On Sunday the 29th of July 2012 the giant touring metal festival known officially as the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, or just Mayhem Fest for short, came to its Washington DC area stop at Jiffy Lube Live. The venue is actually out past Manassas in Bristow, Virginia and some of the bands addressed the audience as Virginia and others as DC. Anyways, it was a hot day under a brutal sun for this year’s Mayhem Fest. I got there early trying to catch the first couple of bands but the line was so long I missed Richmond’s Saint Diablo and didn’t get in until after their set when the next band was setting up. All day the bands started their sets about seven minutes earlier than the program schedule listed them at which meant you had to get there ahead of time to catch the bands you cared about most. Early in the day I was mostly interested in seeing the local bands since High On Fire had dropped off the tour, so I wandered around for a while getting different directions on where exactly the Sumerian Records stage was. It was in the big fenced off section of the parking lot being completely dwarfed by the much larger Jägermeister stage that was right next to it. I made sure to get up close to get a few pictures of Depths Of Mariana, a Fredericksburg based metalcore band who had won a local battle of the bands competition to get to play at this stop of the Mayhem Fest tour. The stage was small, only raised a few inches, and was completely covered by a double pointed black tent that made it hard to see the band members if you were more than a few people back. I’m sure nobody running the festival really cared much about the two local bands who had won competitions to get to play on that stage. I asked tons of people who the bands actually were leading up to and at the fest but nobody seemed to know or even care. However I knew it would be a big day for those bands so of course I wanted to at least try to get some nice photos of them. Depths Of Mariana was a pretty typical metalcore band. The vocalist and bass player both had good stage presence and the band seemed to be having a lot of fun just playing at Mayhem Fest. I’m not really a fan of metalcore and can’t really give a good assessment of the band’s sound based on that. The same goes for most of the earlier bands playing that day, but I’ll get into that more towards the end of this post.
After they played I spent some time browsing at some of the merch booths that were set up, getting food and beer, refilling the water bottle I was allowed to bring in and holding my breath in the men’s rooms turned urine saunas. By the time Anthrax was getting ready to play I was pretty ready to headbang. They were the headlining act on the Jägermeister stage, which featured a bunch of mostly metalcore (and other variations of the genre) bands throughout the day. Anthrax was a bit of a contrast to that, they’re much older than those other bands, probably old enough to be most of their fathers honestly. They’re also one of the big four of thrash metal. They currently have Joey Belladonna as their vocalist, still rocking the mullet, and he was full of energy up there. Scott Ian and the rest of the band still command a considerable amount of on stage charisma. The band made a good choice to play Caught In A Mosh early in the set which got a bunch of the circle pit loving metalcore fans into their performance. The parking lot area that the stage was set up in was really dirty, the moshers kicked up swirling clouds of dirt under the hot sun, and to make matters worse, due to the venue’s ABC license not covering the parking lot area you weren’t allowed to bring or buy any alcohol in that area. That’s right, you couldn’t actually drink Jägermeister at the Jägermeister stage! Regardless, Anthrax put on a fun, if short, performance. It was a good precursor of what was to come later from the bands that old school metal heads like myself were waiting to see on the main stage.
Right after Anthrax closed out the Jägermeister stage the other local battle of the bands winner, Spiral Fracture, started playing on the Sumerian Stage. Unfortunately for them, at the exact same time Asking Alexandria started playing on the main stage which pulled most of the available audience away from their small stage. Spiral Fracture is based out of Richmond and their sound was less ‘core than the other contest winner from earlier. I ended up getting frustrated though when the band’s singer kept pouring opened energy drinks onto the audience by holding an open can and swinging his arm. That’s fine when you’re playing some basement somewhere but when people are bringing expensive equipment to photograph you at a big festival don’t spray them with liquids! I walked away angry before I shot all of the band members to quickly clean off that sticky gunk before it go into my camera’s lens permanently.
Luckily when you’re at a metal festival there’s plenty of good ways to vent your frustration and watching Lemmy Kilmister shred with Motörhead is as good of an opportunity for that as any you’re going to find! The trio was in good form and kept the speed metal going pretty solid their entire set. The last time they came through the area they were playing their first show with the ex-Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum. This time they had Mikkey Dee back and you could tell he had better chemistry with the rest of the band. Even so, they gave him a big drum solo that seemed a bit unnecessary considering they were only given about 45 minutes to play. I realize Motörhead have been around a long time and have put out a lot of material, 21 studio albums worth, and not all of it is going to get played in their set, especially a shortened one, but I was really hoping to hear Orgasmatron or maybe even Don’t Need Religion, which I think would have been perfect since they were playing just before Slayer. They did play many of their standards including Killed By Death and Ace Of Spades though, so it wasn’t exactly a bad set list. They put on a good performance and I’m glad to see Lemmy’s still got it on stage.
The next band to play was the band I wanted to see the most, the infamous Slayer. They are another one of the big four of thrash and certainly the most devilish sounding of them. Slayer is a gateway band for a lot of metal heads. At some point a lot of us started listening to heavier and heavier bands until we came across Slayer’s extremely catchy yet inherently evil sounding riffs which opened the door for us to the world of extreme metal. They might be a thrash band but just try to find a death metal band that can’t cover several of their songs. In other words, they’re gods in the world of metal, but if you’re reading this site you probably already knew that. The stage set up was fairly simple yet pretty awesome. They had two giant upside down crosses on stage that were made of (fake) Marshall Amps that shot fireballs out of them. There were walls of fire in front of both of those and in the center above everything was a metal Slayer logo that also lit up in fire. Combined with the red lighting they used for much of their set it basically looked like you were in hell watching a metal concert. In other words, it looked totally demonic which set a mood that certainly fit Slayer’s aggressive sound. At the end of this post there are three Slayer videos from the show that you can see the fiery set up in pretty well, especially the third one. They even had the fire timed with the music which sort of reminded me of that YouTube video of the Christmas lights timed to Slayer that goes around every winter (see it here). However this was much cooler to behold! I’ve seen Slayer many times before but this was the first time I have seen them with Gary Holt of Exodus filling in for Jeff Hanneman on guitar. Gary did a great job playing those classic songs many of us in attendance know so well. Tom Araya is really starting to look older these days but he was still up there screaming and shredding like always, albeit without the headbanging as per doctor’s orders. Kerry King was, well, Kerry King, playing those evil riffs that make moshers go crazy in the pit. Most of their set list was taken from Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss, as one would expect. I’d have rather heard Black Magic instead of Hate Worldwide, the sole song from their last album, but that’s really a minor gripe. After they played Angel Of Death they actually performed an encore of South Of Heaven and Raining Blood, which was kind of odd since they weren’t the headlining act, but I’m certainly not complaining.
The next band up was the headlining act, Slipknot. I’m not going to pretend that I’m some old fan of the band, I’m not, but I hadn’t seen them live before and I’ll usually check out any metal band at least once, especially if I’m already at the concert. For starters, the band has a ridiculous number of people on stage, most of whom are unnecessary except in their roles of pumping up the crowd which I found to be rather distracting for the most part. There were eight members on the stage, plus a bass player who was playing backstage somewhere which was a bit weird. I realize that founding member Paul Gray, aka #2, passed away in May of 2010 from drug use, they had his bass on stage for this show as a tribute to him, but to have someone playing with the band from backstage sort of makes the whole band-playing-together-live thing seem a bit disjointed. In all the whole thing seemed like a convoluted circus, but perhaps that’s the angle they were going for, a sort of metal circus or something. There were also several photographers and/or camera men actually on stage, even stepping into the spotlights from time to time, during Slipknot’s set. That seemed very amateurish for a band this size. The band’s masks were throwbacks to their early days, but that doesn’t mean much to me as I’ve not been following them for years. One thing that I thought was cool was that the keyboard player would stage dive into the audience from time to time. You don’t see many big bands like that actually interact with the audience to the point of touching them. The beer keg drum kit on the raising and spinning platform didn’t really interest me, even when the guy was banging it with an aluminum baseball bat in time with the music. In all their show just came off as a big mish mash of gimmicks that didn’t even seem to relate to each other that much. And why the hell do they have two extra drummers in the first place? Joey Jordison, the guy behind the real drum kit, is probably the most talented member of the band and he certainly doesn’t need help in the percussion department. And as far as their musical sound overall…
Well, I could take this time to rant about the kind of metal Slipknot plays but I’m not going to do that. I don’t like their music but then I don’t really like the style of metal they play in the first place so it wouldn’t be fair for me to criticize them for that. They’re still a huge metal band, even without a new album for this tour cycle they’re headlining Mayhem Fest. I heard a lot of trash talk from old school metal heads who were upset, offended even, that Slipknot was headlining over bands like Slayer, Motörhead and Anthrax, but personally I didn’t have a problem with it. Same goes for all the metalcore bands that were playing on the other two stages earlier in the day. It might not be my thing but everyone is at a different place on their musical path. Music means something different to everyone. How we listen, why we listen, how much we listen, what we do while we listen, when and where, there are so many different ways people interpret music and ways we become attached to it. I don’t expect everyone to like the same bands or styles of music or metal that I do, in fact expecting them to would be inviting in conformity. I’d be a liar if I told you there was never a time when I liked some questionable bands, especially when I was younger and first getting my passion for music. Anyone who tells you that they have never liked a band they would now find embarrassing to admit is certainly not being truthful. I remember listening to Def Leppard and other similar acts when I was in elementary school and loving that 80’s pop rock garbage but I also got a copy of Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and that totally changed how I listened to music. We all start somewhere and we move forward, and when Slipknot headlined over Slayer on Sunday it wasn’t a travesty, it was a bunch of people who already like some heavy music getting exposed to Slayer while they waited for their favorite band of the day to play. Maybe most of them hated it, I don’t know, but I’m sure that out of the 20,000 or so people there that at least some of them left wanting to know more about that evil sounding band with all the fire on stage. And like I said earlier, Slayer is something of a gateway band. I guess what I’m saying is, instead of telling someone their taste in music sucks and they don’t belong, expose them to a great band instead. Help them along their path, don’t criticize them for not being where you are. They might never get to where you are and instead forge their own path which takes them on a totally different musical journey in their life. I’m sure some of the people at Mayhem Fest only go to a few concerts every year, and for some this was their first concert ever. There’s no reason to be elitist and tell other people they don’t like metal the right way or that they’re not the right kind of people to like metal. That goes for the hipsters that are “invading” metal right now too. Let’s get more people listening to metal and going to more metal shows! I guess that’s the point of this site in the end anyways. A tour like Mayhem Fest that brings out a lot of younger people to a big metal show and also exposes them to some of the bands us old farts like isn’t a bad thing, it’s great!
In the end I’m really glad I went to Mayhem Fest this year, it was the first time I’ve been to this annual touring metal festival if you can believe that. It was also the first time I was given a press photo pass (except for Slipknot) at a venue this size and while I was a bit nervous I had a hell of a lot of fun shooting bands on such a big stage. It was great experience and I learned a hell of a lot. If you like my photos in this post you can see the rest of my shots from Mayhem Fest here. I guess people liked them because Mayhem Fest posted the link to them on their Facebook page (here) as well. Of course you can check out the three videos of Slayer playing below and I’ve also embedded a video that Mayhem Fest posted with footage of the Bristow date below those. Thanks for getting through my rant and reading to the end of all this, you rule. Stay brutal and remember to support the scene you’re a part of!