Mayhem Festival Brings Hell To Mountain View

By Avinash Mittur

July 1st 2012, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View CA:  I should probably preface this piece with the following warning: one really shouldn’t consider this a review of Mayhem Festival as a whole. I arrived late to the festival, and left early. My entry into the show was not provided for by the Mayhem Festival organizers, and I ended up paying $42 for my general admission ticket. For a price of that level, I had absolutely no intention of seeing bands that I disliked. As such, the only acts that I ended up seeing were Anthrax, Motorhead and Slayer. If you would like to read my thoughts on those acts, some of the other elements of the show, and my overall experience throughout the day, feel free to continue on. If you’re already upset at me for leaving before Slipknot went on, you might want to head elsewhere.

My day began as my friends and I entered Shoreline Amphitheater at about 4:00. Instead of seeing As I Lay Dying and Asking Alexandria on the Jagermeister Stage, or Dirtfedd and Betraying the Martyrs on the Sumerian Stage, I instead opted to catch up with many of my friends that I hadn’t seen in months. I even ended up making new ones throughout the day; there were certainly many times when I had a ton of fun simply talking to and hanging out with members of this fantastic audience. When it comes to the music I missed, metalcore and deathcore have never been styles of metal that I enjoy and I highly doubt that will change any time soon. I’m the last person who should be reviewing these bands- they deserve to be scrutinized by someone who at the very least, actually enjoys the style of heavy metal that these bands play and would be able to accurately give a fair and unbiased opinion of their live show.

During this hour of downtime before Anthrax went on, I scoped out the merchandise while doing some more socializing. As expected, t-shirts were not cheap, with band-specific shirts coming out to be $35 while Mayhem Festival shirts were $25. There was a ton of other random merchandise, including booths dedicated to Dimebag Darrell, Metal Blade Records, and even marijuana. If one wanted a random metal-related souvenir (or non-metal related things for that matter), there was a good chance they’d find something they liked at Mayhem Festival, no matter how picky or specific they may have been. I also took the opportunity to buy my ticket for Iron Maiden at this same venue in August without service fees. Many amphitheaters across the country offer a similar service; if one buys a ticket for an event at the venue’s box office, they can usually avoid the dreaded “service charge” and save quite a bit of money.

At 5:20, the sounds of “Worship” began to blare through the outdoor P.A., and soon enough Anthrax came out and kicked off their set with the intro to “Earth On Hell” and “Caught in a Mosh.” The crowd was already full of energy, and the pit opened up in no time. For the full 40 minutes that Anthrax were onstage, an immensely violent circle pit was happening, and it was a joy to participate in it when I could. True to Scott Ian’s word, the band tore through their seven song set with hardly a break. Like the last time I had seen Anthrax (last October at Club Nokia in Los Angeles), Scott and Frank Bello were manic presences, constantly running around (or leaping in Frank’s case) and headbanging. Joey absolutely nailed his job as a frontman, constantly engaging the crowd by working different sections of the audience, making eye-contact and encouraging us to go wild. His vocal performance was top notch as well; the man sounded just as good, if not better than he did all those months ago. The big question for many fans was how Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner would do filling in for an ailing Charlie Benante. From this fan’s perspective, Jason did a fine job drumming for the band. As a drummer myself, I couldn’t help but notice when Jason would change parts or fills, or the one or two times he fell off beat, but I doubt most fans noticed these minor mistakes and changes.

Despite the common complaints I always hear about the sound when it comes to the Jager Stage, the sound for Anthrax’s set was crystal clear. The only fault in that regard was that Rob Caggiano’s guitar solos were often buried under Scott’s rhythm playing. Otherwise, Frank’s bass and Jason’s drums came through fine, and every word that Joey sang rang through the Mountain View air with no issues. Even though their setlist had no surprises, it flowed well and the audience was clearly happy to hear every popular song from Joey’s time in the band. As expected, both the crowd and the band brought their A-game for Indians, and the sheer insanity caused a number shoes, hats and shirts to fly all about the Shoreline Amphitheater parking lot. I have to note though, Scott really should quit the whole “stop the band in the middle of the song to pump up the crowd” bit for Indians. It nearly killed the momentum in the pit, and it really was a drag waiting for him to finish his spiel before we could run around again. Besides this and the lame sing-a-long intro to “Antisocial,” the band’s set was taut and relentless. I came out absolutely exhausted and ready to collapse. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been happier. Unlike the last time I saw Anthrax, I feel like the band wasted far less time onstage. If the band brings this level of energy to their headlining tour in the fall, I can only imagine the sheer mayhem that will ensue.

Anthrax Set List:

1. Caught in a Mosh
2. Got the Time
3. Fight ‘Em Till You Can’t
4. Antisocial
5. Indians
6. Madhouse
7. I Am the Law

After the carnage that was Anthrax’s set, I took a breather with my friends before Motorhead came on. I really have to commend the Mayhem Festival organizers and the Shoreline staff for running such a tight ship when it came to set times and other events. Every set and signing happened right when it was listed on the handbills and flyers, the merch booths were all well managed and the bathrooms were all clean with minimal lines. The security also did a fine job of managing crowd surfers and unruly audience members.

Finally, an air raid siren wailed and Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee came out to unleash “Bomber” upon the thousands gathered about the main stage. This was my third time seeing Motorhead, and the band was just as great as every other time I’ve seen them. Mikkey Dee remains one of my all-time favorite percussionists; his sheer awe-inspiring power behind the kit is truly something you have to see, hear and feel in person. Lemmy’s voice was in fine form as well, I could hardly believe that he had managed to blow out his voice on Gigantour only a few months ago. For me, this was my first time hearing “Bomber,” “Damage Case” and “The One to Sing the Blues” live, but for many the set may have come off as a little stale since it was a direct repeat of their set from Gigantour. As I said, for me and the others who hadn’t seen the band on that tour, the set was a blast, but it may not have been for everyone else. The band’s sound was also top notch as well, even if “Bomber” was initially muddy. As soon as Lemmy obliged the audience’s request to turn the volume up, the sound became perfect and the entire lawn broke out into utter madness. Hell, there was even a circle pit active for Mikkey’s drum solo. If that didn’t say something about how much this audience loved Motorhead, I don’t know what could. To me, the highlight of any Motorhead set has to be their traditional set closer, “Overkill,” and this time was no exception. As soon as that distinctive double bass intro began, I could see the crowd behind me go insane, and I couldn’t help but furiously bang my own head. Unfortunately, the view from my section of the lawn area was terrible, and I could barely see the band for their set. All in all, this was another reliably great set from a reliably great band, but I certainly hope that their set is a bit different next time around.

Motorhead Set List:
1. Bomber
2. Damage Case
3. I Know How to Die
4. Stay Clean
5. Over the Top
6. The Chase Is Better Than the Catch
7. The One to Sing the Blues
8. Going to Brazil
9. Killed by Death
10. Ace of Spades
11. Overkill

The last band of the night for me was Slayer, and the band delivered a better set than I could have ever expected from them. For this crowd, this wasn’t any ordinary Slayer set, it was the homecoming of Gary Holt, one of the bay area’s hardest working metalheads. Gary has always been a fixture at shows in the bay and has always been happy to chat with fans at every single one. The number of people in the crowd that have interacted with Gary in some capacity was countless, and we were all happy to see him destroy the stage. For thousands of people in Mountain View on this night, this wasn’t just any old Slayer show, it was a chance to see our friend play to one of the biggest and most loving American crowds of his whole career.

I had last seen Slayer on the American Carnage tour with Megadeth and Testament two years ago, and it was a wildly different experience than this one at Mayhem Festival. I saw a band that seemed to be going through the motions onstage; Tom, Jeff and Kerry didn’t move an inch while Dave was forced to be the only one giving any sort of effort throughout the entire set. Whatever Gary’s presence has done to Slayer, it’s working. Tom seemed to always have a grin on his face when he wasn’t belting lyrics, and even Kerry moved a bit throughout the set. Dave gave his usual outstanding performance and once again proved why he’s one of the best heavy metal drummers of all time. It was Gary who stole the show though, constantly walking all around the stage and banging his entire body when his legs weren’t in motion. Even if the solos weren’t note for note copies of Jeff’s, his energy was more than enough to compensate. Honestly, even Kerry and Jeff themselves haven’t been playing their own solos right for years, so it’s not like Gary has to live up to a very high benchmark. This time, I was right up against the railing of the lawn, and I had a fantastic view of the band for their whole set. Slayer’s stage set up was also very cool, with Marshall cabs stacked in the form of inverted crosses that could shoot fire being the main attraction. It’s a tough thing to describe, something you really have to see in person. This was also my first time hearing many of these songs live, and they came off extremely well. “Hell Awaits,” “Mandatory Suicide” and “Altar of Sacrifice” in particular were immensely heavy, and had my body in seizure-like fits when I wasn’t being crushed by the crowd behind me.

The real treat though, was when the band decided to cover Exodus’ own show-stopper, “Strike of the Beast.” I thought this was a really cool way for Slayer to have fun with Gary’s home crowd, and the band did a phenomenal job with the cover. Instead of trying to sound like Paul Baloff, Tom shouted the lyrics as if they were any old Slayer song. Instead of obviously sounding like a cover, anyone could have easily mistaken “Strike of the Beast” for a vintage Slayer track. Even if the band noticeably screwed up a few times, one could tell they were having a genuinely fun time (don’t think we didn’t hear you laugh during the second chorus Tom!). Slayer really made the song their own, and it was a real delight to hear Exodus being exposed to an audience of tens of thousands. After ending the main set with “Angel of Death,” Slayer finished off the show with an encore of “South of Heaven” and a rare full version of “Raining Blood.” All in all, this was a fantastic set, one that completely annihilated the one I saw two years ago.

It was at this point that my friends and I opted to leave early and grab some much needed food from In-N-Out Burger. Once again, after paying forty bucks to see the bands I wanted to see, I really didn’t feel like staying an extra hour and a half to see a band I didn’t like, and then deal with the ensuing traffic. I really don’t like Slipknot’s music one bit, nor do I like any nu-metal really. I would honestly not be able to give a fair report on Slipknot, and it would be unfair to the band for me to attempt to do so.

Slayer Set List:
1. Disciple
2. War Ensemble
3. Hate Worldwide
4. Mandatory Suicide
5. Altar of Sacrifice
6. Jesus Saves
7. Seasons in the Abyss
8. Hell Awaits
9. Dead Skin Mask
10. Strike of the Beast
11. Angel of Death

12. South of Heaven
13. Raining Blood

Overall, I had a fun time at this year’s Mayhem Festival, even if I’m not entirely sure that I received my money’s worth when it came to the amount of enjoyable music I experienced. My experience was unique in that the show was as much of a social event as it was musical, but for others who would only go to see the bands that I saw and have no other reason to attend, I would not recommend paying over thirty dollars for a general admission ticket. If you’re a deathcore or metalcore fan though, I can imagine that the entire day would be extremely fun: from noon until 6:30 there would always be a band playing that style of music. Regardless of who you go to Mayhem Festival to see though, you’re likely to have a pretty fun time- just don’t break the bank to get in if you’re only there for three acts like I was.

Overall Gig Rating: 8/10