Concert Review

Slayer Plays Through The (Dry) Heat

Two stages, 13 bands, more than nine hours of music, and yet the Rockstar Mayhem Festival could easily be summed up in one word:


Unfortunately, New Times doesn't pay me for one-word reviews, and to be honest, a handful of other bands on the bill definitely made an impression over the course of this sweat-soaked festival. But if T-shirt counts are any indication, Slayer was far and away the main draw at this all-day metal extravaganza. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there were as many, if not more, Slayer shirts at this show than those of the other 12 acts combined.

My friend Alex and I made our way into Cricket Pavilion around 3:30 p.m., just as God Forbid was wrapping up its set on the Hot Topic-sponsored second stage. There was also supposed to be a third, Jägermeister-themed stage, but due to technical difficulties that were never fully explained, the third stage never opened, forcing all nine bands on the "undercard" to play on the Hot Topic stage.

Poland's Behemoth followed God Forbid, and despite the searing temperatures, the band members came out in their trademark corpse paint and blasted through a half-hour set that impressed the surprisingly sizeable early crowd. Things went downhill from there, however, as All That Remains took the stage for a mercifully short set of by-the-numbers metalcore. Black Dahlia Murder came out next and played a solid, energetic set, despite bearing the full brunt of the 112-degree mid-afternoon temperature. Trivium was on next, which meant that it was as good a time as any to go stand in line for a $12 beer (full disclosure: I'd stand in line for a $12 glass of warm tap water if seeing Trivium was the alternative). We made it back in time to catch the last song - in other words, too early.

Around 6 p.m., things started to get interesting. Due to the closed third stage and the resulting schedule revision, the last two second-stage bands - hometown heroes Job for a Cowboy and death metal legends Cannibal Corpse - overlapped the first two main stage acts, Bullet for My Valentine and Killswitch Engage. I know, I know. You're thinking, "What's the problem?" But believe it or not, I actually overheard multiple people debating whether they should check out probably the most successful Valley heavy metal band in two decades or Bullet for My freaking Valentine. Seriously.

Those who chose the former were rewarded by an obviously inspired set by Job for a Cowboy. The local boys delivered the goods, and the rowdy second-stage crowd showed its appreciation by flailing away in a huge circle pit. In the interest of journalistic fairness, I felt obligated to at least see a little bit of BFMV, so we trudged over to the main stage and found our seats just in time for their last song. The song was called "Scream Aim Fire," but it might as well have been called "Scream Sing Scream," since that pretty much sums up BFMV's shtick in a nutshell. Alex and I were unimpressed, but we seemed to be in the minority. The main stage crowd, which was markedly younger and more "clean-cut" than the second-stage ruffians, seemed to be enthralled with these British heartthrobs. Kids these days. I tell ya, there's no hope for 'em.

As we walked back to the second stage, the scalding heat had finally broken, giving way to the soothing winds of a dust storm that wreaked havoc on the vendor tents and covered everyone in a thin layer of sticky grime. Dehydrated and filthy, we got back just in time for Cannibal Corpse, and like JFAC before them, they didn't disappoint. The band played a set that spanned its 11-album, 21-year career. Lead vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher entertained the crowd with witty, between-song patter such as "This song is about shooting blood from your cock. 'I Cum Blooooood!'" Cannibal Corpse closed its set with a pair of old-school favorites, "Hammer Smashed Face," and "Stripped, Raped and Strangled," much to the delight of the crowd.

We made our way back to the main stage (the trek seemed to get longer with each trip) just in time to catch Killswitch Engage's last song. Note to Killswitch Engage: It's really cool you guys do that Dio cover and all, but using it as your closer is pretty bush league. I'll give you props for at least doing the scream/sing/scream thing long before everyone else caught on, but if your most popular/recognizable song is a cover, it's probably time to go back to the drawing board (see Riot, Quiet).

With the second-stage action wrapped up and the immortal Slayer about to take the main stage, there was a definite buzz in the air. When the lights finally went down at 8:25, the crowd erupted as Slayer tore into the opening bars of "God Hates Us All." Guitarist Jeff Hanneman was wearing his customary Raiders jersey, but someone forgot to tell fellow guitarist Kerry King and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya that it's a major faux pas to wear your own band's T-shirt at a gig. Wardrobe issues aside, Slayer put on a show befitting its near-three-decade legacy. War seemed to be the theme of this show, with nearly half the setlist ("War Ensemble," "Jihad," "Mandatory Suicide," "Chemical Warfare," "Ghost of War," and, of course, "Angel of Death") dedicated to the subject. Slayer also treated fans to a preview of its forthcoming album, World Painted Blood, with the new song "Psychopathy Red," but for the most part, the set leaned heavily towards the band's early work, and justifiably so. After drummer Dave Lombardo's pummeling double-bass assault on the band's finale, "Raining Blood," the crowd was chanting for more, but there would be no encores tonight.

After an hour's worth of Slayer, it was a little hard to get too excited for the night's final act, Marilyn Manson. I don't necessarily dislike Manson, but his industrial goth sound just seems like an odd fit for a tour featuring a dozen heavy metal bands. I haven't picked up a Manson album since 1998's Mechanical Animals, so I have no idea what the first two songs were, but he eventually got around to playing a couple songs from Antichrist Superstar, his most popular album to date. Manson also earns points for using Tim Meadows' hilarious cocaine speech ("It turns all your bad feelings into good feelings. It's a nightmare.") from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story as the intro to "The Dope Show." But when the song actually kicked in, Manson sounded tired and a bit off-key. By that point, we were feeling the toll of seven hours in the blazing Phoenix sun and decided to beat a hasty retreat. Honestly, I was somewhat surprised that more people didn't have the same idea. To his credit, Manson managed to retain a significant percentage of the crowd, despite a long day of high temps and higher concession prices. For my part, that extra half-hour of sleep sounded way more appealing than hearing "The Beautiful People" for the 1,296,423rd time. Turns out there is such a thing as "getting too old for this shit."

Slayer setlist:

  • God Hates Us All
  • War Ensemble
  • Jihad
  • Psychopathy Red
  • Born of Fire
  • Mandatory Suicide
  • Chemical Warfare
  • Ghost of War
  • Dead Skin Mask
  • Hell Awaits
  • Angel of Death
  • South of Heaven
  • Raining Blood

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Rockstar Mayhem Festival at Cricket Wireless Pavilion.

Better Than: The exact same show held inside a blast furnace, but just barely.

Personal Bias: I've been listening to Slayer longer than many of the kids at this show have been alive, but I was impressed by their respect and admiration for the thrash veterans.

Random Fact: Over the course of the day, I saw multiple people wearing T-shirts for 12 of the 13 bands at the show. I'm thinking Hemlock might need to have a sit-down with their merch guy...

Further Listening: Call me a pussy, but I'm currently decompressing with some Fiona Apple.

By the Way: The most horrifying sight of the day (aside from the proliferation of muffin-tops) was the "designer" Pantera T-shirt for sale at the Affliction booth. Poor Dimebag must be rolling over in his grave.

One More Thing: Very few bands will cause my 35-year-old ass to spontaneously throw the horns and bang my head without a trace of irony, but Slayer is definitely one of them.

Slide Show: Slayer, Marilyn Manson and More From the Rockstar Mayhem Festival

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Mike Meyer
Contact: Mike Meyer