On Tuesday, July 3 the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival made a stop at Auburn, Wash.’s White River Amphitheater. The touring metal festival brought with it bands, merch, motocross madness from the Metal Mulisha and hoards of die-hard metal fanatics.
Every festival has its own vibe, and the Rockstar Energy Drink sponsored Mayhem Festival is no different. What sets the massive traveling festival apart from festivals like Sasquatch! goes beyond just the style of music presented. Mayhem is a metal festival, with that comes an army of fans that wildly range in age from the very young to the quite old. Unlike other festivals the mid-twenty-set is underre
presented compared to the greater range of ages. Also, unlike other festivals, Mayhem offers a larger cross-section of the economic spectrum. Metal is not music enjoyed exclusively by the privileged class; it is proletarian in execution. It may sound like hyperbole, but in a lot of ways metal is an equalizer; and it was made very evident by the crowds at Mayhem Festival.
This year’s edition had some notable absences from the lineup. High on Fire were bookedto play the traveling metal show, but pulled out of the tour when the band announced that they would be going on hiatus so that band member Matt Pike could enter rehab. While not scheduled for the main festival, it is very questionable whether Lamb of God will be able to fulfill their Mayhem Cruise commitment later this year due to Randy Blythe‘s resent manslaughter arrest in Europe.
The bands that did turn up, however, represent an impressive and diverse cross section of metal: Slipnot, Slayer, Motorhead, Anthrax, As I Lay Dying, the Devil Wears Prada, Asking Alexandria, Whitechapel and more representing thrash, New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), screamo and even a bit of nu-metal.
The first band I caught up with was the New York thrash legends, and part of the “big four”, Anthrax. Having carved out a name for themselves in the early 1980s as one of the giants of thrash metal along side of Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth, Anthrax are one of the few bands that need very little introduction for anyone remotely familiar with heavy metal.
Since reuniting with with perhaps the bands most notable singer, Joey Belladonna, in 2010, the band has been on a bender performing on the Big Four Tour, as well as releasing a pulverizing new album. Their manic, intense energy was on full display for the Auburn, Wash. crowd.
Scott Ian and crew played a set mixed with both new material and classics. By the time they began their fourth song, “Antisocial,” the crowd was rabid. Anthrax had worked the crowd up by playing pummeling songs as well as the occasional in-between-song banter goading the crowd into more manic action.
Metal can be both self-actualizing and anti-authoritarian, so by the time Anthrax had played their last song, “I Am the Law” from 1987’s Among the Living, the crowd was both anarchic and exuberant.
It should be noted that Anthrax played with such energy and power that it is a shame they were relegated to headlining the side stage, rather than taking their proper place on the mainstage with Slayer and Motorhead among others.
One of the pitfalls of a festival is how to stagger bands so that people can see who they want in a fluid manner. In this regard I believe Mayhem did a great job. By the time Anthrax was done and I wandered to the mainstage, Motorhead was just about to begin playing. While I missed the Devil Wears Prada, I am certain that one set of fans saw the band they liked, while another had the chance to see who they liked. In this regard the festival was very successful.
In many ways Motorhead are proto-metal; they tend to refer to themselves as a rock and roll band. While their first release, on the Chiswick record label, certainly makes this point clear, subsequent releases (most notably for Bronze Records) have tied the band to the top of the metal pantheon. To many Motorhead are in a world of their own, but with ties to the NWOBHM and a propensity for fast tempos, the group has made a career out of no-frills, hard driving music.
The first half of the set had songs from their two most recent albums, a few fan favorites, as well as the rock and roll song, “Going to Brazil” from the 1916 album. In classic, no-frills, Motorhead style the band pounded through the numbers. Mikkey Dees massive drum solo during “The One to Sing the Blues” was one of the few breaks form the band’s classic sound.
The last half of Motorhead’s set was heavy on fan favorites. After being joined on stage by Seattle’s own, and former Guns n’ Roses member, Duff McKagan for the song “Killed by Death”, the band played perhaps their most well known song “Ace of Spades”. Lemmy introduced the song by telling the crowd, “Well, it’s that time… For the song that we get ask to play the most, but most of you probably haven’t heard it.” Of course, by the visual outburst of collective joy, I am sure most in this crowd have heard the signature song.
After introducing the band members, Lemmy let out the classic line, “We are Motorhead, and we play rock and roll” before launching into the classic song “Overkill”.
Motorhead are always a hard act to follow. The band’s style, while simplistic compared to a lot of metal acts, is powerful and anthemic. Slayer, of course, have made a career out of live performances that leave audiences floored.
In dramatic fashion hidden behind a stark white sheet Slayer’s set took shape while a throng of fans let out their guttural yelps, “Slaaaayer! Sllllllayer! Slay-ooooor!” Everyone has a slight variation, but the unifying theme is to draw it out and make it sound slightly evil. The fascination with out Slayering each other is striking, and addictive; it only serves as a quick litmus test to see that the audience was there mainly to see their idols.
As the white sheet dropped the band hit the crowd with the now classic (although unfortunately released on Sept. 11, 2001) song “Discipline” from the Got Hates Us All album. In the eleven years since its release the controversy on its release date and poor timing has been forgotten by nearly everyone in the audience, or so one would expect.
During the second song, “War Ensemble” massive pyrotechnics kicked helping the band scorch the band both figuratively and literally; when someone says “This song will melt your face”, they may be thinking of moments exactly like this.
Slayer shows are known for being non-stop full on assaults, and I have to say having seen them a number of times that this was the toughest and most amped I have seen them in a long, long time. The band played a fan-favorite list of songs picked to leave an audience exhausted and wanting more, the set included, “South of Heaven”, “Angel of Death” and the closing song, their thirteenth of the night, “Raining Blood”.
I am sure that Slipnot had a hard act to follow. Full disclosure I did not stay for Slipnot.
The Mayhem Festival is the type of one day festival that serves as a vital summer release for the fans of the metal genre. It is festivals such as Mayhem that keep the genre’s adherents committed to one of the closes-knit fanbases in the world.
These photographs were originally published in a slightly different form on July 6, 2012 on ssgmusic.com.