(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. 🙂