On Saturday (August 4), Rockstar Energy’s Mayhem festival offered serving after serving of pile-driving metal to thousands of enthusiastic headbangers at Scranton’s Toyota Pavilion. There were some of today’s loudest bands (Asking Alexandria, The Devil Wears Prada and As I Lay Dying), up-and-coming acts (I The Breather, White Chapel) local “battle of the bands” winners, bona fide metal royalty (Motorhead, Slayer, Anthrax) and, headlining, the incomparable Slipknot. Lots of brands took the opportunity to reach their audiences (beside sponsor Rockstar Energy beverages, Jagermeister sponsors the tour’s second stage; Zippo lighters and independent metal record labels also have a big presence at the festival). And while some parents might worry about their kids going to such an aggressive concert, Mayhem also has a big heart in the form of the festival’s “Metal Of Honor,” an awareness and fundraising effort focused on the needs and challenges of our military veterans and their families.
“Metal Of Honor” goes beyond lip service. Besides encouraging fans to text $5 donations to support the troops, a “Metal Of Honor” tent featured a Chamber of Commerce “Hiring Our Heroes” representative to provide attending veterans with information on upcoming Veteran Employment Fairs in the area. Additionally, all military personnel were allowed early entry to the shows, and they all received a “Metal Of Honor” wristband, along with information on the various charities supporting veteran causes. Concertgoers were encouraged to thank vets wearing the wristbands. There was also a raffle. The winner — Sean May from Operation: Iraqi Freedom — was honored on the main stage between the Motorhead and Slayer performances. The audience cheered for May as strongly as they did for their favorite bands. And, ultimately, the bands were what drew the crowd. There were three stages; the biggest bands (Slipknot, Slayer and Motorhead) took to the main stage).
Anthrax, however, opted to headline the second stage (sponsored by Jagermeister), which was a good choice. The main stage had ticketed seating, but the second stage was a general admission situation, much more appropriate for Anthrax, the band who, arguably, brought moshpits to metal concerts (before that, they were mainly seen at punk shows). Even without founding member/co-leader/drummer Charlie Benante (recovering from a hand injury; Jason Bittner from Shadows Fall was filling in), they worked the crowd into a frenzy, with several pits erupting as soon as they took the stage to (appropriately) “Caught In A Mosh.” They played some of their signature covers, including Joe Jackson’s “Got The Time” (but not Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise,” one of their finest moments) as well as their own classics, including “Indians,” “Madhouse,” “I Am The Law” and from their latest album, Worship Music, “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t.”
Motorhead is the oldest band to play Mayhem’s festival in its five year history. At 35 years young, Motorhead has been on the planet for longer than probably 50% of the audience. It’s fairly likely that a lot of the younger metal fans were experiencing the band – including bassist/frontman Lemmy Kilmister, drummer Mickey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell – for the first time. The newbies were treated to a whiplash performance by the band who influenced most of the other bands on the bill (certainly Slayer and Anthrax), as well as Metallica and Megadeth (aka thrash metal’s “Big Four”). Their set included “Bomber,” “Damage Case,” “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch,” “The One To Sing The Blues” and their two most celebrated songs, “Killed By Death” and “Ace Of Spades.”
Before Slayer took the stage, the P.A. played a mix of AC/DC songs. Whether intentional or not, the message seemed to be that, like AC/DC, Slayer ignore trends, stick to what they are great at (in their case, doomy, breakneck-speed thrash metal) and never let their fans down (the same can be said for Motorhead, who played right before them). Starting with “Disciple” from 2001’s God Hates Us All, the band left the gate at 100 mph and never slowed down, through a set that featured “War Ensemble,” “Mandatory Suicide,” “Seasons In The Abyss,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “Angel Of Death” and for their encore, “South Of Heaven” and “Raining Blood.” Slayer don’t do “happy,” and they pretty much stick to one speed: fast. And that’s how their fans like it.
The relatively young Slipknot (their debut album came out in 1999) played last. They combine Slayer’s brutality with the showmanship of Alice Cooper (or, to use slightly more modern examples, Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson). Slayer sing about hell, but Slipknot look like they are performing from hell. Their sound is unique, their look more so. Their eight-man lineup sounds like nothing else in rock music. The group includes singer Corey Taylor, guitarists Mick Thompson and Jim Root, drummer Joey Jordison, percussionists Chris Fehn and Shawn Crahan, DJ Sid Wilson and sampler Craig Jones (bassist Donnie Steele performs from backstage; he plays in place of their late founder Paul Gray who died in 2010). Despite the fact that they haven’t had many radio hits, nearly every seat in the amphitheater was filled, and mosh pits appeared on the lawn the minute they took the stage to “[sic].” The fans bellowed along to every lyric.
Although frontman Taylor has a truly fearsome voice, it’s worth noting that he also narrated Mayhem’s “Metal Of Honor” PSA video, encouraging local businesses to hire veterans. It’s nice to note that even the scariest bands can do a bit of good.
– Brian Ives, CBS Local