By Alex Moore, with photos by Michael Bradley
Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood hosted a day of sweltering heat and searing metal as the seventh annual Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival rolled into Atlanta, bringing what was undoubtedly the most diverse Mayhem Fest lineup yet. Veteran acts such as Cannibal Corpse shared the stage with up-and-coming acts such as Miss May I and King 810, and it was the sheer diversity that made this year’s Mayhem Festival shine.
Erimha starts the show
The day kicked off with Canadian black metal group Erimha tearing up the Victory Records Stage. Though they were the only black metal band on the tour, Erimha didn’t let pre-conceived notions hinder them from putting on a great performance. Fans of Behemoth and Nile are sure to enjoy the band’s sound and imagery, with most of the group’s artistic focus coming from a deep love of ancient Sumerian culture. The corpse-paint-clad quintet did the best it could with the short amount of stage time they were given, as the performance began immediately as venue gates were opened.
Islander emphasizes nu metal sound
Islander was perhaps the most shockingly contrasting band on the lineup. Forced to compete with Upon a Burning Body on the Sumerian Records Stage, Islander offered something completely different from other bands, emphasizing a distinct nu metal sound. Catchy bass lines and an emphasis on groove over heaviness set Islander apart. Islander’s throwback sound hearkened back to the late 1990s, as the rap-rock group takes a tremendous influence from nu metal idols such as Deftones and Rage Against the Machine, combining rap, hip-hop and metal.
Texas Hippie Coalition offers twangy alternative
On the adjacent Coldcock Whiskey Stage, self-professed red dirt metal outfit Texas Hippie Coalition offered a slower, twangier alternative to the breakdown-laden music of their Mayhem Fest cohorts. Seemingly taking inspiration from sludge legends Down, the quartet kept the energy level high, and everything about the group represented the Mayhem Fest attitude. Throughout the set, for instance, frontman Big Dad Ritch periodically took swigs from a bottle of whiskey firmly located next to his shotgun-modeled microphone stand. Deeper vocals and an emphasis on groove made Texas Hippie Coalition a treat to listen to as they blazed through a mostly Peacemaker heavy set, which included “Turn It Up,” “Pissed Off (And Mad About It)” and “Hands Up.”
Most chaotic pit during Veil of Maya
Veil of Maya opened its set with what was perhaps the most chaotic mosh pit of the day. From the opening notes of “Subject Zero,” the crowd split in two, with several brave souls opting to police the outskirts of the pit. Giving a soundtrack to the insanity, Veil of Maya spent much of its time encouraging zealous fans attempting to make their way to the rail. One memorable instance saw an individual urging others to use his back as a springboard. The polyrhythmic “Unbreakable” meshed perfectly with the energy of the crowd, as audience members leapt from the aforementioned man’s back and onto the front of the stage.
Mushroomhead has trouble finding its members on stage
Fans got little time to rest as Mushroomhead took the stage while Veil of Maya finished its set. Between the return of vocalist J Mann and landing a spot on the Billboard Top 200 charts, the Ohio based outfit has had an extraordinary year thus far. While Mushroomhead had a bit of trouble fitting all of its band members on stage, stage limitations didn’t keep the industrial act from putting on a spectacular performance, complete with the group’s signature water drum sets. As cool water from the drums splashed the audience, each of Mushroomhead’s three vocalists took turns leaping into the crowd. The set itself was filled with fan favorites such as “Sun Doesn’t Rise,” “Solitaire/Unraveling” and even a cover of Pink Floyd’s classic “Empty Spaces.”
Body Count: “highlight of Mayhem Fest”
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon, however, was the triumphant return of Ice-T’s iconic metal band Body Count. While it’s been two decades since the group first burst onto the scene with its controversial hit “Cop Killer,” the spectacle put on by Ice-T and the group illustrated that little changed over the past 20 years. Fresh from the release of this year’s Manslaughter, Body Count put on a performance that was nothing short of glorious fan service, mending the schism of the audience’s musical preferences once they took the stage.
“I’m dedicating the rest of the show to Devin,” Ice-T said when he discovered a particularly young audience member. “You could be anywhere — you could be at a Justin Bieber show, but here you are front row at a Body Count show at 12!”
With a blend of rap and metal, Body Count featured something for every type of audience member. Even second stage headliners Cannibal Corpse could be seen from the Coldcock Whiskey Stage watching and nodding their heads along with the audience.
Cannibal Corpse churns it out with revolting lyrics
After the final notes of controversial classic “Cop Killer” played, death metal icons and Mayhem Fest veterans Cannibal Corpse churned out the crunchy opening notes of “Scourge of Iron.” Though the audience was thoroughly worn out from the festival’s previous bands, the crowd excitedly mustered through Cannibal Corpse’s set, inciting monstrous pits that kicked up dust across the parking lot. Known for the revolting lyrics and gore-filled, the Buffalo, NY natives played a greatest hits set that lived up to expectations. While it would have been nice to see some older songs in the set, the set covered the key albums in the Corpse discography.
Complaints about Mayhem Fest
Which leads to one of two complaints: It’s great that this year’s Mayhem Fest featured so much diversity, but having 19 bands on the bill means that set times are cut significantly short. Some, such as Erimha, played immediately as gates opened, resulting in substantially smaller crowds. It also meant that sets occasionally overlapped and sound bled from performance to performance. Mayhem took a step in the right direction with its lineup, but a change in stage set up and opening door time would likely remedy this problem.
The next complaint is one that has baffled from Mayhem Fest’s first year:
The fact that free water isn’t offered isn’t just confusing – it’s dangerous. Too many people were carried out on stretchers from heat exhaustion.
Having an energy drink tent is great, but these sugary beverages only serve to exacerbate the problem and dehydrate people. Even setting up misting stations or sporadic water fountains could help. Water in the 90-plus degree weather isn’t just nice – it’s necessary.
The main stage at Mayhem welcomes…
As the sun began to set, the masses headed to the amphitheater stage for the headlining acts. Trivium and Asking Alexandria started the main stage strong, and the latter has particularly enjoyed a boost in popularity since playing Mayhem Fest just two years ago. While there seemingly wasn’t a huge crossover between Asking Alexandria’s fans and the fans of Korn and Avenged Sevenfold, the band appeared clever enough to embrace the confusion.
“If you don’t like our band, we do get better with alcohol,” frontman Danny Worsnop said. Korn passionate now as ever with “Head” back.
The highlight of the festival, however, was Korn’s set. The group sounded the tightest they have since the 1990s, thanks in part to the return of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch. Aside from closing with classic opener “Blind,” the set was excellently paced. Korn managed to cram most of its hits into the 75-minute set while still allowing new songs from The Paradigm Shift to breathe.
Overall, the group seemed just as passionate about performing as they did back in Korn’s heyday. Eccentric frontman Jonathan Davis twisted and contorted as he shouted the lyrics to “Coming Undone” and “Freak on a Leash,” before bringing out the infamous bagpipes for the nightmarish “Shoots and Ladders.” Though Korn has had its share of missteps in the last decade or so, Mayhem Fest proved that the group is on the right track.
Closing the curtains
Avenged Sevenfold closed the curtains on another excellent year at the 2014 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. The performance featured the most intensive stage set, with a castle-like stage set up. A massive skeleton, not unlike Iron Maiden’s Eddie, was propped up in the middle of the stage, with two CGI screens flanking the mascot and displaying vivid graphics for each song in the headliner’s set. Flames shot up from nearly every angle of the stage – a feature the band seemingly lamented. “It’s toasty tonight, and we’re the idiots that brought fire,” said lead vocalist M. Shadows.
An opening trio of “Shepherd of Fire,” “Nightmare” and “Bat Country” made for a great impression from the start. In a fun turn of events, a young couple got engaged midway through the set. After locating the couple, M. Shadows brought them on stage for a celebration, hugging them both and letting them watch the remainder of the show from the side of the stage.
The Rev remembered
Much of Sevenfold’s set was dedicated to the group’s former drummer, “The Rev,” who passed several years ago. “Life is about living it how you want it,” said Shadows as he reminisced about his fallen friend. “So Far Away” in particular was a touching tribute, as M. Shadows strummed away on an acoustic guitar while the audience sang along. Set highlights included “I’m Not Insane,” “Hail to the King” and the eight-minute “Piece of Heaven,” which took a seemingly Broadway-inspired route with an orchestral section.
While it may have been a bit more chaotic in its logistics and schedule conflicts, Mayhem Fest has come a tremendous distance since its initial year, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future. One can only hope that the increased revenue will be used to make the festival a more cohesive and safe environment for attendees.