It’s close to the end of January,which means it’s festival announcement season! The Warped Tour has been gradually announcing bands since December, and a lot of the destination festivals (Coachella, Bonnaroo) have announced their lineups as well. And then there’s the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and the Maryland Deathfest. Not announced yet, however, is the lineup for the Summer’s biggest touring metal festival, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. There haven’t been many hints given, even. So with that in mind, we thought we’d give our take on what’s happening at Mayhem this year.
Zach: Last year, Mayhem Fest was co-headlined by Avenged Sevenfold and Korn, two very popular commercial metal bands that supposedly still draw huge crowds. Yet from what I heard (and saw firsthand at one of the tour’s stops), Mayhem Fest didn’t receive that huge of a turnout last year. Nor was the response to a Rob Zombie/Five Finger Death Punch lineup that strong either the year before (even with Mastodon and Amon Amarth on the mainstage). While of course you need new acts to draw the average festival goer, I’d also argue that you need a balance of big name veteran bands. The type of acts that’ll intrigue younger fans but also attract the older clan of metalheads (sure, they might not hang around all day to catch the younger bands on the second stages, but they’ll still pay to show up later in the day). And I’m not just talking about a few older bands on the second stages, but rather actual headliners or mainstage acts. Example: Mayhem Fest 2012, which saw the likes of Slayer, Motorhead and Anthrax shares the bill with Slipknot, The Devil Wears Prada and As I Lay Dying.
With that in mind, I’ve got a hunch that Slayer will come back for another year of Mayhem. They’re practically veterans to the festival, and the timing would be perfect (if in fact their new album does comes out this year). But I could also see a band like Judas Priest wanting in on the action. Sure, they do fine on their own (though unlike Iron Maiden, they aren’t guaranteed to sell out shows on their own like they use to), but they’re the type of act who’d see playing Mayhem Fest as a great opportunity to reach a younger demographic. And if you think about it, how awesome would it be if Judas Priest and Slayer co-headlined Mayhem Fest? Match that with a few newer acts on the mainstage, and fans would clamor to see it.
On a somewhat side note; I’d personally also like to see GWAR play Mayhem Fest. Not necessarily because the festival needs a band that spews fake blood and cum on one of its side stages, but because frankly GWAR needs Mayhem Fest. Let me explain… ten years ago there was a festival called Sounds Of The Underground. While looking back now, the lineup reads as a wet dream for fans, but the tour proved to be a major deal for GWAR because it reintroduced them to a younger audience who either never heard of them (a blasphemous claim now) or only knew of them as a cheesy shock rock act (emphasis on the shock, lack of rock). Yet after Sounds Of The Underground, fans realized “Oh shit… GWAR IS AWESOME!” Now this isn’t a knock against GWAR, because after losing such a key contributor as Dave Brockie, the scumdogs have valiantly bounced back. However, I feel as though fans who don’t follow GWAR religiously still don’t know much about the current incarnation (or at least fully understand the roles of its new members). Getting GWAR on one of Mayhem Fest’s second stages, though, could be a great way to reintroduce them to fans in a similar way SOTU did ten years ago.
Bram: Well, we know who won’t be playing this year – Machine Head. With a new album out, Slayer would be a safe bet to headline. Also somewhat of a predictable one. They’ve already played it twice three years apart, and this would fit with that schedule. At the same time, they’re one of those bands that could just as easily do their own tour. Slipknot did Mayhem three years ago as well too, and with a new album out, it would make sense that they do it now that they have a new album out. But having Slayer and Slipknot play the same fest they played three years ago is boring, even if it would bring in different generations of metalheads. Another band that played three years ago and have an album coming out is Anthrax.
What would make a lot of sense, and who I wouldn’t be surprised by would be Lamb of God. They’re doing something or other this year that will probably involve a new album, and they’ve only played Mayhem once before. It’s interesting that The Dillinger Escape Plan has never played the fest before. They’re kind of off cycle right now, but it’d be great to see them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Wovenwar on, nor would it be with In Flames, either . And this is just a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to see co-founder John Reese check a few names off his wish list and have Rammstein, Iron Maiden or both on Mayhem.
Nick: It’s hard to say what Mayhem “NEEDS” right now, but I don’t know that more “veteran” bands are it. Just take a minute to look at this Wikipedia breakdown of Mayhem lineups by year. Take note of how many bands that have played more than twice in the seven years the tour has existed. People might not have been as excited about Korn or Rob Zombie because both bands have played Mayhem before. The novelty there for people isn’t as great because it’s less of an event. I mean, shit, how many times do you really need to see Korn, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not the target demographic for, say, Warped tour by any stretch, but the difference between those two festivals is that Warped can get away with more repeat performances because there’s a lot more bands playing in a day. Certain bands will always have their draw to an extent, but I watched the Susquehanna Bank Center drain of attendees before Avenged Sevenfold got on stage this past summer. From certain angles, it was almost Spinal Tap-esque how empty the place looked. They then proceeded to play a bunch of new stuff that not a soul in the room cared about at a weirdly low volume, and even as someone who isn’t a fan of theirs at all I was still begging for “Bat Country” or something to break up the who-gives-a-shitness of the whole thing. The problem is that a festival headliner needs to be an event. It’s supposed to be something unique, something larger than life. Trucking out to see the same tired lineup every summer is going to get stale, even for the kind of 14 year olds and early midlife crisis sufferers who see Korn every time they tour. (They’ve got their demographic, all I’m saying here).
Therein lies the big problem, though: the big draws are those exact bands might be starting to wear out their welcome. I’d say that more of these acts should step aside to give the up-and-comers a chance to shine, but Mayhem is supposed to be the “big time,” or at least it seems that way to me. It’s the only big summer festival tour that caters exclusively to heavier bands, but if it skews too far into extremity the way Sounds of The Underground did, it jeopardizes its status as such a huge, destination sort of thing. if it goes too deep into mainstream rock territory, then it’s just redundancy in the face of Rockstar’s other fest, Uproar. (Interestingly enough, the Uproar that I was at in 2013 was far better attended than 2014 Mayhem, and I’d contend that there’s some overlap in Alice in Chains’ and Korn’s fanbases).
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that I don’t know who should play Mayhem this year. The usual suspects are beyond played out, and there’s just no new contenders when it comes to who’s going to be the Next Big Thing. The problem might lie with the format of Mayhem itself at that point. The side stages are a cool thing, as they allow for kids to see their favorite up-and-comers in a nonstop, day-long barrage, but most of those turnouts per-band are pretty modest when it’s not somebody like Body Count or Cannibal Corpse last year. I could just be thinking way too damn much about this and being curmudgeonly for no reason, and the point of Mayhem isn’t necessarily to be challenging. Not every festival needs to be Maryland Deathfest; this can occupy a “safe” space of popularity and relative heaviness when it comes to the main stage acts just to hit the wider demographics and keep people coming out. There’s a fine line with that stuff for sure. On a personal interest level, though? Ehhhhhh.
Matt: Zach’s pitch isn’t far-fetched at all, but I’m not confident it’ll happen that way. It’s entirely possible that Slayer will come back for another go with the festival, but I’d be surprised if the likes of Priest ended up on the tour. I do agree that GWAR would be a great pick for this year. They’ve been plowing along post-Oderus and seem to be on a high, so why not?
But Nick really hit it on the head. When it comes to discussing Mayhem, more and more people have gone from indifference to outright rage. Example: “Wut the fuk is Asking Alexgaydria doing on a METAL tour?! Stupid nu metal Korn sucks.” No offense meant to those bands or their fans, but more than a few people thought that when they saw the lineup last year. If anything, people retain the smallest interest in the lineup just so they can be prepared to tear it apart.
And then you have the people who are at least somewhat interested. Then it becomes a game of “Well, why would I want to pay the money for all these bands when I just want to see Slayer at the end of the night?” Or, what is usually my thinking, “Why bother when Machine Head is only going to play five or six songs?” That’s the thing with touring festivals like Mayhem; they always seem to be too much and yet not enough at the same time. I’m kind of with Nick, in that I don’t really have much interest as I might have say a year or two ago. It’ll probably contain one or two “older” bands, some veterans or “safe” picks, and then bands that people like to shit all over (which could overlap with the previous category). If the lineup really ends up appealing to me I’ll take interest.
Chris: As a longtime attendee of the Mayhem Festival, I see two major problems. One is the lineup repetition, which Nick articulated perfectly, so I won’t cover it. The second major problem, though, is that Mayhem tries way too hard to be an everyman’s metal festival. Go look at that lineup breakdown that Nick linked again, and you’ll notice just how sprawling the genre disparity is. You can’t have a festival feature Airbourne alongside The Red Chord unless you’re talking about a concentrated event like Wacken or Download, where there are multiple stages and several days worth of music to see. On top of the genre disparity, there’s also a consistent issue with lineup organization. When I attended the 2009 iteration of Mayhem and Marilyn Manson was booked above Slayer, I nearly laughed from sheer confusion. I get that Manson is popular, but if you’re going to bill yourself as the premier metal festival in the US, how are you going to arrange your lineup with one of the Big 4 as a secondary headliner?
Aside from fixing those two problems, Mayhem 2015 needs to think outside the box about finding a big attraction. And when I say outside the box, I mean outside the United States. One of the reasons why the 2013 Mayhem Festival remains my favorite to date is because the international talent outshined everyone else by a mile. Children of Bodom had the greatest stage presence and setlist of any band on the second stage, and Amon Amarth was the most interesting act on the main stage due to their enormous Viking longboat that was the primary set piece. No disrespect to the American bands, because they were still very good, but Amon Amarth and Bodom left everyone else in the dust. I think that getting more international acts is a good place to start when considering the Mayhem 2015 lineup. Meshuggah is the band that immediately comes to mind for me, because they’d be a huge draw with their niche fan base, and their live show is unforgettable.
If I had to base my picks on past history, though, I’m predicting a fairly lackluster lineup. Slayer is likely to come back as the primary headliner to support their new album, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see In Flames back once again. There’s always one band on the main stage that’s designed to rile up the “true” metalheads, and I’m predicting that this year’s inclusion will be In This Moment. The “big surprise” band will probably be Fear Factory, if they can complete their next album in time. Behemoth might come back to headline the second stage, given the popularity of The Satanist. The rest of the second stage will be one or two other big names and a mish-mosh of assorted up-and-comers and locals. All in all, a good lineup, but not what I’m looking for when I think of the premier metal festival in America. Time to start saving up for Wacken 2016 and a trip to Germany, I think.
Chip: Oh Mayhem. The tour with so much potential yet with so many crappy, crappy line-ups. No festival tour will ever satisfy my liking because I’m too old and too crusty to care about the vast majority of bands needed for Mayhem to sell enough sponsorship dollars to make a profit. The whole Slipknot/Avenged Sevenfold/Five Finger Ding-Dong Punch/mall metal crapfest is just…the worst. Yet, let’s walk through this in a sort of dream-scenario setting, shall we. Judas Priest has a newish record out. There are rumors (look at this year’s Christmas card!) that Iron Maiden will be putting out a new record later this year. Let’s just pull together a Maiden/Priest co-headlining tour. (In fact, to hell with Mayhem Fest and can we just get that tour together regardless?) You take those two bands, add in a third headliner like Faith No More (who isn’t metal in my book but they have the crossover appeal and draw), Slayer or Megadeth, or even Clutch and then you can use the rest of the festival for “legacy acts” (i.e. Overkill, Testament, Nuclear Assault, etc.) and smaller bands for the second stage (i.e. Opeth, At The Gates, Carcass, Triptykon, etc.) Finally you add a third stage to focus on killer regional acts (i.e. Obliterations, Royal Thunder, Pallbearer, ASG, etc.). Now THAT would be a festival I would pay money to see.
In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, can we just scrap Mayhem Fest altogether and concentrate on getting multiple multi-band tours together out of the Maryland Deathfest line-up? Let’s just do that instead.