Each of the four metal bands to take the main stage Saturday at the day-long Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center brought a different take on the music — from headliner Rob Zombie’s horror theatrics to Amon Amarth’s Swedish death metal.
But while each occupies its own niche in the metal world, they share some key similarities, namely ear-splitting volume and aggressive intensity. In a metal festival setting, this is really all that matters, and all four bands came together for a surprisingly cohesive show in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
Zombie and company were naturally the flashiest band to take the stage, immediately setting off pyrotechnics for opening number “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” off the new album “Venemous Rat Regeneration Vendor.” The band’s later cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” also came from this record, but for the most part the band stuck to classic material from Zombie’s older solo albums and his previous band, White Zombie.
Here, the eye candy often outweighed the song being performed, whether it was the disturbing video screens on “Living Dead Girl,” the robot/human hybrid puppet roaming the stage during “More Human Than Human” or the elaborate cart Zombie wheeled out during “Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy).” But musically the band was right on, often sounding mechanically precise — which, for this rapid-fire style of industrial-tinged metal, is just perfect. Guitarist John 5 proved his worth on the aforementioned “More Human Than Human” and a snarling solo on the White Zombie classic “Thunder Kiss '65” late in the main set.
Five Finger Death Punch brought plenty of rage, energy and attitude to the stage right before Zombie’s elaborate show. Snarling frontman Ivan Moody and lead guitarist Jason Hook were the two strongest elements of the group’s hour-long performance. Moody’s confident strutting and carnival barking set the fast and furious pace, while Hook’s shredding solos were the best of any guitarist on the bill, probably thanks in no small part to his past experience as a session musician.
Highlights included the one-two-three punch of opening numbers “Under and Over It,” “Burn It Down” and especially a ferocious run-through of “Hard To See.” Moody invited a passel of kids to the stage to stand behind the band during the blazing “White Knuckles,” a sweet gesture in an evening full of not-so-sweet music. The band dialed down the ferocity for “Coming Down,” which featured some of Moody’s most impassioned screaming, before closing on another rager, “The Bleeding.”
Mastodon, up second on the bill, pummeled the crowd with the most musically intense set of all four main stage acts. Taking the stage shortly before 7:30, the four-piece put their heads down, launched into “Black Tongue” and didn’t come up for air until the set’s end 45 minutes later, ripping through most of the 2011 album “The Hunter.”
The simple set design kept the attention squarely where it belonged, on the band’s epic progressive/thrash/sludge material and powerful playing. There was plenty of variety, from the epic wandering of “Megalodon” to “Stargasm’s” almost gentle, spaced out verses, yet brutal performances of “Blasteroid” and the thrashing “Spectrelight” showed the band could rock out simply and efficiently, as well. Things climaxed on “The Sparrow,” which showcased powerhouse drummer Brann Dailor’s clean, melodic singing over a slow-building jam.
Long-running Swedish doom band Amon Amarth opened the main stage show with a rapid-fire set of ragged riffs and Cookie Monster-style growling, set against a rotating medieval backdrop and a large dragon ship prop that filled the amphitheater with smoke. The band offered little in the way of variation, with each song offering up the same mix of distorted guitars and thundering tempos, but on new song “Deceiver of the Gods,” the five-piece showed off mature instrumental interplay during an extended jam to end the song.