We got to Jiffy Lube Live around 12:15 or 12:30, after about an hour's drive from Maryland. It was a little slow getting into the parking lot but not terribly so. We got a spot right up by the gate, and then proceeded to eat some sandwiches and drink some beverages while watching the line form past the car. Uh, why didn't we get in line five minutes ago, when the line was 50 people shorter? I wondered. I went to the portapotty, and when I got back, S and K had gotten into a shorter line that had just started near another gate. Good.We (by that I mean mainly S, social butterfly and 80s metal expert that he is) chatted with an old timer and slightly less old timer in line in front of us. The gates opened just after 1 pm, and we got in very quickly, then headed straight for the side stages as Thrown Into Exile was scheduled to go on at 1:10! I don't know whose brilliant idea that was - certainly not Thrown Into Exile's PR people, I'm sure. After passing through a second gate to the side stage area (where alcoholic drinks were not allowed - so, um, people have to choose between the music and drinking? That's not a good way to sell your overpriced drinks, JLL) we dawdled by the merch booths, and found out Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom's signing times were the same. Rage? Or good fortune? Finally, we walked out onto the baked desert of rocks and dust in front of the two side stages, which were conveniently placed, side by side.
I can't remember for sure how much of Thrown Into Exile's set we actually saw/heard - I think it was most of it. I had wanted to see them, because when I heard them on the radio, they reminded me of Killswitch Engage, with their melodic guitar riffs and not atrociously emo clean vocals. I thought they sounded good live - they were very groovy and headbangable for a metalcore band. There was even a ten second guitar solo in one song!
As Thrown Into Exile was finishing up, S started herding us toward the Jager stage, where a few people were waiting for Huntress to come on. I'm not a huge fan of them, partly because they have a little of that slow 70's occult metal vibe, partly because I don't enjoy Jill Janus's high pitched shrieks. I thought it might be fun to see her up close, though, so I went along. I don't wear earplugs, because I find they dull the sound too much, so I don't usually go up to the front even for bands I do like (unless I get pushed there from the pit, or get overexcited and run to the front heedless of what might happen to my ears - has happened at Sabaton shows..). It was the worst sonic experience of my life. The air was throbbing with the bass, distorting all the other sounds. I could barely hear Jill's screams or lows. Her high clean vocals were the only thing that cut through the distortion (and the dang earplugs) clearly. The only thing that made it worth it was the entertainment of watching her creepy expressions and poses up close.
Attika 7 came on next. We glanced at them, and then went to take a bathroom and beverage break. That meant leaving the side stage area, which was also where all the band merch tents were, and heading to the vendor and concessions area right around the JLL amphitheater. There we discovered the Sumerian stage, conveniently placed where the pit (full of ridiculous arm swinging) mostly blocked the path to the bathrooms.
Having traversed that dangerous area twice, we returned to the side stage area to stand in line for Amon Amarth's signing and listen to Battlecross. They possess the kind of energetic and aggressively melodic guitar style that usually appeals to me, but for whatever reason their riffs don't quite pull me in. I suppose it didn't help that they were on the stage further from us. So they were kind of bland background music until they played "Force Fed Lies". They finally hit on some epic grooves and melodies in that song.
When we got in line for Amon Amarth's signing, there were about 30 people in line ahead of us; COB's line was way longer. Johan Hegg is one of my metal idols, though, so I wasn't about to miss the chance to meet him and get his autograph. Even meeting Alexi Laiho took second to that.
While we were standing in line, Motionless in White played on the stage nearer us. This is another non-metal band that I was curious to see. This spring, they made their whole album available on youtube, so I listened to it after hearing "America" on the radio. The radio single has a very industrial vibe to it - Zombie-like guitars perfect for stomping about the floor, creepy swirling synth melody, Manson-like vocal inflections and stylings. The new album is a mix of that type of stuff and metalcore, with one honest-to-god blazing-riff metal song thrown in, too. Their first album, though, as far as I know, is just plain old metalcore. So needless to say, I was hoping they'd be playing more of the industrial material from their new album. But unfortunately, they played mainly their metalcore songs, and even more saddening, they metalcore is rather bland - boring guitars and emo screams. They did play one industrial-ish song early in the set and "America" at the end of the set. Their appearance was sort of industrial, with white and black make-up, and their keyboard/synth player was prominently placed on the stage, which was cool. I'm awaiting their next album to see what they do next - whether they keep going in the industrial/Manson direction, return to their metalcore origins or do something else entirely. I'm hoping for industrial, although if they pursued the blazing-riff metal direction I wouldn't be unhappy.
We were still in line, and Butcher Babies came on on the far stage. I only glanced at them once or twice, and hardly noticed their music. I can't seem to get past my suspicion that they are the Britney Spears of metal - half naked bodies fronting for meaningless, carefully marketed music. I can handle all sorts of over the top publicity ploys and efforts to create a certain "image" for a band, but lack of authenticity is something that just doesn't have a place in metal. Of course, I don't really know that much about Butcher Babies - this is just a gut feeling I have about them. In any case, from what we could see it looked like the frontwomen were actually pretty well covered up for this show. Dunno if that has to do with some sort of legal risk for public indecency, or whether they're parting with the electric tape and tattered clothing image.
Sometime during their set we made it up to meet Amon Amarth, and then walked away from their signing table to discover the line for COB had dwindled to about ten people! So we jumped in that line as well, and thus were able to leave the show with autographs from the two bands we most wanted to see :D I'm rather shy at best, so confronted with these metal superstars I couldn't do much more than mumble, "Hi" and "thanks," but Johan Hegg did look at me and chuckle when I told him he was my idol XD
After accomplishing our signing missions, K and I sort of stood around uncertainly half listening to Born of Osiris while S went somewhere. Born of Osiris were actually more interesting than I expected, with a sort of progressive sound - some technical guitar bits, some synthy bits. One of their songs had a synth part that sounded quite a lot like the Game of Thrones theme. :P
After that we tromped over to the Jager stage with a few more friends to see Job For a Cowboy. I'm not familiar enough with their discography to comment on what they actually played (except that the last song was "Constitutional Masturbation," because afterward JS remarked that damn, that would be a painful song to masturbate to). But I'm a fan of their fast and brutal sound, and they sounded good.
Then Emmure came on, and we took a dinner break. Breakdowns are fun every now and then, but I like riffs too.
We got distracted socializing, and so I was still eating during the first two songs of Machine Head's set (while sitting by some sort of decorated car near the band merch tents). We headed toward the stage at the start of "Locust," which is probably my favorite Machine Head song. I got into them when Unto the Locust came out, because the songs on that album seem to have a lot more complexity and also some great vocal hooks compared to their earlier songs. I think "Locust" was the only song they played from that album, though. During their set, S kept wanting to go save a spot in front of the other stage for COB, but I wanted to see Machine Head so I made him wait.
We still got a place in the middle left of the crowd for Children of Bodom, but I was perfectly placed behind several tall people so I couldn't see Alexi most of the time (karma, perhaps?). But at least I could clearly hear his fast and furious guitar riffs. They played a wide range of songs, from "Bodom After Midnight" to "Halo of Blood." I thought "Blooddrunk" was the least interesting song they played - the riffs are not as catchy as the others - but even that sounded decent. They were not as crushing as when we saw them in an indoor venue, but still fast and fun. A second pit appeared right near us (the main one was somewhere in the middle of the crowd). There was also almost a fight, one guy actually bringing over a metal trash drum which he tried to ram into another guy before security dragged him away.
As soon as COB stopped playing, we started booking it toward the amphitheater, because for some reason there was only a five minute break between their set and Amon Amarth on the main stage. We actually ran straight up the hill which forms the back of the amphitheater, and claimed a spot about halfway down the lawn just before AA came out. They started off awesome with "Destroyer of the Universe" (which is my favorite song from Surtur Rising). They had the front half of a Viking ship on stage, with the drum kit on the ship and a ramp on either side that Johan Hegg and the guitarists occasionally went up. Every now and then smoke would come out of the dragonhead's nostrils. It looked pretty cool. Amon Amarth is the only band of the main stage line-up I would have wanted to be in the pit to see, but we didn't think it was worth it for six songs. It was a still a good show - the sound was plenty loud and heavy even out on the lawn. They played a good mix of songs - I was worried their new album would dominate the setlist, but they only played "Deceiver of the Gods" from that album. Surtur Rising actually dominated with two songs (the second was "War of the Gods," which sounded great this time, compared to last time I saw them live). For an oldie, they played "Death by Fire," and ended with "Twilight of the Thunder God," which unfortunately sounded weak compared to the rest of their set - dunno what happened there. After they finished, I had no voice for a few minutes due to growling along with too many choruses.
Amon Amarth's awesome, giant prop. Photos contributed by a mysterious gentleman.
S and I talked about how Amon Amarth seems to be getting more mainstream attention - being included on Mayhem Fest's main stage line-up, for instance - and how that has both positive and negative aspects - more publicity and revenue, but also the danger of shifting to a more mainstream sound and image. However, I think the fact that Amon Amarth brought out a lifesize Viking ship with them is a pretty good indication that their Viking image is, if anything, stronger than ever, and I hope the same remains true of their sound. I haven't actually listened to their new album enough times yet to say for sure.
We took a break during Mastodon's set - sat on the lawn, chatted with J and K, ate funnel cake. Mastodon sounded good, clear and sometimes heavy, but I couldn't get into them. Their older songs such as "Blood and Thunder" (which they started out with) are heavier and more energetic, but most of what they played was kind of light and wandering, more like prog rock than metal. Somebody liked it though, because there was actually a pit on the lawn, at the end opposite where we were.
Five Finger Death Punch was more rousing, with their charging riffs and aggressive vocals. Although I enjoy their sound, I can't quite get on board with their alternating aggression and whininess, since I'm not quite sure that they don't mean it all literally. They have some nice groovy riffs and catchy choruses, though. The singer kept saying that this was the best crowd of tour. Yeah, ya think? This is Virginia after all. They had tons of props on stage made of what looked like aluminum - two giant brass knuckle logos, gargoyles, a skeleton mic stand. The glittery metal and some of their color schemes for the lights - magenta and greenish yellow, for instance - gave it a Bollywood feel at times O.o There was an enormous circle pit on the lawn for one song.
Finally, at the end of the night, Rob Zombie put on a great show. He and his band came out in costumes - just ghoul face paint and a coat for Zombie, but one guitarist had a cape and a goblin mask, and the other had some sort of techy armor suit type thing on. There was fire, screens with videos (or more fire), costume changes, a giant robot that Zombie rode around the stage, a giant radio he performed on for "Dead City Radio", a giant vampire that tottered about the stage. The giant vampire appeared while Zombie was running through the crowd - he even climbed the barrier between the seating area and the path at the bottom of the lawn area. I was pretty tired by time Zombie came on, so the entertainment helped me stay awake. I haven't listened to Zombie too much, so the only songs I recognized were "Living Dead Girl," "Sick Bubblegum," "House of 1,000 Corpses" and "Dragula," but the rest of the set had a similar sound - heavy and industrial. The set seemed a little short, but perhaps it was, about an hour, with the cut-off at 11pm. As soon as they finished playing "Dragula," we high tailed it out of the amphitheater, down the steps at the back. We got to the car and out of the parking lot within a couple minutes and got home before midnight.
I had an awesome time at the festival overall. It was unfortunate that Behemoth dropped off, since of the line-up that was originally announced, that was the band I was looking forward to most. Still, it was a strong line-up of bands that I wanted to see or was curious about, and the bands that I had most wanted to see - Amon Amarth, Children of Bodom, Machine Head, Rob Zombie - didn't disappoint. And I got a glimpse of some new bands like Thrown Into Exile and Motionless in White, and learned that Born Of Osiris might actually be ok. With water bottles and tons of snacks, I got away without spending too much on concessions (although next year I might want to bring a string backpack for that gallon ziplock bag of snacks (and sunscreen, and my sunglasses after sundown, and the new T shirts, and, and)). Amon Amarth had a cool shirt with their band name spelled out correctly in runes, not just written with runes that look like Roman letters like a lot of Viking metal bands do. By the time we decided to get shirts, though, the band merch tents had already been taken down and we had to make do with the Mayhem Fest merch stand, which didn't have as wide a selection. So if you want that cool AA rune shirt, make sure you grab it before the main stage bands start. If you send me a picture, I'll post it on here :)
I hope next year's Mayhem Fest is just as much fun, but I think it might be hard to outdo this year's.
Next show: Still contemplating Black Sabbath on Friday. But after that, definitely Wintersun, Arsis, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Starkill on 8/6!
Note: I had to untag a lot of bands cause blogger won't let me have so many tags, so if your favorite band isn't tagged, it isn't cause I hate them, just that blogger is mean.