Mayhem Festival @ Downsview Park
By: Marsha Casselman
August 8, 2008
With Ozzfest in limbo, Warped Tour dwindling and indie rock overloading the festival circuit, something needed to fill the void for all things heavy.
In its first year, the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival pulled in the numbers using a successful recipe: a blend of chart topping headliners, '70s hard rock, and some death, power and hardcore metal. Add some free flowing aggression-in-a-can energy drinks, and you've got at least the potential for mayhem.
The sun shone as thousands of rowdy males filtered into Downsview Park, but it was chilly and the wind was blowing all the headbangers' hair into knots making it the perfect setting for some metal clichés. Enter Airbourne on the far stage.
The second coming of AC/DC from down under, these guys will either rock your world or give you bad flashbacks of those drunken small town bush parties you may have hit up in the '90s. Their mullet-bearing frontman, tight-as-condom black jeans and full bottles of hard liquor onstage were pure '70s and '80s hard rock revival - perfect for those of us who appreciate the good times metal originated from. Songs like "Cheap Wine and Cheaper Women" and "Stand up for Rock ‘n' Roll" were the ideal warm-up for the harder stuff to come.
Critically acclaimed Mastodon were the band to see for many of us with more progressive tastes. Most bands on the bill could learn from their genre-bending abilities. Mixing harsh vocals with stoner metal riffs, southern style licks and complex rhythm changes, the end product was heavy as hell, so it was no surprise when a violent circle pit started up as they broke into "Wolf is Loose."
The foursome's ongoing obsession with prehistoric animals and mythology adds to their mystique. Perhaps hinting at an upcoming theme, a few of them - namely guitarist-singer Brent Hinds - are looking more and more like Vikings.
Mastodon belted out a short set of songs mostly from 2006's Blood Mountain, including "Capillarian Crest" and "Colony of Birchmen," and the now classic "Iron Tusk" off 2004's Leviathan. Their set was crazy enough to convert a couple of arms-crossed 17-year-olds cherry picking the pit to catch Slipknot later on.
Mastodon are definitely showmen as indicated by vocalist-bassist Troy Sanders' facial expressions and drummer Brann Dailor's polka-dot drums, but judging from their skills, they obviously take their craft seriously.
Back on one of the second stages, Machine Head blew into their set while a distracted crowd watched motorbike-jumping stunts off to the side. It's hard to believe one of the hottest Bay area metal forces of the '90s were stuffed onto the second stage. In fact, they gave Pantera a run for their money. Perhaps this is punishment for their late-'90s deviation from their thrash roots during the nu-metal explosion.
Nonetheless, the band is back on track supporting 2007's Grammy-nominated The Blackening and the ever-grateful Robb Flynn and his boys put on an intensely thrashy and heavy performance. The crowd's aggression was fully fuelled and many of us were kicked around while we reveled in nostalgia as they performed "Old" and "Davidian" off '94s' Burn My Eyes.
If any band was out of place at Mayhem, especially on the main stage, it was this English power metal sextet. Singer ZP Theart asked for a show of hands and less than half the crowd had previously heard of DragonForce, so it was no wonder people looked a bit stunned watching the überfast videogame-inspired metal men onstage.
Their Journey-inspired vocals, twin guitar solos and guitarist Herman Li's skills, which included licking the guitar and performing Pacman noises, impressed the older folk. It might have been the eight-minute long songs, or the masturbatory guitar solos on "Valley of the Damned," but something about them irked the nu-metal and hardcore crowd. Vadim Pruzhanov's key-tar and organ were, let's say, of a less common sexual orientation, according to one young lad in the audience.
Nonetheless, there were many DragonForce tees and the crowd got into it with crowd surfing and clapping, especially for songs like "Through the Fire and the Flames" and "Heroes of Our Time." And the lack of seriousness from both them and Airbourne was totally welcome, and needed. Plus, DragonForce just can't help it, as Li expressed in an earlier phone interview.
"We can't just stand there and look evil. It just doesn't work. How can you do a triumphant chorus and go (wails like Rob Halford) if you look like you're in a black metal band? So we jump around and spin in the air, make mistakes and fall over."
At this point everyone had no choice but stay at the main stage for Disturbed, as the other stages were done. The most melodic and radio-friendly band on the bill attracted everyone from old couples to little kids, to ladies in leopard-print cowboy hats who knew every single lyric David Draiman powerfully stuttered. In fact, it seemed unprecedented just how many people in the crowd knew every single lyric. The very clean set included crowd favourites "Stupify," "Indestructible" and "Inside the Fire."
By 10pm most kids - either wired on free energy drinks or drunk and high out of their tree - were ready to get violent in the pit. They were hyped to see the 'knot perform in their new masks. One kid proudly mentioned he'd just purchased a replica of the new mask of member number four, the guitarist, which he was afraid to bring on the plane from Winnipeg for fear of scaring people. When asked what he would do with it back home, he replied straight-faced, that he would wear it while rocking out to Slipknot in his parent's basement, obviously.
After waiting half an hour for the elaborate stage to be set, the band came on stage equipped with pyro and a rotating percussion set. The grinding nu-metal set started with the classic 1999 anthem "Surfacing." The mosh pit erupted and many small people decided to get the hell out of there.
Leadman Corey Taylor seemed genuinely impressed with the turnout of "sluts" as he endearingly called us, although he later corrected this to "maggots" - a term Slipknot fans have come to own.
DJ Sid Wilson was introduced as the charity case sitting down behind the turntables, nursing his two "moon boots", that is, the two casted broken heels he apparently acquired on the first night of the Mayhem tour. It's easy to be daring when wearing a mask, but perhaps these guys are getting too old for their theatrics?
The crowd's energy swelled as the 'knot pummeled through past favourites, including "Prosthetics" from their self-titled album; "People = Shit" from Iowa; "The Blister Exists" and the melodic "Duality" from Vol: 3 (The Subliminal Verses); and "Psychosocial," off their upcoming album, All Hope is Gone.
The crowning moment, however, came during the encore, when the strapped-in drummer was lifted up on hydraulics, tipped forward 180 degrees, flipped around backward and up again all the while maintaining the beat to classic track "(Sic)." Rumour had it that the drummer wasn't Joey Jordison, who is considered one of the top drummers in metal . . . at least according to two vintage Slipknot jumpsuit-wearing young men, one sporting possibly real fangs - and what more reliable source could there be?
As much flak as Slipknot may get from the heavy metal elite, they sure can entertain in the aggressive and disturbing way headbangers sometimes crave, and there was no shortage of Slayer tees rockin out, so maybe Slipknot need not be considered such a guilty pleasure after all.
All in all, the day was well balanced between the mixed-up metal from Mastodon, the '80s throwback from Airbourne and DragonForce and the dramatic vigour from Slipknot. This festival has legs.