Music festivals are a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, you can easily see several of your favorite bands in one place, for one (normally reasonable) price. On the other hand, most festivals come whitewashed in corporate sponsorship and advertising, as was the case with Mayhem Fest. The normally serene back lawn at SPAC became home to the Jägermeister Stage, which was bookended by both a giant inflatable can of Rockstar Energy Drink and bottle of Jägermeister. Off to the side was a third, smaller stage sponsored by the indie label Sumerian Records where their signed artists played between bigger acts setting up on the Jägermeister stage.
The Jägermeister stage was where the second-tier acts on the tour played, where admission to the lawn could get you a spot next to the stage if you were willing to fight your way up there. Acts such as The Devil Wears Prada and As I Lay Dying appeared to be big hits with the crowd, with requisite stage-diving and crowd surfing going on throughout. Headlining the back lawn were New York City’s own Anthrax, featuring rhythm guitarist Scott Ian, who might be better known as a pundit on various VH1 shows discussing the 80s and 90s than as the founding member of Anthrax.
Located adjacent to the liqueur-sponsored stage was another attempt to seamlessly integrate advertising into our entertainment, as the Rockstar Energy Drink Refueling Tent offered respite from the sun, as well as copious amounts of complimentary energy drinks. What I noticed in my own vast knowledge of caffeinated beverages is that the products being given away weren’t normally available at the market. Rockstar was market testing new products, and they had hundreds and hundreds of willing test subjects all ready to fuel up before head banging.
Before the headliners took the stage, I saw Kerry King from Slayer taking some time to sign autographs in yet another tent slathered with Jägermeister logos. Anthrax also had an autograph session. Both appeared to be free of charge, so long as you didn’t mind waiting in line for a while.
After Anthrax finished their set, the acts appearing on the amphitheater stage started to play. Up first was a band I’d admittedly never heard of called Asking Alexandria, who were from England. What I noticed before their set is anyone wearing their merchandise appeared to also be younger than legal voting age in the United States. Kids these days! The band wasn’t particularly special, and I ran into a friend of mine who plays in a few well-known acts from Albany, who putting perfectly saying he was going to be “Asking Alexandria for his money back.”
Up next on the main stage was Motorhead, for which I was practically giddy about. The band has been playing together for almost 30 years, and produces a sound normally suited from a band of more than just three men. Their bassist and lead vocalist, Lemmy Kilmister, taunted the crowd saying that the three of them could make so much more noise than the thousands who looked on. He introduced likely their most famous song “Ace of Spades,” by humorously remarking they were going to play what had amounted to their “theme tune.” Guitarist Phil Campbell shred his way through their set with a cool charisma not normally seen in the metal world. Drummer Mikkey Dee’s drum solo was impressive if not a bit long.
The decibel levels reached by Motorhead were soon approached by the next act on the main stage, Slayer. The band played for close to an hour, including “Seasons in the Abyss,” “South of Heaven,” and crowd-pleaser “Reigning Blood.” Guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt both displayed a technical proficiency and stage presence that kept the fans engaged. Bassist and vocalist Tom Araya’s voice sounds nearly as good as it does on tape, and was sporting a look that my photographer described as the “heavy metal Jerry Garcia.”
While I was as close as I could get to see both Motörhead and Slayer, I made sure to take in the final act of the evening, Slipknot, from what I deemed as a safe enough distance. It is enough for me to admit I do not care for Slipknot, but I was willing to give them another chance. After all, it had been years since I last heard their material, and perhaps they had somehow evolved as artists to produce something more than what they did back when I was in high school.
This was my greatest folly, as two songs into their set, I was reminded of why I felt the way I did in the first place. Though, they were clearly the most popular act of the day (which in itself surprised me greatly, given the pillars of the genre that performed earlier to much less fanfare.)
At the end of the day, my ears were ringing, my throat was hoarse and I was exhausted. I tip my cap to the staff at SPAC, who despite dealing with more bloody moshers and drunken hooligans as the show progressed, were able to maintain order and make sure everyone was relatively safe. Preventing the Mayhem Fest from descending into actual mayhem, which given the amount of free caffeine and purchasable alcohol, was no small task. Here’s hoping they can replicate that for the next metal festival, scheduled for September 1.
Updated 8/7/12: A reader wrote to us after publishing to correct the name of the guitar player in Slayer. Gary Holt is currently on tour replacing Slayer's normal guitarist, Jeff Hanneman, as he recovers from a medical issue. We have corrected the online version. Saratoga TODAY regrets the error.