Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2011

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, August 11, 2011

Since it was created in 2008, the Rockstar Mayhem Festival has hosted a wide variety of different acts. While almost all of the bands throughout the years have had some sort of mainstream appeal, there has been a good mixture of metal and hard rock groups without too many repeating acts. This year’s tour was a bit different from those that had preceded it, as not only were some of the groups switching off headlining slots depending on the date but several were dropping off or jumping on in particular local markets. For the Bristow, VA date at Jiffy Lube Live that Chip Tamplin and I attended, Trivium was given the opening main stage slot and it would also end up being the last date In Flames played before they had to drop off due to a family emergency. All of the bands may not have been my cup of tea, but for the most part the performances were all quite enjoyable and the festival as a whole was worth spending a day at.

Festivals of this type are always so tiring because there is so much going on. The two opening stages are outside of the main pavilion in an expanded area of the parking lot, and they are always surrounded by food/drink vendors and dozens of tents that offer more merchandise than anyone could ever possibly want. There are also plenty of opportunities to grab free Rockstar Energy Drinks and other random food samples, as well as see some motocross riders jump ramps that are set up on the top of a trailer. It’s an audio/visual clusterfuck to be sure, but something that caught my attention this year was an RV parked inside of the lot that had the side exposed and a band playing inside of it. As it turns out, the group is a two piece thrash band called The Athiarchists from Eugene, Oregon who has made a name for themselves driving around and playing impromptu sets at large venues. Surprisingly, for a band that seemed to have no official endorsement from the festival organizers (other than the fact that they were allowed in the venue itself) The Athiarchists were quite fun to watch and not only had a great deal of energy but some catchy thrash arrangements. I returned to the area they were parked at nearly four hours later and was amazed to discover the group was still performing to those willing to give them a quick bit of attention, and they still sounded great. While thrash tends to be hit or miss, I enjoyed these guys and find myself wondering if they’re planning on recording any material or will stick with their live escapades.

The first band that I caught that was officially advertised on the tour was Straight Line Stitch, the first act to open the Revolver stage for the day. For those who don’t know them, this metalcore band has been around for over a decade now but has just recently started to gain popularity in recent years. Their songs tend to feel a little too similar to one another, as the instrumentalists like to fall into the traditional chugging patterns that the genre has become full of. However, while this is still evident in a live setting Straight Line Stitch is one of those bands that is able to overcome it on stage by presenting fans with a ton of energy and whipping them up into a frenzy. Even this early on in the day the mosh pits were beginning to get hectic and the amount of dust that was being kicked up was a sign of things to come (by the end of the day there was a serious need for eye drops). Lead singer Alexis Brown is one of the latest female singers to join the metalcore crowd, and while she can growl/scream with the best of them I found her clean singing to sound a bit off and it quickly became distracting. I personally think I’d enjoy this group a lot more if the clean singing was used every once in awhile rather than being a prominent element in every song, but other people could feel differently and as a whole this wasn’t that bad of a way to start off the day.

I missed the local opener on the Jagermeister stage, so the first group of the day on this stage that I saw was Red Fang. These guys play a mixture of heavy and stoner metal, and while that may be another style that suddenly has more bands playing than there are people to listen to it Red Fang has been one of the more enjoyable newcomers. As they took the stage the band announced that their main singer was so hung over that he was not going to be able to perform and that the other member who traditionally does backup vocals would be taking on the lead role for this performance. Although I was a little worried that this wouldn’t turn out that well, the group managed to surprise me and their set ended up being enjoyable. The result was a slightly rawer version of what is offered on Red Fang’s albums, and this helps to give their groove driven riffs a bit more bite than they would otherwise have. While I do want to see them perform with all of their members, this condensed version of the band did the best they possibly could and got attendees amped up with their short set.

With changeovers happening instantaneously, All Shall Perish began as soon as Red Fang ended. Ever since the release of The Price of Existence in 2006, the group has been continuing to gain more and more popularity among deathcore fans and because of this a fairly large crowd had gathered around the stage. I do tend to have a bit of a soft spot for this genre, and have found that this particular band was one of the few that actually had some distinguishable hooks and didn’t just sound like they were playing the same song over and over again. Their live performance is spot on with the material from the albums, as all of the fast paced double bass work and technical guitar work is played with perfect precision even if fans may be too busy going nuts in the mosh pits to notice. This is another area that All Shall Perish excels, as even this early in the day they had managed to get a fairly sizeable pit going and had much of the audience whipped into a frenzy. When it comes to deathcore I’m still torn as to whether these guys or Whitechapel put on the better performance, but it’s safe to say that if you’re able to appreciate this genre and like All Shall Perish’s recorded output that they’ll impress you in person.

Kingdom of Sorrow is a band I have heard plenty about, and they have often been described as “Crowbar with Jamey Jasta on vocals.” While the group does have some of their own nuances and some catchy riffs that straddle the line between sludge metal and metalcore since Jasta is such a big part of the band you will need to be into his style of vocal delivery to truly get something out of their material. I wouldn’t necessarily call them one of the favorites of the day, but Kingdom of Sorrow put on a good performance and is definitely a likeable act to watch. A few of the people I was with said they would’ve preferred to have seen Hatebreed if they were going to see Jasta perform, but I actually like Kingdom of Sorrow a bit more as their riffs stand out a bit more (Kirk Windstein really makes a big difference). I was a bit distracted as it was around this time that all of the motocross events and other things began happening, but Kingdom of Sorrow was able to hold my attention and I would like the opportunity to see them in a slightly smaller event where it is easier to focus on one thing at a time.

Based on the number of shirts I had seen throughout the day, Suicide Silence was one of the main reasons that people were coming out fairly early. Despite the fact that many of the other groups had been around for decades and established fan bases, Suicide Silence had one of the biggest crowds and mosh pits of the outdoor stages. No matter how you feel about the band’s chugging riffs and typical deathcore sound (admittedly they have gotten less generic over the past year or so), there is no denying that a group who can bring the masses out and keep their fans satisfied deserve spots on festivals like Mayhem. As with other acts in this genre, I’ve found that seeing them in person can sometimes be more entertaining than listening to them on album and this was the case with Suicide Silence. Watching lead singer Mitch Lucker bob up and down to the beats and move between a low pitched growl and super high shriek with relative ease is quite entertaining, and made the entire set worth sticking around for. Unfortunately it was during their set that the Revolver stage began experiencing some technical glitches, as the sound would cut in and out and go from one speaker to the other for no apparent reason and this problem persisted during Machine Head’s set as well.

Unearth has become one of the go to metalcore bands over the past decade or so, and is always a good band to show newcomers who have yet to experience just what the style has to offer. While others have branched out and tried to get heavier, Unearth has always been great at mixing melody and intensity together into memorable songs and this combination translates well in a live setting. As you would expect, much of their set was structured around recent material from Darkness in the Light but there were some old favorites thrown in so that long time fans would not leave disappointed. In between the Revolver and Jagermeister stages was a Jagermeister branded RV, and during the last song one of the group’s guitarists climbed on top of it and performed the last song. This may not seem like a big deal but I thought it was one of the coolest things I saw a band do during the festival and it made Unearth’s set stick out in my memory as I was writing this article. They’re technically proficient as well, and if you’re looking for a seamless record to live transition these guys are quite capable.

People were already getting tired after having been out in the scorching heat for a few hours, but this did not diminish the enthusiasm that they showed for Machine Head. I was excited as well, as not only was The Blackening one of my top picks for 2007 but the last time I saw the band perform they really blew me away. Unfortunately from the distance I was at I experienced the same sound problems that had occurred during Suicide Silence’s set, resulting in some odd moments where the sound would just drop out. But this didn’t keep the band from playing to their fans with intensity, as they kept things going and even had the crowd partake in some various shots in between their songs. The new song “Locust”sounded great from what I could make out, and Machine Head continues to be one of my favorite groove/thrash bands to listen to on album and in person. They’re really one of the few groups of this type that can appeal to some of the pickier metalheads out there while still having a good deal of mainstream appeal, and because of this it seems likely that they will continue to get widespread recognition.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this particular date would be the last one where In Flames was on the tour as the next day they announced they were pulling out due to an illness of one of the band’s family members. I haven’t exactly been the biggest fan of the group’s recent albums, as the cleaner direction that they have been gravitating towards for years just isn’t preferable to their older sound. But like many of the other acts I saw at Mayhem, even if you aren’t quite as into the material that a band plays as some of the others around you the sheer energy and showmanship of the group makes up for it. Lead singer Anders Friden really knows how to get the crowd going as not only does he provide commentary in between each song but at one point he even took a camera from one of the photographers in front of the barrier and took a picture of the crowd with it. Even if modern day In Flames isn’t my cup of tea, the band still sounded great and the sound held out better on the Jagermeister stage than it had on the Revolver one. And I’ve got to give them credit for including “The Hive”from Whoracle in their set list, as that did make me quite happy.

Finally it was time for the main stage to begin and I was definitely ready for it as the heat had already began to take its toll. For this performance Trivium was given the opening main stage slot, and it had been a number of years since I had not only seen the band live but listened to their material. That’s not to say that I don’t like their mixture of traditional heavy metal and thrash with metalcore, just that they fell off my radar as my reviewing capacity took me further and further into the world of underground metal. But I did remember liking them during their Sounds of the Underground performance several years back and they certainly lived up to my expectations. There was an emphasis placed on songs from their upcoming album In Waves (out August 9th) which seems to be a combination of everything the band has done to date stylistically with a new emphasis on creating memorable choruses. There’s definitely some more mainstream appeal in the new material, and while it’s not necessarily simplistic the solos have been trimmed down a bit and the emphasis seems to be on the songs themselves. In short, Trivium’s new songs sounded promising and the old ones were boosted by the energy of Matt Heafy and the rest of the band. Opening the main stage is never an easy task, but these guys did a great job.

Megadeth took the stage shortly after Trivium, and brought a wall of amps with them. Last time I tried to see the group was during the infamous Baltimore show where the soundboard malfunctioned and the show was ended after about two songs with fans on the verge of rioting, so I was anxious to see what a proper set was like. Dave Mustaine sounded better vocally this time, but I still feel that he sounds way better on record and loses some of the energy and bite when performing live. But this isn’t that big of an issue, as the group performs many of the classic songs that long time fans will know every word to and the technical ability of the instrumentalists is outstanding. One of my favorite moments was when Mustaine and Chris Broderick took turns soloing and showcasing their abilities, which really got the crowd going. Megadeth has always been a band that I enjoyed because of their technicality and catchy riffs, and with a setlist that had a few newer tracks but mostly catered to the established fan base they definitely made a positive impression on quite a few people. It’s also nice to see a long running act like this get appreciated during a festival that played host to a number of younger acts, and it likely gave quite a few people an outlet to see the band for the first time.

I have to admit that I haven’t listened to Godsmack in almost a decade. It’s not that the music is necessarily bad, but I moved beyond much of that hard rock and never looked back. So I was approaching seeing them as something I was doing out of nostalgia and ended up being surprised by how much they had blown me away. The material itself falls into traditional hard rock category but some of their older songs have some tribal and acoustic influences that make them feel a little less generic. What immediately impressed me was the showmanship of vocalist Sully Erna and how well he was able to get the crowd to respond. Not only does Erna sing as loud as he possibly can for the group’s entire set, but he was able to get more people in the audience moving and singing along than any other of the main stage acts. Forget being an elitist and writing off radio rock, watching this set was genuinely fun and it isn’t often that this can be said about a band when you’re not that big on their music. After playing some newer songs and almost all of their hits, the band brought out an additional drum set and Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin had a drum off while the rest of the group performed some instrumental covers. It was an interesting approach, and worked surprisingly well. While I probably won’t listen to Godsmack on album any time soon, I wouldn’t mind seeing them live again as they have an incredible amount of energy and know how to keep their fans constantly wanting more.

After Godsmack’s performance I wondered how Disturbed could possibly compete, and unfortunately they didn’t end up being able to. I was into these guys circa 1999-2000 and they were another band I was approaching from a nostalgic point of view, but even with their light show and video display behind them their set just felt dull. The instrumentals were on par with the recorded material, but there were a few instances where it felt as though a particular song had been slowed down and because of this some of them just felt a bit off. Additionally, lead singer David Draiman alternated between good and average. On the newer songs he seemed to be more enthusiastic and into the material, but as the group went back to songs from the first two album his performance wasn’t nearly as varied and he almost looked as though he was being forced to perform material he didn’t want to. The crowd still ate up everything that they had to offer but I had to wonder if the rumors of this being the band’s last tour for the foreseeable future were true as they seemed to be lacking energy and intensity. It was a bit of a average way to end the night but the festival as a whole was memorable, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s lineup brings.

Chip’s Photos (Bands Listed in Alphabetical Order):

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