It soars into the air, a sparkling baton for rock singers. Its chrome-plated shaft sears fingertips upon contact. It spins first, then tumbles while singer Aryn Black of Scorpion Child dances and jams with the solos being played on a Flying V and a Les Paul. He doesn't need the microphone for another second or two, and he's lost in the moment.
But it's so fucking hot that Black almost misses the falling microphone as it plummets toward the stage. Fans step away from the barricade as he leans too far forward while his guitarists' eyes shift from narrowed and focused to "Holy shit, not a Krist Novoselic move."
Two steps, then another and Black catches the microphone, stumbles backward to balance himself, pulls his shoulders back as if he were going to roar and finishes the rest of the song.
Despite temperatures reaching upward to 115 degrees as the asphalt boils in the Texas sunlight, Black and his Austin-based band Scorpion Child are giving fans at this year's Mayhem Festival something that rocks just as hard as the raging metal of Machine Head, Born of Osiris and Children of Bodom but vastly different than the new metal of Motionless in White, who played a mind-blowing set that echoed Marilyn Manson's earlier stuff, or the classic "blue collar" thrashness of Battlecross, who deserve main stage access at next year's festival, or even the Butcher Babies who are defying some of the stereotypes and embracing others with not one but two female lead singers -- Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey -- a bold move in an industry dominated by males. It's the soul of the blues infusing Scorpion Child's licks, their rhythms, their stage presence.
Scorpion Child look like someone pulled them from the depths of Led Zeppelin's basement. Hippies from Austin, some of our more redneckish citizens would say. "A fucking kickass band," some loyal Texas fans scream as guitarists Christopher Cowart and Tom "The Mole" Frank shred through leads and rhythms touched by some of classic rock's most successful pioneers. Black's vocals brings to mind Ronnie James Dio and Robert Plant with a dash of Jim Morrison as the tattooed singer groves with the music. Shaun Avants produces groovy bass line after groovy bass line while drummer Shawn Alvear, who lived in Dallas for a time, leads the band through tunes reminiscent of old-school metal.
Arriving in a white van with a trailer full of equipment, the guys of Scorpion Child are pursuing their rock 'n' roll dreams by following a caraven of tour buses from city to city, sacrificing everything for a chance to play in front of metal fans, some of music's most notorious critics. "They're a tough crowd to crack," says Alvear, motioning to the sunburned fans walking past. "But I enjoy that the most."
Alvear's long dark hair and beard with slight patches of gray are streaked with sweat, which also drenches his black button-down shirt. Instead of partying like rock stars, he and the rest of the band have been outside all day, selling their merchandise to help fund their trip and fuel their next one with KADAVAR, a psychedelic blues band originally from Germany, followed by a European tour with Orchid later this year.
"Sometimes the earlier bands get all the people," says Cowart.
Vendors are also among the bands, selling everything from band and festival T-shirts to belt buckles of skulls, spikes, more spikes, rebel symbols and a notorious five-fingered plant; fundraising groups looking for donations; motorcycle stuntmen zoom their bikes through the air in rapid succession while pure adrenalin unloaded on the Jägermeister Mobile and Musicians Institute stages.
A few people stop and pick up a coozy, snatch an autograph or two, buy a CD, and a crowd shows up once the band finishes their set. Black signs memorabilia while the other guys make their way to the small tent-covered area where more than a dozen bands interact with their fans and each other as if this arena tour was more like a community that supports and encourages new and old bands.
On Sunday morning, band members were stacking their equipment next to the Sumerian Record Stage, one of the smaller stages located just off the main path leading to the festival. They've spent five weeks on the road following the same routine: park, unload, stack and wait. "We spend five hours sitting," Cowart says, "and the last hour selling."
The acoustics at the Sumerian Record Stage are horrible. In fact, there are none. No concrete, no metal to capture the sound and push it forward toward fans who, in an auditorium, would hear early reflections at about 50 milliseconds as the reverberated sound begins to reach equilibrium. It's simply a small tent pavilion marking off a section of the sidewalk as the stage.
Here, fans hear the initial burst but the sustainability of the sound pushes Black to his vocal limits as he pleases fans with songs off Scorpion Child's new self-titled album. "Kings Highway," "Polygon of Eyes" and "Salvation Slave" are just some of the crowd-pleasers heard that day.
Most bands would kill for the chance to play at a festival of this magnitude. Scorpion Child fell into the opportunity after Behemoth dropped from the tour, so Attika 7 took their place on the Musicians Institute Stage, which left an opening on the Sumerian. A few weeks before Mayhem's start date, festival organizers tapped Scorpion Child's shoulder for a chance to headline the side stage.
When Alvaer heard that they were going to play Mayhem Festival, he thought, Wait a minute, are we metal enough to do this? But when they played their first show in San Bernardino, California, metal fans enjoyed the band's offering. "Even bands who I never thought in a million years were coming out to hear us," says Alvaer, who grew up listening to Motown and R & B. "I love metal; I'm just more selective."
Some fans are even comparing them to early Mastadon offerings, which the band doesn't mind since they are huge Mastadon fans. "We're probably going to watch Mastadon when we're done," says Cowart. "We'll also check out Zombie; he puts on a killer show."
Scorpion Child must be playing fate's cards right because they received another break at the Atlanta show when another band's bus caught on fire and festival organizers bumped the Texas boys from the Sumerian to the Musicians Institute Stage to fill the missing band's spot.
"It was epic," says Black, who ignited fans in Atlanta as if he were Ronnie James Dio reaching beyond the grave. His dark hair, lean frame, rock star swagger and classic rock-inspired vocals marks him as one of the greats in the making.
The Texas band rocked the crowd without the help of monitors and fans who's prior knowledge helps bands connect with new fans. Black and company had to win fans the old fashion way: through rock 'n' roll. So they give it their all and before the end of the set, the guys from Machine Head and Children of Bodom were standing at the side of the stage, grooving to the music.
The sun starts to set as Scorpion Child finishes their set and shares a toast with the rest of the artists who suffered through the heat and the Sumerian's lack of acoustics. They made new friends, bonding with Job For A Cowboy and Huntress, both of whom rocked the Jagermeister Mobile Stage, and Born of Osiris, who slayed the Musicians Institute Stage.
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