Mayhem Festival Review 2.0 (From a fans standpoint)

2011 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival Review

Tuesday, July 19: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater – St. Louis, MO

            If the St. Louis date of the 2011
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival had  to be described in only one word, it would
have to be “interesting.” Many observations could have been made throughout the
day’s performances and other goings on that would separate it not only from
other concerts or traveling festivals that stop in the St. Louis area, but from
previous years of the Mayhem Festival as well.

            The fourth annual Mayhem Festival
stopped in the St. Louis, MO area at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in
Maryland Heights on Tuesday, July 19, conveniently during a heat wave. The
day’s heat index of one hundred and fifty degrees showcased a prime example of
the extreme heat that Midwestern areas like St. Louis are known for in the dead
of summer. The weather may have been one of the factors that yielded a
noticeably smaller turnout for this year’s Mayhem Fest in St. Louis, another
being the less-than-stellar lineup for the tour, announced early in 2011, that
featured a handful of new talent to the festival, but mostly either lackluster
bands of today’s metal and hard rock genres as well as bands that have been
featured the bill of past Mayhem Fests in the few years of existence since the
tour’s creation in 2008.

            For the second year in a row, the
“Jagermeister Battle of the Bands” group to open the St. Louis date of the tour
in St. Louis was Tempe, AZ comedic metal “humorcore” band Psychostick (you
know, the “Beer Is Good…and Stuff” band). For the first and third years of the
Mayhem Fest, personnel involved with the tour seemed to do a top-notch job of updating
the website to inform visitors of these bands that would open only one given
date of the tour well in advance of when the tour would begin. This year
however, similar to 2009, the Mayhem Fest website seemed to have dropped the
ball on this early update, which may have led to fans being uninformed of these
bands even performing on any date of the tour at all. This seemed evident for
Psychostick’s performance compared to last year, when they were also the “Jager
band” on the St. Louis date of the Mayhem Fest. While Psychostick seemed to
draw a substantially-sized crowd of either their own fans or concert-goers
enthused by the band’s energetic brand of silly, nerdy humor set to
hardcore-influenced melodic metal in 2010, this year proved different, as Psychostick
still brought their hilarity-injected metal to St. Louis in full-force, only
this time to a crowd that was not only noticeably smaller than a year prior,
but that also seemed less impressed by their performance, as most seemed to
stand slack-jawed in the heat at what they were seeing open the show on the
Jagermeister Mobile Stage.

            The seemingly anti-Psychostick
crowd, who apparently collectively agreed that metal should ALWAYS be treated
seriously and NEVER lovingly satirized, appeared to show more appreciation for
the second band to perform, and the first band booked on the entire bill of the
2011 Mayhem Fest, female-fronted Knoxville, TN melodic metalcore outfit
Straight Line Stitch. Alexis Brown, the band’s African-American front woman –
quite the rarity in a metal or hard rock band – exhibited evident positivity
and enthusiasm that was well-supported by the tight, dedicated musicianship of
the other band members. With their sophomore release, The Fight of Our Lives released earlier this year on E1 Music,
Straight Line Stitch had a diverse and impressive repertoire of songs in their
set that captured the approval of the St. Louis crowd as they opened the
Revolver Magazine Side Stage. Brown’s vocals soared even through what appeared
to be a short stint of exhaustion from performing in the extreme heat where she
sang her lyrics perfectly while kneeling down on the stage toward the end of
the set. This was the first example of a vocalist being affected by the day’s
weather that would prove to be a recurring happening throughout the day.

            As the focus shifted back to the
Jagermeister Mobile stage, Portland, OR stoner metal band Red Fang proved to be
one of the most outstandingly unique bands on this year’s Mayhem Fest, even if
not the most appreciated by a long shot. After their 2009 self-titled debut
gained them success among fans of southern rock and doom metal as well as
stoner metal, Relapse Records signed Red Fang for their sophomore release Murder the Mountains, released in April
2011. Due to their musical appeal spanning across different musical fan bases,
it seemed that the band may have been added to the Mayhem Fest bill to offer a
similar experience to the first Mayhem Fest in 2008 with Mastodon opening the main
stage. However, since Red Fang is a less popular band and may not offer the
same grand-scale cosmic atmospheres as a band like Mastodon, it came as little
surprise that the band, at least in St. Louis, performed to the smallest crowd
than any other band on the tour. While the deathcore, mainstream melodic metal
and radio hard rock fans browsed vendors, band meet-and-greets, or simply
relaxed in the shade, concert-goers who watched Red Fang’s performance were
treated to the rare metal festival experience of classic, Sabbath and
Zepplin-era influenced sludgy metal from a band who not only understood that
they were the odd man out, but also embraced the ignorant criticism from the
day’s modern metal “elitists.”

            The second band to perform on the
Revolver Magazine side stage was Oakland, CA deathcore outfit All Shall Perish.
This band’s brutality combined with technical precision offer a breath of fresh
air into the stagnant deathcore scene. All Shall Perish has proven to be a band
that wanted to progress as musicians and write original, impressive modern
extreme metal, as evident by their latest effort This Is Where it Ends which, upon its July 29 release – over a week
after their performance in St. Louis on the Mayhem Fest – debuted at number 50
on the Billboard top 200 chart. Their high-energy performance in St. Louis was
only briefly tainted by what appeared to be further evidence of the day’s
extreme heat, as front man Hernan “Eddie” Hermida seemed to also show some
signs of heat exhaustion during his vocal performance – wearing all black in
100+ degree heat will do that. The possibly most notable example of
forward-thinking from this deathcore band is their incorporation of bold clean
vocals, exhibited during their performance that day; a quality considered
sacrilegious in any form of extreme metal, deathcore or otherwise.

            After All Shall Perish came the next
band on the Jagermeister side stage, the hardcore/sludge metal project Kingdom
of Sorrow, featuring Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and Down on guitars and
Hatebreed front man Jamey Jasta on vocals. When the band lineup for this year’s
Mayhem Fest was announced at the beginning of the year, it seemed quaint to
have the most successful side project of Hatbreed’s front man play the tour the
year after Hatebreed themselves played the tour in 2010, especially with Jasta
being one, if not the most recognizable figure in metal today. Kingdom of
Sorrow’s combination of sludgy, southern stoner metal combined with the vocals,
tempos and song structure of hardcore translated surprisingly well to the
enthusiastic and please St. Louis crowd. Of course, this simply could have
been, once again, because the famous persona of Jamey Jasta was once again
working the stage, but Kingdom of Sorrow still received St. Louis’ praises
regardless, even from a crowd that was noticeably smaller than previous St.
Louis dates of the Mayhem Festival in past years.

            After Kingdom of Sorrow came a band
that has produced polar responses in today’s metal community: Suicide Silence.
Apart from being the first band to perform on Mayhem’s bill this year that had
actually already been on a previous year of the Mayhem Festival – the tour’s
inaugural year in 2008 – Suicide Silence is possibly the most prime example of
success through metal’s modern trends. It would be pointless to argue that
Suicide Silence’s songs all sound the same, as the same argument can be made
about death metal, deathcore, or other forms of extreme metal. As always, any
opinion about music or a band is just that: an opinion. But it really seems, at
least from an outside perspective, that Suicide Silence’s strong following is
undeserved, as their music throughout their now three album-long tenure has
made very little headway in doing anything other than recycling the same old chuggy,
breakdown-engorged deathcore that is so prevalent today. What’s more, unlike
their peers in modern extreme metal, Suicide Silence shows a lack of impressive
or fast shredding guitar solos – though their solos can be enjoyable and
well-written –and seems to focus almost exclusively on the trendy, hardcore
dance-inducing motif of overused slow breakdowns. With the exception of their
mind-bogglingly dedicated fans, Suicide Silence’s set at the St. Louis date of
the Mayhem Festival was as bland and yawn-inducing as their music, leaving
non-fans itching for the next band.

            And that itch was thoroughly scratched
by Unearth, the band that quite possibly stole the entire show at the Mayhem
Festival in St. Louis. As one of the leading bands of the Massachusetts metalcore
movement, this band’s infamously fun, highly energetic stage show mirror’s
their music, effortlessly combining relentlessly pounding hardcore punk
aggression and song structure with the musicianship and soaring guitar solos of
thrash and death metal. Unearth’s set included some of their best and most
appreciated songs from each of their albums, including their latest Darkness In the Light, their fifth
full-length album which dropped only a few weeks prior to their St. Louis date
of the Mayhem Festival. The band, accompanied on drums by Justin Foley of
Killswitch Engage and Blood Has Been Shed, delivered the stage show they were
known for, consisting of vocalist and front man Trevor Phipp’s raspy screams
and always aggressive and enthusiastic crowd participation demands, as well as
Ken Susi and Buz McGrath’s impressive guitar work amplified by their scissor
kick jumps from their amplifier and speaker towers and fun-loving stage antics,
most notably were probably McGrath taking center stage just before the band
began to play to shotgun a beer, and Susi sounding an air horn during an
intentional sudden break in one of the band’s songs. Unearth may have been the
most worth-while performance at the festival, leaving their fans satisfied with
the short but full set list as well as gaining new fans and leaving them hungry
for more.

            St. Louis was fortunate enough to
experience another band on the Mayhem Festival, Gothenburg, Sweden’s In Flames,
who announced on August 1 – only two weeks after the festival’s St. Louis date
– that they had to drop off the tour due to a serious terminal illness of one
of the members’ family members. With a band like In Flames, who has undergone a
shift in their musical style, a crowd familiar with their material may be
divided based on whether they feel more partial to their older, heavier and
more aggressive work or their newer, much more melodic work. In Flames’ set was
predictably comprised of mostly newer, more melodic material, and like all
bands on the bill, those closest to the stage or those participating in moshing
or crowdsurfing seemed much more enthuses about this than those watching more
on the outskirts of the side stage crowd. Regardless, In Flames put on an
entertaining live show, fronted by vocalist Anders Friden’s unique persona,
being both genuine and thankful to the audience, as well as dry and sly, with
comments such as (when the introduced themselves); “We are…well, you can read
and shit (gestures to the giant stage banner that reads “In Flames” and
showcases the artwork of their most recent album, Sounds of a Playground Fading).”

            The last side stage band to perform
was Trivium, another band that had toured on the Mayhem Festival in the past.
Trivium played for easily the largest side stage crowd of the day, part of
which may have been that more guests had begun to arrive due to both the time
of the day nearing the early afternoon – so more attendees were off of work for
the day, as the festival was on a Tuesday – as well as the weather beginning to
cool off as the evening and twilight hours began to approach. Trivium’s show
was tight, professional well-rehearsed and as usual, but also as usual, the band
members seemed to exhibit a stage presence that seemed almost boastful and
“rock star-ish,” as they seemed to thoroughly enjoy soaking up the praise as
well as schmooze their stage time during guitar solos, especially from
guitarist Corey Beaulieu. Trivium’s onstage attire, consisting of popped
collars and flashy black jackets in 100+ degree weather, seemed further
evidence of a pompous rock star attitude. Granted, in the band’s credit,
Missouri’s notorious humidity-laden extreme heat may actually be considered as
cool or temperate weather to a band that is from Florida. Regardless of these
paranoia-driven assumptions based on the band’s appearance – including vocalist
Matt Heafy’s recently cut short hair – the band’s set and music was solid.
Performing new songs from their upcoming album In Waves as well as fan favorites including “Like Light to Flies,”
“Down From the Sky,” “A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation,” “Throes of
Perdition,” and of course closing with “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your
Martyr.” Though expected, especially due to shortened set time being a
festival, it was disappointing not to hear any songs from their 2006 album The Crusade.

            As early evening closed in and the
action moved to the main stage of the festival on the Verizon Wireless
Amphitheater, another Mayhem Fest veteran, Machine Head, returning after also
playing the inaugural year of the festival in 2008, was the first of four bands
to close out the night. Playing a handful of their notoriously long, but guitar
shred flooded songs during their set, including one from their highly
anticipated upcoming album Unto The
, Machine Head’s set was just as solid as any of the other bands that
had performed that day. The crowd, however, was a mixture of pleasantly
entertained in their seats or patches of grass on the lawn or exhausted from a
day in the blistering sun. To make matters worse, an obvious of attendance
could be seen both in the lawn as well as the last handful of rows under the
pavilion being almost completely empty. Factors of this could have been any
combination of the heat, high ticket prices, or the time of day, as this low
attendance remained until the final two headliners. At any rate, Machine Head,
fronted by the always charismatic Robb Flynn continued to entertain pleased
fans throughout their set time.

            It goes without saying that just
about any self-respecting metal fan was more than a little disappointed when
they saw that Megadeth was not only NOT headlining the Mayhem Festival this
year when the lineup was announced, but that they would be third on the bill
below Disturbed and Godsmack. Of course, this should make sense to any music
fan who has any shred of understanding of how the industry works, especially
with events like tours such as the Mayhem Festival. Although Megadeth is one of
the longest running metal and influential metal bands in history, their brand
of music has rarely been as successful or marketable as more mainstream metal
or hard rock bands, both throughout the music’s history but particularly today.
Still, after having Slayer co-headline the 2009 Mayhem Festival with Marilyn
Manson, it was good to see a legendary and important band like Megadeth on the
same bill as bands that were undoubtedly inspired by them in some way. Front
man Dave Mustaine seemed to know just how bass-ackwards it was for them to have
ANY band performing AFTER them just as much as most of the fans did, but he
handled it gracefully and made the most of his set time, entering the stage
playing a double-neck guitar and owning the stage with Megadeth classics like
“Symphony of Destruction,” “A Tout Le Monde (Set Me Free)” and of course “Peace
Sells.” However, Megadeth’s set was almost ruined by the presence of a supposed
“winner” of a contest being carried out on every date of the tour when Mustaine
would give a lucky fan a guitar that he would play on stage. An attractive
young blonde woman wearing little more than a bikini and tennis shoes was
directed to take the stage by a Mayhem Festival worker who, to Mustaine’s
puzzled surprise, accepted the award and proceeded to flaunt her booty first to
Mustaine who, as a married man, backed away, leading the woman to shake her ass
for the entire audience. How this contest was carried out in St. Louis or any
of the other dates was never thoroughly explained and remains vague, but given
the “winner” of the guitar in St. Louis, it seems that the entire contest was
not taken seriously, and was either given to the first hot bimbo someone could
find or else this woman had connections through the festival that other fans
were not lucky enough to have. It was disappointing to see some mindless woman,
albeit an attractive one, given a gift from one of the most important names in
metal that other fans may have given their left arm for, especially considering
that her behavior suggested that she just wanted the opportunity to shake her
ass for a huge audience and may not have even known who Megadeth was, let alone
heard any of their music. For the sake of the future of metal, pray that this
assumption is wrong.

            Surprisingly, most of the crowd not
only did NOT leave after Megadeth, but more people seemed to finally show up
after the sun went down before Godsmack began their set. With the sun finally
set, even more people being off work, and the two headliners being so much more
well-known and successful than any other band on the tour, it makes sense that
this would happen. Although their set consisted of essential hits and fan
favorites like “Whatever,” “I Stand Alone,” “Awake,” “Straight Out of Line,”
and “Voodoo,” Godsmack’s live show was more of an example of rock stardom
battling with professional showmanship. Front man Sully Erna’s constant
pompous, proud Boston swagger was annoying, starting with his beginning
announcement along the lines of, “We got no pyro, no video, just us, you, and
some hard ass fuckin’ rock and roll.” Though a noble and valid point, this
statement was unnecessary and made it seem that they were competing with
headliner Disturbed’s inevitable larger-than-life stage show. Most interesting
was undoubtedly Godsmack’s signature drum and percussion battle, in which Erna
and drummer Shannon Larkin perform percussion alongside one another on large,
rotating drum sets. Though a unique and impressive way to begin wrapping up
their set, this flashy portion of the show shadowed the rest of the band’s
music, making the audience almost completely forget about the songs they had just
heard the band play. Probably most appalling was when, during this percussion
showcase, accompanied by backing melodies from guitarist Tommy Rambola and
bassist Robbie Merrill, the band performed a medley of songs including Black
Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” and even Jethro Tull’s
“Aqualung.” Godsmack single-handedly broke two very important, if not essential
rules: A.) Don’t cover songs better or more well-known or appreciated than your
original material, and B.) If you’re in a metal band, do not ever, EVER make
any reference to the abomination of Jethro fucking Tull!! After Jethro Tull’s
winning of the first ever heavy metal/hard rock Grammy award, no metal fan
should ever associate themselves with Jethro Tull.

            Finally, the last band to perform
that evening was Disturbed, a band that co-headlined the very first Mayhem
Festival in 2008. There is not much to say about this band; their fans are
die-hard, their music can be both enjoyable and predictable, and their live
show is almost always the same…almost. To Disturbed’s credit, they have used
their fame and success to improve their stage show to incorporate a huge video
wall, topped with a pyrotechnic display, chock-full of varying images
throughout their set and even a pre-recorded pre-show skit staring vocalist
David Draimen which led into the start of the band’s set. Of course,
Disturbed’s set included their biggest songs such as “Stupify,” “Prayer,”
““Inside the fire,” “Liberate,” “Ten Thousand Fists,” “Another Way to Die,” and
“Down with the Sickness” as their obligatory closer. However, although
Disturbed is known for rarely changing up their set list, they performed a
medley of songs from their 2000 debut album The
, most likely partially in honor of it recently celebrating its
ten-year anniversary, consisting of “Fear,” “Meaning of Life,” “Numb” and
“Voices.” Although brief, this medley was a refreshing break from their
rarely-changing set list and allowed fans to hear old Disturbed songs they may
have not heard live in years, if at all. The only major issue that seemed
evident in Disturbed’s performance was that Draimen seemed to occasionally
strain his vocals when beginning and ending a vocal phrase. This, once again,
could have partially been to the heat, but also could have been to Draimen’s
throat conditions which, according to sources in the past year, have apparently
worsened and weekend his voice.

            All in all, the 2011 Mayhem Festival
in St. Louis was ultimately just OK. For those that were able to brave and
stand the heat of the day, fans were treated to an escape from their respective
realities through a once again diverse roster of acts across the spectrum of
metal and hard rock. Although it may not have been the most impressive lineup,
it made for practically constant entertainment, along with the various vendors
and other attractions throughout the day, including the Metal Mulisha freestyle
motocross show. The observations made throughout the day leave the average
metalhead concerned with the future of this prestigious North American festival
in hopes that in years to come, it will exhibit more impressive and
sought-after acts, and preferably with more reasonable ticket prices,
especially in this still struggling economy, which may also help to yield a
larger and more enthusiastic crowd.

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