Rockstar Mayhem Festival

Slayer and King Diamond lay down a metal masterclass

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With each passing summer, more and more of metal’s heavyweights flock to the stadia of Europe for festival season, and for the past eight years, the Mayhem Festival has offered North American metalheads a decent warm weather alternative – a sprawling cross-country package featuring multiple stages stacked with a deep cross-section of genres.

Previous main stage acts have included Slipknot, Motörhead, Lamb Of God, Rob Zombie and tonight’s headliner, Slayer. Side stages have boasted powerhouses like Anthrax, Behemoth, The Black Dahlia Murder and Machine Head. This year, however, the festival is bringing its usual four main stage acts but only one second stage with a precipitously thinner lineup.

SHATTERED SUN [7] get things underway with a bouncy clutch of pit-starting metalcore, filled out by textured atmospherics and throaty, shout-out choruses. With a smaller field of artists comes far less genre diversity, and SWORN IN [6] follow with an uninspired serving of by-the-numbers metalcore that feels frustratingly dated in contrast to Shattered Sun. The truck-lined, black-asphalt parking lot behind the main amphitheatre proves fitting for SISTER SIN’s [7] retro-glammy hard rock posturing, offering both a nod to the old-school metallers in the back as well as a welcome stylistic contrast to the openers.

JUNGLE ROT [9] have prowled the death metal landscape for over 20 years and their downtuned riffs, dense grooving and breakneck tempos provide an invigorating shot in the arm. They preview a new song called Doomsday, powered by enough gasoline-soaked riffs to curl a grin from even the grumpiest of Bolt Thrower fans. “What the fuck is up, you California cunts?” roars THY ART IS MURDER [7] frontman CJ McMahon. Building on Jungle Rot’s energy, the Aussie troupe administer an utterly bludgeoning half-hour of deathcore that includes The Purest Strain Of Hate along with the debut of two new songs.

WHITECHAPEL [8] have appeared at Mayhem before, but never on a stage of such modest dimensions as the one today. With large banners draped on either side, they still need room for their singer, bassist, drummer and three guitarists. Cramped but undaunted, they wreak an absolutely monstrous deathcore assault with frontman Phil Bozeman slinking across his riser, unleashing his otherworldly death vocals above a cataclysm of buzzsaw riffage and granite-crumbling blastbeats.

If you want metalcore, Mayhem’s got it! THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA [7] open the main stage with a siege of chugging, drop-D riffage, seismic breakdowns and brawny polyrhythms. A new song called Supernova, from their forthcoming EP, reveals a jagged, heavier sound that might well signal a new direction for the Ohio metallers. Self-appointed purists will always write off HELLYEAH [8] as knuckle-dragging party metal, but what their recorded output might lack in ambition, their live show more than compensates for in terms of throat-grabbing urgency. By the second song, bassist Kyle Sanders has spat (fake) blood into the face of frontman Chad Gray, who spends the remainder of the show looking like he’s been chainsawing cattle, while they move through a surging groove metal onslaught that includes Sangre Por Sangre and You Wouldn’t Know.

The jaw-dropping scale of the stage dressing – lavishly cast as a stony gothic cathedral, appointed with gargoyles, pentagrams and inverted crosses – underscores the cavernous gulf that separates KING DIAMOND [9] from all of the preceding acts, both in terms of stature and legacy. Celebrating their 30th anniversary – including original members, guitarist Andy LaRocque and the King himself – the band might not have new material to flog, but they tear through a blood-pumping, hour-long spectacle that includes Eye Of The Witch, Insanity and Mercyful Fate classics Evil and Come To The Sabbath. A visually arresting pageant of thrash-infused classic metal and camp theatricality, their set transcends the festival trappings, emerging as a wholly distinct and utterly absorbing experience.

On Slayer’s [10] last Mayhem run, they set the table for 2012 headliner Slipknot, but this year the festival is entirely theirs. Slayer t-shirts exponentially outnumber all other bands, whose sets have been sporadically interrupted by punters shouting “Slayer!” At 9:45, the white curtain drops from the largely unadorned stage and the band erupt with Repentless – the live debut of their scorching new single. Fresh off of a headlining tour, Slayer sound taut, polished and breathtakingly aggressive. For a band who have historically avoided grandiose stage production, the inclusion of shooting flames, graphics and video feels almost over-the-top, and while Jeff Hanneman’s spirit casts a long shadow over any Slayer gig, Gary Holt continues to establish himself as Jeff’s worthiest successor, his blurred-finger fretwork dovetailing surgically into Kerry King’s muscular, head-bobbing attack. With Tom Araya’s vocals sharp and bellicose, Slayer sound as potent as they did on the World Painted Blood campaign. Tonight’s set also includes the live premiere of When The Stillness Comes, the seldom-played God Send Death, a blistering version of Jihad, and closers Raining Blood and Angel Of Death. More than 30 years after forming, Slayer continue to deliver the show that everybody expects, while still managing to blow everybody’s mind.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.