While some heavy rock aficionados have bemoaned the current mainstream state of the genre in a market saturated with cookie-cutter pop music, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival is generating plenty of thunder. "We're playing between 10,000 and 25,000 people every single night who have their fists in the air and know every single word," says Zacky Vengeance, rhythm guitarist for co-headliners Avenged Sevenfold. "That's nothing to complain about."
From 19 bands to four
The Mayhem Festival rolls into the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Wednesday, although due to venue size restrictions, its massive, 19-band bill has been streamlined to the four acts on the main stage: Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, Trivium and Asking Alexandria. While Korn is the veteran band on the bill and the predecessor to the nü-metal rage of the late '90s, the other groups have embraced an old-school metal sensibility, drawing more from classic metal and the Sunset Strip hard rock of the '80s. Even Asking Alexandria, a band with a metalcore slant early on, has coaxed increased melody from its heavy sounds.
"I think it's just that as we grow up and we mature -- more so as songwriters than as people, there isn't that much requirement to grow up in this profession -- it just makes more sense, writing real songs rather than just trying to write something that is edgy and different," says Danny Worsnop, front man for Asking Alexandria. "It starts being about the music and about writing songs that touch people and move people."
With three albums under its belt, Worsnop's band is the newest of the bunch; the others have six or more studio releases out. Vengeance acknowledges that, over the past 15 years, Avenged has retained or won over fans who stayed with the quintet from the time "when we were young and running around with makeup on and being a little too over the top," he says. "I think that people didn't know what to think about us because we were young. People don't want to invest in a metal band that's not going to be there for the long haul, and I think that people have watched us grow and mature, wipe the makeup off, and really step up to the plate to put on a show that they feel is worthy of spending their hard-earned money on."
Linkin Park's Chester Bennington recently remarked that he felt that large, outdoor festivals were killing rock music because it was really meant to be enjoyed in a more controlled indoor setting. The bands on the Mayhem bill appreciate both environments. "When I lose myself in music, I don't about the way it looks," declares Jonathan Davis, frontman for co-headliners Korn. "I just love the sounds and seeing people's faces and feeding off their energy. Lights and production are great, but if your band sucks, your band sucks. I love losing myself in the music. If I'm touching somebody, it's good."
Older and more mellow
For many veteran metal bands striving to maintain that connection to their audience, tapping into the same rage and adrenaline that originally propelled their music and sound can be a challenge, depending on where they are in their lives. As artists get older, their raison d'être can change.
"When you're starting out, you're broke, you're hungry, and you have all that aggression and stuff you're off about," notes Worsnop. "But then you get to the point where the world is in your hands, and there's nothing to be angry about anymore. You can't be off when you have money now and all the problems you had aren't there anymore. So you just have to focus on something else. I don't think it's diminished my songwriting in any way. I write about different things, and my style has changed, and the context of what I do has changed."
For Davis, however, the context of anger will always remain the same. It has been said that metal will never die because there will always be a new wave of angry teenagers to embrace it, but for him, the concept transcends age. "Don't you have problems that happen every day?" ponders Davis. "I'm just human, man, and I choose to let that out in my music. I'll never lose that because life sometimes sucks. There are a lot of great things, but I tap into those bad] things that happen in life, and that gives me my rage and anger. I think everybody keeps that until they're 80 years old. That don't go away."
WHAT Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival
WHEN|WHERE 5:30p.m. Wednesday, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh
INFO $29.50-$69.50, livenation.com
Bands on the Mayhem Tour
Here's a closer look at the bands at this year's Mayhem Tour:
KORN The Grammy- winning progenitors of the nü-metal movement have stayed at the top ever since the release of their debut album in 1994. All but one of the group's 11 albums has hit the top 10, and seven have sold 1million copies or more. While 2012's dubstep- influenced "The Path to Totality" tripped up some fans, the recent "The Paradigm Shift" has been heralded as a return to aggro form with wiser yet still intense lyrics written while front man Jonathan Davis was detoxing from an addiction to benzodiazepines.
AVENGED SEVENFOLD The bill's biggest new school/old school band, this California quintet lives and breathes classic metal and hard rock influences. The recent chart-topping album "Hail to the King" basks in the glory of groups like Iron Maiden, Metallica and Guns 'N Roses, ripe with larger-than-life melodies and harmonies and keeping the flame alive.
TRIVIUM Combining classic thrash, death and metalcore influences, these Florida rockers are among successors to the Big Four of thrash, particularly Metallica, but with a modern sound. Acclaimed for being leaner and more refined, Trivium's latest album, "Vengeance Falls," was produced by Disturbed and Device frontman David Draiman.
ASKING ALEXANDRIA While it got lumped in early with the metalcore movement, this British outfit has shown its hedonistic '80s Sunset Strip stripes in a covers EP and its recent album "From Death to Destiny." Front man Danny Worsnop is screeching less and singing more, and the music is maturing.