Mayhem Festival's big four lead metal circus

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Slipknot: The creepy clowns from Iowa, who define the word mayhem, have been away from the metal circus for a while. They dropped the last album in 2008 -- when they were here last -- and haven't toured the States since 2009. During that hiatus, the members were off on side projects, including singer Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root reconvening with Stone Sour. In 2010, the band lost bassist/songwriter Paul Gray to a drug overdose, and for this comeback tour, he has been represented by a banner while new bassist Donnie Steele plays off stage. Addressing the Slipknot ethos, percussionist Shawn Crahan told Rolling Stone, "We want it all. We want the weird, the melodic, the ballad, the grindcore, the straight metal. We want to approach all senses. You won't hear stories from us about orgies or being at the Marquee and throwing things out the window. We're a bunch of nerds from Iowa with a work ethic that's unprecedented ... ."

Slayer: One of the two Big Four thrash bands on the bill, Slayer is an institution to most of the bands wreaking havoc on Mayhem's second stage. Unfortunately, the band is still down a key member, as guitarist Jeff Hanneman is replaced again on this tour by Exodus' Gary Holt due to a spider bite more than a year ago that almost killed him. Slayer posted on its website: "It's been about a year since he got out of the hospital, and since then, he had to learn to walk again, he's had several painful skin grafts, he's been in rehab doing exercises to regain the strength in his arm; but best of all, he's been playing guitar." The band said it would give him "as long as it takes" to recuperate and noted that a follow-up to 2009's "World Painted Blood" is in the works and will be completed at the end of the year.

Motorhead: How cool is it that Mayhem can sport a metal icon who was a roadie for Hendrix and has been at this for 50 years? Lemmy Kilmister formed Motorhead in 1975 after departing space-rock pioneers Hawkwind, and although the trio never had much commercial success, it launched an army of speed and thrash metal bands. The lineup of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee has remained the same since 1995. "Obviously, Motorhead is more on the rock 'n' roll side of things," said Josh Gilbert of As I Lay Dying, "but I think it's just a welcome diversity because Motorhead is just so badass that everyone appreciates it."

Anthrax: The other Big Four thrash band -- the one that said "OK" to rap -- is slumming it atop the second stage, while one of the younger bands rotates onto the main one. Anthrax is touring on last year's "Worship Music," which reunited the NYC band with singer Joey Belladonna from the classic 1984-92 lineup. Asked to compare the band to its main peer on Mayhem, guitarist Scott Ian recently told the Phoenix New Times, "Slayer and us have a difference where their energy is a little more intense and angry, whereas our show has the same level of intensity but is kind of more, dare I say, fun?"



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