Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at The Woodlands, 8/10/2014

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Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival Feat. Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Asking Alexandria, Trivium, Suicide SIlence, etc. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 10, 2014

August 10 was a date Houston headbangers had circled on their calendars. The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, North America's largest, loudest traveling menagerie of metal, promised to destroy the Woodlands Pavilion on the last day of the tour.

While many were miffed that the carnival's full coterie of bands wouldn't make the trip -- acts like Body Count, King 810 and Ill Nino couldn't be squeezed into the venue's silly two-stage configuration -- it was still more than enough heavy metal for anybody. The day started early and ended late, and the summer sun seemed bound and determined to helpfully redefine "brutality" for every tatted-up freak in attendance.

By 1:30 p.m., bands and fans alike were battling crazy heat over at the Coldcock side stage. As the likes of Texas Hippie Coalition and Mushroomhead bashed away in the crowded parking lot that serves as the Pavilion's overflow area, you could actually watch the shirtless dudes in the mosh pit begin to sunburn. The heat and humidity were as heavy as the riffs, and even the breeze turned ominous as it carried black clouds toward the festival threatening to unleash thunder and lightning of a kind no Marshall stack can match.

At around 4 p.m., after a set from metalcore bros Emmure, some tarps went up over the equipment and the road crew seemed to settle in for a rainstorm. There were a few cruel drops here and there, but it never opened up, leading to an extended intermission in which the audience simply roasted. Things never threatened to get ugly, but there was a sad sense that perhaps the side stage would be closed and the festival ruined.

Luckily, the clouds passed and the show went on. Ohio metalcore vets Miss May I turned in a terrific, energetic set to bring the crowd back to life, instigating a "marathon pit" that took the moshing all over the festival ground during their opening number. The band's heavy breakdowns, dynamic screaming and tastefully harmonized choruses proved to be the perfect, melodic pick-me-up as the skies cleared at last.

Melodies were in short supply from deathcore champs Suicide Silence, who made a strong case for the coveted title of heaviest band on the bill. New lead screamer Hernan "Eddie" Hermida acquitted himself well, and the group as a whole sounded hungry to prove they can still go on without his predecessor Mitch Lucker, who passed away in 2012. No doubt their crushing breakdowns turned a few new ears on Sunday.

Thanks to the unplanned intermission, fans had to choose between the two opposite ends of the death-metal spectrum next. Old-school Cannibal Corpse closed out the side stage, ripping along as merrily as ever, while opening up the main stage at the same time was the technically inclined melodic troupe Trivium. I managed to catch most of neither; the sheer logistics necessary to keep your body hydrated and your bladder empty made taking in every bit of music Sunday an impossible task.

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Still, things began to settle in nicely when Asking Alexandria took the main stage next. As the sun began to mercifully set at last, lead singer Danny Worsnop fought through a hangover to lead the British 'bangers into their strange blend of metalcore, thrash and radio-rock, kicking up a decent mosh pit on the hill. As the band's stage props belched smoke, Worsnop showed off a hell of a set of pipes that were tailor-made for giant rock shows like Sunday's.

When the sun goes down at the Pavilion, the concerts there get a hell of a lot better. When nu-metal godfathers Korn arrived onstage, the light show came alive at last, mesmerizing the amphitheater with endless colors. With guitarist Brian "Head" Welch back in the fold, one might have expected Korn to uncork a set heavy on classic material, but while the older essentials were there, they didn't shy away at all from their 21st-century material.

The sick groove in "Did My Time" had the whole place bouncing, and singer Jonathan Davis had the crowd in the palm of his hand during a synthy rendition of "Hater." They threw in a dubstep drop or two, and even a few death-metal growls on "Shoots and Ladders." But my goodness, do folks still go craziest when Davis breaks out those bagpipes.

By the time that headliners Avenged Sevenfold were ready to roll, a lot of the older and more inebriated audience members were beginning to rub their sore backs and necks. The younger fans were still full of life for the undisputed champions of mainstream throwback metal, a weird and popular subgenre all its own. A collective "yesssss" seemed to go up from the crowd as the band's dramatic stage set was revealed, centering on the enthroned remains of a skeletal, long-dead king. But a genuine roar finally broke free when the columns of flame erupted.

Watching Avenged Sevenfold in 2014 is a lot like watching Iron Maiden in 1984: amazing stage set, tight guitar harmonies, and soaring vocals added up to titanic singalongs that got mighty loud even up on the hill. Though the day had been impossibly long and hot -- or perhaps because it had been -- A7X singer M. Shadows still hailed his people in the grass as the show drew to its fiery conclusion.

"Every time we play here, there's some insane motherfuckers pitting up there," he said, pointing towards the hill. "So we're going to play one for you to get crazy to."

As the band broke into "Bat Country," smiling dudes from all over the hill streamed over to the wild pit that Shadows had pointed to, squeezing the last drops of Mayhem out of the weekend. One could hardly help but throw the horns in solidarity. Today, we're all a little burned, a little bruised. But no one can claim we didn't rock, man.

Personal Bias: Nu-metal had its moments, dude.

The Crowd: Shirtless.

Overheard in the Crowd: "I haven't seen this many white people together in, like, 50 years."

Random Notebook Dump: There simply HAS to be a better place to set up these traveling festivals than the Woodlands. That side-stage area never stops sucking.


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