Is Knotfest More Brutal than Mayhem?

Knotfest flyerPentagrams, skinned goat heads, and maggots; what more could you ask for? Knotfest held on the last weekend of October delivered just that. Slipknot decided to try their hand at an Ozzfest replica back in 2012 in Iowa and Wisconsin. After those successful iterations, the masked men decided to bring this spectacular event to San Bernardino, California.

Amidst the dust, mosh pits, and crowd surfers 58 bands took the festival’s five stages during the weekend of October 24th and 26th. Complete with camping, a Slipknot museum, and full-size ride–able Dome, this insane metal festival started with a special pre-party exclusive to festival campers. Suicide Silence, The Black Dalia Murder, Butcher Babies, Chelsea Grin, and Alterbeast took to the linked side by side stages getting the festivities and debauchery started before the gates officially opened to festivalgoers.

Day 1

                After the gates opened at 11 o’clock more than two dozen bands like Otep, Fear Factory, and The Faceless scattered themselves between the four side stages on Saturday, October 25th. The first half of Knotfest had plenty of amazing acts to choose from but this writer set up shop between stages 002 and 003 to get a good vantage point and minimize stage swapping before heading to the main stage.

Japanese rockers ONE OK ROCK kicked off Knotfest day one on stage 003 with their heavy bilingual pop-metal warming the crowd up for Miss May I. After playing the 2014 Mayhem festival, Miss May I have developed a name among young and old metalheads alike. The band’s metalcore sound and energetic stage presence set the bar high for the duel female-fronted and scantily clad Butcher Babies. Fortunately, these vixens commanded the audience with every sway of their hips sending droves of crowd surfers over the barricade for a high five. For the less daring fans, both vocalists and Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey jumped offstage stood atop the amps and barricade before plunging headfirst atop the sea of pumped-up fans. Butcher Babies easily snagged the “most memorable” award in this writer’s book. After the band’s short set The Devil Wears Prada hit the stage with their iconic heavy and dark style before In This Moment gave pop stars like Britney Spears a run for their money. Lead vocalist Maria Brink came equipped with enough revealing and dominatrix-esc outfits for each song with nondescript “Blood Girls” on dancing on each side. ‘Sick Like Me’, ‘Big Bad Wolf’, Sex Metal Barbie’ made their live debut with Maria dressed in a sexy witch, schoolgirl, and prom queen outfits before their time on stage 003 came to a close. Overall stage 003 had a very diverse group of bands barely fitting within the same genre and more than enough female singers.

Man With A Mission Promo
Man With A Mission

Stage 002 also started with Japan natives. Man With A Mission made their first appearance at a US festival and proved Slipknot isn’t the only band who can wear masks. The full wolf headpieces worn by the band’s members seemed heavy and bulky, but that didn’t slow down their set! The band jumped and ran around the stage as electronic backbeats and guitar riffs got the crowd ready for King 810. Before heading out on The Prepare For Hell tour with the festival’s forefathers, King 810 brought all their brutal and obscure stage antics to Knotfest for a heavy set that resonated with the crowd.  Maximum The Hormone were up next and took things to the next level. Without singing a single lyric in English Maximum The Hormone quickly had the entire crowd banging their heads and screaming for more before yet they were followed by old school meatheads Carcuas who proceeded to bash almost every other band on the bill. After calling themselves one of the only true metal bands at the festival Testament closed out the stage. The iconic thrash band’s set was full of fan favorites like ‘Rise Up’, ‘More Than Meets the Eye’, and ‘D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)’ before a fan climbed onto the stage. The band quickly cut ‘The Formation of Damnation’ calmly asking the enthusiastic fan to get off.

Both stages 002 and 003 smashed several different metal sub genres together for better or worse throughout the afternoon. Each set was made even louder by the decision to use all of the facing amps (including the amps in front of the stage not in use) making for one loud, crazy, and amazing afternoon. These early acts got fans ready for the main event, but there was still plenty more up Slipknot’s sleeve for the first day of Knotfest.

Main Stage

Slipknot Promo

Fans slowly migrated to the main stage to the tune of Hatebreed’s hardcore style and agressive riffs. Before Hatebreed ended their set with ‘Destroy Anything’ they blew through fan favorites like ‘Everyone Bleeds Now’, and ‘In Ashes They Shall Reap’. Within a matter of minutes the strategic and … sounds of Black Label Society filled the amphitheater. This was a stark contrast to Anthrax who was next on the bill. After teasing a few riffs from their upcoming album before the band heads into the studio they had fans screaming the lyrics to ‘Caught in a Mosh’ and ‘Madhouse’. Joey Belladonna hardly stood still and ran back and forth on stage smiling the entire set. Danzig was next but seemed somewhat out of place. Although their name is arguably more recognizable they seemed to fit better with Black Label Society. The order of bands on the main stage kept fans energy from peaking before the night’s headliner, but Slipknot was prepared to close out the night with a bang.

If an intricate and menacing stage was not enough, Slipknot’s show was filled with plenty of pyrotechnics and sent percussionists Shawn “Clown” Crahan and Chris Fehn “#3” spiraling high into the sky. With a flaming background burning bright the masked men of Slipknot had plenty of surprises for new and old fans alike scattered throughout their set. After opening with ‘People = Shit’ they played ‘Eeyore’ for the first time in six years and ‘Three Nil’ for the first time in nine. Along with set staples like ‘Before I Forget’, ‘Wait and Bleed’, and ‘Eyeless’ Slipknot gave ’The Negative One’ and ‘Custer’ their live premier. The band ended their set with ‘Duality’ before encoring with ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘Surfacing’.

Day 2

I, Of Helix
I, Of Helix

More than 50,000 people filled the San Manuel Amphitheatre for the second day of Knotfest before the main stage to see metal masters like Avatar and Napalm Death. Surprisingly Texan metal icons Upon A Burning Body was scheduled early in the day for a band that has been on national tours like Mayhem several times and producing solid albums for over 10 years. Their set was quickly followed up by dejent metal heads Veil Of Maya before this writer booked it over to the other side of the festival for Anaheim natives I, Of Helix. After winning the Headbang for the Highway competition a few years back  I, Of Helix was asked to play Knotfest. Although their set conflicted with Whitechapel I, Of Helix pulled fans to their stage with heavy baselines, intense duel guitar riffs, and excessive head banging. Even a pair of crutches couldn’t stop lead vocalist Nathan Mead down. As he hobbled across the stage and sang his heart out fans continued to flock to the stage. I, Of Helix put on an amazing set and this writer is sure fans in the crowd would agree.

DevilDriver was next on the flip flopping stages and brought an excessive amount of fans. These dedicated metal heads may not have waited at the barricade all day, but came in droves to hear songs like ‘Clouds Over California’ before Killswitch Engage hit the stage. The crowd only grew as classic hits like ‘A Bid Farewell’, ‘My Curse’ and ‘The End of Heartache’ started blaring threw the amps. Sadly the crowd did not stay for Of Mice & Men, but the space behind the barricade was quickly filled in with screaming fan girls aching to finally see Austin Carlile. Luckily Of Mice & Men’s set had an eclectic mix of both old and new tracks to appease fans before the main stage opened up.

Main Stage

With the main stage opening up an hour earlier on day two Hellyeah fans (particularly those in seats) were pelted with the setting sun sometimes obstructing their view. But did that stop the boys in Hellyeah? Hell no! The blew through songs like ‘Sangre por Sangre’ off their latest album Blood for Blood before passing the stage off to Orange County rockers Atreyu. Despite their extended absence and some Co2 malfunctions Atreyu played on and quickly had the entire crowd on their feet. Seeing Atreyu in a festival setting was a different experience for this writer compared to local hole-in-the-wall Chain Reaction, but it was astonishing how Brandon Saller could command the crowd with a flick of his hand behind his triple bass drum kit. Up until this point Knotfest had been a high octane thrill ride with no signs of stopping, but Tech N9ne and Volbeat were about to change that.

Tech N9ne promo
Tech N9ne

Having Tech N9ne, the current most popular independent rap artist, making his metal festival debut at Knotfest may seem a bit off-putting, but the techanator brought a diverse group of fans out to the show who made it clear Tech N9ne was here to stay. Memorializing his mother,the rapper sprung on stage with white face paint in front of a full band also dressed in white. He also brought along Big Chris Calico to fill in the backup vocals, but something still felt like it was missing. As the duo rapped to pre-recorded back tracks featuring the likes of System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian the show seemed a bit jarring. Despite having an entire day of bands who pride themselves in preforming their music without the help of backtracks Tech N9ne’s drummer didn’t even bother hitting the bass. The rappers onstage energy and enthusiasum was nice, but it seemed very out of place at a Knotfest.

Once the duo left the stage Volbeat was next in line. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark Volbeat kept the rock rolling. The band’s style may have been significantly slower than the Slipknot’s, but this change of pace was nice and seemed to fit much better with the days event’s than Tech N9ne. Once Volbeat got through favorites like ‘Lola Montez’ and ‘The Mirror and the Ripper’ they invited Napalm Death vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway out for a special rendition of ‘Evelyn’ before ending the set with ‘Still Counting. Volbeat’s set may have been slow to start, but Five Finger Death Punch truly kicked it up to eleven.

The band’s set may have started with ‘Into It Over It’, but from start to finish Five Finger Death Punch brought their A-game. Vocalist Ivan Moody ran across the stage like a mad man for the entire set putting AC/DC guitarist Angus Young to shame and getting the entire crowd involved. He even invited a young girl and her father on stage to help him sing ‘Burn MF’. The girl may have chosen not to swear during the songs chorus, but the enthusiastic little fan stayed onstage until Jeremy Spencer’s epic drum solo. After the rest of the band came back to the stage they ran through heavy hitter ‘Never Enough’ and ‘Counting Down’ before inviting Tech N9ne to help with vocals for their cover of LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’. Even though the band’s pyrotechnics did not make it to the show on time Ivan asked the crowd to hold lighters and phones to the air for a substitute during their last track ‘The Bleeding’. Five Finger Death Punch’s hour set was fast, loud, and entertaining, and really got fans ready for Slipknot’s second round.

Slipknot Album CoverSlipknot’s second performance was surprisingly different from the night before. ‘The Devil In I’, ‘Custer’, ‘Before I Forget’, ‘Duality’, and ‘Surfacing’ were the only songs to make a repeat appearance. The second night. After giving ‘Sarcastrophe’ its live premier Slipknot went on to play ‘My Plague’ for the first time in 12 years and ‘Opium of the People’ for the second time ever. Slipknot also worked songs like ‘The Heretic Anthem’, ‘Psychosocial’, ‘Left Behind’, ‘The Blister Exists’ and ‘(Sic)’ into the set. Overall the reworked set had plenty to make repeat attendees happy but seemed to lack the initial energy of the night before.

Overall the three day festival was bursting with amazing metal bands and gave fans more than their money’s worth. The few hiccups and poor lineup choices did not take away from the festival’s creepy atmosphere and left this writer begging for more. After some hinting, the shows promoters stated there was a good chance San Bernardino will be seeking Knotfest again in 2015 so By the Barricade knows what they will be doing next October!

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