Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at The Woodlands, 8/3/2013

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Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival Feat. Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Mastodon, Amon Amarth, etc. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 3, 2013

On Saturday, I couldn't quite decide which was more brutal: 20 metal bands in one afternoon, or your average Houston summer. Maybe it's because my brain started to cook, but after a while it got hard not to let the two stimuli run together into a singular heaviness at this year's Mayhem Fest up in the Woodlands. A lot of it's kind of a hairy, sweaty blur now after the fact. Healthy!

If there's one thing I do remember clearly, it's the hiking. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion does not have a great festival setup. To reach the side stage from the main amphitheater, concertgoers were forced to exit the building from the South entrance and walk around the venue to an adjoining parking lot with a stage on it. In triple-digit temperatures, it wasn't all that pleasant. Pity the drunks.

That was in addition to the traditional hike through the woods from the parking lot, obviously, but I digress. Point is, the heat made me hate walking, so when the seats opened up, I was happy to plant myself and stay put under the shade. These were the bands people came to see, anyway! You'd be surprised how easy it was to tell myself that and believe it.

A band I certainly wanted to see was Amon Amarth. They don't really like to be called "Viking metal" due to the vagaries of Scandinavian metal identity politics. But it's hard not to mention "Viking metal" when you talk about Amon Amarth, because "Viking metal" is literally the perfect descriptor for this band. They're a melodic death-metal band from Sweden, they write songs about the Thunder God and their drum riser is a Viking longship. Come on.

They're also pretty much tailor-made for metal festivals. Amon Amarth plays pumping, energetic music perfected over 20 years for pouding beers and hailing Satan. Or Odin, I guess, but somebody was getting hailed hard Saturday. They showed off some riffs from their new album, Deceiver of the Gods," but the older song "Death In Fire" was my favorite of the set. Probably what a Houston summer feels like to a Swede.

Next up was a personal favorite, the mighty Mastodon. It's been nearly two years since the release of their last album, The Hunter, and I hadn't heard any of the new material live yet. Lucky me, they played damn near the whole record.

Brann Dailor bashed the hell out of his kit on great tunes like "Dry Bone Valley" and "Blasteroid." "Black Tongue" was another highlight. Halfway through their set, the sun started to set. As the temps relented a bit, I climbed up the hill and lay back, reveling in Mastodon's heavy, spacey Floyd fixation with eyes firmly shut. God, why don't more bands use a Theremin?

When the ultra-dreamy "The Sparrow" capped off my journey into inner space, it felt like the spell had been broken too soon. Hope to hear/see/experience something more from these guys very soon.

If Mastodon's weirder explorations have made them a little hard to pin down in the metal hierarchy, they fit somewhere in the pantheon a lot more easily than Five Finger Death Punch. The talented assemblage of L.A. ringers play a slick, stomping brand of heavy metal that doesn't jibe with any established metal scene or subgenre.

But it's not just how they sound. Five Finger Death Punch just does things a little different than their contemporaries. I'll give you an example. At one point during their set, singer Ivan Moody invited a whole gang of kids up onstage for a heartwarming photo op. Then he proceeded to drop seven or eight F-bombs and bid the kids to flip off the crowd, including an adorable little girl of about five years old.

Moody was quick to point out that his own daughter hadn't given the middle-finger salute -- she knew better. Was that a little hypocritical? Nobody seemed offended, so we all just moved on. In addition to young families, apparently, Five Finger Death Punch also caters heavily to military veterans and service members, whom they praised repeatedly and singled out for applause.

While some bands shy away a bit from discussing their music being blasted in war zones, 5FDP had no such qualms. They dedicated a polished cover of "Bad Company" to the five branches, and their fans loved them for it, chanting "USA! USA!" Hard to imagine that at a Lamb of God concert, but the band's semi-calculated patriotic appeal was undeniable.

Not sure how that stuff plays overseas, but in Houston, Texas, they're a legitimate draw. Just not quite the draw that last year's Mayhem Fest lineup proved to be.

Rob Zombie wasn't either. To be quite fair, it's tough to compete with Slipknot, Slayer and Motorhead. But it was a noticeably thinner crowd up on the hill for the headliners in 2013.

Hopefully, it was a big enough crowd to look good for Zombie's cameras. The veteran bandleader was filming the show for a forthcoming live DVD... his first, he told us. Games would have to be raised.

"Whatever you do tonight is fucking permanent," Zombie said. The audience took that to heart.

Zombie opened with "Teenage Nosferatu Pussy" from his new album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor." Not a heck of a lot of people around me seemed to know all the words, but with a title like that, it's pretty easy to sing along. The singer and his band were rocking something of an undead pirate look, with Zombie flailing his hair back and forth as he stalked the stage.

The musicians brought their best for the cameras, rattling off hits like "Living Dead Girl" and "More Human Than Human." Zombie really has the visual flair to put the massive HD screens onstage to work, alternating black-light psychedelics with acid-washed horror footage and D-list dancing girls. As usual, there was a visit from a giant robot pal.

Kudos to the die-hard metalheads with the strength left to return all that energy. A lot of us out there in the dark were pretty burned out by the time we got to "Dragula." I like Rob Zombie, but at that point I was long past ready to stop sweating for five fucking minutes. Imagine he might've been thinking the same.

Personal Bias: Air-conditioning fanatic.

The Crowd: A burlier sort of festival-goer.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Did he say fuckin' 'Teabag Nosferatu?'"

Random Notebook Dump: The Viking ship breathed smoke, guys. It was pretty sick.


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