On the road again

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First Posted: 7/16/2014

North America’s premiere traveling heavy music showcase once again invades the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Aug. 2 for a full day’s worth of twisted debauchery – welcome to another installment of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival.

Now in its seventh season, the festival, founded by Vans Warped Tour mastermind Kevin Lyman and artist management guru John Reese, not only features established metal acts on its main stage, but also the best in venomous underground talent. In addition to main stage headline acts this year like Avenged Sevenfold and Korn, the Coldcock American Herbal Whiskey, Sumerian Records, and Victory Records stages will present face-melting aural assaults by death metal veterans Cannibal Corpse, rapper/actor Ice-T’s infamous hardcore band Body Count, and nu-metal mainstays Ill Nino among many others.

Basically, if you can’t satisfy the particular shade of sonic brutality you’re into at this show, keep walking, and forever surrender your metal street cred.

Hail To The Headliner

It’s been a banner year thus far for festival headliners Avenged Sevenfold. In addition to the band headlining the prestigious Download Festival in the U.K., and gearing up to release the expanded reissue of fan-favorite 2003 album “Waking the Fallen” next month, Avenged’s latest studio album “Hail to the King” in late 2013 soared to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 album chart first-week; the album’s success mirrored around the world and continues with single “This Means War” impacting rock radio. The album was also notable in that it was the band’s first recorded work without founding drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who passed away unexpectedly in 2009.

“Hail to the King” took some flak early on from Avenged die-hards in the fact that the album was a bit of a departure from the more frenetic early days of the band’s sound; here featuring a more polished “Metallica’s ‘Black Album’” vibe, settling nicely into meaty metal grooves in place of once violent screams from vocalist M. Shadows and metronome-melting rhythms. The band brushed off such criticism, not looking back in favor of what guitarist Synyster Gates calls a “very modern, progressive philosophy.”

“The Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Zeppelin influence comes through,” said Gates of the latest album’s riff-oriented feel. “We wanted to create space rather than just fill up every song with four bridges and three choruses and vocal harmonies everywhere, with guitar duels going on. The goal was to focus on the songwriting and the arrangements.”

Gates thinks that his band’s sense of songwriting has grown tremendously with the latest album. The record owes no small debt to the second wind breathed into the band after the passing of “The Rev” by new drummer Arin llejay, of whom Gates describes as “one of the most tasteful drummers I’ve heard in my life.”

“He’s got that caveman, barbaric huge groove philosophy that we were trying to go for on this record,” Gates admitted. “He’s really got it in his heart and soul. We took the approach of wanting a hungry young kid who could suddenly come out of nowhere and play in front of 50,000 people. He really stepped up.”

Make no mistake, though, “The Rev” is forever ingrained not only in the thoughts of fans, but within the band’s psyche as well, as Gates explained there’s a little bit of Sullivan that goes into every step the band takes even some five years later.

“It’s kind of like, ‘What would Jimmy do?’” he said. “He’s always with us. I remember once we were writing on his birthday, and we couldn’t figure out a chorus for a whole week. We did this different version, because Jimmy was always like ‘Oh yeah, just try this differently,’ and it came out right away. I’m not too much of a religious or spiritual guy, but it was a cool coincidence – that he could give us a gift on his birthday.”

“The Rev” is also remembered in the upcoming Avenged Sevenfold video game, to which the band is adding the final touches as of this writing. Designed specifically for mobile devices, “Hail to the King: Deathbat” will follow the band’s mascot, Deathbat, as he reclaims the underworld from the evil Dark Andronikos.

“His (Sullivan’s) parents gave us their blessing, so we put him in the game,” Gates said. “Once you unlock his character, you can use him as your comrade to help you through the levels.”

It’s clear from hearing the description of the game’s premise, and how the band performed their voiceovers, that they had a blast going through the process of design.

“We did the voiceovers when we were a little drunk,” Gates said with a laugh. “And we all wanted something different as a weapon. We gave Arin a double-side sword, and I have this little demon that runs around with me. When you use my magic powers, I do these dive-bombs that were recorded just for the game. Johnny (Christ, bassist) has this ‘hell sword’ that rains blood.”

As far as the audiences that Avenged has seen during their run on this festival tour, Gates said it proves that rock ‘n roll is far from dead in America.

“You just have to take one look out at that crowd and see that they’re alive and breathing,” he said. “Plus, we’ve got a bunch of friends on tour with us, like the Korn guys, so that really adds to it. We’re always excited to get out there and do it; our fans are great.”

Korn Continues Road Dog Ethic

“It’s just non-stop,” laughed Korn drummer Ray Luzier as he spoke earlier this year, just before the official Rockstar Mayhem Tour announcement. “My brother-in-law and I were joking around the other day; he said, ‘You only work an hour and a half a day.’ I said, ‘No, you’re wrong. I work 22 and a half hours a day. When we’re on a bus or a plane for 11 hours, dealing with time changes; that’s the work. When I’m on stage, that’s a blast.”

Korn, like Avenged Sevenfold, is still touring in support of a successful album – “The Paradigm Shift,” released in October of last year and another Top 10 Billboard chart performer. Luzier, an accomplished session musician prior to joining the band in late 2007, is still challenged by the sheer emotional weight and intricacy of Korn’s music – something that he still relishes as a player.

“You don’t just join a band like Korn,” he said. “Being a session guy for a lot of my career, even before the David Lee Roth days (Luzier played drums for Roth during the late 1990s), I’d get a call and go play three songs a day for a pop record, then go play for some movie soundtrack. You become a chameleon and adapt to different styles and personalities. But man, there’s nothing like Korn.”

Luzier admired the sense of heart that the five founding members of the band mustered upon Korn’s formation some 20 years ago in Bakersfield, Calif. He says it’s that street-level drive that still propels the band today.

“It’s carved from the angst that came from the nineties,” he believes. “These bands were coming out like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, the whole Seattle scene; and Korn just came out and f—ked everybody up. They sliced through and said, ‘This is what we’re about.’ No one plays guitar like Munky (James Shaffer, Korn guitarist) and Head (Brian Welch, Korn guitarist – recently returning to the band after a long departure). I was quite intimidated joining the band; it doesn’t matter how much experience I had, or what technique I had.”

“There were fans that had the original drummer’s face tattooed on their body,” he quipped, noting the level of dedication within the ranks of Korn fans. “I was showing up to the gigs and fans were like, ‘Who the hell are you?”

Now seven years in, Luzier is firmly entrenched in the Korn camp, and he couldn’t be happier with the chemistry. “The Paradigm Shift” displays this sense of creative comfort; not comfort in the going-through-the-motions aspect, but rather the intuitive, locked-in angle.

“We just wanted to see what we would come up with,” said Luzier of the band’s process this time around. “We said, ‘Hey, what can we come up with fresh?’ We started writing stuff and it just flowed. Sometimes when you get into a situation like that you never know. Everyone is just so focused on the band now; I think that had a lot to do with it. So, we ended up with 25 tunes, and then we decided to bring producer Don Gilmore in who really made the quality higher. I am really pleased; I think this is probably the best record in the last 10 years.”

“I told Jonathan (Davis, Korn vocalist), ‘I don’t know what place you are in right now, but I love it.’ There are harmonies and melodies all over. And, just because Brian is now back, if we had then made a second ‘Life Is Peachy,’ that would be truly boring and predictable. Why would we do that? We want to keep moving. I love being in a band that is not afraid to take chances.”

Korn’s “The Paradigm Shift” was just recently re-released in July with several new studio tracks and live cuts. Luzier is particularly fond of one of the new songs, “Hater,” which is typical Korn headstrong mantra.

“That track is a direct rebuttal to the kind of person the lyrics describe,” Luzier begins. “Everybody’s a hater; everybody has someone that hates on you because you have something they want. And it’s a very empowering song that Jonathan wrote because it’s just blatantly telling you, ‘You can’t bring me down.’”

Luzier is continuing to enjoy the live Korn experience, and there’s also been talk from Jonathan Davis that a new Korn record could happen sooner than later.

“We’re all in a great place, and doing the shows has just been incredible,” Luzier concluded. “We’re coming into the last stretch of it, and it’s been great. We’ve got some other cool things planned for the band’s twentieth anniversary that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s going to be great when it’s announced.”