Rockstar Mayhem Festival 2008, Downsview Park, Toronto – Pit Review

August 10, 2008

Gig/Concert: Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival
Venue: Downsview Park, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 8 August 2008
Headliners: Slipknot, Disturbed, DragonForce
In one word: Pits!

Mayhem Festival rolled into Toronto for the only Canadian date of a tour which brought some of the biggest names in metal into the grounds of Downsview Park. I had a feeling that this was going to be a wild one, as there’s nothing quite like a good ol’ metal concert to get people out of their shells and raising hell. I left my camera and notepad at home so that I had nothing preventing me from being at the heart of the action. I had hopes for plenty of mad mosh pits and Mayhem did not disappoint. The crowd at Mayhem was the biggest and best I’ve seen in Canada. The average age was also a lot higher than that which I’ve seen at recent festivals in Canada, with the majority of the crowd being adults. The weather in Toronto was also perfect festival weather – none of that humid sticky stuff that’s been all-too present of late.

Airbourne were awesome. They were the first band I saw as I arrived inside the festival grounds, and the best band of the day. They play old-school heavy rock, with some badass riffs and beats and shout-a-long lyrics. The band draws obvious comparisons to AC/DC. They sound very similar to their Aussie compatriots and they also have two brothers in their line-up, with Joel O’Keeffe fronting the band on lead guitar and vocals and his brother Ryan on drums.

There’s nothing new about anything Airbourne do but it can still be seen as fresh, especially in this decade where so many bands are sound-a-like copies of each other who label themselves as fancy sub-genres of music. Airbourne just play hard rock. Think Marshall stacks and Gibson guitars – classic. I got handed a couple of fabric cup holders by an Airbourne merch-monkey which were adorned with the words; “Genuine fish-pumpin’, sweat-soaked, rock ‘n roll!” I couldn’t put it better than that. I used my keys to rip part of the cup holders to fashion them into a pair of fingerless gloves (what’s my age again?), and I wore them with pride as I raised my fists in the Mayhem crowd.

Up next were 36 Crazy Fists, who played on the other smaller stage. I stayed for a couple of songs but didn’t like what I heard, so I used the time to go get pizza which seemed like a good plan as it meant could watch the rest of the bands till the night was over without being hungry. So after another long wait in a line and a few slices of veggie pizza later, I was back in the crowd for Underoath.

This wasn’t the kind of kumbayah-by-the-campfire-meets-electric-guitars kind of Christian rock that I have previously encountered.

Underoath are a rock band who, to quote the singer Spencer Chamberlain; “Stand up here in the name of god.” Christian rock? Oh dear. ‘Christian’ and ‘rock’ are words that to me have always spelt an aural disaster. This band from Florida falls from the screamo tree, which is something else that I usually avoid at all costs. But wait… Underoath were actually not so bad. I almost feel inclined to slap myself as I write that. They engaged the crowd with an attention-grabbing performance which was perhaps fuelled by the energy drink company who sponsor Mayhem. To abuse a pun, I’d say they gave a spirited display – especially the chubby long-haired fellow on keyboards, who jumped, head-banged and squirmed as if he was getting exorcised.

This wasn’t the kind of kumbayah-by-the-campfire-meets-electric-guitars kind of Christian rock that I have previously encountered. For the most part I found it impossible to understand what the heaven Chamberlain was singing about, with whatever message he may have been trying to deliver getting lost in his screaming. However, the performance of the band kept my attention almost undivided, except for glancing sideways near the end to catch the tricks of some stunt bikers who were pulling off gravity-defying high-jinks. I wouldn’t go out and buy their music, but they deserve credit for their maxed-out performance.

By this point Mastodon had opened on the huge main stage at the other end of the festival grounds. I missed them and also somewhat deliberately avoided most of DragonForce’s set. DragonForce are ‘that Guitar Hero band’ who have achieved fame through their stupidly long and complicated song “Through The Fire And Flame.” I saw the last fifteen minutes or so of DragonForce’s set and found it dull. DragonForce have too much over-complicated technical guitar wank for my liking. I just don’t find it interesting at all to listen to for longer than a couple of minutes.

I’d had much more fun back over at the two smaller stages where I’d seen Machine Head’s entire set moments earlier. Machine Head put on a great show with a mix of their earliest material like “Old” from Burn My Eyes, to new such as “Halo” from Blackening.

The crowd went primal as Disturbed inspired chaos in the ranks. This was the pinnacle of Mayhem in Toronto and the best crowd I’ve experienced in Canada.

By the time Disturbed took to the main stage the other stages were shutdown and most of the merchandise tents were packed up. This created plenty of space for one huge crowd which likely numbered at least 10,000 people – which is poetic given that 10000 Fists is one of Disturbed’s best tracks. Disturbed were mental. The crowd went primal as Disturbed inspired chaos in the ranks. Everyone jumped around and raised their devil horns, while pits began opening up everywhere. This was the pinnacle of Mayhem in Toronto and the best crowd I’ve experienced in Canada in the two years that I’ve been around here. Their set ended with their best known songs “Stricken” and “Down With The Sickness”, which gave a perfect climax to their set. Insane!

The sun had set before Slipknot cane on to bring the night to the end. I’ll admit now that I’ve never been a fan of this band. In fact, back in 1999 when they became known to the world I was only just starting high school in Scotland and I was very much anti-Knot. I thought it was ugly and dumb music and I wasn’t alone in hating it either. So fast-forward almost 10 years, and here I was in the crowd jumping around like a madman to the same band I used to despise. How the hell did that happen?

I’m still far from being converted to a fan of Slipknot, but I respect them a lot more now after seeing them live. Mick 7 is one of the best metal guitarists in the world, and Joey Jordison is one incredible drummer. Slipknot’s set ended with an encore in which Jordison did his well-known stunt of drumming whilst his drum kit is raised in the air and spun around. Slipknot put everything into their performance, as shown by their DJ Sid Wilson who has been playing every Mayhem date with broken heels after he injured himself at the start of the tour.

It was this level of showmanship and theatre that had me immersed for the duration of Slipknot’s set. I got caught up in the frenzied atmosphere in the crowd and found myself in the middle of a couple of mosh pits. Everyone squirmed around like the maggots they are labelled as by the band. Slipknot played a mix of old and new stuff; “Physchosocial” from their forthcoming album All Hope Is Gone was my favourite of them all. This song has a killer guitar solo, fully showcasing the talents of Mick 7, and this seems like something new for Slipknot – a more mature sound. It’s the kind of sound that might perhaps find Slipknot a whole new breed of maggots.

© Brian Banks

Airbourne - Genuine fist-pumpin', sweat-soaked, rock n' roll!

Airbourne cup-holders turned into mosher gloves - genius!

Brian Banks

Editor and Founder, Music Vice Magazine. Writer. Photographer. Poet. From Scotland. Not Ireland. Proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Rock N' Roll Don't Pay The Rent... 

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