Dead But Dreaming: Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2011

Posted July 21, 2011 in

Machine Head. Photo: Megan Kennedy

Rockstar Mayhem Festival
Idaho Civic Center Amphitheater

Disturbed, Megadeth, Godsmack, Machine Head, In Flames, Trivium, Unearth, All Shall Perish, Red Fang, Suicide Silence, Straight Line Stitch, Kingdom of Sorrow

The day started early, but already the summer sun was scorching the thousands of eager fans lined up outside the gates, waiting to grab a beer or a bottle of water before the chaos began. The Main Stage was still being drilled and hammered together, and so after ordering a Jack and Coke to celebrate my first metal festival experience (and thanks for not watering it down, Idaho!), I followed the river of black shirts between rows of merch tents and beer vendors, down a grassy knoll and to the huge side field where the Revolver and Jagermeister stages had been set up, one at each end, ringed by the merch booths of every band on the tour.

The gates hadn’t been open half an hour when the first set began on the Jager stage: SLC’s very own A Balance of Power was firing the first shot on the Nampa date, which I thought was pretty fucking cool. They started with a small gathering, but by the end of their set they’d drawn double the watchers, and got a fantastic cheer from the crowd as they closed out. They hung out at the Jager booth afterwards signing autographs and meeting new fans, and I don’t think I’ve seen a group of happier guys. Their set went smoothly and sounded great for a crowd thousands strong, and I felt a little pang of Salt-City pride in my heart.

Aside from this being my first metal festival, this is also the first festival I’ve been to that had the amazingly efficient setup that Mayhem did: as one band is playing, the other stage is being prepped and sound check done, so that as soon as a last note is ringing out, another band is five breaths away from beginning their set. There was no wasted time on the Mayhem tour––you were pumped full of metal from start to finish. The only downside to this setup was the merch tent signings: if you wanted to wait in line to meet In Flames, or Unearth, or All Shall Perish, you risked missing a song or two of a set you may have wanted to see. But that ain’t bad considering: the signing lines I jumped in myself moved pretty fast, and the bands were all very friendly.

Before A Balance of Power can even leave the stage, the Revolver Stage has blown up with Straight Line Stitch, the only band on tour with a chick on the roster. Alexis Brown is looking a lot less glamorous than in their videos in purple short-shorts and a t-shirt, but who can blame her? Second band up for the day, and who knows how much sleep these guys actually get on those claustrophobic buses. They tore up their set to an eager crowd, and Brown was the most voracious lead singer of the tour, headbanging and throwing herself around the stage pretty much the entire time. Their sound is a little too on the hardcore end for my tastes, but they sounded great considering, and the fans absolutely ate it up. After she told the crowd they’d be doing a signing at their booth in about half an hour, a line to rival the DMV appeared in nanoseconds.

Next up on the Jager Stage is Red Fang, in my opinion the most oddly placed of all the Mayhem bands this year, but certainly not because they can’t rock. Their sound is a delicious, sludgy, Southern-style groove, more simplified in its makeup––it’s good ol’ rock-and-roll at its roots. I’d label them stoner rock, if any genre must be applied here, and it becomes a nice change-up from the hardcore and death metal acts on the bill. I dare say the crowd didn’t know quite what to make of them, especially after the aggressiveness of Straight Line Stitch; they got a good reception, but not as good as I would have liked to see for them, and not as much as they deserved. Their set went well and I really enjoyed seeing these crazy guys live. (For the unfamiliar, check out their video for “Prehistoric Dogs”; sure is nice to see a metal band not take themselves so seriously.)

And now the moment yours truly had been waiting for: death metal gods All Shall Perish are taking the Revolver Stage. This is my first time seeing these guys live, and I’d been jamming their new album This Is Where It Ends for weeks, devouring every note like I was starving and could only be sustained by brutality. Their set list was barren of all save one song off their opus, Awaken the Dreamers, which broke my little black heart a bit, but they made up for it by playing my favorites from the new album: “Procession of Ashes,” “There Is Nothing Left” and even “In This Life Of Pain” (minus the extended epic piano intro). This is their first tour with new guitarist Francesco Artusato and drummer Adam Pierce, and both new members played flawlessly, and it was such a treat to see Ben Orum working his magic up close. I confess I was a little surprised crazy-pants bassist Mike Tiner didn’t work the stage more (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess: hangover), but Eddie Hermida on vocals covered for him. The crowd loved them, and the new songs were very well-received.

On the Jager Stage next is Kingdom of Sorrow, the newest project from Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta. The crowd loved them, and they’re seasoned guys who know how to work a stage, but their sound isn’t appealing to me––it seems like a softer Hatebreed regurgitation, if anything. They got the biggest pit I’d seen so far at Mayhem, and the line to meet them was thrice the length of the others. As I sat in front of All Shall Perish’s booth with, oh, six other cool people, we all gazed, confused, at the difference in response to meet the two bands. In fact I had to ask them first if they were truly waiting for ASP, or just lounging conveniently in front of their booth; there literally was no line to be seen. That was pretty tragic. Jasta didn’t even stay long enough to make it through his entire line of waiting fans. He probably had a load of bandanas to get into the laundry.

The Revolver Stage blew up next with Suicide Silence, a band which is fast ascending the ranks of respected metal. It seemed like every other kid there was wearing one of their shirts, and during my interview with Dave McClain of Machine Head, he dropped them as an up-and-coming band to keep an eye on. These guys are savage as fuck, and it seemed like the whole crowd was one giant pit during their set. Helicopter headbanging while playing guitar? I’m sold. Vocalist Mitch Lucker was all over the damn place like a bat out of hell. Suicide Silence was easily the most extreme band on the bill, and their brutality rattled the crowd to their bones. They made a new fan of me with their stage energy and relentless, shredding sound.

Back to the Jager Stage for one of my all-time favorites, Unearth, and their consistently brutal performances both on and off stage. This year they’re debuting new tracks off their just-released album Darkness In The Light, so as a fan I’m eager to see how the crowd reacts to their new songs. Unearth are one of those bands that isn’t out to do crazy experimental shit in the name of progress; they’re out to perfect their own brand of melodic violence, and they’ve garnered a huge fan-base because of it. They lost their drummer just before writing began on the latest album, but they called on their old friend, the legendary Justin Foley of Killswitch Engage, to come and help them out, and tour Mayhem with them. What a fuckin’ treat for a longtime fan of both bands! The crowd went nuts on their set; Unearth’s breakdowns provide some of the best headbanging-in-unison moments a festival crowd could ask for, and they used every second of it. Vocalist Trevor Phipps and guitarist Ken Susi had their typical high-energy performances, using the stage as a playground to get the crowd as riled up as they could. The new tracks debuted were met with loud approval, and a huge line to meet them formed in the Jagermeister Bar afterwards.

The Revolver Stage is buzzing now––legendary Gothenburg granddaddies In Flames are taking the stage, and drawing thus far the biggest crowd of any band at Mayhem. These guys are all smiles, which is fantastic to see from a band whose career has spanned so many decades. You can see their faces light up when they hit the stage and hear the crowd lose their minds, screaming and chanting for them––it’s a fantastic moment. They reached as far back as Whoracle on their set list, and two songs from latest release Sounds Of A Playground Fading––it was a treat to hear such a wide range of their discography in a 35 minute set. Ending with Take This Life was epic, and sent the crowd into frenzy. The set sounded perfect: These guys haven’t lost an inch of brutality in their years onstage.

As part of Mayhem’s “revolving opener” for the Main Stage, Trivium has the honors on this particular date, and I must say they seem a lot more comfortable being on stage (and with their success) since I last saw them, touring with Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom in support of Ascendency. Trivium has risen up the ranks of metal greatness since then, and are getting ready to release their next album In Waves, which I am very excited for. I was even more thrilled when they played the titular track (released thus far only with the official video), as well as a song called “Black,” which the band told the excited crowd they had never played live before. Some technical difficulties with the bass held up the smoothness of the set, but vocalist Matt Heafy kept the crowd pumped like a pro, and the hold-up lasted only a few quick minutes. They reached back to favorites from Ascendency as well, still my favorite album from them. Bassist Paul Gregoletto hopped around like a kid on a sugar rush, and when he could step away from the mic, Matt got more intimate with the crowd as well. These guys started their careers super young, but they’ve clearly grown up and are looking like seasoned, comfortable pros.

Now begins the chaos at the Main Stage, and seeing this whole festival crowd packed into one relatively small area is amazing. When the legendary Machine Head take the stage, the whole place screams so loud, I thought I’d forgotten to put my ear plugs in. I’ve been listening to these guys since I was in high school, and it was such a treat to finally see them live––I couldn’t believe the energy they carried, especially lead badass Robb Flynn. They looked like they were having the time of their lives up there as they treated us to songs from their epic album The Blackening, and played their newest as-yet-unreleased track from the upcoming album Unto The Locust. The stage was, understandably, a lot more massive than the other two had been, and I would have liked to see them use it a bit more, but it took nothing away from the set, and the crowd ate up every second.

For the first time in the festival, we have a small break while the stage is prepared for the next band: Megadeth. It seemed odd to me from the get-go that Megadeth was not the headliner, but maybe they’re not the draw that Godsmack and Disturbed seem to be: Mustaine and Company put on a consistently heavy show, and none of them seem to have lost any speed or fire on their instruments. Compared to the younger bands, they aren’t monkeying around the stage as much, but I don’t think we need that of them anymore––the crowd was still chanting their name before they could even get onstage. Mustaine’s stage presence is still as heavy as ever. They delivered classic favorites like “Sweating Bullets” and “Symphony of Destruction,” and even treated us to a new song called “Public Enemy No. 1,” from a new record that is coming out “sometime around I have no fucking idea,” to quote Dave himself. Not the most exciting set, but being the forbearers of thrash that they are, it was nice to see them representing out at Mayhem.

Godsmack is up next, and I’m not a lover or hater of these guys, but goddamn, one could not help but be impressed by the crowd response. During “Whatever,” one of the band’s biggest hits, vocalist Sully literally had the entire floor of the amphitheater jumping and moshing, screaming “Now go away!” in response to the lyrics. Their stage show was punctuated by awesome lights and fog effects (wish it had been a little darker to get the full effect). They gave the crowd a great set list, including other hits like “Awake” and “I Stand Alone,” and even played my personal favorite of theirs, “Voodoo.” The band made great use of the stage and was very interactive with the crowd. I didn’t come away as a bigger fan of their music, but they definitely deliver live.

Finally, as night began to truly descend on Idaho, Mayhem headliners Disturbed took the stage, another one of those bands I’m neutral about (aside from very much loving the unique sound of David Draiman’s voice). Their set was the craziest in terms of effects: pyrotechnics, fog, wall-sized LED displays and imaginative lighting was a cool and unexpected change. They began with a really pretty instrumental called “Remnants,” played while a huge video ran behind the band, showing mental asylum scenes and crazy cat-eyed people, finally ending with David Draiman breaking free on video, and running on stage to join his bandmates, immediately moving into the song “Asylum”––an impressive opening sequence in my opinion, if a little flashy. The stage had been lined with mini-stages, rises that allowed the members to get just a bit higher and probably be seen further back than they would have, a nice touch. Of course their set was the longest, and they gave the crowd all their hits: “Prayer,” “Inside the Fire” (which had some awesome digital-flame effects on the LED screens), “Ten Thousand Fists,” “Stupify” and closing out with “Down With The Sickness.” Vocalist Draiman was as big a presence onstage as he seems to be off it, and left no corner unexplored. The roar of the crowd for Disturbed indicated I may or may not have been the only neutral ticket-holder there; these guys have drawn a huge following with their music and this was my first chance to see just how widely their message had spread. Even for someone like me, the set was fun to watch with all its dazzling lights and fire shooting out of things, and the band kept up with their songs—and the fans. I’ll go ahead and say they proved they were a worthy closer to an awesome day of metal.

Machine Head. Photo: Megan Kennedy Machine Head. Photo: Megan Kennedy In Flames. Photo: Megan Kennedy In Flames. Photo: Megan Kennedy Trevor Phipps of Unearth. Photo: Megan Kennedy Trivium. Photo: Megan Kennedy