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Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

Sonic Temple returns with an opening day where riffs and fire are abound


"Welcome back"…This is the message that greeted Sonic Temple festival-goers on Thursday, May 25th, as they flocked in droves to the Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. With a clear blue sky overhead, and a bright white sun beating down, there was no better weather to kick off a four-day weekend of heavy music.

Sonic Temple has returned in 2023 after an unexpected, three-year, COVID-induced hiatus. But as thousands of people streamed through the gates and pressed up against barricades, it seemed as though Sonic Temple had never left. Returning visitors and newcomers alike were eager to show their love for the festival as merchandise lines wrapped serpentine curves around the many vendor booths, while others made a run from the front gates to the main stage barricade. It was, in all measures, a homecoming of tremendous proportions.

Bastardane had the pleasure of kicking off the day on the Octane Stage. These sludgy thrash-rockers may be best known for their percussionist, Castor Hetfield (the son of James Hetfield), but this opening act held their own apart from the fame attached to a name. As the crowd filtered through the stadium entrance and began to gather, Bastardane brought their own brand of old-school metal to life with confidence and enthusiasm. They took full advantage of their captive audience, and as heavy bass thundered through the crowd, vocalist Jacobius Lovebone sang with energy and zeal. Lovebone’s enthralling baritone was met with complementary precision from Hetfield’s percussive barrage. Although Bastardane had only twenty minutes to win over their audience, they managed to awaken the first mosh pit of the festival, and brought throngs of headbangers to their feet before noon. As people began to filter over to the other two stages, ripples of chatter echoed with awe and surprise at the absolute excellence Bastardane delivered, and made clear they had earned some new fans.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

OTTTO kept the heavy atmosphere going on the Soundwave Stage with a pleasant blend of thrash, funk, and heavy metal. This three-piece brought with them clear hunger, a fiery ambition that oozed from every note. While somewhat constrained by the limitations a trio faces in live performance, particularly in how much vocalist and guitarist Bryan Noah Ferretti could move around the stage, they still managed to put together a rousing set that got the morning crowd excited for more. They were followed shortly thereafter by UK’s Malevolence. These heavy metallers arrived fresh from other performances abroad, and that seasoned expertise showed through in enthusiastic engagement with the crowd and non-stop action on stage. Lead vocal duties were split between Alex Taylor and guitarist Konan Hall, both of whom were restless as they prowled across the stage, and both of whom called for the audience to give them their all. This resulted in two parallel mosh pits on either side of the stage and some of the first crowdsurfers of the day.

The heavier morning fare was offset by Oxymorrons and Bones UK. A more mellow and sultry passion came Bones UK, while Oxymorrons brought rap-infused rock to the main stage. While the audience may have been skeptical at first, both acts easily won over the crowds that had gathered before them, and Oxymorrons effortlessly had thousands cheering and clapping along. The energy they brought was perfect to ramp up the afternoon and awaken concertgoers who were already turning hues of pink beneath an oppressive sun.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

Highly anticipated Bloodywood delivered nothing short of absolute excellence. Hailing from New Delhi, India, these up-and-coming metallers offer an intoxicating mix of heavy metal and Indian folk music. Their live performance included the use of multiple traditional folk instruments, including the dhol, flute, and tumbi, all mixed seamlessly into the underlying metallic grit. It was impossible to tear one’s eyes away from the stage as these musicians poured their souls into their performance. Choruses were elevated by the use of the Punjabi and Hindi languages, and the bright, patterned apparel shone beneath golden rays of sun. Growling and punchy riffs shone alongside a live flute performance for a breath of fresh air amidst standard heavy metal fare. While Bloodywood may have been one of the most eclectic sets of the day, they were certainly one of the most unique and most exciting.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

Metalcore was represented on this first day by Miss May I and Beartooth, both Ohio natives. Beartooth took to the main stage just as the sun began to fall towards the horizon, and although the seasoned act had to play with the light shining in their eyes, they didn’t falter or stumble amidst a dynamic performance. They also boasted the most impressive pyrotechnics of the festival thus far. Towering columns of flame burst from the stage, its orange tendrils of fire reaching almost two stories in the air, and it blasted the audience with heat that scorched the air. The ever-energetic Caleb Shomo poured his absolute heart and soul into every song, and effortlessly traversed a setlist that spanned from debut album “Disgusting” to 2021’s “Below.” Crowdsurfers took to the air as “The Lines” reverberated through the stadium, the pit raged fervently during “In Between,” and everyone sang along with the infectious chorus of “Riptide.” And as impressive as the flames might have been, the highlight of the performance was Shomo’s signature act – crowdsurfing while playing his guitar during closing song “The Last Riff.” Hands lifted him steadily above the crowd, holding him aloft with reverence, and he floated back towards the stage with angelic grace.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

For the more punk-inclined, both Pennywise and Anti-Flag were must-see performances. Pennywise entertained with the grace of seasoned experts, and engaged the crowd like the veteran performers they are. Frontman Jim Lindberg called out specific audience members by shirt or by costume, guitarist Fletcher Dragge darted from one end of the stage to the other, and they owned every inch of the main stage. The elation of high-energy music was perfectly offset by the abrasive punk edge that Lindberg carried. Over on the Octane Stage, and headed by the charismatic Justin Sane, Anti-Flag brought all the joy and enthusiasm that comes with punk rock. They too performed songs from across their discography, and drew in the audience with bright smiles, but truly wowed all in attendance with an eclectic medley that included songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” These parallel punk-rockers emerged from the same era with much of the same spirit, and when they took to adjacent stages simultaneously at Sonic Temple, it was sheer indulgence.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

It’s always tremendous to catch a band that seems to truly care about the audience, and no band on Day One embodied that more than Suicidal Tendencies. From calling on the crowd to embrace their inner strength, to vocalist Mike Muir leaping down to the barricade to sing with his fans, there was an instant and undeniable connection between the entire band and those that had gathered to see them. Even new fans or the unfamiliar seemed entirely overcome by their spell.

Pure rock perfection, studio-album quality musicianship, and balls of fire – Godsmack truly brought the heat. 2023 is an important year for the American rock titans. It is both the twenty-fifth anniversary of their debut album “Godsmack,” and it is also the year they plan to release what they claim will be their last studio album, “Lighting Up the Sky.Sully Erna showed off his expertise in working the crowd, first calling for the men in the crowd to hoist ladies up onto their shoulders, and then asking the entire crowd to get on their feet. As Erna reminded the audience, Sonic Temple is a rock show – act like it! Between the pyrotechnics to the absolutely tremendous musical quality, Godsmack proved just why they’ve been mainstays of the scene for two and a half decades. There was also a surprise awaiting the audience at the end: Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford joined the band on stage for covers of “Dream On” and “Come Together.” A thousand voices lifted together as eyes were transfixed on the legendary rockers in their element.

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

Almost equally notorious, albeit in different ways, is Bullet For My Valentine. While earlier albums may have banked on rock-forward melancholy, their evolution has been relentless, with their most recent album “Bullet For My Valentine” being the heaviest yet. That sheer metallic strength shone through as they took to the Octane Stage. Dusk had settled over the Historic Crew Stadium, which let the incredible lights on stage reach their peak effectiveness. Bathed in bright splashes of color, and with enthusiastic cheers to welcome them, Bullet For My Valentine made for a tremendous penultimate act. The setlist included fan-favorites such as “Tears Don’t Fall” and “Your Betrayal,” both of which had the crowd singing along. Jumping, moshing, headbanging, all expressions of emotion were observed as Matthew Tuck and Michael Padget smiled down at the fans gathered before them.

As night fell, it was time for the eagerly-awaited headliners to make their appearance. Tool’s notoriety is known far and wide, and from the thousands of fans that pushed tight against the barricade at the Temple Stage, their popularity seems just as robust as ever. Three massive screens displayed entrancing visuals, moving with waves of color and ever-morphing animations, and each bit of melody was matched in perfect time. Maynard Keenan took his usual post at the right of the stage, buried deep in shadows near the drum kit, and he sang with an all-consuming devotion to the art. It was impossible to tear one’s eyes away from Danny Carey and his absolutely massive percussive setup. From behind that seemingly insurmountable battle station Carey worked his magic, drumming through the technically complex and demanding opener “Fear Inoculum.”

Sonic Temple 2023: Day One Recap

As the set-list moved into the classic “Forty Six & 2,” the on-screen visuals grew even more intense. This is when it became truly clear that Tool’s performance would be one as visual as it was aural, one where decadent prog met stunning visuals for a cerebral and transcendent experience. To simply stand and stare up at the stage, watching as the musicians brought this long-beloved work to life, was enrapturing. Cool breeze moved through the audience alongside the embrace of “Eon Blue Apocalypse,” and it seemed as though all of Sonic Temple was united beneath Keenan’s hypnotic trance. As subdued as they are spectacular, it was clear to see that Tool still holds a special place in the hearts of many, one that has been very well-earned across the decades.

The first day of Sonic Temple thrived on a strong mix of genres, experienced and well-beloved performers, and an enthusiastic audience who was eager to jump, mosh, and scream along with their idol. Historic Crew Stadium was absolutely the place to be to kick off a long Memorial Day Weekend, and Day One ended with the promise of many tantalizing performances to come.

Special thanks to Samantha Buckman for her writing contributions to this article

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