Mapfre Stadium in Columbus Ohio has been home to Rock on the Range for the last 11 years. But after last year’s festival, Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) split ways with their former partner AEG and were unable to keep the rights to the name Rock On The Range thus the festival being renamed: Sonic Temple Arts and Music Festival. Could it create the same moments and memories that made Rock On The Range legendary for over 10 years?
I arrived at Mapfre Stadium about 2 hours before doors open. There was already a huge line of people waiting to get in and you could feel the excitement from everyone.
The Jacks were the first band on the schedule and they opened up the Echo Stage with a good easy going set. Their EP hasn’t been released yet so the crowd got to hear some upcoming songs off of it including “Walk Away” and “Looking For Love.” It’s going to be a long day of live music. They were the perfect band to start the day.
Shvpes was next up on the Echo Stage they were first band of the weekend featuring members that have famous fathers. Griffin Dickinson, the band’s lead singer, is the son of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. That alone brought out a decent crowd. They were a little faster tempo than I was expecting and that seemed to energize the crowd as we had our first mosh pit and crowd surfers of the weekend. Most of their set included songs off of their 2018 album ‘Greater Than’ including “Undertones” and “Afterlife.”
Badflower had the honor of opening this year’s Main Stage and they didn’t disappoint. They didn’t play to a huge crowd, however, as most of them were still lined up trying to get in the gates. It was also probably the calmest the main stage crowd was all weekend. Most of their set included songs from their debut album including “x ANA x,” “Ghost,” and “Heroin,” in which lead singer Josh Katz stated was the #1 rock song in America in the upcoming chart. “I’m going to get in trouble for saying that” he stated before starting the song.
For all the metalheads in attendance, we got our first metal band of the day over at the Echo Stage. Wage War come out to thunderous cheers and multiple devil horn salutes in the air. The crowd instantly broke out into 3 circle pits and the band was loving the energy from the crowd. Their set included their new single “Low” and songs from their other 2 albums including “Alive” and “Stitch.”
Next up on the Main Stage is the band that may have put on the best performance of the day on that stage. The Swedish rockers, Avatar, came out with high energy and had members of the band sitting on a throne above the drum set as they performed “A Statue of the King.” The crowd was going crazy as they performed their hits “Hail the Apocalypse” and “Smells Like a Freakshow.” To add to the insanity of the performance, a guy in a chicken suit was crowd surfing nonstop. An Avatar stage show is really cool to witness and is a must see if you can catch them on the festival circuit.
The Echo Stage was now the place to be to see the most unique band of the weekend. Zeal & Ardor, a relatively new band that mixes black metal with southern blues and gospel, absolutely destroyed the 2nd stage and put on what I think was the best performance of the entire weekend. The crowd was completely enthralled with the band as they sang along to all of the evil lyrics to songs such as “Blood In The River,” “Devil is Fine,” and “Don’t You Dare.” It was nonstop awesomeness for their 30 minute set and the only time the singer spoke to the crowd was to say “We don’t talk a lot. I hope that’s ok.” When you kick as much ass as they do, it absolutely is.
Imagine getting to play the Main Stage of a festival in front of your hometown fans. That’s exactly what Beartooth got to do. And the crowd was loving it as much as they did. Lead singer Caleb Shomo kept urging the crowd; “More crowdsurfing. More mosh pits.” The crowd responded with an onslaught of people getting tossed toward the stage as the band played songs such as “Disease” and “In Between.”
The heaviest band to play the Main Stage so far was up next. Parkway Drive had the crowd raging during the hottest part of the day with the sun beaming down on the stadium floor. That didn’t seem to bother the crowd as they seemed to enjoy the set that consisted mostly of songs from the bands most recent album ‘Reverence.’
I left Parkway Drive’s performance early to head over to the Wave Stage to see Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello play a solo set. This was one of the most interesting sets of the weekend. Morello started out by playing in the crowd during the first song. During the 2nd song, he went on stage and played with a DJ and a video board that displayed various political messages including anti-police messages such as “Be white or get shot.” During all of this, I kept saying to myself “did I really miss Black Label Society for this?” But as soon as I said that, we got what may be the best highlight of the weekend. To honor the 2 year anniversary of Chris Cornell’s death, Morello brought out System of a Down’s Serj Tankian to play a cover of Audioslave’s “Like a Stone.” The performance was incredibly emotional. The performance ended with Morello bringing people up from the crowd on the stage to sing songs from the Rage Against the Machine catalog.
Now it was time for the first of the Main Stage headliners. Halestorm started their set with a drum solo. At first I thought that was odd but it gave the crowd a chance to get over from the side stages and get settled in. Their set contained all of their hits and a selection of songs from their new album ‘Vicious.’ A couple of set highlights included Lzzy bringing up a girl from the crowd and giving her a custom Epiphone Explorer. Very cool moment. Halestorm also dedicated their hit song “Get Off” to their 10 year anniversary of playing Rock On The Range over on the Jager Stage when no one knew who they were.
The headliner for the Echo Stage was none other than extreme metal band Meshuggah. This was my first time seeing the Swedish metallers and I was expecting big things. I had kept hearing that a Meshuggah pit was a religious experience. But I didn’t experience that. The band was good and they played a wide range of songs from their catalog but I didn’t feel they gave the crowd much energy and they stood in spot on stage for most of the set. Others in the crowd seemed to be having a blast as I smelled the most marijuana that I did all weekend. Maybe that’s what I needed to really enjoy the set.
The sun was setting. The cool breeze has started blowing through. It was time for the ritual to begin. Ghost provokes a very decisive reaction from fans: you either love them or you hate them. I fall under the former and I loved their set. All of the best songs from their albums were played including “Absolution,” “Cirice,” “Dance Macabre,” and “Square Hammer.” For the first time ever at this festival (and probably only time), a full on saxophone solo broke out during their instrumental tune “Miasma.” Heavy metal doesn’t have to be heavy to be great. Ghost is the perfect example of that.
As soon as Ghost left the stage, the rains began to pour down. The rains didn’t last long and had stopped by the time System Of A Down hit the stage. It has been 16 years since I’ve seen them live and since they don’t play many shows, I was beyond excited to see them again. As soon as they started playing, I could tell something was out of sync. After 3 songs, Daron Malakian announced to the crowd that they had to reboot the sound system. He led the crowd in a “fuck the system” chant that ended up being a theme of the set. After a 10 minute delay, the band came back out and continued the set. System Of A Down is known for not being that great of a live band and for me personally that was the case here as well. Even after the audio fix, the band just didn’t seem in sync. I’m not sure if it is the fact that they don’t get along very well or the fact that it had been 8 months since they played together, but the performance just wasn’t that great. The crowd still had a great time and we got to hear 27 songs including an even mix from all of their albums. But it was a disappointing end to a great day of live music.