Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. Red Rocks. 07.05.15
The Mayhem Festival began its inaugural march through the United States around the same time I made the decision to move to Colorado. I wasn’t listening to a lot of metal back in 2008, and even if I was, I wouldn’t have made the trek to see Slipknot and Disturbed. It’s just not something I would have done. That first run, powered by Rockstar Energy money from the very beginning, hit Fiddler’s Green on July 20th…beginning a extremely successful run in Greenwood Village. Fiddler’s became Comfort Dental, and then became Fiddler’s again, as the “Warped Tour for Metal Kids” arrived every July for six years. The Main Stage hosted the likes of Marilyn Manson, Slayer, Rob Zombie, Korn and Megadeth, while the smaller stage(s) catered to the Hot Topic/ Jäger crowd. Or so I’ve heard. I never attended any of those shows. The promoters did a great job stacking diverse line-ups, so no one had to suffer through anything they didn’t like, but I hate that venue, no matter what they call it, so it was never worth the trip down south for me. That’s why I was so stoked when I saw the fest was moving to Red Rocks last year. As it turned out, I was alone in my excitement.
Red Rocks is my favorite venue on Earth, so I’ll admit to being blind to its deficiencies. The main one being that there is only one stage. They used to have second and third stages for Monolith, but for some reason that was not an option for Mayhem. So what seemed like a good move in my head, ended up being a huge negative to the fans who felt jipped by the stripped-down line-up. The Fillmore ended up providing a place for the smaller acts like Cannibal Corpse to perform, but that show required a separate ticket, meaning concert-goers would have to shell out excess money to see all the bands that were included on a single bill in other markets. The only bands I wanted to see were Body Count, Trivium and Korn, and I ended up scoring tickets for well below face value, so it worked out for me. But as soon as I got to the show, I realized the other disadvantage of a metal show at Red Rocks…there was no place for a pit. I ended up having a good time at that show, but I completely sympathized with the jaded fans.
As far as I can tell, this year’s Mayhem Fest was stripped down in every market. Multiple stages were collapsed into just two (Main and Victory Records), so the fact that Red Rocks was able to start early, and accommodate the six bands with the biggest draw, made it less of an issue this time around. Slayer and King Diamond should have been able to sell-out Red Rocks on their own, so the addition of Hellyeah, The Devil Wears Prada, Whitechapel and They Art Is Murder created a stacked bill that should have made every kind of metalhead happy. At least I thought that would be the case. But high ticket prices, combined with the event falling on the Sunday after the 4th of July, made for a less than full house. We didn’t show up until about 7:00pm and we found the amphitheater about 70% full. It might have hit 80% by the time Slayer took the stage.
Not being a fan of metal/deathcore, it was a conscious decision to show up late. The 4th of July festivities took a lot of out me, so it was all I could do to show up for some tailgating by 6:00pm. We could hear part of the The Devil Wears Prada’s sound leaking out through the monoliths while we drank beer in the parking lot. We had reserved tickets, so there was no reason to rush in. Our timing ended up being perfect, as we arrived to our designated seats in the 6th row just as Vinnie Paul and the rest of Hellyeah took the stage. Having never really heard the supergroup from Dallas, I was hoping for something in the same vein of Vinnie’s prior bands, and there was a Pantera-like groove to their set (especially during “Demons in the Dirt”), but the nu sound brought over from the likes of Mudvayne and Nothingface really took precedence in their sound. It was an entertaining enough set, but not something I would go out of my way to witness again.
King Diamond performed the Paramount Theater last October and it ended up being one of my favorite shows of the year. The performance last night was a condensed version of the Paramount show. It was broad daylight when they took the stage, but we were immediately cast into darkness from the opening chords of “The Candle”. I’m just going to go ahead and plagiarize my last review here…
King Diamond is an icon. The man behind the mask is legendary on so many levels. His songwriting, storytelling, stage presence and survival skills place him in the upper echelon of heavy metal frontmen. He never garnered mainstream fame the way Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio or Rob Halford did, but you would be hard pressed to find an individual in the metal community that has not been influenced in some way by King Diamond. His painted face and crossbone mic stand are trademarks of the underground, and his high falsetto is one of the most easily recognized in extreme music. The man is 59 years old and he’s dealt with herniated disks, severe back pain, heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. That kind of stuff would put most men in the grave, but not King. A few cancelled tour dates and some rest were all he needed before taking the show back on the road. Any concern that he might not be operating at full capacity was immediately put to rest when he appeared on stage in front of a giant LaVeyan pentagram to kick things off.
Once the lights went down on the crowd and came up on the elaborate stage, all venue concerns were forgotten. The show wasn’t really conducive to a pit anyway, and no one was going to stop anyone from headbanging or singing along, so once King brought us into the world he had crafted so well, we hardly noticed where we were anymore. The set started with “The Candle” before transitioning into the first of a few selections from Conspiracy, “Sleepless Nights”. The production value of the show could have taken away from any lesser artist, but King’s position as Master of Ceremonies was never compromised. The years have done nothing to affect his ageless voice. The man can still hit every note. Even when he treated us to some Mercyful Fate, he sounded exactly like he did in ’83. His band also proved themselves to be one of the best metal bands working today. Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead were non-stop as they guided us through the decades, but I couldn’t take my eyes off center stage where Matt Thompson was destroying the drum kit.
It usually gets on my nerves when artists conceal the natural beauty of the rocks behind the stage, but King Diamond can be forgiven because their multi-level stage setup is so insane. The gargoyles, the candles, the stairs…the hooded men who came out to clear instruments…the pregnant woman and the fetus…and of course, Grandma. Every song acted as a mini-play while King transported us to another place for an hour, but the highlight (outside of the Mercyful Fate mini-set) was the Abigail run that closed things out with “The Family Ghost”, “The 7th Day of July 1777” and “Black Horsemen”. Slayer might have been the main draw of the night, but I could have left as King Diamond exited the stage to the sounds of Insanity and I would have been satisfied.
What King Diamond brought in terms of theatrics and style, Slayer countered with pure aggression and pyrotechnics. From the “Delusions of Saviour” intro until the Hanneman-dedicated “Angel of Death”, Slayer were literally on fire. The eternal flames burning along the back of the stage would ignite into fireballs that would punish those of us in the front rows with blasts of hot air. They opened things up with “Repentless”, immediately putting to rest any doubts that Slayer had softened in their old age. The band was unabating in their complete belligerence through anti-war/anti-religious anthems like “Hate Worldwide”, “Jihad”, “Disciple” and “God Send Death”, but it wasn’t until “War Ensemble” when the rage become infectious. Ravaging its way through the crowd, it sparked a few unsuccessful pits, before everything calmed down just enough with the bone-crushing, resonant sound of “When the Stillness Comes” – a song that just happens to be about waking up at a crime scene and realizing you killed everyone.
From that point on, the band never ventured further than 1990. As they tore through “Mandatory Suicide”, it was obvious that despite all their recent trials and tribulations, Slayer were still as strong as ever. “Chemical Warfare” caused the stage to drown in green, slimy light, but when they continued on to “Ghosts of War”, it was one of those special moments when we got to see Slayer perform a classic song that we hadn’t seen them perform before.
As Tom Araya was thanking everyone for their support, I couldn’t help but wonder how he’s able to put his beliefs aside while he sings songs that are so contradictory to those beliefs, but then he answered my question when he introduced “Dead Skin Mask” as a love ballad. The guy might look serious as fuck when he’s up there screaming about the gates of hell, but in all reality he doesn’t take it very seriously at all. Or maybe he does, but he just believe he’s going the other direction. “South of Heaven”, “Raining Blood” and “Angel of Death” closed things out, just as they should have. Hanneman’s name projected onto the crowd, just as it should have. And just like that, my 100th Red Rocks show was in the books.
It will be interesting to see if Mayhem Fest continues to come to Red Rocks. It’ll be interesting to see if they don’t move it back to Greenwood Village. There were quite a few people there last night, especially considering it was on a Sunday after a long weekend, but it was far from full. Chad Gray was very adamant that the metal kids go out and spread the word of metal to all their friends. “Tell them what they missed! Make them jealous! And next time we’ll fucking fill this place!” It was a nice sentiment, but I think it was misguided. The only kids that are going to be jealous are the ones who wanted to be there in the first place. They weren’t there because they couldn’t afford it. Or because a lot of the bands they wanted to see weren’t playing the Colorado date. In order to fill the place, they need to provide cost effective tickets. There needs to be more freedom of movement. Kids don’t have a lot of money. Kids want a pit. Give the kids what they want and they will fill the fucking place! That being said, I’m too old to want to pit. And I got to see Slayer and King Diamond up close at my favorite venue. So selfishly, I thought it was a perfect show. It was a milestone night for me on the Rocks, so it was fitting that it also happened to be the best pyrotechnics I’ve ever seen at the venue. It also helped that it was the best show of the season so far.
Sangre por Sangre (Blood for Blood)
Demons in the Dirt
War in Me
Cross to Bier (Cradle of Bones)
You Wouldn’t Know
Eye of the Witch
Tea / Digging Graves / A Visit from the Dead
Come to the Sabbath
The Family Ghost
The 7th Day of July 1777
Delusions of Saviour (intro)
God Send Death
When the Stillness Comes
Ghosts of War
Dead Skin Mask
South of Heaven
Angel of Death