Welcome To Rockville 2023: Day Three Recap
If one could liken the massive assortment of bands that have assembled for the 2023 Welcome To Rockville Festival in Daytona, Florida to a military force, the most analogous example would be that of a multinational alliance of many colors and banners. But on the third day of audible splendor dominating the southeastern airwaves would come a bit closer to an elite sub-group within a single branch of one nation’s armed forces, perhaps most aptly that of the Navy Seals. The order of the day would be a metallic one, drawing from a number of prominent sources spanning the genre’s ascent in the 1980s all the way to the current day, with a particularly heavy emphasis on offshoots of thrash metal that have cropped up in the midst of the former aforementioned decade. A few hiccups that would include the disappointing cancellation of American hard rock mainstays Alter Bridge’s set due to health concerns further concentrating the metal side of the day’s roster aside, it would also be a day of things going mostly according to plan.
In stark contrast to the previous day where the opening acts would carry the names of several prominent elder statesmen of the rock and metal movement, the instigators of the metallic storm that dominated the 4 stages on May 20th, namely the progressive groove/thrash trio of brothers known as Hammerhedd, carried the banner of metal’s extravagant past via a combination of familiar influences and raw talent. Born out of Kansas City, Missouri and incepted in 2012 when not a single one of them had reached the age of 10, their blend of influences that includes such noted metal titans as Sepultura, Gojira, Mastodon, and Meshuggah would see them going viral and having their content publicly reposted by Metallica themselves, paving the way for a subsequent recording career beginning in 2018 and a following on YouTube that has reached over 80,000 subscribers.
Having recently come off a whirlwind tour supporting In Flames and released their sophomore LP Nonetheless, which included two highlight moments from their riveting opening set in “Tunnel” and “Fruition” respectively, they revved up the throngs of early arrivals to the day’s festivities with the mastery of a fold of prodigies twice their age, and there would not be a single head failing to bang incessantly as their impressive mixture of odd rhythms, floor-shaking riffs and barking vocals like the reincarnation of Lemmy Kilmister on steroids saturated the air.
The humorous Sylvester Stallone quote of “Age before beauty” from Rocky III would see an extreme reversal demonstrated as the youthful fervor of Hammerhedd would give way to the raging fury of one of thrash metal’s eldest and most intense prime movers, namely Teutonic titans from the primordial era of 1984 themselves Kreator. Though they were relegated to a meager 30 minutes in spite of being one of the premier acts to maintain a substantial presence over the metal scene for the past 40 years, they would bring down their brand of high-octane mayhem with a sinister bent in the best form in recent memory west of the Atlantic. In plainer terms, they killed it at every turn, inspiring a huge wall of death in the crowd that rivaled the ones frequently witnessed at European festivals, which would reach such a fever pitch that security was overrun, and the press would have to exit the pit. But the massive tumult notwithstanding, Kreator‘s seven song set was a justifiable and welcome catalyst, with newer entries like “Hate Uber Alles” and “Awakening The Gods” trading blows with early day classic thrashers like “Flag Of Hate” and “Pleasure To Kill”, sending shockwaves across the South Florida coast that likely registered on the Richter Scale.
The chaos would receive a much needed cool down with the entry of Long Beach, California natives and modern blues rock purveyors Rival Sons, bringing a blend of vintage soul and a slight psychedelic aesthetic into the equation. Though their history only stretched back to the tail-end of the 2000s, the mixture of vintage rock ‘n’ roll swagger and a loose-flowing jam band presentation on display suggested a partial throwback to the early reaches of the 1970s where bands were content to simply plug in, turn up and see what path the music chooses to tread. Led by the dynamic and raw vocal presence of helmsman and rhythm guitarist Jay Buchanan, this quartet would take all in attendance on a mid-afternoon journey of roughly 40 minutes that seemed to go on for much longer, rolling out compact yet wide-scoped jams that included highlight entries “Pressure And Time” and “Electric Man” that would showcase the traveling chops of lead guitarist Scott Holiday in masterful, Jimmy Page-like fashion while the steady flow of the foundation provided by bassist Dave Beste and drummer Mike Miley would see each vintage-styled anthem crashing like waves upon the crowd, all the while the band kept stage movement to a surprising minimum.
The metallic mayhem would return for a second round of crowd-involved carnage to shake the pillars of creation with the arrival of Brazilian groove/thrash icons Sepultura, who would bring the extreme aggression factor to a degree that easily rivaled that of their fellow veteran thrasher counterparts of the day Kreator. Vocalist and North American adherent to this South American mainstay Derrick Green, whom brought down the guttural vocal fury like it was going out of style, summed it up by stating “We don’t get to play US Festivals, therefore this is a special occasion. Let’s get to it and let the music talking” and thusly proceeding to cram as much as they could into their short time slot. Following an explosive performance of their recently minted thrash machine “Isolation”, the familiar mid-paced stomp of classic early 90s entry “Territory” would see the crowd become so kinetic in response that for moments it looked like the front barricade would come crashing down over the impetus of the exhilarating fans, though truth be told, the apex of this half hour dose of modern metal pandemonium would be reached on their rendition of classic thrash staple “Arise”.
The clock would be turned back considerably and the temperature dialed back to a more vintage level of extreme heat as the Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and the onset of early evening came to the fore. The hard rock orthodoxy combined with a consistent stream of instantly recognizable anthems from the glory days of terrestrial radio were naturally a hit among all that had gathered, though the true power of this act has always rested with the band’s progenitor and son of the forefather of metal drummers himself John Bonham and his ear for younger talent to carry on the spirit of the original. Suffice it to say, the musical and physical miming of Plant, Page and Jones that were provided by vocalist James Dylan, guitarist Jimmy Sakurai and bassist Dorian Heartsong went beyond the realm of mere competence, and the stellar 10 song set that featured such noted classics as “Immigrant Song”, “Over The Hills And Far Away”, Black Dog” and “Ramble On” were about as close to experiencing the original Led Zeppelin in their prime that any in attendance could hope to achieve without a time machine.
The genre pendulum would take yet another sharp swing back towards the metal side of the coin via Riverside, California 2000s deathcore pioneers Suicide Silence, filling the open air with a volley of down-tuned riffs that caused some to question if the air itself was capable of experiencing a quake. Helmsman and inhuman screamer Hernan “Eddie” Hermida proved a master of crowd work and effectively doubled as a lead vocalist and a traffic director, commanding the audience to split in half and inviting a long guy carrying a pink flag to occupy the empty center in anticipation of what would be one of the most massive walls of death ever constructed in Florida. Yet these sultans of auditory carnage were not without a clear code of ethics, as they proceeded to cease playing well into their set to allow security to assist one of the onlookers that had fallen in the pit, which thankfully retained no significant injuries. The maddened masses were treated to a consistently blistering 10 song slough of hardcore-infused groove metal mayhem, though it was difficult for anyone present to argue that the most insane moments came to pass during the performance of acclaimed banger anthems “You Only Live Once” and newer entry “Thinking In Tongues”.
The rock realm would find yet another competent champion of a more modern persuasion with the early signs of dusk in Illinois alternative rock/post-grunge power trio Chevelle. Hailing from as far back as the mid-1990s and with a massive discography in tow, it went without saying that their veteran bona fides were in order, and it showed through the duration of their 11-song performance. The assembled collaboration of the Loeffler brothers; Pete handling guitars and vocals, Sam making a mighty racket from behind the drum kit, as well as the rock-solid input provided by touring bassist and backing singer Kemble Walters erected a towering wall of sound that was notably heavier and denser than most of the prior hard rockers to take the stage that day. Audience participation of a comparatively less destructive character to the metal acts that had preceded them was the order of things, though there was no shortage of crowd-surfers and bodies in motion as the classic banger hooks of “The Red” and “I Get It” traded blows with odes off their most recent 2021 studio effort in “Self Destructor” and show closing coup de grace “Mars Simula” respectively.
Theatricality and the eldest of the icons to grace the stage in Daytona would have its hour of triumph as night fell above with the entry of shock rock icon and ringleader of the most twisted of sonic circuses in existence himself Alice Cooper. Though the routine no doubt consisted entirely of the familiar for those over the age of 24, the horror of seeing the face-painted prince of darkness being seemingly beheaded on stage and subsequently running a gamut of varying costumes, the most memorable of which being a white outfit that would be unceremoniously coated in blood during the rendition of “Loved To Death” where Cooper’s wife does the honors of inflicting a fatal blow upon his aged head. The booming banquet for the eyes and ears that transpired would also include a sea of confetti and balloons, a snippet of Pink Floyd’s classic “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. II” and a fan favorite event where the Phoenix-born madman threw his signature cane to the audience. Yet amid the seemingly endless succession of visual gimmickry, this was still a performance marked by stellar musicianship, and the old time magic of “I’m Eighteen”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “School’s Out” and latter day 80s/90s bangers “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein” would have brought down the house had they been played in one, ditto a rather astounding guitar solo slot halfway through the 16 song slough courtesy of Glen Buxton.
Lawrence, Massachusetts natures and post-grunge/ metal fence-sitters turned mega hit machine act Godsmack would lean things back into a decidedly modern direction, bringing down a heavy and brooding take on things that would make their key objects of inspiration Alice In Chains proud. The blend of jagged edges and distorted grooves with a decidedly melodic and accessible presentation were naturally the usual hit with onlookers that its consistently been since they broke big in the early 2000s, and despite their insistence on focusing exclusive on touring rather than cranking out any new material, 2023 LP and latest LP “Lighting Up The Sky” was well represented via exemplary performances of “You And I” and especially the encore showing of “Surrender”. A medley of familiar classic rock covers dubbed “Batalla De Los Tambores” would also highlight Godsmack’s tenure on stage, consisting of heavy renditions of “Back In Black”, “Walk This Way”, “Moby Dick”, “Enter Sandman” and “Tom Sawyer”, with front man Sully Erna going behind a second drum kit to jam with Shannon Larkin for an extended period. Nevertheless, it would be classic Godsmack that would truly bring home the proverbial bacon, particularly the closing banger “I Stand Alone”, which couldn’t have been any more intense had Dwayne Johnson himself showed up in his Scorpion King get up to take down the Pharaoh on stage.
With the sky painted with starts and the arrival of 10pm roughly 15 minutes in the past, the final headliner of the day, namely the fold that invented the concept of modern heaviness, Texas’ own groove metal pioneers themselves, Pantera took things over. Though arguably more of a tribute to the original that has seen the guitar talents of Zakk Wylde and the frenetic drum work of Charlie Benante standing in for the sadly departed Abbott brothers, the spirit of the original was still pulsing through the body of this quartet, especially that of the battle-torn yet still ferocious front man known to mortal men as Phil Anselmo. Though his voice has been painted with the strain and scars of nearly 4 decades of punishment on the road, the old fire that he brought to the stage during metal’s darkest era has been creeping back into his performances more and more since the resurrection of the Pantera brand. An assortment of uncompromisingly heavy fits of sonic brutality spanning their 1990 break out LP Cowboys From Hell to the dank and morose late-90s territory treaded by The Great Southern Trendkill, this fold covered all the usual bases, though their harrowing renditions of “Mouth For War”, “I’m Broken”, “Walk” and the particularly extreme auditory violence of “Suicide Not Pt. II” were anything but usual, let alone the physical destruction that it inspired amongst the sea of onlookers. Combined with the stark dynamic contrast brought by the power balladry of bleakness “This Love” and the haunting ambience of their version of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”, what all in attendance received was the full package. If the 3rd day of Welcome To Rockville could be summed up in a single phrase, it would be the day of metal, and even those whom treaded the road of hard rock on said day came away with a steel studded title belt.