According to festival co-founder John Reese, 2015 will be Mayhem Festival’s last year. This news is unsurprising as I heard rumors of its end even before this year’s line-up was announced. After a series of public relations mishaps, Mayhem Fest could not escape the stalking black cloud.
Controversy began when the other co-founder Kevin Lyman gave an interview to the Detroit Free Press, saying that part the reason Mayhem Festival was struggling this year was because of the lack of talent development for younger artists, which lead to difficulties solidifying headliners. “What happened was metal chased girls away because what happened was metal aged. Metal got gray, bald and fat. And metal was about danger. When you went to a metal show, it was dudes onstage; there was some danger in it.” This particular quote really got him in trouble.
The thing is, I mostly agree with Lyman. I have written in this column several times about heavy metal marginalizing itself through either elitism or obtuse thinking. I would say Lyman has a distinct perspective on this considering he and Reese have organized eight Mayhem Fests, Warped Tour for 20 years, and slew of other big festivals. He knows how much bands make, how well they draw, and can see trends evolving in a macro sense better than many people in the industry. The content of his statement would probably be uncontroversial if said amongst inner-circles, but not in a public forum. Even if it’s kind of true, there is no way those comments would not seriously offend the festival’s attendees and headliners, Slayer and King Diamond, who happen to be older bands.
Slayer’s Kerry King responded that Lyman had “committed career suicide”, and that the tour’s error was “they waited too late in the game to get the talent they needed to pull it off correctly.” I can certainly empathize with King feeling undermined by the comments considering his concerns with the tour began even during its conception.
Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe chimed in on his Instagram proclaiming Lyman’s statement was “BULLSHIT”, citing the phenomenal success Lamb of God was currently experiencing, and even challenged Lyman’s assessment that metal had a youth problem. “There’s TONS of YOUNGER METAL BANDS too- the metal scene is ALIVE & HEALTHY, & it will continue to GROW & the younger bands WILL become headliners if the fans support it- so far, that DOESN’T seem to be a problem,” he wrote. “So sorry, metal isn’t watered down pop BULLSHIT for the teeny bopper masses, but it is HEALTHY.”
I’m sure from Randy’s view, the metal scene is quite robust. Lamb of God is elite in every sense of the word. As community, we need a band as heavy and authentically metal as they are to be that gateway into the extreme. Their success is to be applauded and appreciated.
I would like to be optimistic, but I’m not 100 percent sure these young and emerging headliners are really there en masse. The LOG guys are in their 40s, but show no signs of slowing down. Hopefully they will continue to grow, expand, and take the mantle of bands like Slayer. When Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy, AC/DC, Motorhead, Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth hang it up, who will be there? Currently, the “younger” metal bands pushing arena level status as headliners are Slipknot, Rammstein, Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Volbeat, Five Finger Death Punch, Deftones or some bands that may live more on the rock side of things like Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down, Godsmack, and Disturbed, and some bands on the next tier like LOG, Killswitch Engage, Mastodon, and Bullet For My Valentine. Even most of those bands have been together for around 20 years, and I’m sure many diehard metalheads don’t consider some of these bands metal.
The heavy bands that are actually in their 20s and moving into mainstream success and playing huge venues are scene, Warped Tour type bands like Bring Me The Horizon, Day To Remember, Black Veil Brides, All Time Low, and Pierce The Veil. That’s what I think Kevin Lyman was talking about. Where are those real metal bands that are young, aspirational and moving up the ladder? Trivium is a band that came to prominence very quickly, and still have an expanding career. They could still write their Black Album, and ascend (pun intended) to the next level. Periphery is a band that has tremendous growth potential. Gojira has all the tools to be massively successful, but they are still probably a little too heavy and brainy for the mainstream— although that could change depending on new material. In This Moment is moving up the ranks, but I’m not sure if hardcore metal fans give them the respect they deserve.
When you do the math, it doesn’t make Lyman’s comments seem that inaccurate. Although I’m sure many metal fans would argue that metal’s place is not in the arenas or on the radio, but down in the underground serving rightfully as a counter-culture to the mainstream. I don’t disagree with that sentiment at face value, but Mayhem Festival is not meant to be in clubs. It’s a big time show that is meant to draw thousands of fans around the nation. Ultimately, it ran into a similar problem that Ozzfest had near it’s end. Ozzfest had difficulty paying all of the bigger bands, and experimented with a free show in it’s final year, but also saw a drop off in the talent top-to-bottom similar to Mayhem’s final run. Conversely, Ozzfest always had Ozzy or Black Sabbath in it’s back pocket as a headliner.
As far as the future of metal festivals in the US, it’s unclear if there is a profitable future for traveling metal fests at the magnitude of Mayhem and Ozzfest. Much like Europe, America seems to really be buying into destination festivals like Rock On The Range, Knotfest, Carolina Rebellion, Welcome To Rockville, Maryland Deathfest, Rocklahoma, Aftershock, Rock In Rio, etc. These shows are drawing much bigger numbers than comparable traveling festival tours, and they do not have to carry the burden of the extra expenses involved with transporting production from city to city. You also can build on a local culture and focus your advertising on a smaller and more direct market. Fans will feel much more dedicated and loyal to a show that they know is special to their home area. This is part of the reason giant European Festivals like Wacken sell out even before a line-up is announced.
On the touring festival end of things, I think tours like Summer Slaughter and All Stars are a good representation of the future. They are smaller in scale and cater better to the underground and metal’s current niche-oriented landscape. I don’t know if the huge touring metal festival is done for good, but as someone who was lucky enough to do an Ozzfest and Mayhem Fest, I will surely miss the concept of heavy metal summer camp.