The summer sun anywhere in the United States, even the Northeast can be unforgiving, so it was with great regret that upon arrival at the August 2, Pittsburgh stop at the inaugural Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, this scribe realized that a shaved head + scorching summer heat = a head that was bound to look like a tomato.
As deathcore merchants Suicide Silence kicked off the day’s festivities, all I could think about was how I was going to prevent my noggin’ from getting burnt. While the band ran through its rather telegraphed and predictable set of beatdown-laden death metal (we’ll use that term loosely), I soon realized that committing the unspeakable crime of dolling out money for a hat had to be committed. Remembering a recent conversation I had with our own Ken McGrath, a Machine Head hat was the choice and I was $30 lighter in the pocket.
Now that my head was covered, Hemlock, the left-field openers on the Ministry/Meshuggah tour were getting underway on the Jagermeister stage. See, at this festival, there are two side stages: Jagermeister and Hot Topic, forcing participants to jostle back and forth between sets. Both stages were in close range of each other, but begged to ask the question, why not have it all one side stage?
Anyhoo, Hemlock received a relatively lukewarm response to their unremarkable brand of modern metal, as singer/bassist Chad Smith and co. aired tracks from their even more unremarkable No Time For Sorrow album. Plus, aren’t there about 40 other Hemlock’s?
Newcomers Black Tide were up next on the Hot Topic stage and were greeted warmly. The band has an odd stage dichotomy where bassist Zakk Sandler did all of the in-song raps instead of lead singer/guitarist Gabriel Garcia. Perhaps I was the only one in the audience to notice this, for tunes like “Shockwave,” “Warriors of Time,” and Iron Maiden’s “Prowler” went down in a storm.
Led by the charismatic Candace Kucsalain, Walls of Jericho trotted out selections from their new album, The American Dream and cuts from With Devils Amongst Us All. A birthday celebration for Kucsasain (sing-along included) highlighted the set, as Red Chord singer Guy Kozowyk launched a birthday cake into the crowd. Kozowyk and crew were up next and provided the most entertainment for the day, as it was also Kozowyk’s birthday, prompting yet another sing-along.
TRC’s manic and chaotic death metal is hard to follow in the live setting, but “Dreaming in Dog Years” is always a hit, as is “Antman” and Kozowyk’s in-song banter, where he repeatedly called the crowd “assholes” and exclaimed, “Please mosh for me on my birthday so my mom doesn’t think I’m a failure.” The band even had the crowd do five “Walls of Death” to spite Walls of Jericho, who reportedly stole the idea from the Boston boys. Funny stuff.
Five Finger Death Punch had easily the largest reception on the second stage of the day. Odd. Culling entirely from their Way of the Fist platter, Ivan Moody and co. enjoyed a massive response to “Salvation” and radio hit “The Bleeding,” even though Moody was off-key and out of pitch practically the entire set. 36 Crazyfists were suitably better, even though they were probably the least metallic act on the bill. The change of pace provided by the Alaskans was much needed, and “We Gave It Hell” along with cuts from A Snow Capped Romance were admirably performed.
One of the main problems behind the setup for the festival was the set times. With Mastodon cueing up on the main stage, both Airbourne and Machine Head (sorry Ken) were missed. Same goes for Underoath, but that was done on purpose in order to consume a $5 pretzel and $3 bottle of water. Not sure who was in charge of scheduling, but this was the sort of nonsense that went down on the first few installments of Ozzfest before they wised-up and made sure the side stages were done before activities on the main stage started.
Playing in front of a half-filled pavilion, Mastodon opened with “The Wolf Is Loose” then rolled out “Crystal Skull,” “Capillarian Crest,” “Circle of Cysquatch” and closed with “March of the Fire Ants.” The band looked surprisingly statuesque, perhaps due to minimal crowd interaction, but sounded massive in an amphitheater setting. No songs from their forthcoming album were aired, much to my chagrin.
Dragonforce were perhaps the most anticipated band of the day outside of Slipknot even though they have one song. Yes, ONE song. While they are entertaining the watch, the band’s songwriting flaws are obviously no hindrance to their massive following. How this band can continually re-write the same song and reach these heights is beyond me, but hey, to each his own.
Singer JP Zheart took a mid-song stroll during “Operation Ground and Pound” to the lawn area, while guitarist Sam Totman (who most definitely was inebriated) had technical problems throughout the set. New single “Heroes of Our Time” along with “Through Fire and Flames” had the nearly-filled pavilion and lawn area going bonkers as the sun slowly started to set.
The closing 1-2 punch of Disturbed and Slipknot could not have been less enticing to this writer’s eyes and ears. Of course, ¾’s of the audience had either a Slipknot or Disturbed shirt on, so I guess the both bands are doing their job in keeping merch sales strong and steady. Both have managed to maintain their popularity, surviving the great Nu Metal Washout in ’04 and the site of a packed Post-Gazette Pavilion only served to reinforce that notion.
Since yours truly can’t find it in his heart to utter a positive word about Disturbed and Slipknot’s collective songs (“Stupify” still has to be one of the worst 'creations' put to tape), we’ll just say they had the crowd in fits, especially Slipknot, whose stage show is always entertaining, no matter how sloppy the band really is in the live setting. Those new masks were pretty neato – perhaps they consulted Mushroomhead on ‘em. No?
Aside for the unnecessary two side stages, the first Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival can be deemed a success. Kudos to the organizers for NOT starting this thing at 10:00 AM ala Ozzfest and giving the bands more time to play. A stellar turnout like today will always keep these ‘fests going, so let’s see if it can outlive the now-defunct Sounds of the Underground and the underperforming Gigantour…