INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Early in his band's set at the inaugural Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival on Saturday (Aug. 9), Disturbed frontman David Draiman reminded the DTE Energy Music Theatre crowd that, on a previous visit, his band had rechristened Detroit Rock City as Detroit Metal City.
He then asked, "Are you still worthy of that name?"
The question of was rhetorical, of course.
Metro area headbangers proved their metal might yet again on Saturday, turning out for and staying through the Mayhem Festival -- nearly nine hours of high-octane noise that's effectively replaced OZZFest as heavy rock's summer home -- in sellout numbers. They hung in at the secondary stages despite driving rain, and they were still there -- throwing sod from the lawn, even -- when the masked men of Slipknot finished the day with a stylized, pyrotechnic-laded set. Clearly they were so stoked they didn't mind being soaked.
The creation of the producers of the annual Vans Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos packages, the Mayhem Tour had a flavor similar to both. The two secondary stages were side by side, providing a smooth nearly uninterrupted flow of music. There were numerous opportunities to meet and get autographs from most of the bands, either at their own tents or via of the tour's numerous sponsors. And there was plenty of free swag and contests, as well as a chance for those of age to sample wares from Rockstar Energy Drink and Jagermeister.
The music was the focus, however, and the rain did little to wash away the crowd's enthusiasm for that.
Besides its usual mythic allure, Slipknot -- sporting new masks, costumes and stage production -- returned to active duty as a band following two and half years of concentrating on outside projects. The Iowa nine-piece sounded tight and refreshed as it worked through an hour of favorites such as "Surfacing," "Disasterpiece," "Heretic" and "Duality," ressurected the moody "Prosthetics" from its 1999 debut album and previewed the new "All Hope is Gone," coming out Aug. 26, with the song "Psychosocial." DJ Sid Wilson, meanwhile, was the visual star of the night; he broke both feet jumping for his riser at the Mayhem Tour's opening show and was brought on stage in a wheelchair, but that didn't stop him from crawling around the stage and mounting Shawn "Clown" Crahan and Chris Fehn's hydraulic percussion kits during the 65-minute set.
Disturbed opened its performance with its own visual trick; Draiman was wheeled on like Hannibal Lechter in "Silence of the Lambs," complete with straitjacket and jaw-locking mask. Once he shed the props, however, the Chicago quartet delivered a straightforward and typically ferocious 13-song assault that had the crowd pumping its fists in Nuremberg-like precision. The sod began flying on the lawn during, ironically, "Just Stop," and Draiman took a piece right in the cheek while leading a "U-S-A!" chant -- saluting military personnel stationed overseas -- during "Inside the Fire," the first single from Disturbed's chart-topping album, "Indestructible." Particularly fierce versions of "Stupify," "The Game" and the always-reliably "The Sickness" were merely reminders of Disturbed's eminence on the metal scene.
The headliners weren't the only highlights of the Mayhem day, however. Britain's Dragonforce rocked the main stage with considerable personality, the twin lead guitar drills from Herman Li and Sam Totman, frontman ZP Theart's sojourn deep into the crowd and a set full of epic, extended pieces that included "Heroes of Our Time," the first single from the sextet's next album, "Ultra Beatdown," due out Aug. 26. Youthful Floridians Black Tide spiced their half-hour Hot Topic Stage set with a cover of Metallica's "Hit the Lights," while Australia's Airbourne took flight in the rain on the Jagermeister Stage with a rash of prototypical riff rockers -- "Stand Up For Rock 'N' Roll," "Blackjack," "Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women" and the title track from its 2007 album, "Runnin' Wild."
And Detroit's Walls of Jericho, which switched spots with Airbourne so as not to have any competition from the main stage, enjoyed a triumphant if wet homecoming, with a mass of fans forming a circle-shaped mosh pit and crowd-surfing during the quintet's half-hour set. Vocalist Candace Kucsulain made note of her alma mater, Clarkston High School, and the group did the home town proud with a solid sampling of songs from its new album, "The American Dream," including the title track and "II. The Prey."
Send your thoughts and comments to