Rockstar Energy Drink’s 2013 Mayhem Festival came to a close earlier this week, ranking itself in the uppermost echelon of metal shows ever to grace this planet. In case you missed all of the sweaty, overdriven chaos taking place on the same day, here are the five most electrifying acts from the tour, absolute must-see’s next time they come to town:
5. Machine Head – The Gods of Thrash heard our prayers for Metallica to remake … And Justice for All, and instead gave us Machine Head. A worthy tradeoff, considering their ability to lay waste to an entire parking lot of screaming metalheads in just 35 minutes. Guitarists Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel traded muscular riffs and sizzling solos overtop the pummeling rhythm section of drummer Dave McClain and bassist Jared MacEachern (who, incredibly, just joined the group in June). The band’s relentless combination of groove, thrash, and straight-up extreme metal sounds as vicious today as it did when they formed 22(!) years ago, and doubtless lit a fire under every other act on the bill. Their song “Davidian” also wins the prize for most badass moment of the day, as the entire crowd joined them in the chant, “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!” Bang, bang, motherf*cker.
4. Children of Bodom – I’ve been playing Bodom’s Stockholm Knockout live album/DVD on repeat since I was 12 years old. As such, seeing them live for the first time was exactly what I had envisioned for the last six years – a face-melting, gut-busting, larynx-shredding onslaught of melodic death metal, the likes of which only this Finnish quintet can provide. When lead vocalist/guitarist Alexi Laiho wasn’t laying down blazing solos and screaming simultaneously, he and keyboardist Janne Wirman would shred in unison with inhuman precision. The band drew from their entire catalog, sounding particularly inspired on the title track from their stellar new album, Halo of Blood. But it wasn’t until “Hate Crew Deathroll” that all hell broke loose, setting off an endless wave of crowd surfers and a circle pit with an average BAC far above the legal limit. COB Hate Crew, consider yourselves warned for the next show.
3. Rob Zombie – After an exhaustingly long day in the sweltering heat, I was thrilled to sit down and cool off during Rob Zombie’s set. And then the 50-foot flames exploded from both sides of the stage. The man spared no expense in his monstrous stage show, featuring flash pots, fireworks, lasers, assorted huge creatures which he rode throughout the night, and giant LED screens that flashed lyrics to most of his songs. (Thanks, Rob, I wasn’t sure about the chorus to “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy.”) Highlights included the slithering “More Human than Human,” the nostalgic blast of “We’re an American Band,” and Zombie’s frighteningly accurate and hilarious Marilyn Manson impression on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” drunken stage meanderings and all! Oh, and then there was John 5’s blistering guitar solo, which made thousands of aspiring shredders weep nightly. A perfect end to a wild day.
2. Battlecross – This self-proclaimed “Blue Collar Thrash Metal” unit is a reminder as to why metal still exists – because it’s such a blast! They definitely live up to their label as a predominantly thrash-oriented band, but with vocal and instrumental flourishes brutal enough to tread death metal territory. Regardless, these dudes rock with abandon, and put on one of the most exhilarating shows of the day – and more importantly, one of the most fun. The group made sure their set was completely airtight, as lead singer Kyle Gunther cued up a Wall of Death in a matter of seconds, one that made even the most seasoned mosh pit warriors quake at the knees. As quickly as the sea of fans parted, so again did they re-collide with unmatched ferocity, and the rest was heavy metal history. Recommended purchase: a “Bearded for Your Pleasure” t-shirt.
1. Scorpion Child – The Sumerian Stage seemed to be a no man’s land of sorts, a cesspool of one-note breakdowns and a breeding ground for one faceless deathcore band after another. Suddenly, from under this humble tent emerged five musicians of an instantly different breed than all who had gone before them. Was the singer wearing… leather boots and a Rainbow t-shirt? Were those… Gibson guitars, playing actual riffs? Yes and yes, and these fashion and musical attributes were completely fitting to a band that is a perfect hybrid of Dio, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Lead singer Aryn Johnathan Black alternated between a tender croon and full-bodied wail, showing off a mighty arsenal of microphone tricks and hurling himself across the stage, writhing with sexual energy. Meanwhile, the rest of the band stomped and pounded their way through each song, firing off tasty riffs and solos over smooth bass grooves and thunderous drums. All five members looked like artifacts from 1974, but with enough of a modern twist in style and sound to prevent them from being a mere nostalgia act. I was totally torn seeing Scorpion Child – or “The Child,” as fans lovingly refer to them – on such a small stage. On one hand, they blew every other band out of the water with their ballsy delivery and untamed energy, and definitely deserved a headlining slot on a bigger stage. On the other, my buddies and I got to hang over the barricade and share the mic for “Polygon of Eyes” as Aryn sweat on us. (Trust me, it was cool at the time.) The Child aren’t just a great metal band; they’re a rousing affirmation that rock n’ roll as a whole is alive and well. Their mastery of the small stage is evident; I’m waiting to see them in the big leagues next time.
The five aforementioned bands, along with many others on the lineup, made this year’s Mayhem Fest one for the ages. One can only hope that the organizers will outdo themselves next year, and continue to provide the hardest-hitting entertainment available on a relatively small budget. But as long as there is a need for pure, unadulterated heavy metal (and nobody decides to put Disturbed and Godsmack on a co-headlining bill again), Rockstar Energy Drink’s Mayhem Festival will certainly continue to quench our thirsts.