EmptyVenue: Glen Helen Pavilion, San Bernardino, Calif. (Sunday, July 13)
After the more than eight hours of heavy metal performed during Sunday's Mayhem Festival layover in Southern California, including marquee performances by headliners Slipknot and Disturbed, the loudest ovation came not for a band but for a fallen soldier.
Seldom do the words "moving" and "metal" go together, but when Disturbed frontman David Draiman asked the Glen Helen Pavilion crowd of nearly 16,000 to take a moment to remember 19-year-old serviceman Dustin Burnett -- who was killed in combat in Afghanistan June 20 and whose family was attending the night's performance -- the ovation noticeably moved a lot of the crowd to do more than just pump their fists in the air. Several people wiped their eyes while a chant of "USA! USA!" filled the amphitheater.
It was the exclamation point on a performance that had already established Disturbed's uncanny ability to embrace everything that's been lacking in heavy metal during the past decade: from music that is as empowering as the performers who unveil it to the embedded spirit of unity that has long driven the genre --and even including the campy shtick that makes cynics smirk and crowds swoon.
As good as Draiman and company were, Slipknot -- while favoring a more extreme direction than Disturbed's more mainstream metal approach -- may have been better. And that's not withstanding notable performances from metal icons Machine Head, British power metal impresarios Dragonforce, Christian hardcore hybrids Underoath and teenage sensations Black Tide.
Slipknot debuted as a nine-member phenomenon in the summer of '99, their masks and jumpsuits adding an eerie anonymity to their haunting metal and punishing presence. In the years since, the phenomenon has evolved into an institution. San Bernardino witnessed why and how throughout the band's taut, 60-minute closing set, a rapturous visual nod to "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" on mushrooms, set to an apocalyptic metal soundtrack every bit as rhythmic and melodic as it was unrelenting and extreme.
The set was a melee of sight and sound unleashed from a stage strewn with pyres of burning band logos, screaming light towers and a drum riser that lifted high into the air and tilted forward, leaving Joey Jordison perpendicular to the stage as he played on a kit that rotated 360 degrees. Not to be outdone, percussionist Shawn Crahan unleashed his own organized chaos on an upwardly mobile assemblage of beer kegs and drums.
"Psychosocial" was the only track previewed from the band's forthcoming release "All Hope Is Gone," due Aug. 26 on Roadrunner Records. It didn't pack the hyperkinetic tension of opener "Surfacing" or the frenetic punch or agitated fury of "The Blister Exists" but still provided a fitting tease for one of the summer's most anticipated new releases.
Disturbed opts for a more refined approach to its metal, especially when paired opposite Slipknot's molten madness, but the band still proved a more than competent co-headliner for the inaugural Mayhem Festival. At the top of its game in Sunday, Disturbed's 70-minute performance justified the impact its album "Indestructible" has made on the charts since debuting at No. 1 last month.
Draiman's delivery is driven by his unyielding control and grip as a frontman, his vocals sparked by an abrupt delivery or tempered by a more refined, classically minded approach reminiscent of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickenson or Queensryche's Geoff Tate. His flair for the dramatic was highlighted early on, being wheeled on stage to open the show in a straitjacket and face mask before being unleashed before a crowd that devoured the hammed-up theatrics.
"Let me see those devil horns in the sky," he urged during "Prayer," his arms outstretched to a crowd that hung on his every word. A synthesized techno intro created a jagged ridge for Draiman's mesmerizing blend of metallic authority and syncopated grunts and vocal blasts during "The Game," while guitarist Dan Donegan was stellar throughout the set, tearing a solo into "Inside the Fire" that drew much-deserved attention to his underrated play.
Dragonforce preceded Disturbed, unfurling a soaring wave or power metal spun with equal parts speed and epic progressions, offering a captivating marriage of Megadeth's metal shredding and Dream Theater's well-schooled musicianship. Main stage opener Mastodon offered a well-received, 40-minute set of sludgy, doom-metal riffing atop a galloping, heavy-set bottom end.
Side stage headliner Machine Head was the most veteran band on the bill but deservedly so. They formed in 1992 -- when the members of Black Tide were barely walking, let alone banging their heads -- and nearly every band on the 14-act, all-day package owed something to the influential metal trailblazers. Highlights of Machine Head's set included the nearly 10-minute "Halo" from its latest release "The Blackening"; the signature blast of "Davidian"; and a cover of Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name."