Let it never be said that metalheads don't know how to throw one hell of a party. Kicking off a Summer-long run across the nation, the Rockstar Mayhem Festival unleashed its fury upon the San Manuel Ampitheater in San Bernardino last weekend with a lineup as hot as the triple-digit temperatures. Testament, Machine Head, Unearth, Trivium, Kingdom of Sorrow, Disturbed and more inspired churning cauldron pits of flying bodies and dust clouds, with stage setups that left little to no downtime between sets.
In the heat of the afternoon the Jagermeister Stage and the Revolver Stage ran nonstop, the opposing stage prepping for the next band while another played nearby. As soon as one band finished, another began, allowing fans to simply shift their focus 50 feet in either direction to continue the pummeling.
The metal comradery hit a fever pitch (at least in the daylight hours) on the side stages, with participants in the meat-grinder mosh pits largely looking out for one another amidst the flailing limbs and banging heads. Amenities were plentiful and varied, and nobody was complaining about the free Rockstar Energy drinks, but anyone charging $4.50 for a bottle of water needs to have their head examined.
A Rockstar stage set by local boys Suicide Silence was a screaming blast straight from Hell's furnace, with lead singer Mitch Lucker putting the security hounds to work by relentlessly demanding crowd surfers and mosh pits through the length of their show.
The masses obliged, creating a human tide that swelled and broke upon the front rows and barricade. Shockingly, no injuries were reported during their set, which undoubtedly earned heavy new support for their latest record The Black Crown – particularly for their hard-hitting recession anthem “Fuck Everything.”
Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta delivered a crusher set with side project Kingdom of Sorrow, featuring the juggernaut of stringed greatness Kirk Windstein, best known for his work with Down and Crowbar. Their performance was tight and energized, clearly enthusiastic about playing alongside such formidable names in the metal world.
Red Fang was met with a disappointing level of enthusiasm, given their early set time and more-rock-than-metal demeanor. But their set was beautifully executed, with a blistering rendition of "Wires" (off their new album Murder The Mountains) earning top marks as MVP performance of their half-hour run.
25 year veterans Testament closed the Revolver stage (why they weren't main-stage fixtures is anyone's guess) with an obliteratingly supercharged set that reminded fans just how many metal success stories wouldn't exist without the inspiration of this enduring outfit. Dueling solos from guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick elicited roars of approval, while singer Chuck Billy brought a demonic level of power and enthusiasm to the shwo – complete with tongue-flicking and relentless air guitar on his mic stand.
While bands pounded away onstage, the Metal Mulisha freestyle motocross team performed death-defying aerial stunts through the afternoon. This year, the athletes were jumping over an overhauled U-Haul truck, out of which two-man thrash band The Athiarchists would later perform.
Nearly two decades deep into an esteemed career, Machine Head delivered a bells-and-whistles set of pounding rockers with a technical assault overload.
Headliners Review/Photos on Page 2!
Lead singer/guitarist Robb Flynn introduced a new song “Locust” from their upcoming album Unto the Locust, telling a story about the destructive power of a swarm of locusts, and how they compare to certain people we know in our lives. It's clear he was speaking from personal reference, and the brutality of performance confirmed a particular honed passion. Watch the song below:
When the sun dropped behind the mountains, a transition took place that wasn't a far cry from the stroke-of-midnight transformations in Cinderella, only it was the $13 beer buzz that took a collective turn among the sweating black-clad masses. Shoving matches, screaming arguments and a general sense of discontent took hold once night set in, resulting in greater security/police activity and plastic-bottle bonfires on the lawn.
As toxic plumes rose in the distance, focus shifted to the main ampitheater stage. Born of the 90’s grunge scene far more than anything metallic, Godsmack was one of two mainstream draws for the fest (the other being Disturbed) that riled the crowd considerably.
The multiplatinum rockers delivered a few aggressive rockers that were met with fist-pumping enthusiasm, but a drawn-out version of early hit “Voodoo” resulted in a mass exodus to the beer lines. Oddly, a medley of far better cover songs including ”War Pigs,” “Back in Black” and Rush's “Tom Sawyer” were only teased, but would've resulted in far more attentive fan reaction. The group brought it back with radio-friendly hits, including a spastic "Keep Away".
Disturbed brought out the pyrotechnics for their set, while fog machines spewed their wares and their signature hooded-demon image stared out from the band's backdrop. Frontman David Draiman prowled the stage, singing "heaven just isn't hot enough" as blasts of fire roared behind him.
By the performance of “Ten Thousand Fists” midway through Disturbed's set, however, the half-capacity venue was beginning to look bare as fans opted to beat the traffic rush by leaving early.
Last but not least, Dethklok, the formerly-fictional band behind the animated Adult Swim TV show "Metalocalypse," closed the show with a mix of speed-metal and backdrop animation from the popular series.
The live Dethklok band consists of the show’s lead writer and voice actor Brendon Small, bringing the live presentation of the music provided on TV by the five fictional members (Nathan Explosion, Toki Wartooth, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, William Murderface and Pickles). In addition to a backup guitarist and bassist, Small was accompanied by none other than Gene Hoglan of Death and Strapping Young Lad fame on drums.
Sadly, the sound mix was terrible, leaving fans only wishing they could hear the intricacies of Small's tech-master shredding. It was a disheartening stain on an otherwise brilliant Dethklok performance – sadly their only of the tour, as the band was only filling in for veteran thrashers Megadeth, who will be headlining the remainder of the Mayhem Festival.
With the Rockstar Mayhem Festival rolling on through the country this Summer, fans nationwide will once again have the chance to catch some of the fiercest names in metal in a like-minded atmosphere, rather than standing as the odd-man-out in the current trending tide of indie hipster music festivals. Get on it and get rockin!
Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2011 tour dates:
7/12 – Auburn, WA – White River Amphitheatre
7/13 – Nampa, ID – Idaho Center Amphitheater
7/15 – Phoenix, AZ – Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavilion
7/16 – Albuquerque, NM – Hard Rock Casino Albuquerque Presents: The Pavilion
7/17 – Englewood, CO – Fiddler’s Green Ampitheatre
7/19 – Maryland Heights, MO – Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
7/20 – Cincinnati, OH – Riverbend Music Center
7/22 – Mansfield, MA – Comcast Center
7/23 – Montreal, QC – Parc Jean-Drapeau (Heavy MTL)
7/24 – Hartford, CT – Comcast Theater
7/27 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center
7/29 – Burgettstown, PA – First Niagara Pavilion
7/30 – Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live
7/31 – Camden, NJ – Susquehanna Bank Center
8/2 – Virginia Beach, VA – Farm Bureau Live at Virginia Beach
8/3 – Raleigh, NC – Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek
8/5 – Tinley Park, IL – First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
8/6 – Clarkston, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
8/7 – Noblesville, IN – Verizon Wireless Music Center
8/9 – Oklahoma City, OK – Zoo Amphitheatre
8/10 – Dallas, TX – Gexa Energy Pavilion
8/12 – Atlanta, GA – Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
8/13 – Tampa, FL – 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre
8/14 – West Palm Beach, FL – Cruzan Amphitheatre
All photos: Johnny Firecloud