The eighth edition of the heavy metal festival tour stops by the Chicagoland area for all of the blood and sweat in the hot sun.

For the American kids adorned in black who roam the suburbia of major cities across the nation, Mayhem has grown ubiquitous with the notion of the loudest, most alternative of summertime bashes. Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival is now in its eighth year running. As the chapters of its story continue to be written, some plots evolve while many stay the same.

The typical format of the festival is a healthy one: have a day filled with up and coming acts as well as home openers. As the sun sets, bring the crowds together to the main stage for some of the greatest acts in the world of metal. For this, the fan can spend the day immersed in a realm of like-minded individuals and taste sweet new sounds. Should the patron find the current band on stage is not quite what the doctor ordered, one needn’t worry: change the channel and walk to another side stage and try another flavor. If nothing else, everyone can be rest assured that at the end of the night, the headliners will provide the guaranteed satisfaction for the high heat and anticipation boiling over.

Upon entering the venue this year, one factor made itself belligerently apparent: the festival has savagely shrunk. Rather than the two to four side stages we have seen in previous editions of the festival, there is but only one, sole platform constructed within the concourse of the venue. Traditionalists of Mayhem Fest, who make this their summer rite, can suspend any apprehension he or she may have with the knowledge that, on the whole, one can still find that same old metalcore sound that they have enjoyed for all of the past eight years.

The only salvation from the scorching July sun is fool’s shade: the black mass formed from the united huddled masses of avid, sweaty fans who could give a damn about the heat. This is the biggest show of the year for many. And they shall curse the sun daring to thwart the riotous recreational plans of the day. Regardless of which clique came for what band, one dare not question the dedication of this demographic.

It seemed as though that in the matters of the Victory Records stage the acts primarily marched in step to the breakdown beat of the metalcore subgenre -  few rose above it. Sworn In, from the Chicago area, displayed a great deal of gratitude and fashion sense for playing on their home turf. Thy Art Is Murder, traveling all the way from Australia, certainly engaged an enthusiastic crowd. And there is no doubting the loyal following of Whitechapel fans. However, when the continuous, seismic mix of breakdowns and in unison jumping took a respite, there was no mistaking the high caliber, full-throttle tone and energy of Sweden’s Sister Sin with their locomotive combination of drums and bass making the foundation for guitarist Jimmy Hiltula‘s buzz saw-toned guitar solos topped with Liv Jagrell‘s whiplashing vocals. Many a fist pumped during their set.

Perhaps one of the most unifying and exceptional performances of the day came from the Windy City’s own Jungle Rot. The war and torture themed, “old school” death metal outfit did have a slight handicap with crowd as they had a few of their faithful cards in the deck. Though by the time they launched into “Doomsday,” the opening track on their new LP Order Shall Prevail, there was no mistaking their crowd-unifying sound and showmanship. Leadman Dave Matrise challenged the crowd to launch as many patrons as possible over the pit barricade – and the people responded in full force. A series of avid humans brewed to the surface and rushed over security making a luscious, mortal cascade. The “wall of death” crowd antic now has a challenger: the human avalanche – compliments of Jungle Rot.

The fans crept into the main stage area. Many discovered a pleasant surprise: everyone gets a seat! In light of the ticket sales, there was no need to scatter folks across the lawn. And luckily plenty of seats sat vacant for selection. Overcrowding remained a dead issue.

The Devil Wears Prada had to endure performing amidst the one window of the day where two stages had scheduled overlap. By the hour Hellyeah took the main stage, fans began setting up shop for the rest of the night’s splendors. The Southern-themed metallers certainly broke in the big venue with many a patron singing along. And everyone had to tip a hat to guitarist Tom Maxwell who played the set while seated with a massive boot covering the lower half of his broken leg. Hopefully this is not a growing trend at live rock shows.

At last, the crown jewel to this year’s lineup galloped on to the stage. All hail King Diamond.

Preceding his entrance, an announcement declared that the King had been trudging through a bout with an eye infection, for which he would perform sans makeup. Anyone who is up on the King knows that an eye infection is but a scratch compared to the herniated discs and triple bypass surgeries the man has withstood within the past few years.

In one hour’s time, the King covered the greats from Mercyful Fate‘s “Come to the Sabbath” off the Don’t Break the Oath LP (1984), and to his own “Welcome Home” from the staple LP Them (1988). Upon his retirement for the evening, the masses stood with jovial applause. The night was complete.

Finally Slayer took the stage emerging from smoke and fiery inverted crucifixes. They opened with their new single, “Repentless,” and worked through their roundabout catalog of fundamental thrash metal pieces and fan favorites such as “South of Heaven,” and “War Ensemble.” A gargantuan screen of graphic art hung above the band often upstaging their musicianship. A colossal photo portrait of Ed Gein faded into the famed serial killer’s finger prints. The crowd shouted in anticipation for what would be “Dead Skin Mask.”

As would be most appropriate, Slayer concluded with “Raining Blood” followed by “Angel of Death.” That put the lid on Rockstar Energy Drink’s Mayhem Festival 2015.

The comparatively small crowd and venue size does make a statement for a change at Mayhem Fest – though not for the metal scene. Recently, festival co-founder Kevin Lyman mentioned to the Detroit Free Press the difficulty of finding and booking the great headlining acts to put atop the Mayhem Fest banner. Perhaps the shuffling of the same cards every year may cause the enterprise to stumble. The rotation of headlining Slayer, Rob Zombie, or Korn every few years is out of grease and clearly grinding at the axle. But where the organism of Mayhem may falter, other creatures evolve.

Perhaps the downsizing of stages and booking headliners that openly state their distaste for the rest of the lineup is at an end. Whereas the fan may grow to buy new albums, change the channel, or go see what’s going down at the other stage, it may behoove Mayhem Fest to grow to ask how Maryland Death Fest can fill a global lineup that makes fans drool and travel from across the hemisphere to attend – often selling out passes months in advance. Or maybe there is a method to the madness of how Full Terror Assault has 75 bands slated to play in a village in southern Illinois with the likes of Obituary and Napalm Death at the top of the bill – and its only year one for the festival. Or by chance, another course of action would be to make like Ozzfest and find an annual home in a different nation that would be more receptive to its direction. Time will tell.

Now is a critical period for the festival to find if it will evolve, die, or relocate. For the sake of the music, the scene, the fans, and the hope for the four teens in a basement right now busting their brains on music theory while first listening to the recordings of Chuck Schuldiner, all fingers are crossed.

See you next summer!

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Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival
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