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Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival - August 1, 2009 - Post-Gazette Pavilion, Pittsburgh, PA

By: David E. Gehlke

Unlike last year, this scribe had the foresight to not only wear something to cover his bald noggin’, but also a white t-shirt. It’s common sense when you think about it: it’s going to be sunny and hot, black clothing attracts heat, you’ll be outside all day, etc., etc. Anyway…

This year’s edition of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival featured a stronger lineup across the board and judging from these eyes, attendance was up, recession and all. A 2:15 PM EST start time was planned, along with the two side-stages (Hot Topic and Jagermeister), which operated smoothly in spite of sound hiccups which no doubt can be attributed to how difficult it is get extreme metal to sound good outdoors.

The first band of the day, Whitechapel was missed thanks to yours truly fetching his press credentials, so Arizona’s Job For a Cowboy were the first band caught. Out in support of their new Ruination album, the band sounded more tight than in previous performances. Credit that to new guitarist Al Glassman (ex-Despised Icon) and some slightly better, more cohesive songs.

New Jersey’s God Forbid were up next and frankly, it’s a strange sight to see the long-running troupe operate without guitarist Dallas Coyle. Dallas’ absence was plain as day, as replacement Matt Wicklund (ex-Himsa) keep energy levels to a minimum as the band raced through “Chains of Humanity,” “To the Fallen Heroes,” and “War of Attrition.” Hats off to singer Byron Davis for giving a shout out to Pittsburgh venues like Club Laga and Mr. Smalls. Glad someone remembers the venues in this most non-metal of cities.

Part of the rotating slot on the Hot Topic stage with Job For a Cowboy and Black Dahlia Murder, Behemoth took the stage in the not-so-ominous backdrop of sunny skies and increasing temperatures. The two don’t coincide well, but Nergal and co. made due with what they had. As their corpse paint slowly peeled off, “Slaves Shall Serve,” new jams “Shemhamforash” and traditional set closer “Ezkaton” invigorated a tiring crowd.

All That Remains had what was probably the best reception of the day, as Phil Labonte’s limitless energy captivated a swelling crowd. How their formulaic melodic metalcore has carried them this far is anyone’s guess. The Black Dahlia Murder, on the other hand, were the best band on the side stages. Bolstered by a crystal clear sound (nice work, soundman) the Michigan quartet rolled out their infamous sense of humor and razor-sharp melodic death metal. Singer Trever Strand looks like he’s having the time of his life (smiles and all) while new guitarist Ryan Knight (ex Arsis) adds some new life to the band’s guitar spot. New track “Necropolis” ruled as well.

Having little desire to see Trivium, yours truly instead took the time to mingle and consume a $4 dollar pretzel and bottle of water, of which would be the last thing eaten of the day. A mild case of dehydration on the drive home ensued. Idiot.

Cannibal Corpse were the last band to play on the side stages of the day and what a strange site it was. Having seen the band about 80 times in much smaller venues, the attention the band is getting now is nothing short of remarkable. The sound was a bit dodgy, although “Stripped Raped and Stranged,” “Eviseration Plague,” “I Want to Kill You” and proverbial set-closer “Hammer Smashed Face” drew a rapturous response, as did singer George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer’s in-between song banter.

Kicking off the main stage as a replacement for Bullet For My Valentine (thank God…) was Cleveland’s Mushroomhead. Their avant-metal-meets Slipknot style is a tough sell in the outdoor format, yet there was a sizeable crowd on hand to bare witness to the band’s odd visual antics and Faith No More-inspired manuervings.

Killswitch Engage stole the show. Seriously. Unreal to say it, but they did. With goofball guitarist Adam D parading around stage with a cape, the Boston melodic metalcore quintent played what could be amount to a “best-of” set, highlighted by opener “My Last Serenade,” “The Rose of Sharyn,” new cuts “Reckoning” and “Starting Over” and stand-bys “The End of Heartache,” and “Fixition on the Darkness.”

In the amphitheater setting, KSE’s sound was remarkably clear and potent. Howard Jones was spot-on in his delivery and the most EMO of moments were all forgiven this particular night. Astonishing…might be time to revisit their catalog.

The biggest disapointment of the day was Slayer, who looked tired, lethargic, and old. Drummer Dave Lombardo had a handful of flubs, oftentimes overplaying during the easiest of portions during “Chemical Warfare” and “War Ensemble.” Jeff Hanneman looked disinterested, while Tom Araya forgot the second half of “Angel of Death.” Not sure if anyone else caught it (everyone else was either too tanked or too gaga), but this scribe’s mouth was agape. An off night, perhaps? Or has Slayer’s time finally come? After all, they are the most extreme of the classic metal acts. Time will tell…

There was no sticking around for Marilyn Manson’s set. Fatigue and general lack of interest set in, plus, the sheer letdown over Slayer’s set was too much to bare. Reports indicated a good portion of the crowd had bolted as well anyway…

Overall, another well-run, entertaining festival. It beats Ozzfest, which would be served to re-tool or just stay away altogether.


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