Review / photos: Slipknot, Slayer reign at the Mayhem Festival at Tampa's 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre
Blood did not rain from the sky on Friday, nor did lightning burst forth from the clouds, nor did hell erupt from the earth.
Instead, we got a bit of a drizzle and a nice little breeze.
Mind you, it was still hot as Hades for much of Friday afternoon. But extreme conditions are to be expected at a metal concert like the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, which brought Slipknot, Slayer (above), Motorhead, Anthrax and more to Tampa’s 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre.
In the air, in the pit, even up onstage, where headliners Slipknot and Slayer played in front of a near-eternal flame -- it was hot, and it was heavy, and the head-banging hordes wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s a lot to take in onstage at a Slipknot show, from dynamic vocalist Corey Taylor prowling around the stage like he’s looking for someone to punch to percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan floating up and down on a levitating drum riser. When each of the band’s eight members didn’t have a part to play, he’d hop over to another instrument, or grab a mic, or simply leap around like jump-suited Oompa-Loompas.
But for all the masks, all the costumes, all the smoke and fire and eardrum-piercing cannons, very little of Slipknot’s act reeks of rock ‘n’ roll excess. (Okay, maybe those levitating drum sets.) They may play demons onstage, but beneath those matching red jumpsuits beat bold, vibrant hearts.
Wait and Bleed is an angry, blood-stained chainsaw of a song, with a downright hummable chorus. Same with Psychosocial, with its major-chord chorus and an arena-rock solo that calls to mind, say, Def Leppard. And I never thought I’d say this, but I swear I saw a couple making out during People = S---. (I'm not judging. Maybe it's their song?)
Taylor ran the show all night, especially commanding the crowd’s attention on rap-rock ragers Spit It Out and The Heretic Anthem (the latter’s chorus punctuated with towers of flame: If you’re 5-5-5 than I’m SIX! SIX! SIX!). And he dedicated Duality to the band’s late co-founder and songwriter Paul Gray. "We're all gonna sing along for Brother Paul," he said.
A few of the inked-up and face-painted fans who were there to see Slipknot seemingly couldn’t care less about the legends who came before them. But thrash-metal legends Slayer were more than deserving of a headlining slot in their own right.
Spread out wide across the stage, baccked by a pair of flame-spewing upside-down amp-crosses, Slayer did not mess around with the solos, with guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman trading licks and riffs all night, starting with Disciple and War Ensemble and continuing through the fist-pumping Dead Skin Mask and the furious, frenetic Angel of Death.
By the time the encore rolled around, with singer Tom Araya growling South of Heaven and Raining Blood, it really looked like hell up there, with the smoke and the flames and the clanking chains dangling from King’s belt. (Of note: King also wore a Slayer tour T-shirt, but you won’t hear me calling him out for it anytime soon. Most of the time, when a guy wears his own band’s T-shirt during a concert, it’s kinda lame, right? But with Kerry King, it’s … not? Yeah, let’s go with not.)
Before Slayer came Motorhead, those road-weary rock gods from London. Legendary, lionesque lothario Lemmy Kilmister may have a range of about three notes these days, but no one’s about to take ‘em from him anytime soon.
Thanks to dizzying solos from guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee (who flipped drumsticks in the air like fistfuls of confetti) the band’s don’t-eff-with-me cowboy metal needs no overdramatic histrionics, no circle pits or walls of death, to earn the crowd’s respect. They can play Ace of Spades and wag their tackle at the world, and the world will thank them for it.
Anthrax was the first of metal’s “Big Four” to take the stage. Guitarist Scott Ian’s signature goatee looks a lot grayer these days, and singer Joey Belladonna’s scraggly mullet … well, I’m sure it probably looked about that way back in the ‘80s, too.
But the group stretched the perimeter of the stage from the get-go, lighting up a packed house at the secondary stage with roof-burning speed-metal jams. Anthrax’s anthemic sing-alongs (the tomahawky Indians, the riot-rouser Antisocial, the fist-pumping I Am The Law) were reminders that heavy metal was once hard and fun and not always so self-conscious, and perhaps it could be that way again. No fearmongering fakery here; just a stampeding rush of classic metal riffs and rafter-tickling vocals.
With four headliners that spanned some 40 years of metal history, this year’s Mayhem Fest was more about the past than the future. But a handful of younger artists tried to live up to their forebears’ standard.
Christian metalcore outfit The Devil Wears Prada mixed fiery guitars with keys, samples and singer Mike Hranica’s cast-iron larynx for a massively energetic set.
Asking Alexandria shredded with blenderlike speed as vocalist Danny Worsnop worked both ends of the vocal spectrum, with clean vocals that ripped like a scythe and dirty ones that bludgeoned like a club.
And playing their first show on the main stage, As I Lay Dying spawned the first wall of death from the mainstage with meaty, tommy-gun percussion and spiraling guitars on The Sound Of Truth.
Through it all, the storm-damaged 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre seemed to hold things together, with the venue receiving no noise complaints by the end of the show. That’s something of a miracle, considering the high-decibel lineup.
But don't tell the performers. Miracles probably aren't all that welcome at Mayhem. Here, hellfire works just fine.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*