Following a day dominated by post-millennial rock and typical July weather, the second day of tatted festivities dubbed Inkcarceration would bring about an even more robust array of acts with a few challenges courtesy of Mother Nature. Some may welcome a rain shower when outside in the unforgiving summer heat, but one couldn’t help but notice a few parallels between the muddy conditions that would occur near the Ohio State Reformatory and that of the infamous Woodstock ’94 festival (albeit without hunks of mud being chucked at the bands). In fact, the response to the conditions on the ground as the day would proceed by those in attendance cut against the stereotype that body art enthusiasts being prone to hooliganism, as the same sort of decorum and enthusiasm that was on display the previous day would continue. To put it another way, the famous prison site where this event was taking place may have imbued a sense of self-discipline and routine that would help Inkcarceration weather the storms.
Among the earlier acts to help kick off this continuation of ink, music, and camaraderie would be the nu-metal revivalists from Lancaster, Pennsylvania known as From Ashes To New. This outfit has made an impressive splash over their 10 years at the game, and are currently promoting their soon-to-be-released studio album Blackout. Drawing heavy inspiration from the electronic, rap-meets-metal hybrid style originally popularized by Linkin Park, alongside some slightly more recent alternative metal leanings like Alexisonfire and Breaking Benjamin, they would charm onlookers with an energy-infused set of infectious, hook-driven anthems that hearkened back to what was burning up the charts 20 years ago. Both rhymed bars and synthesizer lines – courtesy of band mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Matt Brandyberry -provided the perfect foil to lead vocalist Danny Case‘s piercing vocal display and animated stage presence. Groovy bangers like “Panic” and “My Name” from the band’s back catalog contended with equally formidable entries from their upcoming LP in “Nightmare” and “Hate Me Too.” This set left little mystery as to why From Ashes to New has been honored to collaborate with the likes of Asking Alexandria, Mötley Crüe, and In Flames frontman Anders Fridén.
The Native Howl brought originality and innovation to the stage in spades. Sporting a niche approach to sonic artistry that they dub “thrashgrass,” The Native Howl presented a jarring contrast to the rest of the days’ acts, their set featuring banjo, harmonica, bouzouki, and some acoustic guitar work. This flourished alongside the obligatory arrangements one would expect from a typical metal act, but the result was anything but typical. True to form, the band itself looked like something that could have emerged from the Louisiana Bayou, with lead vocalist Alex Holycross checking all of the boxes of a classic old school country boy from his beard to his nasally swagger, touched up with an intermitted Hetfield-inspired gruff for good measure. Highlight sonic fixtures like “Sons Of Destruction” and “Thunderhead” would garner an enthusiastic audience response. Their novel blend of Metallica ode “Harvester Of Sorrow” and Dick Burnett turned Soggy Bottom Boys hit “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” dubbed “Harvester Of Constant Sorrow,” stole the show.
Texas metalcore mainstays Memphis May Fire arrived with a touch of nu-metal sensibility and a load of melancholy. Memphis May Fire became the next noteworthy appearance of the day, bringing their usual blend of occasional hip hop trappings within a sea of melodic post-hardcore sadness and rage. Being a frequent fixture at large scale rock festivals such as this one, they brought a seasoned veteran’s sense of professionalism to the table. In contrast to several recent appearances, their showing at Inkcarceration 2023 would see them add an impressive pyrotechnics and dry ice display to their performance. Lead vocalist Matty Mullins played a sizable role in setting the atmosphere, as did his frenetic stage behavior, the energy purely electrifying. The contributions of guitarist Kellen McGregor and touring guitarist Lucas Chandler, combined with a solid foundation provided by bassist Cory Elder and drummer Jake Garland, made for a respectably heavy tone that made anthems like “Blood & Water,” “Misery,” and “Make Believe” instant crowd favorites.
Continuing the trend of metalcore catchiness with a side-order of rap would be Austin, Texas natives Fire From The Gods. They were born out of the same 2000s wave as fellow Texans Memphis May Fire, but bring an even more sorrowful presentation to their target audience of broken souls. Led by animated presence and bellowing baritone of front man AJ Channer, whom would raise the act of filling the surrounding air with wild head movements to an art form, they’d reprise a highly familiar set to the ones that they’ve brought to festivals like this one. But what might have been lacking in surprises was more than compensated for with an amped up, can do attitude from the whole band as they worked the stage, resulting in such infectious odes as “Excuse Me,” “Soul Revolution,” and “The Voiceless” bringing down the house. The pummeling battery of guitars, bass, and drums was skillfully painted over by a riveting showcase from Channer.
Rounding out what would become a trifecta of metalcore moodiness set to music would be Florida’s own Underoath, bringing their signature scream-infused take on serenading the brokenhearted masses. Having navigated through a long road of twists, turns, and significant lineup instability since their late 90s inception, they didn’t just go through the motions as they brought the fire, spearheaded by a raucous vocal showing by helmsman Spencer Chamberlain and a correspondingly frenzied visual display by the rest of the band. Particular note should also be made of drummer Aaron Gillespie‘s highly aggressive gesticulations as he proceeded to pound his kit into submission, somehow falling just short of deafening everyone within earshot. Obligatory, scream-steeped concert staples like “Writing On The Walls” and “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” traded blows seamlessly with newer and somewhat more intricate entries like “Let Go,” topping off one of the more bombastic showings of the afternoon.
In a rather interesting twist for all in attendance, the next act to rivet the masses would be Birmingham, Alabama rockers Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, featuring none other than the former front man of the aforementioned Underoath: Dallas Taylor himself. To the uninitiated, and metalcore purists who prefer their music free of any southern trappings, this would be a highly different beast from the rest of the day’s lineup. This act drew closer comparisons to the likes of Black Stone Cherry and ZZ Top, though Taylor would still occasionally exhibit traces of his metalcore past when shouting away during the choruses of raucous rockers like “Step Up (I’m On It)” and “Dry The River”, the latter even showcasing even mirroring the melancholic instrumental approach of Underoath at times. But between the more traditional song work with proper guitar solos, the almost Village People-like diversity in attire sported by all six members that could have been likened to a collaboration between ZZ Top, Pearl Jam and Ratt, it was anything but a traditional set.
Returning things to the midday hegemony of metalcore with an added emphasis on moodiness, Scranton, Pennsylvania natives Motionless In White would bring their familiar blend of sorrowful poetry, industrial underpinnings, and gothic-infused attire. Theatricality would be their primary approach to differentiating themselves from the pack, as their set of largely obligatory live staples was dressed up with a massive pyrotechnics display that might have fooled some into thinking they were the headliners. Unfortunately the looming clouds above would begin to give way to significant rainfall as these black-clad cynics wheeled their way through catchy odes to fatalistic woe like “Masterpiece”, “Another Life” and keyboard-infused newer entry “Werewolf” (arguably one of the more interesting offerings of the evening from both a performance and stylistic standpoint), but rain did little to dampen their performance as flamboyant front man Chris Cerulli and near-equally theatrical guitarist Ricky Olson wandered about the stage, though a surprise appearance by Instagram vocalist and Renesans frontman David Benites would prove most memorable.
The theatricality pedal would be pressed to the proverbial metal with the entry of experimentally-geared alternative metal troupe Mushroomhead, showcasing to the now rain-drenched onlookers that they can do things a bit differently in Ohio. The differing stage costumes, masks and stage props were at least as diverse as the musical presentation and even the impressive spread of different drums being rocked by percussionists Robbie “Roberto Diablo” Godsey and Steve “Skinny” Felton were a veritable feast for the eyes, complete with massive tambourines and splashing water. Visual spectacles would abound throughout this carnival troupe’s set, complete with several auspicious interactions with the crowd including a couple members of the band partaking in the sea of crowd-surfers, all the while keeping their matching attire intact. The circus-like metal anthem “Qwerty” and other familiar yet stylistically quirky bangers like “Seen It All” and “Bwomp” stood out the most, but apart from some mixing issues that had bass so booming that it battled the vocals for prominence, the whole set was a marvel of consistency as well as sheer entertainment.
The dank weather conditions seemed to play into the mood of the music with the entry of California industrial/alternative metal melodramatics In This Moment, circling back to the gothic theatricality that was on display with Motionless In White, but with a greater level of intensity and the doubly flamboyant theatricality and bombast of Maria Brink at the fore. Barring the pyrotechnics and dry ice creating such a dense haze as to make the jobs of the pit photographers near impossible, the set would prove a feast for the eyes and ears, as the pulsating riffs of the guitars intermingled with a mechanistic rhythm section and a rich backdrop of keyboards rounded out the soundtrack of Brink and company as they proceeded to put on a bleak, gothic take on a fashion show with an array of on-stage apparel. Obvious banger entries such as “Adrenalize”, “Whore” and “Blood” were delivered with enough force as to leave the crowd reeling and awestruck.
The theatricality factor would continue, albeit with a heavy dose of deathcore-infused brutality and Slavic fury, with the arrival of Russian-turned Florida-based purveyors of unfettered rage Slaughter To Prevail. Granted, the theatrics were largely centered around maniacal front man and master growler Aleksandr “Alex Terrible” Shikolai, who got so into his role as lead berserker of this sonic war party that he nearly drew blood while repeatedly bashing himself with his microphone in between filling the air with his guttural ravings. Not to be outdone, the heavy-ended stomp of Mikhail Petrov‘s mighty bass and Evgeny Novikov‘s thudding beats could have registered on the Richter Scale when combined with the pummeling grooves of the guitar work provided by Jack Simmons and Dmitry Mamedov. This effect was particularly effective on such explosive entries as “Bonebreaker,” “Demolisher,” and “Viking,” to speak nothing for the towering wall of sound that polished off their set via “Chronic Slaughter.”
With the looming threat of dusk now hanging over the rain-drenched masses, the air of elite level gravitas and god-like virtuosity would be the order of the hour with the entry of Bay Area thrash icons Megadeth. Flashy stage gimmicks and gothic imagery were naturally dispensed with in favor of a straightforward, almost rustic stage presentation as elder statesman Dave Mustaine wielded his trusty axe and led his battalion into combat for the hearts and minds of the crowd, leaving nothing but sheer old school carnage in its wake. Between the smooth, technically-charged wizardry of Kiko Loureiro‘s fluid lead work and Mustaine‘s more choppy shredding, and their combined riff assault with the foundational battery of bassist James LoMenzo and drummer Dirk Verbeuren, a synchonicity was accomplished that has rarely been seen from the band in over a decade. For his part, Dave Mustaine‘s vocals were particularly on point, suggesting that his long road to recovery from cancer has neared total completion. Whether it was the kinetic classics of decades past in “Hangar 18”, “Tornado Of Souls” and “Holy Wars”, or the groovier middle era represented in “Symphony Of Destruction” and “Sweating Bullets”, or even the newly minted explosive thrash entries “Dread And The Fugitive Mind” and “We’ll Be Back”, there was not an untapped energy source or an un-banged head to be found.
In what could be dubbed the final hurrah of the metalcore contingent of the day, which proved to be the dominant one, Los Angeles-born melodic post-hardcore veterans and extraordinaire outfit The Ghost Inside proceeded to rock the house harder than their mostly younger compatriots. In contrast to most of their fellow sub-genre sharing predecessors, this quintet had more of a back to basics approach, relying on rock solid riff work, driving rhythms and a forceful yet impassioned vocal display out of front man/founder Jonathan Vigil in place of flashy visuals or saturating keyboard backdrops. The bodies were bouncing in time as one pummeling breakdown gave way to another, all the while Vigil’s throaty shouts and woe-steeped clean vocal-driven choruses sought to console the tragedy-stricken souls of their core fan base, with ultra-infectious odes like “The Outcast”, “Earn It” and “The Great Unknown” standing tall amid a set that was as impactful as it was by the numbers.
With the end of this epic, day long slough now coming into view with the darkness of night now covering the sky, the original purveyors of modern aggression and the masters of Southern charm with a clenched fists themselves, Pantera, would commandeer the stage as it’s true headliner, and even before the earth-rumbling riffs of “A New Level” ushered in a state of sheer pandemonium before the stage, the audience’s anticipation level was bordering on nuclear proportions. The recently minted lineup of this revived juggernaut, including shred maestro Zakk Wylde and thrash drumming original Charlie Benante in the roles of the dearly departed Abbott brothers, would be in its obligatory high form, with Phil Anselmo‘s battle-torn voice sounding even stronger than earlier appearances on the road in the past year. Despite being only half of the original band, they effortlessly pummeled the crowd with brutal renditions of mid-90s staples like “I’m Broken”, “Strength Beyond Strength” and “Suicide Note Pt. II”, though the loudest response from the crowd came with classic entries from a bit earlier in “Mouth For War”, “Walk”, and especially the closing blast of metallic pizzazz realized in their rendition of “Cowboys From Hell”. Yet from a purely objective standpoint, Anselmo would shine the brightest on those rare moments when his voice was cleaned up and more exposed via their hate-filled power ballad “This Love” and their classic cover of “Planet Caravan”. It was a fitting display of deep south-styled heavy metal triumph that more than made up for the mud-soaked bodies that each concertgoer was tasked with cleaning up once the day had concluded.