The biggest traveling heavy metal festival of the summer rolls into the Woodlands Pavilion tonight. The annual Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival has stepped its game up significantly in 2012, dropping metal titans Slipknot, Slayer, Anthrax, Motorhead and more onto Houston's well-groomed northern suburb like so many canisters of napalm. There will be screaming, there will be pushing and shoving and there will almost certainly be some illicit drug-taking.
Basically, it's going to be chock full of all of the things that concern parents about rock concerts.
Which is kind of the point, of course. Bands like Slayer and Slipknot have cultivated a sound and image designed to shock and repulse parents, giving kids (and the young at heart) some much-needed space.
This fest promises to be crowded with skulls, pentagrams, Nazi imagery, blood and middle fingers, and that's just at the T-shirt tent. Everything will be deliberately ear-splitting, rude and decidedly anti-parent. But which act will top the others by annoying the most parents?
To find out, I decided to ask the experts: My own parents. For the most part, they're open-minded, tolerant people, but heavy metal was an issue growing up under their roof.
Like a lot of parents of their generation, they were appalled and concerned by the sexism and gore made to seem omnipresent in the genre by Tipper Gore's book Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society as well as her efforts with the PMRC. Records with parental advisory stickers were frowned upon in our household, and album covers full of Satanic imagery (like Slayer's!) definitely did not fly.
My mom and dad have been married for 40 years or so, and I don't think they've missed a Sunday in church in all that time. They're supportive, loving and entirely square. Basically, they're exactly who the Mayhem Festival bands take pleasure in frightening and offending. (Draw your own conclusions as to why I love metal so much.)
So I asked them this question: Which of the following Mayhem Fest bands do you find the most intolerable? Partly for science. And partly because I found the idea of subjecting my mom to "Raining Blood" to be hilarious.
Slayer, "Raining Blood"
What better band to set the bar for this discussion than Slayer? The group's aggressive thrash sound and Nazi/occult shock imagery have been used to piss off parents for three decades now. Getting caught with their CDs in junior high would have been bad news for me, indeed.
Rocks Off: So give me your impression.
Dad: "My impression is that I can't understand a word they're saying. (laughs). Not one word, except I did think I caught "blood" one time. I did notice during the song that it looked like it was raining something and they get kind of oiled down with something red and drippy. But that's about it!"
RO: That was the raining blood, Dad. Did Mom watch it?
Dad: "She watched some of it. She didn't like it. She liked the guy's hair!"
Mom: "I thought (singer Tom Araya's) hair was cute and boyish and endearing. I want to ask, though, how much of the song was degrading to women?" (nervously chuckles)
RO: I don't think any of it was degrading to women, specifically.
Mom: "Well a lot of it is, I hear! (laughs) But there was a lot of energy to it. It looks like they're having fun. I couldn't understand a single word of it, of course..."Slipknot, "[sic]"
Slipknot combined the angst of nu-metal with the fury of thrash and the shocking imagery of horror movies to great success on their 1999 debut. Charming ditties such as "People=Shit" are ugly music played on trash cans. I can only imagine how it sounded coming out of the speakers of my dad's Kindle Fire.
Mom: "Oh my God! (laughs) That's pretty funny. Are they trying to be scary, or are they trying to be funny? I think they're trying to be funny."
Dad: "What has he got on his head?! It's a weird-looking skinny nose thing."
*At this point, Slipknot singer Corey Taylor tells the crowd to put their fucking hands in the air. This is a swear. My mom now instantly hates Slipknot.*
Mom: "Tsk! Well, we understood that word. This is monotonous and un-engaging."
Dad: "It's kind of theatrical, but not-very-well-done theatrical. It's a lot of growling and snarling; I can't understand hardly a word, and the one thing I do understand is 'Put your f'n hands in the air.'"
Mom: "Their masks are stupid." (Ouch.)
The oldest and longest-running band at Mayhem Fest, Motorhead's sound is much closer to the acid rock that my parents didn't hate in the late '60s/early '70s. They're also tremendously loud and covered in Iron Crosses, so who knows.
Mom: "Oh, I like the guitar and drums."
Dad: "He's got a better voice." (Whoa.)
Mom: "How can you tell? He's shrieking."
Dad: "Well, at least it's not aggravating like the other two! Wait, is that a Nazi symbol on his guitar?"
*At this point, I consider explaining Lemmy's semi-troubling interest in German WWII militaria, but instead I sort of sheepishly mumble something.*
Dad: "Huh. Their guitars are better than the other guys. They're a lot more musical, I think. Are we done with this one, now?"
RO: Can you do one more?
Dad: "Sure. We've lived with worse. I've listened to Christian praise music, for God's sake."
Mom: "I like Christian praise music!"
Dad: "Yeah, but I don't."
The Devil Wears Prada, "Outnumbered"
In addition to being a classic film starring some girl, The Devil Wears Prada is a metalcore band from Dayton, Ohio. In addition to being one of the youngest groups at the fest, they also happen to be a Christian band, a fact I neglected to mention to my folks in order to prevent any bias from creeping into the experiment.
Mom: "I'm sorry (laughs). You should see the dog right now. She doesn't know what's happening. These guys are dumb and I hate them. They had a cute introduction, though."
Dad: "The lead singer sounds dumb. The guitarist is okay."
Mom: "I think it's yelling instead of having any actual talents."
Dad: "Rrroggg! (laughs) See, I could do this!"
Mom: "I'm afraid this would not make America's Got Talent." (This was a pretty devastating Mom-burn.)
Dad: "Yeah. This last group is the worst."
THE FINAL VERDICT
RO: So, which band did you find to be the most annoying?
Mom: "The first one!" (This is good. If your mom likes Slayer, you probably grew up to kill people and eat their teeth.)
Dad: "The last one. 'The Devil Wears Prada.' The lead singer was terrible! Anybody can scream! It takes no talent to scream. The movie looked stupid, too. Why would you name yourselves that?"
RO: And which group did you hate the least?
Mom: "Motorhead. I liked their guitars. That's probably the kiss of death, as far as they're concerned! They kind of reminded me of the Rolling Stones -- not in terms of music, but in terms of energy channeled into actually expressing something."
Dad: "They had a good act."
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The experts have spoken. Hardcore Christians and mock-Satanists are equally awful in the eyes of parents. Mostly because of the screaming, I gather. By comparison, Lemmy's voice apparently sounds fantastic. Do yourself a favor and keep your mother away from him tonight.
Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival begins tonight at 6 p.m. at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.