By Dylan Reichman, WSOUNow in its fourth year of existence, The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem festival has grown to be one of the most popular metal tours in the U.S. Each year the festival returns with a stacked lineup, featuring acts spanning the metal spectrum. While nine hours of throwing down during the hottest months of the year can be pretty intense, the diversity of bands showcased and the crazy things that one tends to see during the day are always more than worth it. And above all else, Mayhem has something for everyone. Into thrash? Check. Deathcore? Check. Dudes who look like linebackers wearing pink belly-shirts that read, Party Girl? Yeah, Mayhem has that too.
So when the tour arrived in Holmdel, NJ on July 27th, myself and the rest of the WSOU crew trekked down to the PNC Bank Arts Center for the day’s festivities. Mayhem is one of the biggest things to hit Jersey each year, (ok, maybe the Jersey Shore comes close), and The Loudest Rock was sure to be there.
Upon our arrival, we were allowed, as members of the press, to scope out the set up of the show a half hour before general admission. The main concourse and walkway to the arena were littered with stands from local vendors; everything from Zippo Lighters to the United States Marine Corps, to a roasted corn vendor. Like I said, something for everyone. The stage set-up was pretty unique as well. The first nine acts were to alternate between two stages erected in a sectioned off part of the parking lot, the Jagermeister Stage and the Extreme Stage. As one played on one stage, the next band would set up on the other, and the crowd would take part in a massive, “Running of the Bulls” type sprint at the end of each band’s set to get a good spot for the next one’s. After the nine bands finished, the main arena would then open up, so that the four headliners could perform.
Soon after our arrival, the general public was let in, and Dr. Acula took the Jagermeister Stage to open the show. While the Long Island bred six piece received a great deal of criticism at the beginning of their career for their humorous take on deathcore, their performance showed the maturation that the band has since undergone. Yes, the band still had pop culture samples intermittently spliced into their songs, and yes, they still wore skeleton bandannas over their faces. But the music spoke for itself, a far cry from their older, more electro-centric, material. The audience seemed pleasantly surprised upon hearing their new, tightly organized and sonically deeper sound. A small pit even opened up, a warm up for things to come.
The mass egress then began towards the Extreme Stage, opened by the increasingly popular Straight Line Stitch, a female fronted outfit from Knoxville, TN. The band had gained plenty of steam in the past few years, yet no one seemed to know them in the crowd at Mayhem. This was no issue, however, as they were quickly surprised by Straight Line Stitch’s high energy, fast paced melodic thrash metal attack. Singer Alexis Brown commanded the respect of the crowd, both with her impressive vocal range, (which went from a dark growl to a soft melodic croon), and with her frequent calls to, “Wake up, New Jersey!” Soon enough, the audience did so, a testament to the band’s talent.
Progressive doom metallers Red Fang came next, four dudes with straight up awesome facial hair, and an awesome sound to match. Though the transition from the frenetic performance of Straight Line Stitch to the subtler melancholy of Red Fang caught the audience off guard, and left them pretty…dead, the band nonetheless put on a killer set. With blues-oriented sections, akin to those of Burst or Mastodon, which then transitioned into pseudo-NWOBHM gallops, Red Fang’s transitions came across as very well thought out; leading to a cohesive, yet stimulating, maze of sound.
Before the prominent technical deathcore group All Shall Perish took the Extreme Stage, signs of coming aggression were apparent amongst those in attendance. The energy that had been built up from Straight Line Stitch, and furthered with the haunting style of Red Fang, began to show up, in a big way. A few fights had broken out, and one got the sense that All Shall Perish’s set would be brutal, musically and in the pit as well. The group did not disappoint, diving headfirst into their songs with a level of brutality even higher then that present on record. The breakdowns seemed to have an extra edge, whether due to a denser, sludgier tone, or a slightly more breakneck pace; and the sweeping melodies of guitarists Francesco Artusato and Ben Orum over top provided a sheer technicality to match. However, things quickly turned serious when a fan was seriously injured in the pit. While he was being attended to by paramedics, singer Eddie Hermida, in a true show of class, asked the crowd to support, “one of our brothers.” Though the injury put somewhat of a damper on the rest of the performance, Hermida and Co.’s show of grace, combined with their technical prowess, still amounted to a great set. (It is also worth mentioning that, at the time of this article’s writing, word has still not reached SOU on the condition of the fan. But on behalf of all of us here at The Loudest Rock, we hope that all turned out well).
After the fan’s injury, people were understandably less willing to pit for the following bands. While they weren’t moving, it seemed as though the effects of the first four acts suddenly caught up with a number of fans, and as such, the crowd thinned out a bit. Among those who left, several were nursing some noteworthy injuries, crazy sunburns, or sheer exhaustion, and many took to finding a nice spot on the hill near the main arena to catch some shut eye.
Unfortunately for those who chose to do so, missing Kingdom of Sorrow was a serious mistake. Singer Jamey Jasta, (also of Hatebreed), is wildly popular around the NJ/NY area, (WE LOVE US SOME HAHDCAWW), as is “The Godfather of Sludge” himself, Kirk Windstein, (also of Crowbar and Down). The pair’s combined influences has led to Kingdom of Sorrow to build a considerable following around here as well, and the fans who were still standing, and there were plenty, seemed excited for them to play. The band’s set reinvigorated the crowd; with anthemic choruses, and sludge based hardcore sections, everyone’s hands were soon in the air, and everyone sang along. The guys on stage talked to the crowd often, and were never afraid to flash a smile, giving off the impression that they were humble and sincere, and were just happy to be there. Plus, Jasta gave SOU an awesome shout out, to which this reviewer absolutely lost his mind. WSOU loves you too, Jamey.
Perhaps the most brutal point of the day came during Suicide Silence’s short, but intense set. The band was extremely tight, staying with each other step for step, a considerable feat for a band of their technical level. However, the band-crowd interaction is what made the set so impressive. Singer Mitch Lucker, with his lanky, tattoo covered body, often stretched his arms wide, as if they were wings, and headbanged, a haunting tactic that seemed to go over particularly well with the crowd. Drummer Alex Lopez also cleverly hid an electronic pad off to the right of his kit that, when it was hit, would create a massive bass drop, an extremely brutal touch. Eventually, the crowd became so riled up that a giant circle pit, on Lucker’s command, materialized around the soundboard, and a wall of death came to cap the set off. Yeah, it got pretty brutal.
Unearth and In Flames, (both promoting new albums) came next. By this point, may fans had already begun to make their way up to the main stage, and a good chunk of those who remained seemed to be pretty exhausted after Suicide Silence’s unrestrained display of brutality. Their sets were rather similar, both put on a high energy, extremely tight, performance, artfully mixing their new material with the old in a tasteful balance. Unearth’s new material is something that the fans especially seemed to enjoy, as they added a more brutal, sonically dissonant edge to their style. In Flames’ new music was also well received, as it stayed true to their already well established sound.
Finally, to close out the first two stages, was the almighty Machine Head. Only die hard Machine Head fans were left amongst the audience, as the rest had moved near the main stage in order to rest, grab some food, or to grab a good spot on the lawn. While this could have hurt any other band, Machine Head’s extremely anthemic style allowed for the fans to interact directly with the band. During every song, fists were thrown high in the air, and every voice sang along with singer Robb Flynn as one. The group’s technicality was also in full force, as Flynn and his counterpart Phil Demmel stuck to the established grooves of the bands records, while occasionally delving into well timed improvisation during solos, a well executed touch.
As the last note’s of Machine Head’s “Halo” rang out, the remainder of the audience, the WSOU crew included, made its way up to the main stage. The day’s events had clearly taken their toll, as many along the way looked exhausted, and a few were even sporting some nasty pit injuries.
The first band to play the main stage, Trivium, began their set promptly. To the excitement of many, Trivium’s melodic thrash assault was a well oiled machine, technical, fast paced, and with plenty of melodic balance serving as a contrast to the harder sections. Especially noteworthy were the band’s renditions of their old material, from when the band was a young, melodic deathcore band. The songs from Ascendancy in particular, showed the band’s growth over the years, as the group implemented their more soaring, melodic style to the heavier tracks, a compelling sign of their maturation.
Once the eternally awe inspiring Megadeth began to set up, the stadium really began to fill, seeming to suggest that many die hard Megadeth fans had only the main stage in mind. However, the band’s elaborate stage set up, along with the tuning of Dave Mustaine’s 10,000 equally awesome guitars, took a considerable deal of time to prepare, leaving some in the crowd to grow pretty…antsy…to say the least. Fist fights broke out, and eventually an old school wrestling pit formed. But the security staff at PNC handled the situation admirably, as they had all day long, and broke things up. Major thanks goes to those guys and girls for keeping everyone safe while allowing people to still have a great time.
Megadeth, as they have time and time again done, put on a set which had the entire crowd going, a technically flawless and energetic performance. The set list also spanned the entire length of the bands impressive catalog, pleasing everyone in attendance. Dave Mustaine, much to the crowd’s appreciation, labeled New Jersey as, “one of [his] favorite places to play,” spoke of the band’s upcoming new album, and even suggested that the so called “Big Four” tour may just have to stop by Jersey.
After Megadeth’s crowd pleasing performance, Godsmack took the stage, and followed Megadeth in a great way, which is definitely not an easy task. The band played the crowd favorites, including “I Stand Alone,” and “Straight Out of Line,” and the fans enthusiastically sang along, enjoying the band’s hardened edge.
Last, but certainly not least, came Disturbed. Their performance was especially interesting, given recent talk of a hiatus/break-up, which members of the band have seemed to confirm. Nonetheless, the band seemed unfazed by the prospect, and they too put on a crowd pleasing performance, to cap off a great day of metal.
Mayhem, once again, hit Jersey hard, and left a lasting impression on those who attended. The musical diversity, as well as the numerous spectacles of the day, proved to further the tour’s prolific reputation, and next year’s date will certainly be highly anticipated by the NJ/NY metal scene. Special shout outs go out to the staff at the PNC Bank Arts Center, for running the day smoothly, and keeping everyone safe, while still allowing everyone to go nuts. Also, the men and women from the United States Marine Corps who came out to show their appreciation to the metal scene, and who also spoke to the SOU staff at length of their appreciation of our station, deserve serious praise. Along with their incredible service for our country, these guys still stayed die hard metal fans, a testament to the true power of the metal community, in display at Mayhem that day, and every day around the world.
Until next time,