It's hard to describe festivals outside of the normal parameters of setup and slate. The DNA resembles one part carnival, one part concert and one part spectacle. On the surface, the analysis of the 2010 Mayhem Festival is no different. In short, it's a lot of bands, lots of merchandise, lots of flying motorcycles and a veritable dustbowl of pits created by fans taking in the pulse of the ten hour feast of metal mania. The only way to understand it isn't just to experience it. The only way to understand it is to live it. The fans, better than anyone else understand this. They understand that as soon as the first chord of chugging guitars pierce the silence and the double bass drums rings that the descent into the mayhem begins. Suddenly, you're surrounded by a wall of sound, moshing circles (and sometimes even punching), and shoving that only serves to beckon participants into diving further in...diving in head first. This is really the only thing that protects you from the outside world. After all, metal isn't something that you casually "get into" after a cursory spin at your local Sam Goody. Metal is something that you live and breathe.
Most people who get into the music in the first place gravitate towards its aggressiveness because the pulsating progression of riffs, screams and driving beats somehow serves as our protector. I'm reminded of this fact as I re-experience the transformation of metal over the years...it's the sound - so relentless and all encompassing that it leaves no space for anything else to penetrate. It's that wall of sound (especially in your headphones) that literally takes you away from it all. In metal, there is no pause ...no silence ...and effectively there's no mercy. This is what I assume is the glue that not just binds, but that draws people back to the Mayhem Festival (and events like it) each year. I'm reminded of this from the very first band that I'm able to experience on the second stage...and this second stage has no equal especially when you consider that bands like Atreyu, Norma Jean, Shadows Fall and Hatebreed are there.
I wandered around trying to take in the sights and sounds of the event and I marvel at the audience. It seems chaotic, but it's an organized chaos complete with mini uprisings embodied in several independent circle pits and the ebb and flow of fans meandering between the two smaller stages trying to take in music that starts on one stage and seamlessly flows onto the other. I'm giving away my age, but I remember a time without the grass and when it took some time for the dust to literally settle giving us the illusion of a post apocalyptic maelstrom of dirt. In This Moment and Shadows Fall, Norma Jean and Chimaira, Atreyu and Hatebreed...each new band takes the concert to the next level of craziness. Each band brings a level of music and spirited competition that the fans are forced to up the ante and vigorously push and shove with shoes literally stolen off the feet of crowd surfers and immediately go flying into the air - foreshadowing no doubt for the main stage event where the hill people (or lawn dwellers) will eventually sacrifice their own footwear and other articles of clothing to the gods, setting them on fire waiting for Rob Zombie and Korn.
This isn't just about the concerts as Mayhem is largely a showcase and possibly a springboard for several bands on this tour that have dropped albums this week. In this Moment released A Star Crossed Wasteland
, which is Maria Brink and company's third album. They continue to enjoy a growing fan base. Norma Jean released Meridional
described as a darker return to their old sound. And not to be outdone, Korn's new album, Korn III: Remember Who You Are
is a return to a less convoluted sound and an attempt to get back to the basics. Other bands such as Five Finger Death Punch, 3 Inches of Blood, Atreyu and Chimaira are still touring off their fall releases and seem to be receiving critical and fan acclaim in their own rights. Every band here is aware of the commercial opportunities that exist being a part of the Mayhem Fest. Some here have never heard of a few of these groups and if they can win us over they've accomplished something. Metal fans can sometimes be fickle and struggle with what subgenre is their favorite. I have to admit that I found some gems, old and new.
As the day closes and the night begins. The main stage just feels more...traditional...less raw, but that isn't bad. Sometimes the spectacle that someone like Rob Zombie gives the audience is just plain epic. He doesn't disappoint. Neither did Lamb of God or Five Finger Death Punch who played before him. But Rob Zombie owns this night. And so does his guitarist John 5, formerly of Marilyn Manson fame. John 5 is so at home that he doesn't mind stealing center stage while performing some mind blowing guitar solos...with his teeth. If you ever wondered what life would be like in a 1965 horror movie, Rob Zombie's show on the main stage is where you would find out. It's an amazing show complete with giant puppets and a movie trailer so campy that it may as well have been a page stolen out of a Tarantino film, but this one is starring Nicholas Cage.
As the sights and sounds change and Korn takes the stage to close the night, they all just seem distant by comparison. The synergy and the rock have left the building only to be replaced by a group that seems to have lost its tightness - a reminder that individuals playing instruments on the same stage do not make up a band. Korn looks like it's filled with role players going through the motions. I don't really see the joy that I saw in Rob Zombie's show. They look the part of the pissed off guys from Bakersfield, and also the part of men who may be going their separate ways in the not so distant future. As I look around, the hill people are well into their ritual of lighting up patches of the hillside. Soon the smell of burnt rubber and the sight of black smoke fill the air. Somehow the putrid smell makes perfect sense with Korn's set of oil rigs and onstage antics...it's just enough to make me wonder if it's done on purpose to try to chase me away.
When it all ends, this is what I'm left with...a wall of impenetrable protection that feels the same way it does when I'm locked behind my headphones. It's the soundtrack for an audience that doesn't just listen to this stuff. They live it.
by Paul Stamat
[The 2010 Rockstar Mayhem Festival continues through 8/14/10. You can find dates and more information at the official site here.]
All Photos by Erick Bieger 7/10/10 at San Manuel Amphitheater (Devore, CA)
3 Inches of Blood:
In This Moment:
Five Finger Death Punch:
Lamb of God: