Mayhem Festival has been establishing it’s dominance as the mobile metal summer festival to attend since 2008. As an attendee who hasn’t attended since then, my first impression was that this year’s line up was somewhat tame. Previous years featured titans like Slayer, Amon Amarth, Machine Head or Megadeth, as opposed to 2014’s Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Asking Alexandria and Trivium headlining. In 2008 Rockstar’s Mayhem Festival was a renegade angel and summer savior. That was the summer Slipknot returned from hiatus, Mastodon still played songs off “Remission” and Dragonforce impressed people. In Toronto alone, 75,000 metal heads descended onto Downsview Park that day. That scale in mind, many fans argue 2014’s headliners may not all be titans? To not beat around the bush, the core of this debate lies in the fact that on average modern metal is ‘heavier’ than say 10 – 20 years ago. The worldly embrace of dropping tunings past D, incoherent gutturals, breakdowns other crossover trends have even taken the shock value out of the cheap thrill in asking an ultraconservative person what he thinks of Whore To A Chainsaw. What was an outside demographic, is now more accessible and welcoming to newcomers. As a result, some metal fans volunteer to further exile themselves, on a quest to find the next threshold of brutality. If they find it, they attach it to their identity and demonstrate it as a focal point of their authority. Yet, going by their logic, if ‘heaviness’ is a quantity that has been compounding interest for the last half decade, then why are Black Sabbath or Slayer still relevant? At the very core, metal concerts are form of theatrical entertainment that to leave an epic impression on the listener’s imagination. For the sake of brevity, Avenged Sevenfold stole the show, and I am not even a very big fan. How did a band that (to quote their vocalist) “wasn’t metal enough”, win the favour of somebody that has been neutral about their music? Find out at the end.
Suicide Silence is not a band widely known for driving a performance with gears any other than `brutal`’, `setting up’, or ‘not currently here’. It was therefore, extremely appropriate for them to kick off the set with “No Pity For A Coward”. Following their previous vocalists unfortunate accident, they were forced to acquire a new vocalist, ex-All Shall Perish Hernan Hermida. Luke Holland was an incredibly hard act to follow. It is expected that old school fans would be very critical in their evaluations. It only took the first verse to put the skeptics in their place. It is far more difficult to peer over one’s rose tinted glasses and humbly applaud instead of jeering. This track defined Suicide Silence and it was done well. Having gotten the crowd’s attention and having secured the festival’s attention, the band followed up with “Ceased To Exist”, which opened up a quarter mile circle pit. By the end of the song, the pit became a self sustaining cyclone and it became far safer to wait for the track to end, then attempt an escape. I would like to think that Hernan re-colonized this, but every band on this tour had a frigid, non negotiable set list and time frame. Regardless, when the smoke cleared and the dust settled and there a universally felt moment of clarity. Hernan ceased this opportunity ironically ask the silent audience to “shut the f*ck up because I’m only going to say this once”. He paused and whispered in an incredibly private tone that stretched out to odd 5 thousand people before him “if you hate the world around you…”. Suddenly a swift motion split the crowd into two. Unanimously, as if choreographed, the floor split to make space about 500 meters wide. The opening blast beats to “F*ck Everything” started rolling, and one brave soul in the middle challenged both of the frenzied factions by dropping trow, to proudly show case his pale and bulbous behind. He didn’t even attempt to leaving the pit, or at least slightly pull his shorts up before both of the first to fight front liners converged upon him. Godspeed, brave soul. It is at this point this writer temporarily suspended his journalistic obligations, to draw his first blood for the evening to “Wake Up”.
In short it was a great set. Suicide Silence began as lets ‘Drop B’ tuning chug out breakdowns so low, that people will have something to practice their spin kicks to. They definitely matured since then and now they are actively pursuing a glory grander than being a well received metal band. After carefully studying their rehearsed conclusion with “You Can’t Stop Me” & “You Only Live Once”, I was more impressed by their overall showmanship, energy and ability create non verbal relationships with the audience. They are becoming a decentralized feeling shared by a generation, much like Slipknot was before them. The proof in this is how their later tracks have a distinct nu-metal polish, like “You Only Live Once”. These, particular drum and vocal segments play like Suicide Silence, but it I’m sure there is inspiration from Joey Jordison and Corey Taylor.
Miss May I
Clean singing on record can definitely make or break a band. A major segment of it falls on the personal preferences of the individual, but if a band falls on the wrong side of that disposition, it will not let you objectively enjoy any of the other separate musicians.
Fortunately Miss May I is 5 times better sounding live. Perhaps a recent stylistic adjustment, or the production value . If I could offer them 1 piece of advice, fire the sound engineer who recorded the vocals on their first two albums and hire the guy who mixed their live show. Within 7 songs their live performance changed my opinion of them from “bad falsetto” to “rad metalcore with an excellent drummer”. Unfortunately this opinion wasn’t widely shared amongst the thousands of people directly in front of them. The reception was somewhat luke warm, which to be fair may have simply been the crowd. If it was hardcore festival, “Hey Mister”, “Hero With No Name, You Want Me, Gone, Day By Day would have definitely opened a hardcore dancing area.
Emmure played a surprisingly short show at the Victory Records stage, comprising mostly of their new tracks off “Bring A Gun To School”. These guys have been around for a while and definitely carved their name into the modern alternative scene. Something about their hip hop inclinations, up front sound and attitude usually clears any amount of floor space. Children of Cybertron, E, Bring A Gun To School and Nemesis are sort of tracks that command a particular type of respect. You can love them or hate them, but if you will suddenly become hyper aware to be an observer in correlation to the nearest hardcore dancer. While this may not be theatrical in the conventional sense, Emmure still instigates an emotional response and this why people should be aware of the respect issue (ha!) when seeing Emmure live.
I haven’t seen Korn since the “See You On The Other Side” Tour, their music was completely phased out from my Ipod’s repertoire by 2009. That said, they were my 15 year old counter part’s favorite band. The exceptions I inwardly set were akin to meeting an old lover for coffee: on the cautious side of optimism, but on guard they try anything. Sure, their earlier identity played an irrefutable role in shaping my identity; but, they changed themselves.
If Korn wanted to try to reignite a flame long extinguished, their best plan was to keep things as pre-millennial as possible. “Untouchables” would be a generous halfway point. Such defensiveness is a very common reaction in the realm discussing passions left in the past and is nothing new to those bands. Korn’s been around the ol’ proverbial block. A good practitioner of seduction or salesmanship will never try to sell the goods; they make you want to buy them. The set list Korn had assembled for Mayhem Festival 2014 had the military deception and preparation of an OODA loop (look it up, you won’t regret it!)
To maintain and quantify the analogy that is already in play, consider this a walk though. First “Falling Away From Me” kicked things off as an innocent, perhaps awkward reintroduction. Sure we all feel a bit older, but by the end of it you already remember all of the lyrics and are measuring Korn up and down. Before you manage to choose a stance about middle aged men having dread, a familiar cavernous drum pattern and guitar slide fill your ears and Jon Davis starts the primal psychobabble that is “Twist”. It is at this exact point where you remember every intimate, nude and impetuous part of your relationship with Korn. Without permitting a second for your attention to wander, they seal the deal without your consciousness’s consent, when you fully enter the “dance and screech/sing” for “Got The Life” and “Did My Time”. Your mind goes blank on everything, but that moment and shamelessly you bask in that nostalgic 90’s emotive of romanticizing a victim’s vengeance. By the time the dirty stuff is stealthily initiated (Hater, Spike in My Veins, Coming Undone), you don’t care and will sing and head bang to anything ranging from band, to a rhythmic rumble of a washing machine or dryer (analogy!) Remarkably, Korn’s set list does not cease to be a sales/seduction metaphor here. It’s an obvious truth that Korn want their audience to see them again in the future. They don’t want them to leave feeling dirty, used and publicly shamed for having enjoyed Korn in 2014. Instead they validate you with the big guns: “Shoots and Ladders” (mixed with “Somebody Someone”), “Freak On A Leash” and “Blind”. These need no introduction were received as vehemently as ice water in hell.
In hindsight, a vocal majority of their veteran fans spent the last half the decade embarrassed with each succeeding release. As music enthusiast (surprise!), I complied an endless list of records that have permanently taken priority over Korn in daily life. All of that goes completely out the window when hear the signature hi-hat intro in “Blind” and Job Davis’ herculean scream and Munky’s grungy minimalistic bass lines seem like the heaviest thing ever.
It can either be a complete surprise and an expectation for some that Avenged Sevenfold completely stole the show. To be fair, if a band is headlining a tour over Korn, they must be at a high point in their career.
High point may not actually do them justice, as it seemed every single ounce of space in Molson Amphitheater, which seats 16, 000 was cramped and at absolute attention. If one was not at attention for their music, they were instinctively coerced to attention by the sheer production value of the stage effects. Oh man, the stage effects! It would only be fitting for a metal band named after a biblical verse, to have live theatrics that on paper would not be out of place in the Old Testament. It is as if the band acknowledged that while their music may not be for everybody,.. but it bloody well will be if they start jotting notes straight from an episode of Metalocaplypse but had it scaled down to legally and financially feasible.
Only 10 minutes after Korn left the stage, the backdrop was replaced with a grand stair case merged with the black stage on a 14 foot wall. This wall served as a holding platform for 3 Gothic, European church windows, which are often defined by their staple stained glass. Each one of these windows were about 30 feet tall, branded with the signature Skull Bats. A great scatter of fog jet activate and the 2 adjacent windows open up to reveal that they are in fact giant video projections of live stage cameras. Everyone is cheering, excited and curious. Suddenly the giant black curb catches 8 separate small sustained fires, the stage floods red with satanic red lights and a minor riff plays the intro to Shepherd’s Fire. The drums join, the flames shoot skyward and an explosion temporarily omitted every person’s ability to hear for a mile, right before the singer’s first vocal delivery. From this point forward every single person within the amphitheater was hypnotized by M.Shadows’ stage presence.
Nightmare & Domination were comparatively light on the production’s budget and only focused on vivaciously flooding – lighting everything with fuchsia, while tracking Zacky’s & Synester’s solos on the adjacent jumbo screens. Comparatively speaking videos of people sweeping are not flamethrowers or lasers. On record A7X is something that never tickled or offended my fancy. Presuming the all the effects tricks were out of the bag, I rose to leave to use the restroom. The singer, roared some generic banter the concluded with Hail To The King. My initial commentary was “oh please don’t let it be a song about Duken Nukem”. I grinned at the hilarity of my own joke and was apparently so busy inwardly patting myself on back for being so smart that I barely noticed the other odd 15, 999 people around me chanting “HAIL! HAIL” to an epic intro solo. The theatre flooded with satanic red light, only eliminating the hailing devil horns and the band. Then suddenly, the middle 30 foot tall, gothic window, which has been innocuous for the entire 3 songs splits into half. A grimacing, five person tall, skeleton brandishing a crown and sword rises. The verse begins and all eight stage flamethrowers are fired high enough, to feel the heat on your face a hundred meters away, but just short the Skeleton King’s grin, crown and sword hilt. I froze in place, jaw hanging because my instincts just tripped over themselves. On one hand, a life time role-playing games has conditioned me to fight every skeleton, ever. On the other hand, when your body is so confused on adrenaline, giant skeletons popping out of walls will definitely shoot ‘flight’ into your nerves for a fraction of a second.
There is but a single course of action when one realizes that he is so absorbed that the mind attributed the reality of the flames, heat and auditory bombs towards a giant plastic statue on wheels: “HAAIILL TO THE KING!!”. This was the apex of the festival. A primal, adrenal urge to submit to surged through the Amphitheater’s unwashed masses. In that perfect moment, two things have suddenly become clear to me. The first is how the majority of man’s known history was successfully shaped by the bluffing power of monarch minorities inventing the ‘Divine Right’s of Kings’ concept and making the especially convincing case to their impoverished peasant countrymen that “well… God did tell me that it is his divine will for me to be lavishly rich and rule over you. The second is how gratifying it is to rest all ambiguous philosophical concepts of equality, theology and destiny on a sword, a crown and fire. Needless to say, Avenged Sevenfold went on for two encores.
What pattern can we observe across all of these acts? Showmanship and theatrics are elements that no band can ignore, no matter the genre. Even gods like Animals As Leaders and Mesuggah understand the value of trying stimulate as many sense as possible.