Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas
Sunday, August 2, 2015
It's tough being a metal band these days. The era when metal soared to the top of Billboard charts and appealed to broader audiences largely seems to be behind us, with younger generations unable to recapture the magic of their legendary predecessors. On Sunday, Rock Star Energy Drink's annual Mayhem Festival drove that point home with a show at Gexa Energy Pavilion that was tense and under-attended despite featuring marquee names like Slayer, King Diamond and Hellyeah.
August in Texas is the worst time of year to put on an outdoor music festival, especially when the majority of attendees are clad in black and furiously moshing and/or crashing into each other. But that doesn't tell the whole story. By the time the Devil Wears Prada kicked off the main stage performances, Gexa was at less than two-thirds capacity. By the time Slayer performed, most of the seats in the upper section were bare and the lawn was unusually unpopulated.
When one of the producers for Mayhem Festival pointed out that this may be Mayhem’s last year, amidst the booing it hit home that this close-knit community of fans will need to vehemently support live music for metal’s influence to not wane. Currently, all of the metal acts selling out large venues around North America have been around longer than most of the kids watching have been alive. The bands with top billing certainly deserved to be there, but the newer acts didn’t get their time on the big boy stage.
Then again, the earlier parts of the day played like rehashed versions of the previous band. Truly original metal is hard to come by, and younger acts have an even more difficult time “making it” when they all sound so similar. Slayer’s outspoken guitarist Kerry King said himself in a recent interview that the lack of sold out dates for Mayhem is because “the bill’s so shitty.” Pioneers like King Diamond and Slayer have their own identities people are drawn to, but most of the newer bands on Sunday didn’t feel unique or on the cusp of bringing something new and inventive to modern metal.
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Earlier bands Shattered Sun, Sworn In and Sister Sin tried their best to soldier on through the blistering heat, but never seemed to fully connect with the audience. Jungle Rot attempted to start a “tsunami of death” (a large circle pit), and got there after a fashion. Things started to take off when CJ McMahon of Thy Art Is Murder began engaging with the crowd and 150 water balloons were thrown into the audience. The lesson learned here is that you can have as many tattoos and wear as much leather as you want, but water balloons are always badass.
One of the most surprising acts on the bill was Danish legend King Diamond. Despite his show at House of Blues last November and the fact that he oddly enough lives in the Dallas suburbs, he rarely makes American festival appearances. King Diamond’s live show is much like Ghost: It’s theatrical and plays on religious themes.
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King Diamond's production was by far the most dramatic, which isn’t a surprise. Stairs rose up on either side to meet at a balcony when he would often sing in his signature high-pitched wail with a cross-shaped microphone in hand.
Slayer, the granddads of thrash, were of course the main attraction. There were possibly more Slayer T-shirts at Mayhem Festival than at an actual headlining show for the thrash metal titans. It makes sense that family man, vocalist and bassist Tom Araya recently admitted that he doesn’t like the traveling aspect of touring considering his stationary stance during the 75-minute set. Fans nonetheless ate it up, and as usual, “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death” had an uproarious reception. There were so many fireballs during Slayer’s set that disaster seemed imminent, but of course a flaming, upside down cross is worth risking bodily injury!
In spite of all the negativity, the feeling of belonging to something special and intimate makes metal even more appealing to the select few willing to withstand the heat. Hellyeah’s singer Chad Gray stated several times that he would be dead if it wasn't for heavy metal. It’s the intensity of the genre that makes it so unique, but also cathartic.The crowd included everyone from preteens to rockers in their 50s, plus a lot of kids who attended with their parents. Who would have thought songs about death and the devil could bring families together?
It’s clear that the festival-goers needed metal as an outlet. Bands like Slayer will always be around to draw in hordes of metal fans, but where are the new bands to reinvigorate the metal scene? Fans deserve something fresh. The diehard community is there; give it something new to connect with.