Mayhem Fest | California | Review

Words by: Dennis Cook

Mayhem Festival :: 07.10.11 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: Mountain View, CA

Mayhem Festival continues on Friday, July 15, at Ashley Furniture Homestore Pavilion in Phoenix, AZ, and runs until its August 14th conclusion in West Palm Beach, FL. Find full itinerary here.

This year’s Mayhem Festival stitched together the sensibilities of 80s and 90s metal in a daylong celebration of loudness, aggression and uninhibited expression. Two primary tributaries ran strong at Shoreline Amphitheatre - the sludgy, lacerating pummel of headliners Godsmack and Disturbed and the more melodic, vocally coherent charge of veterans Megadeth and Testament - and all of the side stage acts fell fairly comfortably into one of these two categories. As a 40-something who came to metal in his teens through the gateway drug of Black Sabbath and experienced the rich Bay Area thrash blossoming, my tastes lean much more heavily old school, but there was no missing how much fun younger head-bangers had at this one-day festival.

Despite the barrage of merchandising and endless sound issues due to high winds, Mayhem succeeded at providing an oasis for hard rockers, old and new, offering 13 bands on three stages – a main stage that operated in evening and two alternating side-by-side side stages - that represented metal’s past, present and future in a nutshell. While some bands struck me as a lot of fury and activity without much going on in the songwriting department (and if you can decipher the Cookie Monster vocals be my guest…), Straight Line Stitch mixed in some refreshing punk energy and musical elements and their lead singer, aptly described by my companion as “the anti-Gwen Stefani,” made my ears prick up. What follows are the highlights from our day in Mountain View, CA.

Machine Head
1. Machine Head - 6:25-7:00 pm – Rockstar Energy Drink Main Stage

If there is ever a “Next Big 4” anointed by metalheads Oakland’s Machine Head are almost certainly a lock for inclusion. Everything about this long-lived band, around since the early 90s, screams of a dedication to evolution and innovation, each chapter in their history revealing new facets, stronger songcraft, more nuanced playing, and a fearlessness that embraces beauty and the things that only be said in a whisper. Their too-brief Shoreline set showed off all these elements and still proved as pointy-toothed as any metal act out there. Singer-guitarist Robb Flynn showed off his enormous onstage ease and natural frontman charisma, quickly building rapport with a sizeable crowd, most of whom hadn’t seen Machine Head before (as evidenced by a show of hands when Flynn asked). Having witnessed every era in this band’s history, I can attest that no one, save for Mastodon, is commingling the same stylistic array or pushing the genre’s envelope better right now. New song “Locust” left most of us dizzy and more anxious than ever for the group’s forthcoming seventh studio album, Unto The Locust (arriving September 27 on Roadrunner Records). Introduced as a tune about how some people leave our lives stripped bare and a husk of what they were before their arrival, “Locust,” by turns, evoked the darkest, thickest parts of Pink Floyd, the harrowing corridors of prime Metallica and much more. Epic begins to capture the scope, but it was also personal, a mixture that marks much of Machine Head’s catalog. “Aesthetics of Hate” was dedicated to Dimebag Darrell, and a soaringly executed “Halo” was kicked off by Flynn telling us the song required “prodigious amounts of beer drinking and pot smoking and screaming till your throat is raw.” This was their first time on the main stage and their pride in playing to a hometown crowd was obvious and sincere, success and recognition coming to a band that’s more than put in their time in the fields.

Machine Head Setlist
Imperium, Beautiful Mourning, Locust, Aesthetics of Hate, Halo


Megadeth
2. Megadeth - 7:15-8:15 pm – Rockstar Energy Drink Main Stage

A wall of Marshall stacks, the band dressed in simple black, billowing clouds of long hair. There’s a purity of form to Megadeth that’s comforting as a home cooked meal. In a very real sense, it’s what I crave when I think, “Hmmm, I could go for some metal.” While Dave Mustaine and his changing cast of collaborators have continued to innovate and tweak over the years, embracing a bit of boogie and even, gasp, pop hooks in recent times, the fundamentals as established on classics like Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good! (1985) and Peace Sells...but Who's Buying? (1986) are so damn good, so damn expansive in their possibilities, that Megadeth hasn’t had to change much over the decades. In other words, they are by nature a leader not a follower, and that impression came through loud and clear at Shoreline. “We got in a plane and flew here from France to play for you,” announced Mustaine after opener “Trust.” No jetlag was evident to these ears as Mustaine and guitarist Chris Broderick made their Flying V’s scream and cry. One thing Mustaine doesn’t get enough credit for are his vocals, a template for countless metal acts in his wake and a grand merger of snarl and actual singing, a distinctive timbre in a sea of homogenous bark. That he sounded as good as ever after three decades made me grin. It was also a pleasure to see original Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson bounding about the stage as if no years had passed at all, his amazing playing a welcome return to the music as well. Where many of their generation are coasting, Megadeth are made of the same steely-eyed, erectile fortitude as ever. And there was no doubting their cross-generational appeal as the entire mob chanted, “If there’s a new way, I’ll be the first in line, but it better work this time!” during the unifying blast of “Peace Sells.” TH1RT3EN, the group’s 13th studio album, hits stores this November, and based on fresh corker “Public Enemy No. 1,” it’s likely to be as well constructed and effective a set as any in their arsenal.

Megadeth Setlist
Trust, Hangar 18, Wake Up Dead, She-Wolf, Head Crusher, Public Enemy No. 1, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells, Holy Wars... The Punishment Due


Testament
3. Testament - 5:05-5:35 pm – Extreme Stage

Seven songs isn’t nearly enough to slake the thirst for one of metal’s greatest bands but it is enough to remind one that if any of the “Big 4” ever faltered there was a willing, able contender for top honors right on their ass. Notably bummed that this was the end of their Mayhem tenure after only two shows, Testament did their Bay Area faithful proud, playing with tight, wonderfully written heaviosity. “Look at this. There’s nothing better than a bunch of crazy metalheads losing their minds in the sun,” said lead singer Chuck Billy, who belted ‘em out with the same sharpness and authority as he first did in 1986. In fact, nothing about Testament has really aged, and much like Megadeth, they are a blueprint MANY bands have followed since they started dropping bombs into our psyches in 1987. Their music is a mix of brains, swinging testicles and technical savvy - Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson remain two of metal’s most captivating guitarists - smart enough for the library heads yet perfect for swilling alcohol and roaring at the heavens in a pack of rowdy folks. Their ability to ride this fine line remains strong and generates excitement for the group’s tenth studio album, The Dark Roots of Earth, due out in October. In a more perfect world Testament would have been up on the main stage, but as it was, they pulverized us in the Shoreline parking lot just fine.

Testament Setlist Over the Wall, The Preacher, The New Order, More Than Meets the Eye, Into the Pit, D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate), 3 Days in Darkness


Red Fang by Rexroad-Higgins
4. Red Fang - 2:35-3:00 pm – Jagermeister Stage

I’m gonna beat the drum for this young Portland band until as many people as possible are under their thrall. An air of zero-bullshit permeated off Red Fang as soon as they launched into their early afternoon set. While much of their small but categorically excellent songbook is fast as a motherfucker, it’s also packed with interesting time changes, pockets of open space and shit-tons of melody – all of which made for the most confused mosh pit of the day. They pound your skull as well as anybody but it’s like the difference between an artless street brawl and getting worked over by Sugar Ray Leonard. Right now, Red Fang are in their Golden Gloves rise, and gut instinct says they’re gonna be champions one day. This brief, blazing set started thick and punchy and then showed off more of their range from sophomore album Murder The Mountains (released April 12), which along with the band’s 2009 self-titled debut, is some of the most addictively listenable, satisfying hard rock to come along in the past decade. This band is all-in and delivers performance after performance, Shoreline being no exception. Mayhem is wise to have these guys kicking off the day and setting attendees off on such a good foot. Arrive early so you don’t miss ‘em.

Red Fang Setlist
Reverse Thunder, Sharks, Malverde, Wires, Into the Eye , Good to Die, Prehistoric Dog


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[Published on: 7/14/11]

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