The epitaph for heavy metal music has been written many times in its 30-year lifespan.
Whether it was punk in 1976 or Kurt Cobain in 1991 dealing the death blows, metal has always bounced back, each time regaining its popularity as a dominant genre in the music industry.
This summer, heavy metal is again roaring back, this time in the form of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, a 13-band, three-stage metal-stravaganza – featuring Disturbed, Slipknot, Dragonforce and Mastodon (if you’ve never heard of them, ask a teenager) – that will storm into the White River Amphitheater Wednesday.
The tour’s genesis came as concert promoter Kevin Lyman finished up the 2007 Van’s Warped Tour, a multi-band festival featuring alternative and punk bands that started in 1995.
Lyman said although a handful of big metal tours were already in existence, including the Family Values tour and Projekt Revolution, anchored by Korn and Linkin Park, respectively, as well as Ozzfest, he thought there was room for another.
“Then Rockstar came to me and said, ‘We want to do a summer festival’,” Lyman said.
With sponsorship in place, Lyman said a call from Creative Artists Agency, a top Hollywood talent agency, who represent Disturbed and Slipknot, sealed the deal.
“(They) were like, ‘both Slipknot and Disturbed have records coming out, maybe you can think up a way they could work together.’” Lyman said.
With the headliners on board, Lyman set about filing the rest of the slots on the bill.
On the main stage the show will feature Mastodon and Dragonforce, both established national bands, in addition to the multi-platinum Slipknot and Disturbed.
“When you talk about young bands, we had to pick Dragonforce,” Lyman said. “When a first grader comes over to your house and tells you his favorite band is Dragonforce, because their song is the hardest on Guitar Hero, you have to include them.”
According to Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor, 33, his band, immediately saw the plus side of joining the tour.
“I thought it seemed like there were some bands that had a lot of mainstream appeal,” he said. “I thought they’d bring in some fans and give us the opportunity to play for some people who may never have heard us before.”
After scoring the big four, Lyman set about filling the second- and third-stage rosters.
“For me it’s really important to have strong second-stage bands, like Airborne and Black Tide,” Lyman said. “We really went to the labels and said, ‘Let us help you break some artists.’ And I think we’ve got some pretty strong bands.”
For the second-tier bands, such as Machine Head, Walls of Jericho, Five Finger Death Punch and Suicide Silence, national acts either too new or without the financial support of the bigger bands, the tour gives them a chance to play before a lot more people than the usual club or theater tour.
For Suicide Silence guitarist Chris Garza, 22, the tour is an opportunity to expose more people to his band’s extreme metal stylings, as well as chance to tour with some of his heroes.
“I’ve been listening to metal since I was in the sixth grade,” he said. “Mostly stuff like Slayer, Metallica, Korn, Pantera and Slipknot. I’m looking forward to seeing them (Slipknot). I’ve never seen them before.”
Ivan Moody, singer for Five Finger Death Punch, whose new new single “The Bleeding,” is in heavy rotation on heavy music radio stations nationwide, said it was also about getting to tour with your influences.
“I have to say, I haven’t been this excited about a tour since Korn took us out last year,” Moody said. “It’s going to be crushing.”
Like Garza, Moody said Slipknot is the band to see.
“Corey Taylor [lead singer of Slipknot] is hands-down one of the premiere front men in music,” he said. “And I am excited as hell to share a stage with him and the other guys.”
For Candace Kucsulain, 29, lead singer for Walls of Jericho, who recently released an E.P. “Redemption” produced by Taylor, the tour is also a fine way to spend the summer.
“It’s just like summer camp,” she said. “It’s like a family reunion.”
“It’s going to be like a summer camp type of thing,” Mastodon’s Dailor agreed. “We only have to play like 40 minutes a day. So it will be a good way for us to ease back into touring and the headline shows. We won’t have to go out for an hour-half. Just do 40 minutes and go have fun. Those big summer tours are a good time. You’re outside all day and everybody has their bicycles.”
In addition to providing a vehicle for the major bands and an opportunity for the second-tier bands, Mayhem, like the other multi-band tours, serves as a breeding ground for the next generation of musicians.
With the current resurgence of heavy metal, as evidenced by Disturbed’s new album “Indestructible,” which debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 this past month, things are looking up for the future of the genre.
“I think it’s weird but it’s the natural order, things come back around again,” Dailor said.
“Especially in the late 90s, metal became a bad word,” he continued. “You didn’t tell people you were into metal, it wasn’t cool. But it’s always been there.”
“I think it’s cyclic,” Lyman said. “I think if you look back in history, when times are tough and they get into tougher economic times, there is not a lot of positive outlook. And metal seems to gain in popularity during those times.”
“It’s been going more into a heavier scene, like the death metal,” Garza said. “Now it’s leaning more towards the traditional metal. But I see it being about twice as big as it was when I first got into it. Metal has always been huge, but the doors have been opened for the heavier bands.”
Kucsulain stressed the importance of welcoming the next generation into the fold.
“Hell yeah, I think it’s great,” she said. “You have to have people to keep it alive. Some people bitch about it, ‘those kids don’t know anything.’ But we were that generation too, and now it’s our time to help them. So I don’t get upset with the kids.”
For those kids, including members of Unhailoed and Open Rebuke, both metal bands from Auburn, it’s more about how the music makes them feel.
“I really like the dark essence, the angry emotions it’s more of a driving, aggressive feel,” Unhailoed lead singer Robert Matthews, 19, said. “It’s therapeutic.”
“It’s a really good thing to help smooth out aggression,” Unhailoed co-guitarist James Sumner added. “You can take it out, not on other people, but by moshing. It’s a way I’ve always soothed myself.”
Jess Hudson, 17, Sumner’s six-stringed partner in Unhailoed agreed.
“It’s in your face and all about letting the anger out,” he said.
For Zach Berry, 19, who was raised on heavy metal and is the drummer for Open Rebuke, which also includes his older brother Tim Berry, Jr. and father Tim Berry, Sr., it’s less about a release of aggression and more about the power.
“It’s the power of the music,” he said. “It’s powerful and it’s something that you can move to.”
But for Unhailoed drummer Dylan Brown, 17, it’s also a chance to gain inspiration and validation.
“I love the technicality and feeling when I’m on stage or just playing music,” he said. “I love being on stage, it’s my favorite place in the entire world. The music makes me want to keep excelling at whatever I do.”
Shawn Skager can be reached at 253-826-3260 ext. 5050 or by e-mail at email@example.com
The Rockstar Mayhem Festival begins its 30-date run July 9 at the White River Amphitheater. The tour will feature Slipknot, Disturbed, Dragonforce, Mastodon, Machine Head, Airbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, Walls of Jericho, Underoath, Black Tide, Suicide Silence, 36 Crazyfists and The Red Chord. Tickets are $28.20, $44.40 and $55.55 and are available from Ticketmaster online at www.ticketmaster.com or at the White River Amphitheater box office, which is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More information about the tour can be found at www.mayhemfest.com.