stage, was pathetically tiny and not even raised. I mistook it for a merch tent twice before I realized  this was where half the fest was going to play. I have to say, that was a disappointment. Anyone more than four or five rows back wouldn’t be able to see jack shit, especially if they are as short as me. It was a definite step down from last year, where bands like Trivium and Unearth performed on a much bigger and raised stage, allowing the crowd maximum enjoyment. I honestly wondered how the bands were going to maneuver around this tiny little pad at all.

But our local Salt Lake boys, A Balance of Power, were fortunate enough to be playing the Jäger stage for the second year in a row, warming up the crowd for the day to come. They definitely had more watchers this time around—maybe last year’s performance got them some recognition from the Mayhem fans. Musically, they’re not my style, but they had a great energy in their set and seemed to be enjoying the hell out of this awesome opportunity. Plus, it’s hard not to admire a foot-and-a-half-tall Mohawk. I don’t even want to know how long that shit took.

Afterwards I wandered to the Sumerian stage, but the first band wasn’t set up yet and wouldn’t be for another 40 minutes. I asked the security guard if we photographers were allowed to sneak between them and the stage over here, considering how goddamn tiny this stupid place was, and I was told no, I couldn’t. This would be the first of, oh, 700 times I would be given wrong or no information from the local, third-party security detail, and this one cost me beloved photographs.

But I digress: back to the Jäger Stage, badass Texas natives and fast-rising deathcore metal band Upon A Burning Body. All of the dudes came out in these sweet outfits that made them look like they’d made a wrong turn at a Mad Men convention, sporting slacks and long-sleeve collared shirts under a nice suit vest, with lead singer Danny being the only one whose shirt was white. It was a unique and classy stage presence, but then I do love well-dressed gentlemen who also metal my face off. The band went through a number of their songs, the majority of which have movie titles like “Carlito’s Way” and “Once Upon A Time In Mexico.” I love their musical sound, which reminds me a bit of All Shall Perish, but lyrically, the band still loses me sometimes, like when they have the crowd chant “life sucks and then you die” during “Sin City”; I hope future albums stretch out for inspiration further than a T-shirt at Spencer’s. They closed the set with this surprising death metal party song called “Intermission,” which the crowd loved, but again, put me off. Of course metalheads love to party, but c’mon—are we still saying “like it’s 1999” after that phrase? Crossing my fingers for Danny to read some Cormac McCarthy and let it leak into his writing of the next album’s lyrics.

The first band on the piddily Sumerian Stage was, I found out later, a local Battle of the Bands winner, which is badass that this opportunity was given to them. Sadly, they didn’t have a banner, and the part of the set I got to did not include their name. Seriously, local guys (in every fucking city), be aggressive when you tell us who you are, and do it more than once a set. Potential fans are waiting to love you, if we only knew who you were.

Next up on the Jäger Stage was one of my personally anticipated acts, and my future interviewees, the almighty Whitechapel. I got a late start on loving the shit out of these guys, but I’ve become a full-on fan now, and their live show only cemented that for me. Every single fucker in that band looks like a predator onstage, and I don’t mean the kind that shows you his creepy van. I’m talking the angry eyes, the hunched shoulders, the boiling blood of a half-man, half-beast version of predator that stalks around the stage and could, at any given moment, rip your throat out with his teeth. I loved every second of it. They played through classics like “Possession” and “The Darkest Days of Man,” but didn’t neglect their newest (and so far, best) album, giving us “I, Dementia” and “Section 8.” The set was way too short, but such is the curse of Mayhem. This was one of the best metal sets I’d seen in a long fucking time.

Dirtfedd was the next band on the Sumerian Stage, and really, the only band on the tour that seemed slightly out of place to me. Their merch tent was right next to the stage, so in between songs, I took a peek at their profile in the Mayhem program laid out on their table. Apparently, they’re a band who was discovered in 2006 and brought under the wing of M Shawn Crahan (Clown of Slipknot), who has been mentoring them ever since. They’ve toured a ton, but will only this year be releasing their first EP. Musically, they weren’t anything to write home about, and were probably the weakest band on the tour. It sounded like the early ’00s “industrial” rock bands, like Mudvayne, Static-X and, of course, an overt Slipknot influence. With high-pitched, monotone vocals and mostly generic—sometimes downright stupid—song structure, it was boring about two songs in. And none of the (admittedly young) crowd seemed to recognize who they were, pilfering when they began chanting an anthem of “drink, fight, fuck, salute” on one song. The Mayhem profile indicated they’d before been “banned from playing” due to “nude and lewd behavior,” but I didn’t see either of those things during this set. I guess the big sponsorship has a way of calming a dude down.

Asking Alexandria is one of those bands whose name I’ve seen everywhere, but I haven’t bothered to listen to their music yet—something about my natural aversion to teenagers, the usual offenders when I see their band name on a shirt. I was surprised when they ran onto the Jäger Stage looking like it was an ’80s party and they were coming as Mötley Crüe. I was also surprised that they were British. The crowd went nuts for them, and this is for sure the place in the fest where the ladies in the crowd made themselves heard. Their music was solid, a traditional metalcore sound that reminded me of pre-sucking Atreyu, or some squishier modern versions like Bring Me The Horizon. Their onstage presence was the real impressive bit. Even though they looked a little douchey with the dirtbag attire, every member was full of energy and interacting with the crowd. They had the collective drawing charisma of a boyband. Is that a good or bad thing? I suppose that depends on if you’re a metal purist or the band’s record label. Myself, I’m not too into the whole sleeze-glam, hard-partying thing that some bands adopt, but they were entertaining and made for excellent photos.

Back at the Sumerian Stage, French deathcore band Betraying the Martyrs was getting started. I recognized their tall, tattooed lead singer as the dude I had previously asked about the missing second stage, which made the whole thing hilarious. I was very impressed by their sound—a more technical style of death metal than had thus far been displayed at the fest, combined with lightly placed symphonics and clean singing that blended with rather than overwhelmed the complex music underneath. I was sad they were not playing the bigger stage, because their energy looked so boxed in during the whole set, and I imagine what was bubbling underneath would have been awesome to see released. The band walked away with at least one new fan.

Next up was one of my other highly anticipated sets, that of the incredible As I Lay Dying, whose music I have loved for tens of thousands of years but had yet to witness one of their live shows. For my first time, I actually got to photograph them, which means I must be making Cthulhu proud for such a reward. And, icing on the cake, the fuckers came out to one of my Top Three tracks: the beastly “Condemned”. From there, the experience only got better, touching on almost every album with “Anodyne Sea,” “Nothing Left,” crowd favorite “Confined,” and the amazing classic “94 Hours,” which drummer Jordan Mancino can still perform flawlessly. Though the band was one of the more veteran acts on the tour, they didn’t lack an ounce of energy in their performance or stage presence, and still seem to be genuinely enjoying what they do. They also treated us to a performance of new song “Cauterize” off the upcoming album “Awakened,” which got me even more stoked for its pending release. All in all it was a fantastic set and experience.

Over on the Sumerian Stage, I made the discovery that my aforementioned security guard encounter had been bullshit. Now that other photographers were on the scene (I always seem to be alone for the first half of the bands), I could see that they had gotten to the exact, uncomfortable location I had wanted to shoot from earlier. How infuriating! I walked up to security, a different guy this time, and he let me right in. So while I was stoked to at least shoot this stage’s final band, I The Breather, I was equally infuriated at the missed chance to shoot the others. Next time, I’m punching my way through everything. Shooting this close to the stage demonstrated, more than ever, the discomfort bands must’ve had playing an area so small. If he wasn’t about to swing arms into his bandmates, then the animated and energetic singer was close to whacking security, or one of us photographers. This didn’t stop him from climbing up on the amps for a better view of the crowd, or throwing his body around like a man possessed. The speed of their drummer was badass, especially to watch up close, and I enjoyed their relentless, thrashy, and yet melodic sound. It was a little breakdown-heavy, but not so much that it ruined the songs. I really liked the creepy quality to their melodic riffs, and the flexibility of their bassist, which you don’t see every day.

Here’s where the story takes a (sort of) sad turn, blackhearts. I didn’t realize how lucky I was last year, when I interviewed Machine Head drummer Dave McClain in the late morning, before any band had taken the stage. I didn’t miss a thing last year. But just as Anthrax was readying to take the stage—another legendary band I’ve never seen and was so excited to shoot—I realized it was time for my interview with Whitechapel. I really hope interviews go back to being pre-show, because that was a hell of a bummer. Further, I missed out on The Devil Wears Prada (who I am ignorant about) because of an impromptu offer to talk with Jordan Mancino and Josh Gilbert of As I Lay Dying. The interviews were totally worth it, and will be on Napalm Flesh in upcoming weeks, but damn, I hate missing bands play, and I’m sorry I don’t have an awesome Anthrax-related story for our faithful readers.

By the time my interviews and ridiculously long walk back to the main festival grounds were over, the main stage was being prepped for the mighty Motörhead. Waiting next to the stage in the press area, I actually got to see the band arrive in their escorted golf cart, and get all their instruments on and prepped. It was a treat to see such a veteran band, still writing records and touring with bands whose members were, in many cases, not even born when Motörhead was already dominating the world of metal. Musically, they were note-perfect, and their long set was more inclusive of older classics like  “Bomber,” “Going to Brazil,” “Stay Clean,” and “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch,” with one newer song, “I Know How To Die,” thrown in. They rounded out the set with, of course, “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill.” Their musical prowess was great, but the dudes are pushing 70 and are definitely showing it. There was little to no movement aside from Phil Campbell’s stage-pacing, and Lemmy didn’t show too much enthusiasm behind the mic. Who can blame them, though? They’re still exceptional musicians who we’re lucky to have around this late in their lives.

Now it was time for yet another veteran act I was seeing for the first time, the vicious Satanists of the Big Four, Slayer. And I was very excited when they opened to the intro of God Hates Us All and now-classic track “Disciple”, famous for its debut on the September 11th. I realized, too, that Mr. Jeff Hanneman was absent on guitars, something I hadn’t heard about until now. His replacement I immediately recognized as Boromir from Lord of the Rings, only to find out later that I was mistaken, and it was actually Gary Holt of Exodus. Slayer had considerably more energy than Motörhead, but that might have been due to the awesome flame-wall set on either side of drummer Dave Lombardo recharging their dark energy. Everyone was musically sound, and Kerry King still gets that ferociously charged look when he tears into solos on tracks like “Mandatory Suicide,” “War Ensemble,” and “Seasons In The Abyss.” They closed out the set with four intense favorites in a row, “Dead Skin Mask,” “Angel of Death,” “South of Heaven” and “Raining Blood.” Singer/bassist Tom Araya didn’t speak much to the crowd, but when he did, it was the most surprisingly lovely things about how nice the night was, and how glad he was to see everyone having a good time. I caught a few photos of him with this peaceful, grandfatherly-monk look to his face. He may not be as venomously angry as he was when Slayer began, but it’s clear the dude still fucking loves what he does. It was awesome to see and capture. Gary Holt seemed to be having the time of his life, too, and delivered the songs with passion and verve as if he’d written them himself. Call these guys boring on paper if you must, but their live show was a pleasure.

I wasn’t one of the lucky photogs that was approved to shoot Slipknot’s set, so after Slayer, I found a cool spot on the grass for my first rest of the long, hot day and became spectator to the crowd’s most anticipated set of the night. More than ever, this show demonstrated to me the unusual and unique power of Slipknot to draw fans from every demographic without prejudice: old, young, traditionalist, progressive, people that normally hate metal and pure metalheads who rip on every other radio-play rock group out there—no one seems safe from becoming a Maggot. I have serious respect for that. Their live performance was really a show, full of strength and vivacity, decorated in their traditional dramatic dress. A giant Ouija board served as the backdrop, while flame effects and drum sets on risers twirling twenty feet in the air punctuated the crazy groove of lead singer Corey Taylor’s ringleading. The band visited songs that made them like “(sic),” “Wait and Bleed,” and “Eyeless.” My personal favorite of the set, “Vermillion,” was great to hear, as well as “Disasterpiece” and “Psychosocial.” There was an emotional break when Corey spoke of the death of original member and bassist Paul Gray, who died of an overdose in 2010. He asked the fans to help him sing to Paul, because “he can still hear us,” and he led the loyal crowd in performing “Duality,” which was a pretty cool moment. They closed out with old favorites “People = Shit” and “Surfacing,” accompanied by some incredible fireworks that may or may not have been repeated at other Mayhem shows, which made it all the more cool for us. Whether or not they are able to come together and write a new album after that tragic loss, Slipknot is still a sight to behold live, and a lynchpin band that brings more fans to metal every day.

Coolest Secret Moment: seeing Clown of Slipknot backstage without his mask as he drove away from a book signing at the merch tent. Scandalous!
Most Nauseating Moment: spotting two teenage girls in shirts that said “Sex, Drugs and Dubstep”. What a shame to America, and on her birthday at that.

Exclusive Reviews:

From Ashes Rise
Rejoice the End/Rage of Sanity EP
Southern Lord
Street: 07.17
From Ashes Rise = Coliseum + Tragedy
From Ashes Rise’s EP earns a designation I use sparingly: epic. On this two-track release, “Rejoice the End” opens up the maelstrom in a dirge that wallops along at a steady pace, which allows the guitars to take on varying rhythmic roles, from strumming to thrashy chugs. The band employs their characteristic sludgy, groove-based riffs, but also take their melodies to a more dreamy level with a subtle, aeolian-mode melody glinting through power chords. Drummer Dave Atchison uses the lowered tempo to throw in cool dynamics, such as an almost-reggaeton beat near the middle. The track closes with gang-chorus chants, and “Rage of Sanity” pounds out with a quicker, rock n’ roll beat. The guitars, additionally, wail with pentatonic licks, which push the song along. Brad Boatright’s and John Wilkerson’s vocals indicate that their pipes might not be as mean as in Nightmares…, but with a mature sense of songwriting, this release has me hooked nonetheless. –Alexander Ortega

The New Elite
Street: 6.10.12
Master = Cancer + Demolition Hammer + Obituary
Chicago miscreants who played death metal before "death metal" was a "thing" and remain largely ignored outside of fanatic circles? That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, but Master still ripsnorts like young buck paint huffers blitzin' on trucker speed, the Faces of Death  series and satanic ritual orgies. While not known for their variation album to album,  "burly" and "uncompromising" come  standard with their territory as do an acrid amalgamation of thrash riffs, d-beat grooves and Paul Speckmann's paint peelin' bellows. Maybe a touch rawer than its immediate predecessor, The New Elite slides seamlessly into the canon with nary a surprise nor any disappointment. Those piqued would be wise to check into "Rise Up and Fight," "Guide Yourself" and album closer "Twist of Fate." –Dylan Chadwick

As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis. Photo: Megan Kennedy The legendary Lemmy of Motorhead was gracious enough to appear a throng of worshippers on the 4th of July. Photo: Megan Kennedy Kerry King of Slayer is a fucking beast of the shred. Photo: Megan Kennedy