Would it really be a heavy metal festival without a sweaty mass of devil horns, flying fists, and bleary-eyed drunkards lumbering recklessly toward the bathroom?
Friday's first stop of Marilyn Manson and Slayer's Mayhem Festival at Sacramento's Sleep Train Amphitheater had those and more, as a 16-band bill played to some 9,000 fans.
Slayer's show is always less of a spectacle than a simple,blistering sonic experience; there are no grandiose special effects, only well-timed blasts of guitar, drum, and growl.When the white curtain dropped, the band unleashed a punishing set thatsped through classics like "Hell Awaits," "Born of Fire," and "DeadSkin Mask." They also played the new track "Psychopathy Red,"from their forthcoming album World Painted Blood, which vocalist-bassist Tom Araya referred to backstage as "classic fucking Slayer."
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman emerged briefly fromhis veil of hair to show off his whammy-bar-heavy solo skills, while Dave Lombardothickened the open air with ridiculously fast double-bass.
Itwas like watching Slayer in the '80s; the mosh pit had a steady flow of people streamingin and then limping out toward safety. And when the intro to "South ofHeaven" screeched from the speakers, the crowd stopped and gaspedcollectively, as they do every time Slayer plays "South of Heaven".
At the end of the song, some of the audience headed straight for theexit door. Slayer fans can be picky -- too picky, perhaps, for MarilynManson's brand of provocative pop-metal.
Manson sashayed onstage wearing a pirate hat and a jacket that read "Hell, etc." He began with "We're From America," which took the day of demonic gore metal, turned it upside down, and shook it into a performance of stripped down bitchy punk rock.
The shock rocker, whose handlers catered to his every onstage whim/ tantrum by picking up whatever he threw, dropped, spit out or broke, did without a large stage show, adopting instead occasional wardrobe changes and a really pissy attitude.
During his renditions of "Disposable Teens," "Little Horn," and"Irresponsible Hate Anthem," the crowd seemed lost, either from an all-day baste in 100 degree heat or because Manson seemed genuinely disinterested in his own performance. At one point, he threw a prop toward guitarist Twiggy Ramirez, who stormed to the back of the stage, sat down, and kept playing, mostly out of tune.
Whether Manson's tantrums were real or not is unclear, but at that point in a festival with bands like Slayer creating drama using their sounds alone, Manson's bi-polarity come off as condescending, superficial, and a little bit too much trouble to care about.
Earlier in the day, New York gore metal band Cannibal Corpse, known for unrelenting violence by way of chunky guitar, stayed true to form with songs like "Make Them Suffer," which fueled a particularly vicious mosh pit; fists flew, elbows swung, and toward the end of the set, a stretcher rolled passed carrying the body of a young man, blood spilling from the side of his face. He was smiling on his way to the medical aid station.
Across the festival grounds, Massachusetts' Killswitch Engage was charming the ladies with its set. "I won't be completely satisfied until I have licked the armpit of every 18 year-old girl out there tonight," proclaimed KsE guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, before he showboated through "My Last Seranade" and "My Curse" with vocalist Howard Jones bounding about the stage like he was in his own little dodgeball arena. As entertaining as KsE can be, it was still a metal show, which means that the fans can become abnormally restless and agitated -- or worse.
Early on, for instance, as New Jersey's God Forbidgeared up for their set, a lanky kid stood under the sun, right handraised with his downward-facing palm flat in a gesture that lookeddangerously close to a Sieg Heil; he laughed menacingly as God Forbidbegan to play, and then removed his shirt to reveal a crude portrait ofAdolph Hitler tattooed upon his rib cage.
Mayhem lived up to its name.