It had been almost two and a half years since I attended the inaugural Sonic Temple Festival in Columbus, Ohio. As the Foo Fighters closed out that weekend in May of 2019, I was full of excitement for what the next season would hold. We all know what happened prior to the following spring, as the 2020 concert season’s curtain call came by mid-March.
To be honest, I went into this fall season with clenched teeth, just hoping that things would remain “good enough” to let the live shows continue. While late summer and early fall have certainly posed their share of challenges, with festival lineups being tweaked here and there, it happened. It actually happened…and putting the feeling of being in the midst of forty-thousand people per night for four straight nights to enjoy heavy music is almost as exciting as being there.
I began the trek from Buffalo, New York to Louisville, Kentucky early Wednesday morning. Metallica was headlining two nights, and the MetClub was about to descent on Louisville in full-force. We were not going to miss a moment of it! So, my buddy Kevin and I left by 7:30am and began the nine-plus hour road trip to our home for the weekend.
Upon arrival at the Crown Plaza for check in, we grabbed our wrist-bands for the weekend and immediately set off for our AirBNB (which turned out to be a farm about an hour south of Louisville). We quickly unpacked our bags, threw on a quick Metallica video in the background (Binge & Purge: Seattle ’89) and headed back up to Louisville for a pre-festival party, where a few dozen Metallica fans gathered for the first time in two years.
We got up at about 8am and went for a quick 2 mile run before heading to the Kentucky Expo Center. It was about to be a long weekend, why not get a healthy start, right? Spoiler alert, that was the last run of the weekend. After gassing up and grabbing some caffeine, we pulled in about 11am. Being from Western, New York, Kevin and are built for a good tailgate party, but this was all business. There were four days of sun and music ahead of us. Of course, we happened to come across a Buffalo Bills flag flying proud in the parking lot as we walked in. Long story short, we met some new friends, had a great time and enjoyed Buffalo chicken egg rolls for the first time.
Entry: Covid 19 Screening:
Clearly, this year was going to be different. The team at DWP announced well in advance of the festival that all attendees need to provide proof of vaccine or proof of negative test to gain entry. As a result of this, there was a “health screening” entrance barrier, where proof of either of the above was verified to gain a specific bracelet, which was good for the entire weekend. While it was an extra step on day 1, it took just a few minutes and provided the tens of thousands of daily festival goers an added sense of security while packing in to enjoy the music.
Once inside the festival, we quickly met up with some friends and go the lay of the land. As an annual attendee of DWP’s Columbus festival (Sonic Temple, formerly Rock on the Range); this was an entirely different setup. Just inside the entrance were the two main stages, situated side-by-side, with the third stage on the opposite side of the festival grounds, with a giant mid-way separating them.
Anthrax’s Scott Ian (Danny Wimmer Presents/Steve Thrasher)
I quickly checked out the merchandise area to see what they had. As always, this was flush with some great festival specific gear. This time around, Metallica even had their own stand set up, where I grabbed a pair of their 40th anniversary coins. By now, it was time to get up to the stage for some music. We caught sets from Wage War, Memphis May Fire and Escape the Fate before moving up for Anthrax, whom I’ve been looking forward to seeing live again for a few years now. Following their set, we caught some of Beartooth and Sevendust before settling in for the headliners. I head down the midway and grabbed some Blackened Whiskey from their on-site bar and settled in for my first live show from Cypress Hill. As a teenager of the 90’s, this was a long overdue experience. They proved to be a fantastic live show and definitely more than a nostalgia act (which would have been good enough, if I’m being completely honest). Next up was a set from Staind. It’s been a while since Aaron Lewis and company were out on tour, but they sounded as good as ever. Sure, it seems impossible to see a Staind show without overt political opinions coming from Lewis, but I’ve gotten fairly good at filtering that stuff out by now. The night concluded with a great set from Korn.
As day two begin, we arrived even earlier than we did on day 1. Kevin wanted to lineup by 9am to ensure he was able to get a rail spot for Metallica. Who was I to argue? As tempting as it was, I wanted to maintain the ability to check out the 3rd stage and move about the festival throughout the day.
I went in shortly after gates and caught most of the day. Fever 333 was the first major highlight, as this band is built for both clubs and festivals. If you’ve seen them perform, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They use their surroundings to the fullest. In this case, that meant vocalist Jason Aalon Butler heading out into the crowd and ascending one of the speaker towers in the crowd.
Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler(Danny Wimmer Presents/Steve Thrasher)
Later, I caught excellent performances from Avatar, Starset, Killswitch Engage and Gojira before this evening’s headliners took the stage. Rise Against, who are currently supporting their latest album ‘Nowhere Generation,’ put on a great show. Their new album is simply awesome and I loved seeing them perform live, but I couldn’t shake the excitement of seeing Jane’s Addition for the first time. Perry Farrell and company made the wait well worth it, though, as they played all the hits. Oddly, I really loved the choice of placing Jane’s just before Metallica, completely juxtaposing two very different styles of music. Needless to say, they left the crowd fired up for Metallica’s first big show in over two years (they had just performed two surprise pop-up shows in San Francisco and Chicago, prior to Louder Than Life).
Jane’s Addiction: Dave Navarro and Perry Farrell (Danny Wimmer Presents/Steve Thrasher)
As they’ve done in both of the club shows, they opened their sets with “Whiplash,” which marks a major shift in setlist design. They continued through a tight set of sixteen songs, also featuring some rare tracks like “No Leaf Clover,” “Whiskey in the Jar” and “Cyanide” as well as some traditional staples. What became increasingly evident throughout their show, however, was the obvious lack of any songs from 1991’s self-titled album. It was largely rumored that they would perform the album in its’ entirety this weekend, in celebration of it’s 30th anniversary this year. The omission of such classics like “Sad But True” and “Enter Sandman” only fueled speculation. The kings of thrash closed out their first set with “Fuel” and traditional set closer “Seek and Destroy” before sending us on our way for the evening.
The festival is half way over, but there’s still two days to go! Today was the day that the prior lineup changes hurt. I haven’t seen Nine Inch Nails in 20 years, and it looks like it’ll be just a bit longer before I see them again. Likewise, I was really looking forward to seeing Snoop Dogg live for the first time. Still, the DWP team worked some serious magic replacing acts as the COVID landscape changed over the weeks and even days prior to the festival. The other struggle that I always have at a festival is figuring out how to best split time between stages. In particular, running from the main stages to the third stage. Today, that was particularly challenging. There was so much I wanted to see. Still, this is one of the facts of life when it comes to festivals.
Spiritbox vocalist Courtney LaPlante (Danny Wimmer Presents/Steve Thrasher)
Throughout the day, I was thrilled to catch some of Spiritbox. The hype around this band is real and I can’t wait to see them out on tour again in the future. I had to step away from the regular going’s on for a bit to hold a brief interview with Rob Dietrich, Master Distiller of Blackened American Whiskey. Check out our discussion below:
Interview: Blackened Whiskey's Master Distiller Rob Dietrich at Louder Than Life 2021 - YouTube
Following my visit with Rob, I caught sets from Atreyu, Asking Alexandria and Falling in Reverse. I found a few minutes to run to the third stage for a few minutes of Suicidal Tendances before heading back to check out Volbeat. This was a set I needed to catch, as I was eager to hear what I’d hoped would be the live premier of their brand-new track “Shotgun Blues,” and they didn’t disappoint.
Here’s where things got a bit weird. Machine Gun Kelly took the stage to a rowdy crowd who were, overall, less than excited. This was a totally unforced error on MGK’s part, as he’d just taken a shot at Slipknot and Corey Taylor earlier in the week. Anyone should know, Slipknot isn’t one of those bands you take on when you’re heading into a festival crowd. I’m pretty sure he got the message though, as he went up to the barrier at the front of the crowd during his set and was met with at least one fan altercation, not to mention the boos and other chants.
The night concluded with a set from Disturbed, as vocalist David Draiman took the stage in a Hannibal Lecter type mask, delivering a not-so vailed attack at Machine Gun Kelly about “old people wearing masks,” in reference to MGK’s prior attack on Slipknot, as mentioned above. At this point, it’s feeling a lot like a pro-wrestling match at Louder Than Life. Theatrics aside, Disturbed delivered a solid performance, as always. A few personal favorites of mine included “Prayer,” The Game” and “Indestructible.” Their set also featured fan favorites “Stupify” and their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” before closing the night with “Down With the Sickness.”
After three days, I would have fully expected my feet to be killing me by now. Fortunately, taking some time to relax here and there does a lot to make a four-day festival more doable. That’s a tip I’d advise everyone to follow.
Once again, a jam-packed day full of awesome bands with massive expectations of that Metallica show to include their self-titled “Black Album” performed live in full for only the second time on US soil (the 1st being in June of 2012 at Metallica’s Orion Festival in Atlantic City, NJ).
The day began for me with sets from The Hu, Badflower, Tremonti and Fozzy as friends headed to the third stage to check out Buffalo natives Every Time I Die. Next up were some great performances from Pennywise and Skillet and a bit of Seether before I headed to the third stage for a full set from Sabaton. As mentioned earlier, the distance between these stages (while necessary) creates some real anxiety when it comes to picking bands. Sabaton is one that I really wish could have been on one of the top stages, as they provide an unmatched energy in their live set. Go check out a live video of “Ghost Division” and you’ll know what I mean.
Sabaton (Danny Wimmer Presents/Andrew Fore)
The home stretch of the weekend began with Breaking Benjamin, the last band to fill-in, as they were announced in the days before the festival when Mudvayne dropped out. As excited as I was to see Mudvayne reunite, I was plenty thrilled to spend an hour with Breaking Benjamin, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Judas Priest was the penultimate performance of the weekend though, and I’m still in awe of the power that bands brings to the stage. Rob Halford consistently delivers one of the top vocal performances in all of metal, even at 70 years old. They ripped through some classics like “One Shot at Glory,” “The Sentinel” and “Painkiller” along with a killer rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi” with guest Kirk Hammett joining them on stage.
That set would have been enough to headline any ordinary show, but we still had a full Metallica performance ahead. They began promptly at 8:30pm and opened up with 2016’s “Hardwired” before diving into some classics including “The Four Horsemen” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”
It was at this point that the video intro began, and all the hype paid off. Metallica opened up their self-titled album just as they did in 2012, with “The Struggle Within,” indicating that they would again perform the album from back to front. Anyone reading this knows the album, but what stands out the most are the rare tracks on this album, including “My Friend of Misery” (which has now only been performed 19 times) and “Don’t Tread on Me” (which was performed for only the 18th time at this show). It’s a safe bet that this album will get a few more rotations this fall, as Metallica are performing double duty at both Welcome to Rockville as well as Aftershock Festival, but this was the night all the speculation was confirmed. The set closed with a pair of knockout performances of “Blackened” and “Creeping Death.”
If you were at these shows, you can purchase the show on CD or a variety of digital options at www.livemetallica.com, something the band have been doing since 2004 and always a must for every show I attend!
This weekend was absolutely awesome! I wish I could attend all of the festivals this fall, but I’ll have to settle for what I managed to fit in. I’m incredibly optimistic that the future of festivals in the US is extremely bright and you should expect to enjoy yourself in all the ways that you’re used to. Fortunately, these are outdoors and it’s easy to move around and make some space for yourself. Granted, that’s a lot less possible as each day’s wears on and people pack the stages, but that’s entirely optional.
While there’s been so much uncertainty leading up to this fall’s festival season, one thing was for sure; the team at Danny Wimmer Presents went above and beyond to provide their fans with a safe, fun and exciting experience. I’m extremely hopeful that my “home” festival returns to Columbus next year, but driving almost double the distance to experience Louder Than Life was entirely worth it and I’d be happy to do it again if it means having a weekend like this!