The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival has been the premier traveling heavy metal music event since its inception in 2008. This year's lineup placed Anthrax, The Devil Wears Prada and Asking Alexandria on the secondary stage; while Slipknot, Slayer, Motorhead and As I Lay Dying were on the featured stage. The tour rolled into the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, outside Chicago, on July 21, 2012.
[See the review of the secondary stage artists; photo slideshows of 2012 Mayhem Jagermeister stage bands and Rockstar Energy Drink main stage bands; and please peruse a complete concert gallery of all artists.]
When the action switched over the the amphitheater stage at 6:00 p.m., there were already a number of fans who had camped out for the day to ensure they had the best spot in the house for the main stage acts. Though most of the venue was assigned seating, there was a general admission VIP pit located front-and-center of the stage.
As I Lay Dying opened the second half of Mayhem as the youngsters on the main bill. Despite being together for well over a decade, the band had to be pleased to be opening for heavy metal legends, Motorhead, and speed metal pioneers, Slayer. The general admission lawn gave them a warm welcoming, moving en masse immediately after they opened with "Condemned." A massive mosh pit formed on the gentle incline, prompting a handful of security to gather. Fortunately, they observed and didn't interfere with the festivities.
Given the shaded amphitheater and approaching dusk, As I Lay Dying were dimly lit. They still made their presence felt by generating a wall of sound that cascaded to the vast reaches of the lawn. Vocalist Tim Lambesis appeared as a bulky giant, his tattooed body displayed under a sleeveless t-shirt. A vision all the more impressive as he used his body to coax his voice to its limit. They closed their set with "Cauterize," "Confined" and "The Sound of Truth."
Motorhead need no introduction and they were the one band to perform at Mayhem that likely had an impact on every other artist on the bill. Lemmy Kilmister continues to bellow with his stack cranked to "10." The effect was a droning, thunderous bass line that depended upon Phil Campbell's fretwork to define the song. Mikkey Dee couldn't be seen upon his elevated stack, but his heavy pounding kept pace with Lemmy.
They opened with "Bomber" and were able to cut through nearly a dozen songs from their deep catalog. Most of the crowd were there to see the newer, metalcore artists and might have recognized "The Chase is Better than the Catch" and "Overkill." Most were on their feet for Motorhead's biggest hit "Ace of Spades" though "Killed by Death" was the set's highlight. It's a shame that they rarely perform "Stone Deaf Forever" in a live setting, arguably one of their catchiest tunes.
A large white curtain was draped over the stage before Slayer were to appear. As the lights dimmed, a number of spinning red pentagrams were cast upon the curtain to "Darkness of Christ," before it fell with the opening chords to "Disciple." Unfortunately, guitarist Jeff Hanneman still has not fully recovered from his bout of necrotizing fasciitis that likely developed from a spider bite. Gary Holt (Exodus) did an admirable job filling for Hanneman.
Tom Araya stuck close to center stage on vocals and bass. Drummer Dave Lombardo sat on a riser directly behind Araya, while guitarist Kerry King maneuvered his axe at stage left. Musically, it's hard to beat Slayer's richly developed melodies that ooze texture with clever transitions. They performed within a cloud of smoke, while flames frequently poured from the faux Marshall stack crucifixes that flanked Lombardo's kit at the rear of the stage.
King and Holt perfectly complemented one another on guitar, but they had contrasting styles on stage. Holt was electric as he thrashed his mane and manhandled his guitar. King appeared more methodical in his play, moving slowly as though each riff induced a specific feeling. King's long goatee moved in unison with the large-gauge chains that swung from his side.
Highlights from Slayer's set included "War Ensemble," "Mandatory Suicide," "Hell Awaits" and "Dead Skin Mask" while "Seassons in the Abyss" might have been the best performance of the day. They concluded with a two-song encore of "South of Heaven" and "Raining Blood" that nearly sunk the amphitheater.
It should be noted that Slipknot were the only artist to deny us media credentials. Therefore, unfortunately, a review of their show will not be provided.