August 20, 2008

Mayhem Festival Numbs Minds With Savage Disappointment

By Jeff Miers

Heavy metal refuses to die. On occasion, however, it gives off a decidedly pungent odor.

Tuesday, during the Rockstar Mayhem Festival at Darien Lake, it became clear that modern metal is not so much at a crossroads as it is facing a dead end. If more than eight hours of the supposed cream of the modern metal crop is presented, and the best music heard throughout the day came during the set of a cartoonish near-parody band (Dragonforce) and select tunes acting as a mix-tape during the between-band segments (AC/DC stood out as a reminder of a time when metal could actually swing) -- well, you've got a problem.

The bill was a strong and appropriate one, based on the criteria suggested by today's hottest metal bands and their attendant popularity levels.

Including Mastodon, a thunderously heavy band displaying a consistent integrity within the modern "doom metal" subset, was a smart move. And certainly, melodic faux-classical '80s throwbacks Dragonforce needed to be there, considering how popular their appearance in the series of Guitar Hero video games has made their "Through the Fire and Flames." (Yes, the band played that song Tuesday.)

The headliners were Disturbed and Slipknot, two of the modern metal bands who've had the most success broaching the mainstream, where the money and grand-scale adulation are.

Though Slipknot is the darkest of the mainstream breakthrough acts, it did indeed seem like the more conventional Disturbed ruled the hearts of the faithful in attendance Tuesday.

That band is clearly a post-Judas Priest, riff-heavy, at least semi-melodic metal outfit, and it presented one of the more song- oriented sets of the day.

A shout-out to the most seasoned band of the Mayhem bill is in order, and it goes to Machine Head, who played an early set on the "Jagermeister Stage." A firm grip on history didn't seem to be the order of the day, but the band went over well enough.

Five Finger Death Punch -- familiar to Darien audiences from an appearance at the last Ozzfest tour stop in WNY -- melded metal and hardcore, and was granted abundant love from the audience in return.

The "Hot Topic Stage" featured performances from the seriously buzzed-about 36 Crazyfists and was capped by a death-ish throw-down from Underoath. (Speaking of crazy fists, some folks in the audience sure seemed eager to beat on each other during this show. I thought metal was supposed to be about catharsis through music? No? Oh, well. Never mind.)

Tuesday was the last stop on the Mayhem tour, and most of the bands seemed to be on a heightened level of attack-alert. There was plenty of pride and aggression in evidence throughout the gig.

But none of this could cover up the fact that contemporary metal seems to be mainly about numbing the minds of its listeners and encouraging them to act like primordial savage beasts.

As a lifelong fan of heavy music, and as the grown-up version of the kid who learned to play guitar by studying the likes of Sabbath, Priest and Maiden, I can't helped but be bummed by the lack of melodic, thematic and textural invention evident in most of what Mayhem offered.

That said, it did seem that Disturbed and Dragonforce boasted the most musical diversity -- and at least a hint of dynamic intent and a sense of light and shade -- of the evening. The enthusiastic audience filling three-quarters of the Darien lake Performing Arts Center grounds would beg to differ, I'm guessing.

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>Concert Review

Mayhem Festival

Featuring Slipknot, Disturbed and Machine Head on Tuesday at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

Originally published by NEWS POP MUSIC CRITIC.

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