This article is part of of our multi-day coverage of Louder Than Life 2023. If you landed here without reading the other days recaps, also check Day One.
Following a day of energy-packed yet mostly punk-oriented music to go alongside the massive smorgasbord of culinary and alcoholic delights that was the first day of the Louder Than Life festival in Louisville, Kentucky; a fairly different type of storm would be brewing to ultimately carry the day. Thankfully, this would only be a downpour of the metallic sort, as the day would be mercifully free of any inclement weather conditions gumming up the works on this longstanding annual celebration of sound and sustenance.
Ushering in this extravaganza of raucous, unapologetic heaviness via the Loudmouth Stage at the earliest crevice of the afternoon would be newly minted modern metal upstarts Flat Black. Being the brainchild of ex-Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Jason Hook, the parallels between the pummeling riff work that would pour out onto the crowd of early attendees were no doubt familiar to existing fans of said American metal outfit, though in many ways far less restrained and chock full of youthful vigor, particularly on the part of vocalist Wes Horton, whom often channeled the same tough guy shtick one might have expected from Ivan Moody, but with a more expansive character and more versatile clean range. It goes without saying that the audience was won over instantaneously by the metallic fury of entries like "Each Time I Win (I Feel Defeated)" and "Halo", and the excellent guitar work of Jason, that truly made me realize how much I miss him in his former band. Needless to say their rendition of Five Finger Death Punch's "Wash It All Away" would draw the loudest cheers.
Just prior to the stroke of 1 PM, the calendar would be dialed back to more of a retro-70s brand of heavy vibes with an epic mustache as hard rock revivalist Austin Meade brought his mix of old and new to the Space Zebra Stage. The punch of the guitars, the solid rooting of the drum and bass work, and the flourishes of peripheral atmospheric detailing were all artfully executed, though one couldn't help but notice a more laidback and nonchalant approach taken by Meade and his cohorts compared to the furious metallic rage that had just preceded them. Nevertheless, the charm of hit entries like "Dopamine Drop", "Happier Alone", and one of his latest entries "Blackout" were not lost on the sea of onlookers, and while Austin may have moved his 70s-inspired garb about the stage in a more measured fashion compared to some of his prior performances, not a note was skipped nor a moment passed that wasn't on point.
The flavor of this day of sonic stew would take an even more eclectic and unique turn with the arrival of UK electronic rock duo Wargasm to the Space Zebra Stage. Having often been a fixture of these marathon festivals, they effortlessly plowed their way through a concise and techno-steeped set in their various modes of minimal, S&M inspired attire, looking like a more ferocious offspring of The Lords Of Acid and playing the part all but to a fault. Amid the familiar faces of live support musicians that have been accompanying the stage antics principle members Milkie Way and Sam Matlock would be newly recruited touring DJ and vocalist Adam Crilly, who would scale back the necessity of pre-recorded backing tracks and also provide an extra layer of punch to an already forceful display. Familiar entries like "Pyro Pyro", "D.R.I.L.D.O." and "Spit" naturally stole the show, and though the whole display was largely an exercise in the familiar for those who frequent rock festivals on the East Coast, the energy factor was far from lacking.
Not long past the hour of 2 PM over on the Space Zebra Stage, the rap rock contingent won its earliest representative of the day via Palm Beach, Florida's own Fame On Fire. Though not an unfamiliar face for rock festival concertgoers, this would be their debut showing at the Louder Than Life festival, and they would bring their A-game to leave a lasting impression in the minds and vertebrae of all in congress with their blend of infectious melodies and emo rock with a side order of metal and hip-hop. At every possible moment lead vocalist Bryan Kuznitz was an animated impresario, routinely stomping and jumping about the stage while encouraging the audience to keep the noise flowing as the rest of the band pummeled the stage and their instruments. Each entry on their set list was a certified banger, though it was tough not to notice the off-the-hook crowd response that came when favored live entries like "Ketamine", "Welcome To The Chaos" and "Cut Throat" filled the open air.
The uniqueness factor of the day would take an auspiciously theatrical and visually gripping turn on the Loudmouth Stage at 2:40 PM courtesy of Swedish melodic death metal turned heavy metal titans Avatar. To the uninitiated, the signature approach pioneered by this outfit can be best described as a nightmarish carnival of horrors led by a demented circus ringmaster in lead vocalist Johannes Eckerström, who can be best described as an amalgam of The Crow and Alice Cooper, but with an imposing presence and height that would rival any villain in the Highlander film franchise. Suffice it to say, the metal factor was at no point lacking as this 5-piece outfit preceded to blend classic Gothenburg melo-death tropes with quirky nu-metal and carnival-like musical hooks, with the technical display of all four instrumentalists being extremely apt compared to most American nu-metal outfits. "The Eagle Has Landed" and "Hail The Apocalypse" were the clearest standouts, but from start to finish, their truncated set was an unrelenting display of sinister and high octane energy that had this American audience begging for more.
Back at the Space Zebra Stage a bit later in the afternoon, the assortment of quirky bands that had been ridding said stage gave way to something a bit more predictable, namely the uncompromising fury and aggression of one of metalcore's heavier hitters and Ocala, Florida natives Wage War. True to the no nonsense, straight-for-the-jugular brand of modern metallic viciousness pioneered by Hatebreed, this quintet wasted no word in raining a hurricane of earth-shaking grooves and rage-steeped shouts upon all within earshot, inspiring a seemingly endless succession of mosh-happy maniacs and crowd-surfers that rivaled the pandemonium that was previously inspired by Avatar. Indeed, as vocalist Briton Bond preceded to shout his lungs out and gallivant about the stage with the ever-animated quartet of guitarists Seth Black and Cody Quistad, and bassist Chris Gaylord miraculously not crashing into each other, the concise sonic explosions of "Teeth", "Gravity" and "High Horse" would stand the tallest among 9 colossal displays of auditory demolition.
As the later afternoon started to flirt with evening, the metalcore factor would prevail once more over on the Loudmouth Stage courtesy of Los Angeles natives Bad Omens. Though their brand of modern, American grown metal was a bit less overtly brawny and thudding in its percussive character than that of Wage War, they seemed to inspire even greater throngs of mosh-obsessed maniacs to their end of the festival, entering the fray with a towering rendition of "ARTIFICIAL SUICIDE" decked out in ski masks and proceeding to deliver a performance adorned with enough elaborate pyrotechnics to rival that of Beartooth's insane display at Sonic Temple a while back. To those who weren't familiar with their particular brand of pulsating metallic splendor, comparisons to the likes of Bring Me The Horizon and Periphery were the most likely go-to examples, and as this manic quartet frolicked about the stage to the resounding roar of the crowd, brooding entries with a melancholy melodic overtone like "Glass Houses", "Broken Youth" and "Just Pretend" managed to shine through the brightest.
At a quarter to 5PM over on the Space Zebra Stage, this day of heavy music, food, and drink took on a more up close and personal character with the arrival of famed Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor. For all present, it would be a rare moment catching a glimpse of him minus the mask, though it did nothing to lessen the impact of the performance that he'd bring, ditto that of his touring band which included Stone Sour guitarist Christian Martucci and Dorothy bassist Eliot Lorango. At times the decibels flowing forth from Taylor's mic were so intense that they were probably was pain-inducing even for those always equipped with earplugs, but that was a minor gripe as Taylor proved performed as the ever-consummate front man and utterly owned the set, frequently tossing water from bottles and then the bottles themselves to the crowd and revving things up with lines of encouragement like "Hey Motherfuckers, how are you all doing?" and "Motherfuckers, this is Louder Than Life, so I need you to be fucking louder!". The corresponding assortment of original material naturally went over famously, though true to the day always being carried by the familiar, his rendition of Slipknot's "Snuff" and a closing cover of Motörhead's "Ace Of Spades" ended up stealing the show.
The Loudmouth Stage would be the site of true metal mastery and gravitas with the looming presence of dusk and the entry of thrash metal pioneers Megadeth into the equation. True to form, this often token classic metal addition to the rock festival circus proved to be precisely the thing needed to ramp things up even further after a day of mostly modern metal ferocity, turning in a swift, precision-based sonic assault that's as potent as it was back in the mid-80s when Dave Mustaine formed the band. Due to scheduling conflicts and family concerns, virtuoso axe-wielder Kiko Loureiro was absent from the stage, but in his place was an equally qualified surgeon in the fine art of shred in Finnish-born and Wintersun's own Teemu Mantysaari, whom traded leads with Mustaine like he'd been touring with the band for years on end. Naturally one would be remiss not to mention the massive battery of sound beneath the guitar riffs and noodling solos provided by bassist James LoMenzo and Dirk Verbeuren, keeping the heavy end up for a band that has hung their hat for 30 years on never taking any prisoners.
Barring some occasional rough patches in Mustaine's voice, which naturally go without saying for a guy who just beat cancer, it was nearly impossible to distinguish each song that flowed from Megadeth's instruments this evening and what was originally dedicated to recording between 1985 and now. The familiar torrents of classic thrash mayhem that are "Tornado of Souls" and "Peace Sells" traded blows seamlessly with groovy 90s entries like "Symphony Of Destruction" and "Sweating Bullets", and even the rock-oriented "Trust" and recent entries like "Dread And The Fugitive Mind" and "We'll Be Back" drew a boisterous response from all in attendance. Many cheers were likewise elicited from an auspicious addition of classic jab at Tipper Gore and the PMRC "Hook In Mouth", a song that had been off Megadeth's set list for about a decade, but in the usual fashion, the kinetic fury with solos brimming over that are this outfit's obligatory opener and closer "Hangar 18" and "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due" left no unconverted head-bangers in their respective wakes.
The weirdness factor of the day would come by the hand of nü-metal impresarios Limp Bizkit, in a performance that started in a comical way and progressed to bizarre territory.
The band came on stage with Fred Durst yielding a guitar, Wes Borland – this time around with his face covered in corpse paint and a big mustache – holding a microphone, Sam Rivers standing behind the turntables, and John Otto with a bass in their hands, while DJ Lethal sat on the drums, and they launched into a butchered version of Korn's "Blind". The crowd was caught in some sort of stupefaction at first, before they stopped and swapped back out to their usual instruments as if nothing had happened. If you peeked through the photo gallery at the bottom before reading this, now you understand the reason for the uncommon photos.
Then they started playing "Show Me What You Got", but the normalcy didn't last long. In a controversial move, that sparked the rage of half the crowd and hundreds of bashing online comments, during and after their set, Durst approached the two cameramen at the sides of the stages and repeatedly held their cameras down, preventing them from videotaping the performance, until they were told by a member of the band's crew to step aside and stop filming. Not happy with that, Fred addressed the audience – while the band stayed jamming – and said: "We won't continue our show until the front of the house cameras are off. We didn't come here to be on TV". Eventually, the cameras were turned off, leaving the two giant screens by the sides of both the Zebra and Loudmouth stages in black, and effectively impairing the ability of hundreds of attendees who were not close to the stage, and most of those in the ADA section, from enjoying the set given the distance to the stage.
Their set progressed, enacting the rowdiest crowd-surfing response I've ever witnessed in any of the DWP festivals, with security sweating bullets – and at times looking literally overrun – while they did their best to catch the endless sea of bodies coming to the barricade. Classics like "My Way" and "Nookie" turned the grounds into an oven, with the climax coming with the set closer "Break Stuff", preceded by Durst telling the crowd: "I was told I couldn't come to a show with a buttoned up shirt. I was told I couldn't be on stage wearing a tie, or a purple wig. And I was told we couldn't play this song! But here we are!" Needless to say this Limp Bizkit set will be talked about for a while.
The rap rock contingent would get a massive boost over at the Revolver Stage courtesy of the punk/hardcore infused, politically charged music of Californian rabble-rousers Fever 333. A band that is naturally no stranger to controversy, they donned the stage with reckless abandon, now comprised of mostly new members with the exception of helmsman Jason Butler (the nature of how this came to be naturally differs depending on who one talks to) and sporting all the usual fervor one would expect from an outfit bent on pummeling the world into changing its ways via aggressive music. Butler's classic act of piling two speakers at the edge of the stage, ascending on top of them and proceeding to jump almost 10 feet in the air after singing for a bit was on full display, and was naturally rivaled by the insane movements of the audience. Newly recruited bassist April Kae also moved about the stage and turned heads like a pro, as angst-driven odes to political discontent like "Made An America", "Prey For Me" and "Hunting Season" shattered eardrums and dislocated necks aplenty. Naturally, Fred Durst's aforementioned diva described above caused this outfit's crowd to be even larger, and they too would get their money's worth.
With the evening sky now hung over the ongoing festivities in Louisville, the headliner lineup would shift over to the Loudmouth Stage with the entry of Massachusetts-born and post-grunge/nu-metal mainstays Godsmack. True to their life's mission to rock as hard as the Seattle icons that provided their namesake and put their own more optimistic twist on it, they brought the heaviness as much as ever and were regularly taking time to keep all in attendance at peak elation. Following a blistering rendition of "Crying Like A Bitch", lead vocalist Sully Erna took a moment to thank the crowd for coming to the show, commenting further that they had a new album out and also that they were in the rock 'n' roll business, ergo they actually play their instruments without relying on "a fucking click or anything like that", which naturally drew plenty of laughs and cheers. The usual assortment of classic entries like "Awake" and "Whatever" traded blows with new bangers like "Surrender" and "What About Me" without a single ounce of enthusiasm being lost in all quarters, though the closing hurrah of "I Stand Alone" would reign supreme, per usual.
With the black of the sky now firmly affixed and the hour of 9 PM, all eyes turned to the Space Zebra Stage for the closing headliner of the day and modern progressive rock titans Tool. Kicking things off with something of a curveball with "The Grudge" (a deviation from their usual set for the ongoing tour which arrives at the sound of "Fear Inoculum"), much of what would follow would be the usual exercise in eccentric, non-conformist, brooding yet high contemplative rock fronted by one of the greatest helmsmen in the business. Maynard was, from start to finish, a unique yet well-balanced blend of quirkiness and raw power, and he along with guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey and virtuoso bassist Justin Chancellor exemplified the very concept of a power quartet. Continual cries of utter joy mixed with reciprocation of the darkened moods exemplified in each song were the best way to describe the crowd response, being equal in fervor to the heavier bands in the preceding hours of the day, though expressed very differently.
It was, in every respect, a fitting yet highly unusual way to close off a day that was largely adorned by songs conforming to typical structures and being generally short in length. One couldn't help but note the oddities that exuded from the band in the form of extended odes like "The Patient" and "Jambi" as they intermingled with abruptly short entries like the peculiarly dubbed "Eon Blue Apocalypse". Yet in this day and age where there is a precedent for just about every trick in the musical book, the strange twists and turns that Maynard and company threw to the crowd were treated with the same familiarity that a classic rockhound might give to one of Led Zeppelin's radio hits. Indeed, the roar of the crowd that followed their closing rendition of "Stinkfist" could well have rivaled the sort of rowdy response one would hear at an arena performance of "Free Bird". It was a grand culmination of a day where rock and metal reigned supreme amid a celebration of food, booze, and living life as loud as possible, hence the very name of the festival.