Best U.S. Fest of 2012? Probably Mayhem.

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:09 PM (PST)

When it comes to full-fledged package tours in 2012, Mayhem pretty much blew everyone away this year. As far as mainstream metal goes, how can you compete with Motorhead, Slipknot, Anthrax, Slayer and As I Lay Dying on one tour? You might as well just give up. If only High On Fire hadn’t dropped off the tour…well, it’s just as well. That would have been almost too much to fucking handle.

Mayhem was a great current glance at much of the metal landscape.

I wanted to reflect on my own experience at the festival plus share some insight from bands like (the awesome and underrated) Stemm and The Devil Wears Prada on why it was so great this year. Sure, everyone was bugging about Slipknot and they did put on an amazing show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (especially “Surfacing”). Really, it was about everyone more than one band. While the horribly awful energy drinks and lack of decent booze (which we managed to get around, hee hee) were a downer, it was nonetheless a great, refreshing time that revived conviction that Metal is here to stay/slay.

Click HERE for thoughts plus recap pics of bands like Slayer, As I Lay Dying, Stemm, Lemmy and more!

Live photos by J.M.

It is easy to be jaded when you see these festivals and think that promoters are just throwing anything at the wall to see what sticks. A few can do know wrong classic names, a few up and coming shitty death core bands, some fucking t-shirt booths. There ya go! That is too simple, however. It minimalizes how much the people who really care matter. I talked to an old friend who was there to see Motorhead and had brought his son, a huge Slipknot fan. He watched his kid get in the pit for the first time ever to Devil Wears Prada. That’s pretty cool.

Shit, while I am lucky in that when I was a kid I had Nirvana to teach me about good music like Melvins, Big Black, Velocity Girl, Jesus Lizard and Black Flag, lots of kids only had crap afterwards. For every Deftones there are a hundred shitty knock off Nu Metal bands or trite acts like Carnifux or Chelsea Grin. A festival like Mayhem may have some semi-decent gateway bands like Whitechapel to draw in new blood, but those same kids are gonna get schooled by Anthrax as well! This fest was hard like several dudes hanging out with Aletta Ocean at once.

I know it was a decent array of bands, but I wish some prog metal was represented as well. It would have been great to see a Periphery or Hammers Of Misfortune ensorcel the crowd. Especially greener metal fans who just know “da mosh breakdown.” But I digress…

Stemm, best known for their UFC approved mosh rock, kicked things off on the date we attended, and they really should’ve been on the whole tour. These guys have loads of heart and have been dogging it out in the underground for years. It was a discredit to some of the other bands to have Stemm come out high energy and set the bar high from the start.

“It is an honor to be on Rockstar Mayhem. We are still alive and kicking. Doing things our way as we always have,” said vocalist Joe Cafarella. “We have always learned that when opening up our job is to get the crowd hyped up but never think you can outdo the bigger, headlining bands. If we can get the crowd to start pitting and get some hands in the air, we’ve set the bar for what the rest of the day is gonna be for them. Our new record Crossroads, we’re still a metal band at heart, but we wanted to get away from the typical anger and hatred. We got that out and did 200 shows in support of Blood Scent. We got to see this country and things we’d never be able to see. I’ll never forget that even if the band never got on a major tour ever again. We could stare at the badlands of South Dakota. Go to New Orleans, you know what I mean? Now we are getting more melodic.”

The Devil Wears Prada were one of the highest energy acts of the tour, very distorted and better live than I expected. I never liked the band name, but they have won me over ever since the guest vocals on ADTR’s Homesick record. I asked TDWP vocalist Mike Hrancia about what made the Mayhem tour great.

“Sometimes there are moving crowds and sometimes watching crowds, but it’s always good,” said Mike, post-set. “I like big rooms or small, tight clubs or festivals. We really like this tour because it was the perfect blend of finding new listeners and satisfying people who are already our fans. We are very content with Dead Throne and it felt like turning the corner and saying this was the new Devil Wears Prada. Finally getting to the point where we have the sound we want.”

I had to ask Mike, since Motorhead was one of the biggest speed freak bands of all time and Slayer have lots of upside down crosses, how did it feel representing Christian Metal core on this tour? Tom Araya is a Catholic, I have heard.

“To us it is just going on a tour and playing shows. Our guitarist Chris said this the other day. Just as much as no one is walking around sacrificing goats, we aren’t throwing Bibles around backstage,” said Mike. “Most of our friends bands and people we get along with believe different things. We’ve never just gone out to do church tours.”

So yeah, you pretty much couldn’t go wrong with Mayhem this year. Sure, Orion had Metallica kicking ass and showcasing a lot of talent (including Landmine Marathon, who I love). Still, Motorhead and Slayer back to back? Come on. From As I Lay Dying ripping through “Nothing Left” and choice cuts from their best album The Powerless Rise to Motorhead delivering untouchable gnarly classics like “Stay Clean” and “Killed By Death” (to say nothing of Mickey Dee’s drum solo!) to Slayer with Gary Holt playing “God Hates Us All” and Slipknot preaching to the faithful maggots with masked, hydraulic fury…untouchable good times, people. Metal in the U.S.A. still packs a punch.

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