As the sun descended and the heat abated giving way to a more palatable if not comfortable evening, the lights of the main stage blared in a dazzling display, challenging the darkness of the coming night and drawing the gathered throngs, thus far aimed in different directions throughout the day, with a singular purpose. These final four acts bore the responsibility as headliners to make sure that the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival would end with memorable notes. The abrasive thrill of Body Count and the unbridled power of the more than dozen plus acts which had come before was one thing, but these were the heavy hitters – the bands that the paying customers shelled out their dollars to witness.
Trivium leads the third and final act of Mayhem, equipped with the positive press about their newest record and the confidence that comes with repetition of performance. For those paying attention, Trivium just recently got off tour with Volbeat, so this set for Mayhem was essentially the same show, just less localized and in front of several thousand more people. Undaunted by the size of the amphitheater and the lawn behind it, all crowded with fans exhausted and drained by the sun, Trivium took up the task of reinvigorating the crowd for one more three and a half hour hurrah, a final charge led by the common banner of metal. Beginning with “Black” and the explosion of “Built to Fall,” Trivium paced into their set, asking the crowd for a little more each time. The set picked up steam with the chugging “Through Blood and Dirt and Bone,” and then crested with the anthem “Strife,” gaining appreciation from tired fans. Just as on the Volbeat tour, it was a strong performance from the veteran modern thrashers, even as they compelled the crowd to help out with chants during the heady “In Waves.” Sure, it was all but the same show they had played so recently, which probably kills some suspense for anyone who saw them on both tours, but that doesn’t diminish the effort and talent it takes to play that set to that many fans.
Asking Alexandria has managed to main stage two of the last three Mayhem Fests, and each time there’s been a question of their place on the slate. Two years ago, it was Anthrax who evidently requested the headline spot for the side stages and subsequently trampled on the beginning of Asking’s set. Now we see the band returned, this time without musical competition and allowed to breathe on their own accord, but still questions remain – more than one patron was heard to wonder if this set and Cannibal Corpse’ s shouldn’t have been flipped. Now, that’s a hard sell and likely unreasonable given the consistently mainstream nature of Mayhem’s headline stage, but it was being talked about in quiet conversation.
Asking Alexandria, for their part, came with the big guns early, starting with “Don’t Pray for Me,” and dovetailing in to “Run Free,” a jumpy charger that the band used to try and propel their set’s momentum.
For all their effort though, even when juxtaposed against the bright lights of their identifying lettering, something seemed amiss. The band blasted through “To the Stage,” but the crowd wasn’t entirely buying what the band was selling. There were many ovations over the course of the day at Mayhem, but vocalist Danny Worsnop didn’t receive one. He tried like crazy, rolling through an emotional “Moving On,” but it just wasn’t to be. The performers on stage were received graciously but not with great enthusiasm. In their defense, the performance of Asking Alexandria fit their usual idiom – metalcore crossover type stuff complete with ripped jeans and a laid back attitude. Nevertheless, their brand of music just didn’t seem to quite be what the audience was looking for.
Years ago, back when the Family Values Tour was the hottest ticket going, there was a subtle but consistent undercurrent from intelligent concert goers that Korn wasn’t the great bombastic performance that one expected them to be. So, perhaps as much as a decade and a half later, curiosity was high as to what Korn would or wouldn’t be.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Korn, if you haven’t checked in recently, is the onstage persona of Jonathan Davis himself. Most famously a brooding, wandering front man and vocalist, he seems to take himself less seriously these days. Perhaps that seems only natural; one cannot concentrate on being that serious all the time over an extended period without risking insanity. That said, Davis dresses casually, puts on no airs, smiles, dances and is generally gracious toward the crowd and his bandmates. It’s a different picture than longtime fans might be used to as Davis whirled his way through opener “Falling Away From Me,” but it’s a welcome dimension in his character. Perhaps fatherhood suits him and has mellowed him out a little bit.
No matter the case, Korn belted out classic after classic, some new but mostly old. “Twist” immediately swept the crowd into a roar, a crescendo they wouldn’t hit again until the authentic bagpipe intro of “Shoots and Ladders” (side note – if you’re bad at the bagpipes, can anyone tell?) And what a version of that old standby it was – the combined rhythm section of Fieldy Arvizu and Ray Luzier dropped like a bomb, issuing from the amps like a tidal wave of low-tuned, metronomic thunder. This was a showcase piece and as it to further the point, it was adjacent to “Coming Undone,” Korn’s catchiest song and biggest hook. The crowd devoured the sing-along chorus, pumping fists in unison and clamoring to be part of the show, even in some small fashion. The crescendo that was alluded to earlier never stopped after that point, culminating in the natural two-song finisher of “Freak on a Leash” and “Blind.” Korn dipped heavily into their back catalog to give fans new and old a taste of Korn’s fury from those previous records, channeled through torrents of guitar work and drums. The energy of these stalwarts seemed measured but persistent, as each member meandered about the stage, halfway between strolling and stalking. Their professionalism, coupled with this new, softer side of Davis, gives Korn the nostalgic feeling of a legacy act, but coupled with the power of alternative metal in the late 90s. It’s a fantastic combination, and the band’s live show is the best it has ever been.
The lights went low as the curtains parted to reveal a massive construction on stage, the product of creative imagination, a high budget and some boyhood fandom of Iron Maiden or Dio. The stage for Avenged Sevenfold was a spectacle in and of itself, towering over the performers, taking the form of a castle wall with oversized arches. That wasn’t all – within the arches were three video screens which showed either the performers or background video, whichever was required. As the band played the title single off their new record, the middle screen parted and there emerged a huge skeleton king, sword planted in a heaping pile of skulls, to lord over the proceedings as they continued.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, that’s not how the set started. It began with “Shepherd of Fire,” the newest and biggest single from Avenged Sevenfold, cranked out on time to the whooping appreciation of a near-capacity crowd, the oversized screens rolling with recurring video of skeletons struggling to escape from captivity. It’s an arresting visual, one that would have been greatly aided by pyrotechnics…only the particular venue in question forbids them, so the band was forced to go without. Not allowing pyro in an amphitheater surrounded by trees is perfectly understandable, particularly when located within a state park, but it still sapped some of what could have been out of Avenged Sevenfold’s concoction.
Undaunted, the band soldiered on through a collection of fan favorites, beginning immediately with “Nightmare” and “Bat Country,” perhaps the band’s two most recognizable songs. The latter was played with a sly grin from nearly everyone on stage, even Synyster Gates whose stoic face usually offers no hint of his mood or emotion. All that said, the highlight was a song that can only be called Avenged Sevenfold’s version of Metallica’s “One” – “Buried Alive.” It’s a powerful song that moves from emotive sweeping to angry pulverizing with grace and power, challenging the audience to not be carried away. Following that, the band settled in, with Gates leading the somber stroll through “So Far Away,” a testament to the fallen Rev. By this point, the crowd had about gotten their money’s worth, but these headliners would not go quietly (nor should they have.) What followed was gravy, adding on solid performances of “This Means War” and an encore concluded with “Unholy Confessions.” It was a professional and earnest set from a band who has matured into their role nicely and seem very comfortable in their own skin.
It was a long day and night in predominately sweltering heat, but between Mushroomhead, THC, Korn, Body Count and Avenged Sevenfold, it was a day worth talking about.