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Mayhem Festival: The Good, The Worst and The Goofiest of Modern Metal

Machine Head
Machine Head
Christian McPhate

The clumsily titled Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival swept into the Gexa for the last date on its cross-country metal bandwagon, and once more metal was ordained by the corporate gods on a day that didn't so much swelter as annihilate. The sun beat down like a double-pedal to the head as thousands of brave souls turned up at the peak heat of the day to watch some of the festival's lesser lights play on stages with no shade whatsoever bar one unfortunate tree, which became the object of much crowding.

The highlight of the smaller stages was metal elder statesmen Machine Head, bafflingly early in the day despite an overwhelming crowd and some riffs that would crush bands decades their junior. They opened with "Davidian," a song that could draw a dedicated pit even if this festival was taking place on the surface of the sun. Never giving anything less than everything he had, frontman Robb Flynn put on something of a clinic in how to play a metal show while thousands of people wearing black in an exposed parking lot clung to a tree.

See also: -Monsters University's Soundtrack will Feature Mastodon. How Did That Happen? -The Nine Best DFW Metal Guitarists

I've said it before, but I will never get tired of pointing out that water at $4.50 for an average size bottle at an all-day outdoor festival in Texas in August is pretty sadistic. Sure, there are water fountains, but you can't carry them around with you, nor is the water from said fountains particularly cool. Still, I shouldn't moan -- over at the main stage Amon Amarth had the front half of a full-size Viking ship that emitted steam and had glowing red eyes. So, ups and downs, you know.

Their Viking-styled metal is showy and relatively enjoyable, melodic if perhaps predictable. Singer Johan Hegg admitted to the crowd his English wasn't the best, but being in a metal band comes with basic cliché training for singers, so he was still able to instruct a frankly massive crowd to jump up and down. This was easy for those in the shade of the Gexa's pavilion right at the front, but props must be given to those on the lawn at the back of the venue, forming a circle pit despite the band being much smaller and quieter to them. Anyway, Amon Amarth win the prize for having a drummer on a boat. What prize that is I remain unsure, but they deserve some sort of prize. For me, though, there was not enough mention of either wenches or mead. If Alestorm had their stage budget, that would be the greatest adventure-on-the-seven-seas-rock show of all time.

Mastodon took to the stage next. They're something of a strange addition to the bill in that they are more of a cerebral act than their Mayhem counterparts. Mastodon is a difficult-to-pin down band that I have waxed lyrical about in the past, but the crowd could not have given less of a shit about them if they'd all suddenly vacated the Gexa. It was quite strange -- while Amon Amarth had been ecstatically received by the crowd, Mastodon's reception was icier than the coolers of astonishingly overpriced beer being dragged around the crowd by vendors. They didn't particularly help themselves, I suppose, by sticking religiously to the same album they've been touring for the last two years (apart from an astonishing rendition of "Megalodon" from the album Leviathan), but the crowd was amazingly not into it from the word go. Later on, when a hype man on stage shouted out the names of the bands that had played, there was barely a murmur of appreciation from the crowd. It was soon to become clear why.

 

Five Finger Death Punch: Everything that's wrong with metal.
Five Finger Death Punch: Everything that's wrong with metal.
Christian McPhate

Five Finger Death Punch, or Drowning Pool 2013, as I have decided to call them, are the worst kind of bland, million-selling nu-metal imaginable, the sort of band with the musical and lyrical depth and complexity of a puddle. Mastodon or Machine Head aren't exactly Kafka-esque in their layers of symbolism and meaning, but neither of them would trot out songs that make Papa Roach look like poets over the kind of riff that seemed dated in 2001.

Still though, the people attending Mayhem thought they were the best thing that had ever happened to music, judging by the amount of make-out sessions going on around me, so what do I know? This a terrible metal band that writes songs with lyrics like "Did you hear the one about me being a prick/Did you know I don't care/Suck my dick" and is staffed entirely by men with too much testosterone for their own good and who take themselves overwhelmingly seriously. Clearly one of these comes along every generation, sells millions and millions of records and takes America by storm, but I can't say I know why, everyone. To this writer, it's a mystery up there with the Marie Celeste and Area 51. It's just not my thing, OK?

Headliner Rob Zombie is, however, not a man minded to take himself seriously, with a stage show that makes Spinal Tap look like they weren't thinking big enough and more big, dumb, happy riffs than you can shake a stick with a skull on the end at. With some sort of dinosaur machine (a machine that looks like a dinosaur, not a machine that dispenses dinosaurs, which would undoubtedly be cooler), a gigantic radio, the largest Satan I've ever seen, balloons full of confetti, at least a dozen flamethrowers, a snow machine and about 10 different video screens, Rob Zombie is like the hard rock version of the Flaming Lips. Big and silly and very enjoyable. While you might think that the combination of gigantic balloons full of confetti and flamethrowers is a terrible accident waiting to happen, Mr. Zombie could not disagree more.

His music is schlocky, catchy, enjoyable, and impossible to take seriously. In short, he is very good. By the time his set finished, normal temperatures had returned to this corner of Dallas, the corporate mega-tour had wrapped up for another year and a thousand people with sunstroke were to spend an hour trapped in a parking lot in Fair Park. Just another Sunday.

See also: -50 Don'ts For Your ACL Festival Weekend -Five WTF Examples of Marketing at SXSW -The 100 Best Texas Songs: The Complete List

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