See more metal and Mayhem from Wednesday in our slideshow.
Mayhem Festival Side Stage Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 11, 2012
Holding the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at a suburban amphitheater on a weeknight posed a few serious logistical problems, for the touring company and concertgoers alike. In order to meet the venue's curfew, several of the festival bands were nixed from the Houston date, and fighting rush-hour traffic, finding parking and waiting in ticket lines made catching the early acts a tough proposition for working people (bloggers included).
What I'm saying is, I missed out on some good music -- and I damn sure wasn't alone. The show started at 6 p.m. on the dot, and the Woodlands is a long stretch of I-45 away from my office in Uptown. The panic amongst those of us waiting to get patted down outside the Pavilion gates as the unmistakable sound of Motörhead blasted forth from within was more than a little uncomfortable.
By the time I got my credentials and made it inside, Anthrax's opening set at the side stage was long over. Shame, too -- they're the last of the "Big 4" thrash bands I've yet to see live.
As I hustled through the venue to the side stage, Alaskans-by-way-of-Ft. Worth Turbid North were wrapping up. At least, I'm pretty sure it was Turbid North. There were no banners, signs or indicators for any of the bands on the stage, just Jagermeister advertising. What little I heard was heavy, groovy stuff. Hopefully they'll be back through town soon so I can produce a proper review.
As it turned out, all of the side stage bands were limited to very quick sets in order to cram everything in before 9:30 p.m. Metalcore stalwarts As I Lay Dying were up next. Guitarist Nick Hipa came shredding right out of the gate on "Condemned" as young metalheads pogoed ecstatically in the pit. Was that a few drizzles of rain coming down, or flying sweat?
Mercifully, it was precipitation. Kids in the crowd did their best to dodge raindrops as the band lit into "94 Hours." The audience began to warm up a bit, and the moshing began in earnest. As I Lay Dying has perfected the metalcore breakdown at this point, and heads banged hard during the band's live staples "Through Struggle" and "Nothing Left."
The band treated the crowd to a new song, "Cauterize," and a furious circle pit erupted as drummer Jordan Mancino busted out some nifty blast beats. The set's closer, "The Sound of Truth," showed off the group's diverse metal influences, mixing strains of death, thrash, and NWOBHM with classic hardcore attitude to produce a racket not easily classifiable. More and more, it seems, heavy metal's subgenres are merging into an all-inclusive sound. On Wednesday, the crowd was diggin' it.
After a quick setup, Ohioan metalcore act The Devil Wears Prada closed out the second stage. I thought the band's melodic guitar lines, clean backup vocals and delicate keyboard passages were largely lost in a muddy mix completely dominated by double bass, but the rest of the crowd didn't seem to mind.
The mosh pit went off hard as the group unveiled breakdown after breakdown. A girl was launched about 15 feet into the air, cheerleader-style, on the first downstroke of the set's second song. Drinks and hair flew everywhere, and shoes and hats were tossed back and forth in the audience like beach balls. For his part, singer Mike Hranica broke out some dance moves that called to mind the world's most brutal hoedown. Things were getting loose in a hurry.
The breakdowns kept coming. The polyrhythmic influence of Meshuggah often shone through as the band stomped away under the pines. Before closing out the side stage festivities with a thrashy finale, Hranica thanked the crowd and bade them to stick around for Slipknot.
"We've been playing Texas for a long time, and believe me when I tell you this is one of our favorite states to play," Hranica said. "One God, one heaven, one hope... God bless you all."
That minor display of Christian love went over big with the assembled metalheads, who roared their approval and chanted "One more song! One more song!"
But alas, time was up -- and so soon, too. I fell in with the rest of the mob and headed over to the main stage to catch the tail end of Slayer's set. It was my fifth time to check them out, and again the sound mix was an issue.
The thrash legends seemed tired up there onstage, and guitarist Jeff Hanneman, still recovering from necrotizing fasciitis, was greatly missed. Still, they hung in there, braving the heat from massive bursts of pyro. "Angel of Death" had the large crowd clamoring for blood and breaking into the loudest "Slayer! Slayer!" chant I've ever heard.
An encore of "South of Heaven" and "Raining Blood" is a tough act for anybody to follow, especially when impressive walls of flame are added to the equation. Slipknot's one-of-a-kind live show was more than up to the task, however. A sea of Maggots lost their collective shit when the red curtain dropped and the band ripped into "[sic]" from its 1999 debut.
As always, the nonstop showmanship of auxiliary drummers Chris Fehn and Shawn Crahan proved key to keeping things interesting. Alongside DJ Sid Wilson, the percussionists battered, climbed and rode huge hydraulic drum rigs that occasionally seemed to take on a menacing life of their own. The crowd ate it up.
The concussive blast of tunes like "Wait and Bleed" and "Psychosocial" helped redeem a truncated, frustrating evening of blink-and-you-miss-it metal. There was simply too much going on to take in over four and a half hours. Here's hoping next year's Mayhem Fest falls on a weekend, because Hump Day ain't quite cutting it.
Personal Bias: Rush-hour traffic is the absolute worst, dude.
The Crowd: Black T-shirts; piercings.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Hey, when does Whitechapel play?" Not 'til this weekend, I'm afraid.
Random Notebook Dump: Slayer's massive, flame-spewing, inverted-cross Marshall stacks were a hell of a sight to behold.