So metal, in fact, that it wasn't technically day three of the "Arizona Fall Frenzy," so much as its own separate gig, the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar tour, rounding out a weekend of music at Tempe Beach Park.
Sunday's performances were sponsored by KUPD, and tellingly, the acts were exactly the kind of stuff the station spins, acts like Hellyeah, Airbourne, Halestorm, Stone Sour and co-headliners, Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed.
"Not a fan of Disturbed?" A fan near me questioned after he overheard me talking to a friend in line.
"You will be!" he promised as we got frisked.
I decided that if he was this stoked to endure the sweltering heat even as the sun went down, I was going to take him at his word.
Avenged Sevenfold did lots of the things I love about heavy metal. There was no shortage of dual Iron Maiden-inspired guitar solos from Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, and cocksure front-man M. Shadows proved adept at that West Coast cocktail of punk attitude and hair metal sleaze.
The drums were ridiculously over the top, too, with former Dream Theater stick-man Mike Portnoy taking over for Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, who passed away last year. Portnoy didn't get as outrageous as he did in his former band, but he certainly didn't slack.
Of course, the band also did a bunch of things I like least about modern metal. They leaned heavily on constant chugg-a-chug breakdowns on loan from their metalcore past (seriously, I first heard the band on a Plea for Peace comp alongside Poison the Well, Snapcase and Curl Up and Die), and during the requite power ballad in memory of "the Rev," the acoustic guitar sounded like gnarled tin foil.
Then there's the theatrics. The show opened with a mock hanging, and continued with pyrotechnics, splashy video, and constant one-liners from Shadows: "It's a little toasty out here. But who gives a fuck. It's time to rock n' roll!"
It's tough toeing the line between fun and annoying, and if you're going to error, best error on the side of dumb exuberance. Avenged Sevenfold may have been a touch too professionally obnoxious for my taste, but they weren't boring for a second.
Well, except during that power ballad.
After a brief set change, Disturbed took the stage. Like anyone who's been near a radio during the past ten years, I've heard their inexplicable play-list staple "Down With the Sickness" about nine thousand times, made memorable by the song's infamous hook, the sort-of crazed primate noise issued by singer David Draiman.
Turns out Draiman's vocal range is actually really impressive. Though he mostly warbles on in that throaty baritone associated with the genre (you know, those ultra enunciated "yehahhhah-uh"s), he actually has some astonishing range. The screams where violent but defined, and occasionally he did this thing almost like throat singing, which found his vocals sounding otherworldly.
While Avenged seemed content to kick out the party jams, Disturbed's set took on a curiously political slant as the show went on. After a bouncy take on Genesis' "Land of Confusion," the next song, "Another Way to Die," found the band playing in front of footage of natural disasters and recent oil spills. It felt a heavy handed, but it was practically Waiting for Godot compared to what came next.
As the band ran through "Indestructible," the video screens featured film of American soldiers in the Middle East, Native American warriors and various explosion, bombs falling and cannons firing.
"How about a little patriotism from you motherfuckers," Draiman said. "Chant: U.S.A! U.S.A!" As the crowd shouted back, it was shocking how straight up the band presented themselves. Disturbed doesn't just support the troops, it supports them blowing shit up.
"Every broken enemy will know," Draiman sang, "I'm an indestructible master of war." A digital American flag waved on screen.
I had never considered the socio-political aspects of Disturbed, but during "Stupify," it all got too blatant to ignore: Disturbed make Tea Party rock, music for the disenfranchised, fed up and pissed.
"All the people on the right wing, rock, all the people on the left wing, rock," Draiman sang, but he's no centrist, just a populist. Just like the Tea Party leaders, he realizes people are angry and scared, and they really want to get together and yell about it.
I'm well aware that I'm probably reading too much into it, but consider the band's closing tune, "Down With the Sickness." Over chugging riffs, the song's narrator, a victim abused by his mother, turns the tables and becomes the aggressor, a misogynist and eventually a killer.
As a couple thousand kids sang along, I knew that no one was going to go home and murder their mom. Yet they related to that frustration, and I couldn't help but wonder if maybe there wasn't a healthier way for us to deal with our fear than to wallow in it and glorify the violence of desperation.
So, to the guy I met in line, I didn't leave a fan. But I did leave understanding the appeal of Disturbed. Frankly, it made me want to hear another bad power-ballad from Avenged Sevenfold so I don't have to feel so serious about this stuff.
Personal Bias: There's really no genre I'm less interested in than modern radio metal.
The Crowd: If you had a shirt on, it was black. But you didn't have a shirt on, did you? Lots of tribal tats, and soooo many Avenged Sevenfold shirts.
Overheard in the Crowd: "You've been clamoring for Awful House, man, so I'm gonna give it to you."
Random Notebook Dump: "I want a sea of raging pumping fists!" A quote from Draiman that I find so amusing.
Avenged Sevenfold Set List:
Welcome to the Family
Beast & the Harlot
So Far Away
God Hates Us
(Big thanks to A7X fan and all around great dude Chris Ortiz for spotting me all the song-titles)
Disturbed Set List:
Land of Confusion (Genesis cover)
Inside the Fire
Another Why to Die
Ten Thousand Fists
Down With the Sickness
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