For the 6th straight year, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival rolled into Hartford, CT on Sunday and crushed everything in its path with 10 hours of earsplitting, body-slamming, neck-crushing heavy metal.
Fans may have expected some deja vu as 2010 headliners Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie would reprise their main stage slots at night (read about Mayhem ‘10 here), but when the doors opened at 1pm and fans rushed to the second stages, it was for newer underground favorites like Huntress, Battlecross, Born of Osiris and Attika 7.
Clouds of dusts hovered over fierce mosh pits as Connecticut metalheads raged for short but intense 20 minute sets, split between the Jagermeister stage and Musician’s Institute stage. With each stage set up side-by-side, as soon as one band wound down their final song the next act instantly started up next door, ensuring hours of nonstop metal madness and a constant crush of bodies slamming around the pavement.
The travelling metal circus brought its usual array of music and counter culture merchandise, offering fans plenty of freebies like energy drinks, CDs and artist signings, and of course, lots of booze to fuel the day’s moshing. Between the Jager shot girls and full uniform military vets wandering the grounds, one might have also noticed Unlocking The Truth, New York’s only heavy metal band comprised of African American 6th graders, as they were escorted around the festival like the VIP band they are clearly destined to be.
Second stage bands made the most of their sets, cramming ferocious energy into as many songs as possible. Attika 7, featuring Biohazard singer and living tattoo Evan Seinfeld were one of the best early acts, whipping the crowd into a frenzy that saw thousands of fans jumping and moshing to his barking vocals.
But it was the female-fronted Butcher Babies that were the most buzzed-about band of the day, and their 3pm set saw fans streaming in to catch a glimpse of the hyper-sexual singers. Bombshell beauties Heidi and Carla screamed and roared their way through an 8 song set and easily owned their audience for a full half hour. (Read my review of their last Connecticut performance with Marilyn Manson by clicking here, and stay tuned for my interview with the band.) Judging on their mix of metal and melody along with a strong knack for marketing, it’s obvious that the Butcher Babies are future Mayhem main stagers.
Later in the afternoon, Job For A Cowboy set out to be the most extreme band of the show, and were followed by New York band Emmure, who crushed the Mayhem audience with their stylized hardcore attack. Emmure successfully combined 3 individual mosh pits into one giant, frothing pit that kicked up dust as far as the eye could see (see pictures above).
Of all the second stage bands though, none dominated quite as thoroughly as Machine Head. The Bay Area group boast a seniority way beyond most of the other Mayhem acts, and they played accordingly. The crowd swelled for songs like Davidian, Aesthetics of Hate, and set-closer Halo, moshing and crowd-surfing with a fury to the very last note. It’s a shame Machine Head only had 35 minutes to play, but they certainly made the most of it and even Children of Bodom, no slouches in the speed metal department themselves, had a tough time following.
The main stage of Mayhem ‘13, however, was a different story. When the lineup of Amon Amarth, Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie was announced earlier this year, longtime Mayhemers couldn’t help but feel like the lineup paled in comparison to previous tours which typically boasted several A-list acts like Korn, Disturbed, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson, Slayer, and others of that tier. With Rob Zombie the only really tried-and-true festival headliner, it wasn’t particularly surprising to see less ticketholders than previous years once the show shifted to the main stage amphitheater (read about Slipknot, Slayer and Motorhead at Mayhem ‘12 by clicking here).
Those who did fill the seats and lawn though, got to catch an impressive performance by Swedish viking metallers Amon Amarth. Bearded frontman Johan Hegg roared from a dragon-shaped ship, singing tales of battle and honor while his guitarists shredded through sizzling solos. The band debuted new song Deceiver of the Gods, and even if mythology isn’t your thing, it was hard not to enjoy the six epic metal offerings Amon Amarth performed.
Mastodon played next, and was arguably the only tough sell of the night. With most of the crowd exhausted from a day of moshing in the hot sun, Mastodon’s eclectic brand of sludgy prog-metal needed more enthusiasm than fans were prepared to offer. Guitarist Brent Hinds called out front row fans for not responding after several songs, even singling out one fan in particular for admonishment. While Mastodon’s set lacked nothing performance-wise, both band and fans seemed relieved when it was over. Hinds and frontman Troy Sanders walked off stage at the end without even saying good night.
When Five Finger Death Punch took the stage, however, it was like a switch had been flipped. 5FDP have been Mayhem mainstays since the inaugural Mayhem ‘08, moving up the charts every few years to the penultimate slot they held this season. The band boasts both charisma in singer Ivan Moody, and a number of catchy metal tracks that brings in the fans by the numbers.
Moody and his fellow Death Punchers churned out 11 songs, including their well-received cover of Bad Company and ballad Far From Home. Fans moshed on the floor and sang from the seats, and even venue personnel could be seen nodding their heads along to the music.
The band really grabbed everyone’s attention when Moody brought a dozen younger fans on stage for White Knuckles, and slapped hands with every crowdsurfer that came his way. The band also brought military vets in full uniform on stage for final song The Bleeding, part of a Mayhem-wide effort to honor and thank soldiers. Five Finger Death Punch has already headlined their own summer festival previously, and with 2 albums on their way, let there be no doubt that they are the future of mainstream metal.
By 10pm the sun was down and the beer had been cut off, but the several thousand fans in the Comcast Theatre were cheering for the one and only Rob Zombie. The master of cinematic horror did not disappoint, unleashing one of the wildest and most extravagant performances ever seen as he hammered through over a dozen hits songs.
Zombie was joined on stage by guitarist John 5, bassist Piggy D., drummer Ginger Fish, and a wide range of mega-sized monsters, robots, and for lack of a better word, urban assault vehicles. Video screens blasted shock imagery to go along with raging anthems like Superbeast, Living Dead Girl, and More Human Than Human. The singer donned a red, white and blue Uncle Sam costume for his new cover of We’re An American Band, and Sick Bubble Gum saw giant colored balloons launched into the audience, each of which delivered a wet surprise when they burst.
Mr. Zombie was his usual humorous self, taunting the crowd between songs and even running all the way up to the back lawn during John 5’s extended guitar solo for Thunderkiss ‘65. The shockmaster did show his softer side, however, when he brought his daughter up on stage to wave at the sweaty but enthusiastic crowd in the mosh pit.
Dragula was the night’s final song, and while one might suspect that Rob Zombie is sick of singing it, metal fans may never get tired of hearing it. With a final blast of metal crunch and a shower of confetti, Mayhem Fest 2013 called it a night in Hartford and fans began the lengthy process of trudging out to the parking lot, ears still ringing from hour after hour of amplified heavy metal.
If the big story this year was a slightly lacking lineup, in no way did that slowed down what has become heavy metal’s biggest domestic tour. Attendance might have been down without another strong radio act, but every band and fan went all-out when it was time to rock. From the dusty second stage in the parking lots to Rob Zombie’s premium audio-visual spectacle, the Mayhem crowd enjoyed blistering metal of almost every possible genre, with unbeatable access to the band members and related lifestyle merchandise.
Mayhem Festival continues to set the bar for summer touring, and while both Uproar (featuring Alice In Chains and Jane’s Addiction) and Gigantour (featuring Megadeth and Black Label Society) will be coming this way soon, yesterday’s show was clearly the big daddy of them all. New Yorkers can hit up Mayhem again tomorrow, June 23rd, when it arrives at the PNC Art Center in New Jersey.
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