Louder Than Life 2023 Review
After cementing its title as America’s Biggest Rock Festival with a record-breaking attendance of over 170,000 in 2022, Louder Than Life returned bigger and better than ever on September 21, 22, 23 & 24, 2023 to Highland Festival Grounds at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
Having become something of a longstanding tradition for the city of Louisville, the festival of booze and bands aplenty dubbed Louder Than Life has been regarded as one of the premier concert events on the eastern half of the continental United States. Whether it's because of the wide assortment of whiskey, craft beer, gourmet food or numerous exhibits that naturally include 5 stages booked to the hilt with rock bands old and new, the crowd draw for this 4-day extravaganza has grown considerably from its 2014 inception and topped out at a whopping 160,000 just last year. The first day of the 2023 version of this grand endeavor started yesterday with favorable weather conditions gracing the early hours of autumn on September 21, 2023 and a respectable showing of concertgoers, ready to enjoy an impressive lineup of bands reaching from the recent past all the way to the alternative rock explosion of the 90s.
Marisa Dabice of MANNEQUIN PUSSY performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Much of the early afternoon would be dominated by younger and lesser known acts that would rock the smaller stages in a bid to make some waves among a veritable sea of potential new fans. Standing tall among the pack would be punk rockers with a notable retro 90s alternative rock flourish to their sound and Philly natives Mannequin Pussy, took to the Loudmouth Stage and brought down a truly raucous showing for all within earshot. Flamboyant guitarist and lead vocalist Marisa "Missy" Dabice would prove the most eye-catching member of the fold, matching an eccentric blend of neurotic vocalizations with a rather unique stage getup consisting of a see-through top and a baseball cap, though it was tough not to notice the flamboyance of the rest of the fold with guitarist Maxine Steen's leather skirt and flowing pink hair turning many a head, ditto the almost individually stylized outfits of touring keyboardist/guitarist Carolyn Haynes, drummer Kaleen Reading, and especially the towering hulk of a bassist Collins "Bear" Regisford.
Yet when putting the Village People-like visual aside, what flowed forth from the stage in auditory form was a blend of impactful rocking angst and atmospheric nuance that called to memory the iconic post-grunge trappings of Hole and the bizarre pop stylings of Imperial Teen, though was also more musically intricate and drew more fervently from the traditional formula of punk, with bangers like "I Got Heaven", "Drunk II" and "Patience" being among the standouts.
Not long after the aforementioned medley of 90s-infused punk entries concluded, a fairly different take on the indie/alternative rock formula would grace the Space Zebra Stage, by the hand of Essex, England's own Nothing But Thieves. If one wished to liken the angst ravings of Mannequin Pussy to the loud and loose legacy of Hole, the closest analogy existing within the 90s to what this British quintet brought to the table would be that of Blur, though that naturally only tells a small part of the story. Led by the smooth and highly emotive voice of helmsman and guitarist Conor Mason, the musical presentation was an exercise in melodic, highly infectious smoothness that almost bordered on symphonic at times given the healthy input by guitarist Dominic Craik when switching over to the keyboards.
But in terms of kinetic energy, the band played it pretty close to the hip and allowed their audience, comprised heavily of younger women, to do the vast majority of the movement, though Craik and fellow guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown proved to be fairly animated, one donning a "The Number Of The Beast" t-shirt while the other sported what could be likened to more of a Latin getup. Each chapter in their 8-part novella of a set was masterfully realized, though it was tough to not regard the fun melodic swag of "Tomorrow Is Closed" and heavier rocking opener "Futureproof" as highlight moments.
Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Keeping the British alternative/indie rock end up over at the Revolver Stage would be the tatted hip-hop dabbling fold known as Kid Kapichi. As one of the newest acts to feature at this Louisville-based marathon event and this being their first show in the U.S., let alone having released 3 LPs in as many years since their 2021 debut This Time Next Year, it could be said that they had a lot to prove and would subsequently bring their A-game to bear upon the masses. For a quartet that dabbles in the fusion of rap and rock, their approach would prove highly unique, bringing to mind the classic UK Grime approach to the former that would stand in stark contrast to the usually nasal and abrasive sound normally associated with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.
Likewise, the generally short hair, British accents and animated showing by their perpetually mobile bassist Eddie Lewis and guitarist Ben Beetham, and the slightly less mobile yet attention-grabbing front man Jack Wilson gave off the vibe of a bunch of football (soccer) hooligans out to destroy the local pub after a home team victory. Entries like "Sardines" and "Let's Get To Work" stood the tallest, but their entire set was an exercise in raw power with a poetic edge.
During this year's Inkcarceration Festival, we learned about a metal band from Scranton, Pennsylvania, named Traverse The Abyss, and they impressed us very favorably. Turns out these dudes won the DWP Presents Twich contest for up-and-coming bands and graced the Road Hounds Stage stage on the first day of Louder Than Life 2023. And I've got to say that as much as I enjoyed last July's show, they took things to a whole nother level this time around.
Arrow de Wilde of Starcrawler performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
If I had to compare these guys with another band that would quickly make our readers understand their sound, I'd say they sound like a younger version of Suicide Silence. Once again the trio of axe-slingers comprised of "Iron" Mike White, Jamie Macheska, and Justin Coe took care of the punishing riffing department, while David "Goblin" Wilczewski did his best at beating the shit out of his drumkit without apparently breaking a sweat, and Nick "Big Shits" Cotillo alternated between laying down some thunderous basslines and headbanging like there was no tomorrow.
The three guitarists and the bassist pulled off the same stunt as they did when we last saw them: they came off stage at once and started running into the crowd while playing their instruments, meanwhile, Eric "Abyss" Ross – who brought forth his deep growling voice, paired with some higher pitch screams – would go to the barricade and engage with the fans, while also throwing fee band t-shirts to the crowd.
As you can probably imagine, the audience went into a totally batshit, frenzied stage with a band that probably half of them didn't know about before the show, and the crowd-surfing and moshing escalated to epic proportions. To say Traverse The Abyss totally owned their 30-minute set and made a ton of new fans during the process would be an understatement. Refreshing to see a relatively new band leaving it all on the stage and succeeding at delivering like consummate professionals. I'm sure I'll cross path with these dudes in the future to come.
Mike Kerr of Royal Blood performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
The British invasion of Louisville would continue back at the Space Zebra Stage with the arrival of West Sussex-born old-school blues/garage rock duo Royal Blood. Naturally the minimal composition of the fold under consideration and their adopted style might tempt one to liken this slightly more than a decade-running outfit to The White Stripes, the combined efforts of bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher (occasionally assisted by touring keyboardist Darren James) resulted in something notably more impact-based and heavy, bordering on metallic at times, which would be no surprise to anyone that has heard their pummeling rendition of Metallica's "Sad But True".
Though the widely viewed and aforementioned rendition would not be on their set list this particular day, they brought a truly gripping performance of attitude-infused rock with a minimalist flair that kept the bodies of every onlooker moving. Crushing anthems like "Mountains At Midnight" and "Little Monster" brought down the house, though it would be the boisterous rocker "Boilermaker" that would highlight the performance, with Thatcher leaving his kit and going down to the barricade to pump up the audience and all but hinting at diving off the stage as the lights around his drum kit blared on.
The tide of rocking vibes would finally switch back to the American side of the Atlantic with the arrival of progressive rock darlings and masters of the art of the live show Coheed & Cambria. Though they were without the elaborate stage lighting that has often graced their performances, they were able to include a neat LED backdrop that featured some of their video material related to their songs and performed masterfully both at their respective instruments and at keeping the crowd jazzed up as they proceeded to cram 10 songs into a criminally short set.
Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Everything was on point as the opening resound of "The Embers Of Fire" was played in part, this time with the band actually playing it live instead of relying on the usual recording to kick things off, and among the stellar performances that would grace the late afternoon air would include that of "Gravemakers & Gunslingers", "A Disappearing Act" and "The Liars Club", all the while helmsman Claudio Sanchez maximized his kinetic flow from behind the microphone with guitar in hand and with the assistance of the rest of the quartet, led the crowd through an expansive journey of sound that walked a brilliant line between hard rocking power and progressive intrigue, culminating in a mighty roar from all in attendance to the classic hooks of live staple and closing anthem "Welcome Home".
A trip down the more unusual side of memory lane would ensue for those huddled at the Space Zebra Stage shortly after, with the arrival of Omaha, Nebraska's more unique contributions to the 90s, namely rap/rock/ska fusion junkies 311. The brand of show that they would bring to the fore could almost be likened to a novelty act, as despite being in the game for many years now, the wildly eclectic character of their song selection and the energy that they would put into them definitely set them apart from the pack.
There was naturally no shortage of hard-hitting rock moments to be found on classic MTV favorites like the Iron Maiden-infused dueling guitar attack of "Beautiful Disaster", or the heavier riffing adorning key moments of "All Mixed Up" and the lion's share of their breakout single and closing number "Down", yet the quirky punk/ska moments and the unusual interplay of Nick Hexum's Morrissey-influenced baritone and Doug "SA" Martinez's nasally rapping had the audience continually guessing in spite of all the infectious hooks being pumped into their ears. But at the end of it all, different meant no less on point for those who came to see what 311 is known for putting out.
Donita Sparks of L7 performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
The decibel factor would be cranked up considerably over on the Disruptor Stage with the arrival of punk/grunge icons and Los Angeles-born original bad girls L7. The passage of time may have proven a factor in their relatively static stage showing and the wear and tear of age may have been worn shamelessly on each of their faces, but when it came to delivering the rawness in sonic form there were no punched pulled. Guitarist/vocalist Donita Sparks spared no expense in delivering her words of discontent and rage in a jagged fashion that could almost be likened to Stevie Nicks after gargling hydrochloric acid for 2 hours, and the combined battery of Jennifer Finch's bass work and Demetra Plankas' drumming provided an almost metallic foundation upon which the rustic, punk-infused vibes of this 90s staple could truly shine, further bolstered by an unapologetically sloppy, blues-infused showing by lead guitarist Suzi Gardner to boot.
Classic odes to Gen X's penchant for being pissed off at a world that passed them by such as "Shove", "Pretend "We're Dead" and "Fast And Frightening" could all have easily functioned as show-stealing moments, though the short but sweet ode to chronicling one's hatred and Natural Born Killers soundtrack staple "Shitlist" arguably topped them all if crowd response were any indication.
As the evening hung in the air and the time for the middle-weight fighters to give way to the headliners was at hand, the punk bona fides of this year's Louder Than Life festival would be codified over at the Loudmouth Stage with the presence of 90s revivalist extraordinaire outfit and Berkeley, California's own Rancid. Concepts like high energy and explosive don't even begin to describe the type of performance brought to the table courtesy of this traditional punk rock fold, as one up-tempo banger followed the next for a grand total of 22 by the time the last chord was struck. In like fashion to the Ramones and Sex Pistols before them, the name of the game was speed, simplicity, and a good hook to bring the whole thing home, and there was not a silent voice in the crowd from the opening resound of classic banger "Roots Radicals" to the good times classic "Ruby Soho", and even some brand new arrivals to the band's live shtick such as "Tomorrow Never Comes" were greeted with the enthusiasm one would expect from an elder rock icon outfit on their farewell tour.
The accessible grit and working-class punch of vocalist Tim Armstrong and the general simplicity of the delivery he brought via his guitar alongside that of Lars Frederiksen, bassist Matt Freeman and drummer Branden Steineckert (the band's de facto new guy since 2006) culminated in a performance that could be best dubbed as one for the ages, with other assorted bangers like "Time Bomb" and "Salvation" wowing in standout fashion with their classic edge.
Tim Armstrong of Rancid performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Rounding out this first day of culinary, alcoholic and sonic festivities over at the Disruptor Stage Pittsburgh natives Code Orange were in charge of bringing the proverbial house down with an avalanche of riffs, and they proved worthy of providing this event's obligatory apex point. Modern metallic thunder of the highest energy of varieties was the order of the hour, as every member of the fold brought new meaning to the idea of being all over the place in both their playing and their stage activity. Front man Jami Morgan's stances could be best described as utterly histrionic, as if like a maddened fish dangling from a hook his body just seemed to pull away from the microphone while his face stayed glued to it like a magnet, never failing to bring the passion and fury through his mostly distorted voice. Guitarists Reba Meyers and Dominic Landolina were comparatively unfettered as they danced about and worked the crowd with near-reckless abandon.
Also of note was the demented, adorned with complicated fills and double bass-happy drum performance turned in by Mike Portnoy's son Max, helping to codify the metallic splendor of a band that stood alone amid a seemingly endless succession of punk and post-grunge outfits. There were no dull points to speak of in this set of freshly sharpened knives, but the pummeling fury brought forth by the likes of "Grooming My Replacement", "Swallowing The Rabbit Whole" and "Out For Blood" was more than palpable, and functioned perfectly in closing out our coverage for a very respectable first day.
DeathbyRomy performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Milkie Way of WARGASM performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Tony Esposito of White Reaper performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Corey Taylor performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
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.
Raven Gray performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Milkie Way of WARGASM performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Winston McCall of Parkway Drive performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
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.
Phil Anselmo of Pantera performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
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.
Following an early afternoon mostly dominated by mainline pop and hip-hop artists, a strong retro blues rock storm was brewing over at the Space Zebra Stage courtesy of Long Beach, California hard rock revivalists Rival Sons. Being no strangers to the stage while either on tour or featuring at one of the many rock festivals across the continental U.S., the core membership of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jay Buchanan, lead guitarist Scott Holiday, bassist Dave Beste and drummer Mike Miley laid down an old school mix of early 70s zest and late 60s psychedelic fuzz that did not falter. The lion's share of the crowd work was handled by Buchanan and Holiday in a masterful, entertainer duo fashion, while the former's Robert Plant-like soaring notes and wails melded perfectly with the latter's Page meets Hendrix blend of guitar wizardry, occasionally flirting with the heaviness of Iommi's earliest concoctions with Black Sabbath. Whether it was established odes from yesteryear like the groovy show closer "Secret" and chunky rock machine "Open My Eyes", or recent handiwork like the fun and tantalizing "Sweet Life" and semi-regular 2023 tour fixture "Mirrors", this outfit proved a raging hurricane on stage amid an afternoon of mostly passing breezes.
Jay Buchanan of RIVAL SONS performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Not long after a more punk rocking vibe with a folksy, Celtic twist would keep the energy up over at the Loudmouth Stage, courtesy of Irish turned Los Angeles rabble-rousers Flogging Molly. In true showman fashion, frontman and Dublin expat Dave King stole the show with his quick wit and endless bag of quips, taking a particular occasion at the beginning of their performance of "The Hand Of John L. Sullivan" to yuck it up with a fan in the first row holding a sign reading "I need a Guinness"; prompting him to respond "Who better a person to share a Guinness with!?" and proceeding to approach the edge of the stage and toss the man a beer can, who artfully caught it amid a sea of cheers. Another noteworthy moment happened right before jumping into their subsequent crackerjack performance of "A Song of Liberty", when King asked the crowd to help him salute Vladimir Putin and proceeded to lead them in flipping the bird with both hands. But amid the medley of jokes and good cheer was an equally competent performance by this massive 7-piece folk-rock ensemble, and stellar renditions of upbeat Celtic punk brilliance like "Seven Deadly Sins", "If I Ever Leave This World Alive" and an explosive finale featuring "What's Left Of The Flag" were the clear standouts.
Dave King of Flogging Molly performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Later one, just prior to 5 PM and back at the Space Zebra Stage the clock would seem to turn back to the glory days of 90s ska-punk with the arrival of Los Angeles purveyors of this upbeat and recently revived art form The Interrupters. From the opening, pop-drenched hook of ""Take Back The Power", it was pretty clear that highly charismatic frontwoman Aimee Allen (whose musical exploits have been known to us who frequented YouTube in the late 2000s) was running the show with her highly animated stage presence and distinctive voice, though her matching suit-clad band mates did their part to keep the show animated with frequent jumps and dance-like movements, not to mention the frequent chime-ins by touring trombonist and keyboardist Billy Kottage adding some tasty flair to the arrangement. Among the highlight musical moments to grace their set was a mid-paced and semi-jazzy noir take on Billie Eilish hit "Bad Guy" and a faster and attitude-steeped take on Bob Marley's "Judge Not", though their original material proved quite fun and eventful, particularly ultra-catchy banger entries that would have made Save Ferris sit down and take notes like "In The Mirror" and closing blowout "She's Kerosene".
Aimee Interrupter of The Interrupters performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
Keeping the energy factor pressed to the max and arguably pushing the pedal through the metal on the same stage, Maryland hardcore trustees Turnstile will enact one of the biggest crowd responses for the day. Having pushed their way to popular prominence and critical acclaim over the course of their 13-year run with 5 EPs and 3 studio LPs to their name, not to mention 3 nominations at the 65th Grammy Awards, they were no slouches during a kinetic live show, bringing a forceful brand of traditional hardcore to the masses with a vengeance. The liveliness level of the entire band was highly palpable, with lead vocalist Brendan Yates and bassist "Freaky" Franz Lyons spending seemingly more time in the air than on the ground, while the combined battery of Daniel Fang's kit work and the riff proficiency of lead guitarist Pat McCrory and touring axe-mate Meg Mills culminated in a truly meaty sound, which at moments would be punishing enough to make you believe Dave Mustaine had joined them for some riffing. Stand-out moments included ground-shaking renditions of their recent bangers and recipients of the aforementioned Grammy nominations "Blackout" and "Holiday", while punchy performances of swift and fleeting beasts like "Endless" and "Drop" were no less formidable, and certainly equally memorable.
With the onset of dusk and the hegemony of both punk and traditional hard rock having clearly been established to this day, a well-known institution more closely associated with the latter would come to the fore as one of the headliners via the Loudmouth Stage in Queens Of The Stone Age. As a band that has ebbed and flowed over the years, they came to this occasion with a newfound sense of resurgence courtesy of the release of this year's In Times New Roman, their first studio entry in 6 years. They brought a strong performance that afforded some solid Kodak moments, matched by a highly elaborate stage setup including a massive LED light display in the form of a huge pyramid just above the band. The set did favor the latest album with rocking renditions of "Carnavoyeur" and "Emotion Sickness" that were well received, but if crowd response was any indication, the high points of their 13-song slough would lay with their opening foray with classic 2000s hit "No One Knows", their performance of "Make It Wit Chu", which saw them sneak in a snippet of The Rolling Stones' "Miss You", and the sonic onslaught of the stoner masterpiece – and show closer – "A Song For The Dead" with drummer Jon Theodore ramping up the energy to thrilling levels behind his kit, while Josh Homme's fuzzy and unnerving guitar offered a masterclass of up-tempo rock and roll.
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
With the end in view and the looming stroke of darkness, all eyes would be affixed upon the Space Zebra Stage for the culmination of the final day celebrations, in the sendoff performance of pop punk revivalists and unquestionably legends in their own right, Green Day. From the standpoint of this old metalhead, there has been no greater ambassador for the punk rock scene than these guys since The Ramones, and they brilliantly matched their brand of ultra-catchy and upbeat music with an elaborate stage show that kept all in attendance fully engaged. Be it the opening recording of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" inspiring all to sing along before the band even took the stage, or the hilarious drunk guy in a bunny costume frolicking about on stage while "Blitzkrieg Bop" rang out of the speakers, it was a pure spectacle even before Green Day themselves made an appearance after an intro theme made of a mashup of "Blitzkrieg Bop", " I Love Rock and Roll", and "We Will Rock You". Their regular practice of bringing a fan on stage for one of their songs had attracted folks from all over, to the point that I sighted a front-row fan holding a sign that read: "I flew from the UK to be on stage with you today".
When Billy Joe Armstrong and crew finally did hit the stage, which had been heavily modified for the event with an added catwalk for audience access, the extravaganza of lights and stage gimmicks that accompanied them was nothing short of breathtaking. Pyrotechnics blared forth while they ushered in a familiar, yet grueling 23-song set, that was set in motion by the opening riff of "American Idiot" and included rock-solid performances of "Holiday", "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends", much of it occurring early in the set. Their total presentation was a solid representation of the band's rich history, tapping several obligatory hits from the 90s like "Basketcase", "When I Come Around" and "Brain Stew" from the band's original ascent to prominence in the 90s to massive cheers, though the early underground punk bangers a la "Welcome To Paradise" and their whimsical cover of Operation Ivy's "Knowledge" were no slouches in bringing the noise, ditto their cover of Kiss' "Rock And Roll All Nite" and a snippet of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" that was snuck into their performance of "Hitchin' A Ride". Confetti cannons bathed the audience in heat and paper during their set closure "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)", the mellow melodies of the song serving as a magnificent farewell for both their show and the festival at once.
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs live at Louder Than Life 2023.
When closing our coverage for Louder Than Life 2023, I honestly feel that there's nothing new I can say that I haven't expressed before. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must again confirm that DWP Presents outstanding and well-deserved reign over big music festivals in The States remains unchallenged. The still-fresh news of the massive disaster during a comparable-sized event with different promoters makes us appreciate the exceptional efficiency of everyone involved in these musical celebrations to a much higher degree. 2023 broke last year's attendance record, and there's only one way 2024 will go down, which is by doing it again: rocking harder, faster, and most importantly… Louder.
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