Concert Review: Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival Part 1

We discussed this last year, but the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival remains the preeminent mobile showcase of alternative music of any type. It has been so successful in six years that it has not only overshadowed the Warp Tour, but has spawned a second, smaller circuit, the Uproar Festival. Mayhem Fest is one of those special times of year when all the major and minor metal labels, from Universal and Atlantic to Century Media, Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast and including Victory and Sumerian, join forces to show off their product and give the fans the best possible experience. This year’s tour is loaded for bear, with four stages, ten hours of music, more bands and a small battalion of acts who can headline tours in their own right.

As much as the names change, certain principles of the Mayhem Fest are universal. First, that you get bombarded with music in short order, a veritable shotgun blast of styles and types and while that comes with the understanding that Mayhem is a one-day event, you still wish everyone’s set was ten minutes longer. Other truths – the people watching is unparalleled, from the colorful vendors to the eccentric dress (or lack thereof) of the patrons, to the one girl in the leather bondage outfit (and good for her for having the fortitude to pull it off, it was an exceptionally hot day.) The third axiom of Mayhem is that it will always teach you something – in this case that fans of Motionless in White are similar to the Iron Maiden faithful: they have no fear about wearing the shirt of the band they’re about to see. With that said and the scene set, let’s dive in.

(Full disclosure: There were several bands I did not see while I was doing interviews that will run over the next couple weeks. So if I do not mention a particular artist, it is only because I did not see them, nothing more or less.)

My day began with Attika 7, the band from California named after an infamous Buffalo prison riot. Allow me to make a statement that will ruffle the feathers of some – if you’ve ever been disappointed by a live Black Label Society show, consider Attika 7 as a low-cost alternative. After all, this is a band loaded with heavily tattooed, leather vest clad gents, and even their merch table was flanked by attitude-fueled motorcycles. Everything about Attika 7 is a reflection of metal’s well-muscled power as much of the genre becomes more agile. Songs like “Serial Killer” reinforce the belief of some that Pantera was the pinnacle all metal bands should aspire to. It speaks to Attika 7’s presence and command that despite the triple-digit heat index, the crowd was both raucous and responsive. Attika 7 knows what they are, and that helps the overall caliber of their stage performance.

Up next was Battlecross and anticipation was high. Comments backstage about how good the band’s new album “War of Will” is were a tent pole for the expectations. Battlecross surged onto the stage and for their part, seemed to be having more fun than the attitude their early catalogue attests to. The band members, particularly guitarists Hiran Deraniyagala and Tony Asta, bound around the stage with energy and a showman’s grimace, giving the crowd the thrash revival they so wanted. Battlecross’ set progressed much in the same way their career has, the finest moments coming last in the timeline, as the band rolled out new cuts “Force Fed Lies” and “Flesh and Bone.”

As soon as Battlecross was over, Chicago-bred Born of Osiris began. The point of immediate attention was keyboard/vocalist Joe Buras, who pulled a ballsy stunt by wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey in this suburb of Boston so soon after the Stanley Cup Finals. I was interested in Born of Osiris on the recommendation of Children of Bodom’s Henkka Seppälä, who said they were his favorite young band on the circuit. I can see why. As they launched into “Follow the Signs” and “Ascension,” Born of Osiris strikes very similarly to a young Children of Bodom, with raw, untamed death metal bolted to a key support and played as loud as possible.

And so we come to Motionless in White. MiW (if I may call them that,) is one of the most divisive metal bands going today. Every metal fan over twenty-one years old sees them as a sham, a sort of Hot Topic trend that was built and not made, so to speak. Metal fans under twenty-one look at Motionless in White as a fresh new face, a young band that stands in stark contrast to metal’s out-of-touch and intransigent old guard. To truly evaluate the performance of MiW, it’s almost as if you have to break the band in two. As they came out and catapulted into “Devil’s Night” and “Immaculate Misconception,” the arresting visual appearance distracts from the music. Every person on stage is a tribute to something gone by, such as the devil lock of vocalist Chris Cerulli. Aurally, the band rockets waves of music from their amps unto the crowd. “Synthetic Love” was a thick morass of heaped sound, while the crowd, young more than not, seemed to be eating the entire showcase up with a bottomless appetite.

This brings us to the first of the ‘headliners,’ Scorpion Child. The band from Austin, Texas, veterans of a scene that never quite exploded like it was supposed to, were heading up the Sumerian Records stage. I had first caught Scorpion Child opening for Clutch, but I wanted a second crack at them. Musically Scorpion Child revives all things rock in the late ‘70s, being vaguely reminiscent of bands like Led Zeppelin or The Who. The distinguishing characteristic is vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black, who assumes the stage with a sort of playful detachment and sings like a “Screaming Life”-era Chris Cornell. Scorpion Child has a sort of magnetic quality embedded in their music, the deep blues of their new, self-titled album gripping and not letting go. This is blues metal without ceremony or pretense, a throwback to an era too easily forgotten. Also, the band managed to enchant several attractive female fans. Never, ever write off a metal band that pretty girls seem to really like.

The second stage closer in succession was Machine Head, arguably the band at Mayhem with the longest contiguous career. As fans, we are sometimes presented with a band who can only fairly be called “professional musicians.” Machine Head, unconcerned with the trappings of image, is clearly in the business of providing their fans with the experience they seek. Thundering into “Locust,” one is reminded that Machine Head forged the heart of their performance in the blast furnace of grueling tours and the unforgiving grind of underground metal. There is no wasted motion in their performance, as the band’s onstage presence is the picture of both confidence and efficiency. Practically reading the mind of the crowd as they turned the crank on a set both new and old, Machine Head blasted out a powerful “Halo” affirming their commitment to both career and fan. The grand kinetic catharsis ended, Robb Flynn then pointed to the next stage, directly adjacent, and with a call of “Now everyone go over there!” –

- Children of Bodom took the stage. The day had grown long and the heat index refused to waver. The crowd was starting to show visible wear, sweat and grime beaded on nearly every visage. It was going to take an outstanding effort from the Finns to reach this crowd. Coming to the stage for “Silent Night, Bodom Night,” Alexi Laiho is ever the sparkplug, the diminutive but powerful straw that stirs the drink. His charisma is not a credit to his stage presence, but rather to his playing, as he holds his axe vertically and shows the crowd his blur of hands and fingers. It’s difficult for Children of Bodom to show every phase of their career in a short thirty-five minutes, so spots have to be picked. A charged, angry “Hate Me!” riled the crowd, as did a fuzzy-around-the-edges “Halo of Blood.” The regret is only that there wasn’t more time, as Children of Bodom left some guns unused, including everything from the recently brilliant “Relentless, Reckless, Forever.”

…and we’ll leave it there, and pick it up here later this week with the main stage, marquee names: Amon Amarth, Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie. Stay tuned!

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