Following two days of heavy booze and gourmet food consumption, not to mention an even heavier barrage of tunes spanning the entire rock spectrum, the autumn festivities in Louisville, Louder Than Life entered its third day on September 23, 2023. Expectations were no doubt elevated among the metal faithful in attendance given the amazing showing by the likes of Corey Taylor, Megadeth, and Tool (among many others), but this four-day event has made it a tradition of raising hopes and then surpassing them in short order. Weather conditions for the day would prove favorable given the lack of any successful attempts at a rain dance within the Louisville area, though heat would add to the sweat factor as the various bands would compel their fans into motion, but not even this could soften the hardened metallic assault that was to come down from this event's five stages on this day of celebration.
Though many acts would filter in and out in the early afternoon hours, the first massive blast to catch fire in the early fall heat would be that of Texas' own metalcore veterans Memphis May Fire over on the Loudmouth Stage just before 2:30 PM. Led by the Jekyll and Hyde vocal persona of Matty Mullins, who would work the crowd like a beast from start to finish, this quintet would lead their respectable crowd draw through a medley of head-rattling anthems, alternating between catchy bangers and heavier fair as the entire stage was inundated with pyrotechnics, especially during the obligatory breakdowns which also saw some truly chaotic displays from the pit below. Musicianship and rhythmic precision were a staple of each song as lead guitarist Kellen McGregor and touring rhythm guitarist Lucas Chandler stomped and frolicked about the stage, while the foundation erected by bassist Cory Elder and drummer Jake Garland shook the ground beneath the crowd's feet. Classic entries and fan favorites like "Vices" and "Without Walls" gelled seamlessly with newer entries like "Bleed Me Dry" and "Somebody", making for a concise yet utterly riveting set.
At the stroke of 3 PM over on the Space Zebra Stage things would take a jolting stylistic left turn with the arrival of Mongolian folk rock ensemble and recent sensation The HU, sporting 8 warrior-clad musicians on stage and all the theatricality one could imagine. To the uninitiated, this band has become something of a group of ambassadors for the ancient tribal sounds of a people that would subsequently conquer much of the world. Since their 2016 inception and through two subsequent studio albums they have captured the attention of throngs of onlookers from beyond their homeland with their unique blend of ancient ethnic instruments and melodies with the template of modern rock. Throughout their brief, 6 songs set the sea of fans would continually chant the band's name with amazing fervor, with crowd enthusiasm being raised especially during their renditions of original entries like "Black Thunder" and "This Is Mongol", though the most explosive response from before the stage would occur during their signature cover of Metallica's "Through The Never", all but to the point that one might have wondered if James Hetfield had appeared on stage with them.
The melodic end of the metalcore spectrum would strike back hard at the Loudmouth Stage courtesy of British post-hardcore elites Asking Alexandria. Originally conceived in Dubai, and now hanging their hats in York, one was tempted to say that they exuded just about everything British in how they presented and subsequently carried themselves, particularly vocalist Danny Worsnop, who checked all the boxes of a clean-to-dirty spectrum metalcore frontman rushing about the stage yet also embodied that classic British metal persona that hearkened back to the olden days of the genre and occasionally the combined efforts of the quartet of instrumentalists about him even reached into lighter British rock territory (ergo their super catchy number "Into The Fire"). Ear candy with a clear melodic bent such as "Alone Again" would trade blows with more riff happy and dark yet still melodic sonic fodder like "A Prophecy" and "Dark Void". Suffice it to say, they gave their best throughout their 9-song setlist, which was fashioned after the one they've been touring on to promote their latest album Where Do We Go From Here?.
Eclecticism would be stretched to its limits right at the strike of 4:30 PM over on the Space Zebra Stage with the arrival of one of Japan's unique exports and ambassadors of the Kawaii metal Babymetal. For those not in the know about this novel blend of heavy metal and J-pop, the sight of 3 bombshell Japanese women singing in angelic voices to the furious barrage of riffs that one would expect from a power metal band on the heavier end of the spectrum was no doubt a jarring one, but the dozens of crowd-surfers that were sailing the sea of onlookers throughout their blistering 8 song set either were already initiated into this new art form or were otherwise compelled by the high impact blend of metal and pop melodies. Whether it was the nasty thrashing mayhem of the peculiarly named "Gimme Chocolate!!", the speed happy power metal majesty of "Distortion", or the fist-pumping and catchy fanfare send-off that ended it all "Road to Resistance", when the music was playing all bodies were in motion, including that of the trio of dancing singers at the helm.
The Anglosphere would score itself a truly impressive hat trick on the Loudmouth Stage, courtesy of Australian metalcore mainstays Parkway Drive. In similar fashion to that of Bad Omens yesterday, these Aussies brought the fury via both their music and a truly breathtaking pyrotechnics display, culminating in an authentic feast for the eyes to match the ones that were being literally served at the festival. Between Winston McCall's forceful and gritty vocal display, the stellar riff and melodic display put on by guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick, and the titanic battery of the rhythm section provided by drummer Ben "Gaz" Gordon and bassist Jia O'Connor, the resulting wall of infectiously catchy sound that was erected could not have been scaled by any mortal man. Pummeling groovy anthems like opener "Glitch", the rocking banger "The Void" and the strangely meditative brutality session "Crushed" were among the standout moments, but throughout the entire performance of this Australian wrecking machine was set on total destruction and erected itself as one of my favorites of the event.
Metalcore would continue to rule the roost, albeit in a lighter post-hardcore way, when eyes were drawn back to the Space Zebra Stage at the stroke of 6 PM and the early signs of evening courtesy of California's own Pierce The Veil. Though their riffs hit hard, and their sense of punk rock fervor could hold a candle to the more metallic brutality that had preceded them, the sheer pandemonium that greeted them in response from the largely female crowd that they drew might have led one to believe that an early 2000s boy band had slipped into the Louder Than Life lineup. One might chalk it up to the high-end and almost pouting character of Vic Fuentes' clean vocals, or the generally boyish good looks that the entire band was wearing on their shirtsleeves, but in spite of it all they worked the stage in a fashion becoming of an act sharing the stage with the likes that had preceded them, particularly bassist Jaime Preciado who regularly wandered to the furthest ends of the stage and crossed over to the Loudmouth Stage area to interact with fans who were clamoring to watch via the LED screens. "Bulls In The Bronx" and "King For A Day" would be the songs that hit the hardest, but their entire presentation proved a consistent glory fest from start to finish.
As the evening drew closer, a torrent of brutality would be unleashed that would define the rest of the evening, beginning with an explosion of unfettered rage over at the Revolver Stage courtesy of Knoxville, Tennessee natives and deathcore pioneers Whitechapel. Though daylight still prevailed at the sky at this juncture, which was a blessing given the mixed record of stage lighting associated with this outfit's otherwise flawless performances, what flowed from this five-piece plus a touring drummer could be best described as a 5-song set of pure auditory blackness that was led by the inhuman barks and roars of helmsman Phil Bozeman. There was not a single body among the crowd that wasn't whipping and thrashing about like a madman as the bottom-heavy grooves of "The Saw Is the Law" rang out and ushered in a compact yet ferocious auditory kill session. Heads continued to bang, and the floor was repeatedly stomped by band members and fans alike as death metal-infused beasts like "Possession" and "A Bloodsoaked Symphony" saturated the open air, though the apex point would be when classic early entry "This Is Exile" compelled the masses to mosh like it was going out of style.
With the evening sky now mostly in view, a truly theatric take on the most brutal of metal sub-genres would unfold at the Disruptor Stage courtesy of the fictitious Adult Swim darling turned touring melodic death metal project Dethklok. With a set mainly focused solely on the animated characters featured on the LED screens while the live musicians led by project mastermind Brendan Small were obscured in the shadows, the synchronicity that was accomplished between the four-piece band behind the five cartoon characters banging their heads and whaling away at their instruments was flawless. The audience reciprocated the ferocious blend of American and Gothenburg death metal stylings that were "Briefcase Full Of Guts", "The Gears", "I Ejaculate Fire" and especially old-time monster entries like "Murmaider" and "Thunderhorse" with a fervor normally reserved for a Cannibal Corpse or At The Gates. To put it in classic metal terms, it was just fucking awesome.
Now with the night sky hung overhead in all its darkened glory, all attention was turned to the Space Zebra Stage for the arrival of the saviors of 90s metal and original purveyors of the almighty groove, Texas' own Pantera. Though functioning as more of a tribute to the original at this point with the glaring absence of the Abbott brothers and the services of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society's shred maestro Zakk Wylde and Anthrax's Charlie Benante in their steads, they've continued to bring down the nostalgia with a vengeance at every live showing they've made since reviving the name last year. The visual display that was brought to the table was nothing short of spellbinding, featuring a huge LED screen at the back cycling through images relating to each song while a somewhat smaller screen a little closer to the front showcased the Pantera logo being repeatedly set on fire digitally at key points of the set.
It was a wholly faithful rendition of what kept metal in the public consciousness after the ascent of grunge. Bodies moshed and surfed the crowd with reckless abandon to the might stomp of "A New Level" and "Walk" while Wylde wailed away and adapted his pinch harmonic-happy solo approach to something approximating Dime's original lead style. The chaos that ensued during the chaotic thrash fests of "Fucking Hostile", "Suicide Note Pt. II" and "Mouth For War" was nothing if not palpable. Granted, the true high points would be reserved for a brilliant rendition of "This Love" and the closing hurrah of "Cowboys From Hell", in no small part due to Phil Anselmo's vocals reclaiming their former glory after decades of punishment, switching seamlessly between a husky baritone clean and a primal shriek that recalled his peak moments during the Vulgar Display Of Power days.
The night would bring one more metallic master to the stage before all was said and done, this time that of California metalcore turned more traditional heavy metal titans Avenged Sevenfold. Theatricality would be a recurring fixture of their headlining performance, kicking things off with a booming rendition of "Game Over" off their latest album Life Is But A Dream, featuring vocalist M. Shadows seated at center stage, wearing a ski mask as has been common practice for him since their current tour began, and proceeded to perform the majority of the song from his de facto throne. At each side of the stage were two platforms that were slightly elevated, with guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates situated on each with microphones before them, leaving for center stage only for their respective solo slots in a fashion one might compare to an elaborate Broadway performance. The monstruous LED screens that acted as the stage backdrop would add additional flair to the equation as the roaring riffs of "Afterlife" came in and M. Shadows dispensed with his chair and ski mask, ushering in the rest of a monstrous 11 song set.
Standout moments of this performance abounded, numbering well beyond the bounds of being practically recounted on the printed page. Nevertheless, a poignant moment ensued just prior to the performance of their 3rd song "Hail To The King", as M. Shadows proceeded to recount listening to one of his all-time favorite bands backstage a little earlier in the evening, namely Pantera, and proceeded to dedicate the song to them and celebrate the musicians that have been keeping the legacy alive, topping the whole speech off with a resounding "Hail to the motherfucking kings!" as the image of a crown appeared on the LED screens and the crowd went into a sheer state of pandemonium. Other moments of musical splendor would follow on their renditions of classic bangers like "Bat Country" and "So Far Away", but one couldn't help but think that Avenged Sevenfold peaked a tad early in what was otherwise a seminal showing from start to finish. But regardless, metal ruled supreme on the 3rd day of Louder Than Life, and the only real question that was likely on the minds of those who were filing back to their hotel rooms afterward is how the final day would top what they'd just witnessed.