Jul 312015


(Wil Cifer attended part of the Rockstar Mayhem Festival stop in Atlanta on July 29, 2015, and has a few thoughts about what he witnessed.)

There is no news like bad news, and the inner webs are quick to let you know it. So it’s no secret that this year’s Mayhem Festival has been getting more than its fair share of anti-hype. Kerry King spoke out against the lineup, saying “you need talent to make people feel like spending that much money”. I’m not sure if that was a self-deprecating stab at his own band or he really feels like going out with some bands the high school kids seem to love is mandatory career suicide.

The Mayhem Fest co-founder has gone on record saying the metal genre is in trouble because there are not many younger bands that have headlining power and blames the older bands for not taking less money, like punk rock bands, in order to benefit the scene. So I was curious when I checked the tour out myself.

The plan was to get there in time to see King Diamond, who is one of my all-time favorite metal legends. I see King Diamond and Mercyful Fate as one entity, just like I file Ozzy and Sabbath, Morrissey and The Smiths, in a similar manner, as one entity in my heart.



When I showed up at the venue, I found out the press wasn’t trolling us. The last show I saw at Aaron’s Amphitheater was Iron Maiden, who sold the place out. This was a harsh contrast, not even half-sold; I’d say a quarter-sold, maybe thirty percent once Slayer came on. The lawn area was roped off; the seated section seemed to be a collapsing spot for everyone who had gotten too drunk earlier in the day.

My girlfriend’s finals put us behind schedule and we missed the first three King Diamond songs…”The Candle”, “Sleepless Nights”, and “The Eye of the Witch”, and got there during “Welcome Home”. Even from the parking lot you could hear King’s voice was in good shape. The stage set-up was a similar version of what King had when he came through in October.

This was my sixth time seeing him, so I had a few shows to compare it to. I have seen him in a festival setting before and did not remember the guitar tone sounding like such a wall of chug. Then I realized they had tuned down. At times this made King sound flat, as the original notes transposed to the lower key in some places worked better than others. King Diamond’s set did not have the sort of sound problem’s Slayer’s had, but we will get to that soon enough.



The theatrics were toned down a little — no burning coffins. He mainly stuck to acting things out with the dancer who took on multiple roles, from Grandma to Miriam. He hit the same songs from his October set, focusing heavily on his three best albums, Them, Conspiracy, and Abigail, with “Digging Graves” from The Graveyard and two Mercyful Fate songs — “Evil” (where, as you might have seen on the inner webs, Kerry King joins them on stage) and “Come to the Sabbath”. The final three songs were all from Abigail…”The Family Ghost”, “July 7th 1777”, and “The Black Horsemen”.

King Diamond was in good spirits about the sad state of affairs, having been somewhat of an outsider from traditional mainstream metal due to his outlandish singing style being an acquired taste. He seemed glad to be playing in such a setting; if this had been in Europe, it would have been a much larger turn-out.



While waiting for Slayer we found some of our friends, and I looked for people wearing cool band shirts, with the winners being Paradise Lost and Destruction. Slayer took the stage with a lot of bombast and pyro, but it took a few songs to get their sound dialed in. It was my first time seeing them with Gary Holt in Jeff’s place. The first half of their set was newer stuff, which compared to their classics all sound the same to me. “God Send Death” was the only song that stood out until they hit “War Ensemble”.

They had clips of  supposedly gruesome things, but hands down the movies Morrissey had playing behind him during his show were way more brutal than what Slayer had going. During “Mandatory Suicide” I turned to my girlfriend and said, “See now, this finally sounds like music,” and then as if on cue the guitars cut out.  This was worth a laugh.

They also hit “Chemical Warfare”, where Tom ignored the fact there used to be falsetto screams, or just didn’t want to try them after taking the mic behind King Diamond. We caught “Ghosts of War” and left during “Dead Skin Mask”.



So what does this say about the state of arena-filling mainstream metal? Would it have made that big of a difference if, say, Motörhead had been added to the bill?

I remember when Slayer would have packed the place out. You could say it is because they are pulling a Kiss and only have two original members. But that doesn’t slow Gene the Money Machine Simmons down. Instead, it felt like I was watching Spinal Tap at the Air Force base. While they aren’t opening for puppet shows or wandering into their jazz explorations, it tore a piece out of my high school memories. I cut ties with Slayer at a young and impressionable age when I found out they did not actually worship the devil; who knows what I would have done if I had known Tom would later come out of the rosary closest and fess up to being Catholic.

So is Kerry King on the right track, and it’s all on the promoters? I got my tickets from a friend, but would have been on the pissed side of let-down if I had actually paid to see Slayer clock in and plod through that set. Sure, the tickets went down to 7 dollars day of the show, the cost of seeing a local band. It’s a sad state of affairs. The first video I posted of the show in Arizona shows that this was not just happening in Atlanta, which is a city notorious for low turn-outs.

So what bands are going to take the place of Slayer and the King when they eventually go the way of bands like The Eagles and hang it up? Is Meshuggah stepping up? Can’t imagine bands like 5 Finger Death Punch will hang on to to more than their fifteen minutes. Or will metal go back to the clubs and stay there, since we have demanded more extremes than the mainstream metal public can handle? I’m fine with that.

Editor’s Note: As I can attest based on eye-witness experience, The Eagles only hung it up temporarily.  🙂


  1. Quite simply it may be worth accepting that, for the foreseeable future, the biggest Metal acts are only going to be relatively “Mid-Tier” in terms of draw and attendance, when compared with the really big headliners of yesteryear.

    This is neither intrinsically good or bad… it just IS.

    It will, I’m sure, have negative effects on certain groups and promoters if they refuse to acknowledge and accept this, but it strikes me as a simple and self-evident truth. Indeed, we may come to see, eventually, that the era of big-selling, arena-straddling Metal artists, was/is a complete anomaly in the history of the genre.

    That’s not to say that there won’t be some bigger shows, here and there, but if we acknowledge that we’re in a period of “levelling out”, where the scene is establishing a new status quo (as potentially shown by the declining draw of a “big” act like Slayer), we can, as a scene, look into ways of making it more profitable and more efficient for bands to exist at this Mid-High level of success/draw.

    The fact that we have no/few “arena-ready” acts doesn’t have to be the death-knell of the genre (and, clearly, it isn’t)… but if you’re thinking it IS then maybe you’re operating under the wrong set of priorities?

  2. To a certain extent I can’t disagree with King on the subject of booking better bands, though I wouldn’t have said that stuff while still touring with the bands. Mayhem Fest’s lineups are rarely something worth paying for. The year I went the only acts on second stage I enjoyed at all were Machine Head and to my own surprise, Huntress. Both played well and had excellent stage presence. The other fare was Butcher Babies/Emmure type nonsense. Maybe, booking better bands might sell a few more tickets. Anyway, that’s like my opinion man.

  3. Well Slayer has been touring for some 3-4 years on the same album. I think I’ve seen ’em 4 times since WPB came out. They’re putting out a new one soon and will tour on it for 4 more years.
    In my younger times, bands toured for about a year, before going back in the studio.
    At the end of a 4 year cycle, it’s obvious the pull won’t be as big, especially wit ha shady lineup like that.

  4. Two things going on here…as far as Mayhem goes, a lot of the problems have to do with that festival being such a hodgepodge of bands. In theory the idea is to expose these bands to audiences who might otherwise ignore them, but in reality what you get is a lot of people who just dont care enough to wade through the bands they dont like to get to the one or two bands they may want to actually see…most probably see it as easier and less expensive to just wait for a smaller tour to come through. Honestly, they may find they have better results if they focus their market a bit better

    As far as metal as a whole, pretty much what Andy said above…Metal has seen its heyday as an arena attraction come and go, its a niche market made up of various subgenres, and not all of them have overlapping audiences. Despite what some people seem to think, we are not all one brotherhood.

    When even the biggest metal labels can be purchased with change found in Sony’s pockets its time for show runners to re-evaluate how things work. These days, big bands bringing smaller bands on tour isnt enough to create new arena level headliners anymore because the market itself cant support arena level headliners

  5. I’ve got ideas, lemme see if I can get this out in a coherent comment… I’m going to blame the promoters for not helping to develop newer bands. Take Kvelertak, two great albums and an excellent live band, who wouldn’t want to see that. Now, lets look at Slayer, I’ve seen them twice, almost 25 years ago. I’m not that interested in their new stuff. Plus as Bob says they’ve already been around on this cycle for 3-4 years, do you need to see them re-hash it out again? I think it’s part of the nature of metal that its fans are constantly seeking out new bands and new sounds. This is a difficult genre to listen to for the mainstream ear and it’s the folks who want to push the boundaries of their listening that listen to metal. And once you’ve listened to a band for 10 years it’s no longer fresh, no longer catches you by surprise so you go look for a new band. Thus its imperative to constantly develop new bands and not just rely on the has beens, even if you do still dust off their CDs once in a while.

  6. I say good riddance. I never much cared for massive arena style shows. Gone are the days of barely being able to see a band off in the distance play music that only sounds right if you happen to be in a sweet spot away from the boomy front and below the piercing bright upper deck. Might sound fine if you drink enough $8 warm skunk beer I guess, but big venues are always far from home and someones gotta drive.

    But… I will be the first to admit we are spoiled in the Pacific Northwest. Its an easy journey to Portland, Vancouver B.C., or just stay in Seattle and attend the thirty or so shows a year I see without ever stepping foot in a place like the Tacoma Dome or White River Amphitheater.

  7. good. fuck these piece of shit poseurs who deserve gulag.

  8. I’m going to wax philosophical a little here, so bear with me…. but this reminds me a lot of the themes of societal change that Alvin Toffler predicted in the 70-80s. I read his books a few years back and still think about them on and off.. precisely because I keep seeing examples where he was right on the money (and some where he wasn’t).

    In a nutshell, coming out of the 1960s he predicted what he called ‘the rise of the cults’, meaning that society would become more ‘fragmented’ (for lack of better work, my choice of words, not his). There would be less of a ‘central narrative’ in news networks, for example, and more diversity of perspective. But his important point was that this would happen across all walks of life… instead of society being made up of people with largely similar experiences, cultural references, or points of view, people would have increasingly diverse experiences, interests, and narratives… ie. think of instead of just a few sports or hobbies people would spend their time doing a whole range of activities; not just baseball, football and cricket, but roller derby, handball, cross-country biathlon, beach volleyball, rock climbing… and extreme ironing, anyone? Even if you just think of martial arts: around the time of Karate Kid everyone had probably heard of Karate, but off the top of my head I’ve heard of (and could do most of these even in my little town of 100,000): Kendo, Jujitsu, Taekwon Do, Zen Do Kai, Capoeira, Judo, different types of Karate, kickboxing…

    And obviously the same has happened with music. Especially now with the rise of the internet, and less reliance on ‘curated’ sources of music like radio or MTV, there’s a greater diversity on offer, and the ability for bands making that music to connect with a niche audience. So yes, I think we can all say that it’s unlikely there’ll be bands as big as Metallica, Slayer, etc. again… or at least, for the foreseeable future. Precisely because of the fact that the ‘homogenous inducing’ influence of mass media is dying out. Of course a critic would point to pop music, and yes there will always be some music, sports, cultural activities that are the most popular (because there has to be one!). But I think even in terms of pop music, if someone were to name a song from some pop star there’a good chance I, or a lot of readers here, wouldn’t know it, or much of the older generation.

    Interestingly, Jaron Lanier (who writes and talks about the impact of the internet on society) has also touched on the reverse of this: that strangely, the ‘biggest’ things on the internet, the hits that go viral, are often references to things which came from a pre-internet time. And his argument is that with the diversity the internet offers the only things which can hit big like this are cultural references to shared experiences; and those shared experiences are usually things from a time where there was less diversity, so the shared experience is often a form of nostalgia… just like most of us would get the in-joke from Andy Synn’s other column where he says ‘so let it be written… so let it be done’

    How does this relate to concerts? I think SurgicalBrute hits it when he says that focusing on a smaller market may prove a better strategy. Either that, or reduce the ticket price so that people who are only interested in a few bands will still go… in the end that will probably draw more people, create a bigger vibe and atmosphere, and over time that in itself may prove to make the tour an even bigger event in future.

  9. Slayer and Jungle Rot would have been my only reason for attending Mayhem if they hadn’t bothered to skip Kansas City for the third year in a row. Slayer always delivers without fail and i’ve been wanting to see Jungle Rot for years but keep missing them.
    Hopefully Slayer will do a real headlining tour after Mayhem, with Exodus opening again if I’m lucky 🙂

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