Last weekend marked the twelfth Rock on the Range festival at Mapfre Stadium, one of Columbus’ biggest annual events and the largest gathering of drunk people wearing black or no t-shirts in the entire midwest. 1870 Mag was on the scene to soak in the action and get a couple dozen blisters so you didn’t have to.
Friday opened with a bang, with ripping sets from Mutoid Man, The Bronx, The Fever 333, and Senses Fail all before 2pm. While they’re not really a metal band, one of the hottest young acts on the planet, Greta Van Fleet, lived up to the hype with a groove-heavy main stage set that recalled rock’s 70s heyday.
Machine Gun Kelly followed them with an equally impressive, if entirely different set of charismatic rap-rock intensity. Meanwhile, Power Trip crushed out a thrashing onslaught of sound on the smallest stage, hopefully earning them a more high-profile set in years to come. Body Count, the long-running gangster metal project fronted by Ice-T closed out that stage with one of the weekend’s best sets, proving they’re far from a novelty.
Following Breaking Benjamin’s ostentatious stint on the main stage, A Perfect Circle took the stadium on it’s most abstract, yet impeccable ride of the festival. While the band’s diverse new album is quite a compelling piece of art, in a live setting the tracks failed to capture the attention of a crowd more accustomed to easily digestible radio rock. Luckily 90s alt-rock titans Alice in Chains were able to reel everyone back in with set filled with monster hits tailor made for the ROTR demographic.
Saturday’s was plagued with weather issues from the start, as doors were postponed by almost two hours, shortening sets and wiping a few artists from the lineup completely. Detroit’s Wilson kept the energy up with a vigorous set of beefy hardcore rock, while Black Veil Brides seemed to phone in their main stage performance entirely as clouds formed overhead. Immediately after their set, sirens announced a full stadium evacuation due to lightning in the area. It would be four hours before any of them were allowed back in.
When gates finally did reopen, fans were more than ready to let off some pent-up aggression, with help from explosive performances by rapper Tech N9ne and party god Andrew WK, both cramming as much badassitude as possible into their truncated sets.
Saturday headliners Avenged Sevenfold took the stage almost two hours after their scheduled set time, but did so ready to attack. Opening with a ripping rendition of the title track from their latest album, The Stage, A7X weaved through an hour-long set that included major hits and a few oddballs despite the shortened stage time and festival setting. Singer M. Shadows even tossed a classy shout out to ROTR mastermind Danny Wimmer for keeping the crowd safe even when it’s an unpopular decision. Clearly the masses were onboard anyway, as the rafters were filled even hours after the sound curfew should technically have shut down the fun.
Sunday kicked off with Pray For Sleep, a local band of high schoolers who not only beat dozens of other acts to earn their spot, but skipped their same-day graduation in order to play. Good choice, fellas. A bevy of other rising acts also turned in top-notch performances including Them Evils, Joyous Wolf, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, and Toothgrinder, all of whom you can expect to see big things from in the future.
The middle ‘Zippo Encore’ stage then hosted a back-to-back-to-back powerhouse lineup starting with Code Orange, by far the most legitimately dangerous band of the entire weekend or at least the best at playing it up. Witnessing these hardcore prodigies decimate every stage they’ve ever touched is a dream that will leave you with nightmares for weeks. Following them were pummeling vets Baroness, whose thunderous anthems seemed to resonate for miles. But even they were outshined by Japan’s kawai metal superstars Babymetal, who had the most rabid fanbase of any act at the Range. They may come off as living cartoons, but their blisteringly fast pop-metal is anything but kid stuff. Just ask any of the hundreds of crowd surfers or the folks leaving the mosh pit with open face wounds and ear-to-ear grins.
Boston’s Godsmack have been churning out blue-collar hard rock for almost a quarter of a century, but judging from their main stage set as the second to last band at the festival, it seems like they’re having as much fun as the day they started. From singer Sully Erna encouraging the capacity crowd to get on their feet, to phenom drummer Shannon Larkin shredding fills like a kid on too much Adderall, you really could smell the teen spirit and I mean that in the fondest way possible.
As darkness fell across the stadium and the final headliner’s imminent appearance crept closer to reality, 45,000 people buzzed across every free centimeter of space in Mapfre. Tool had not hit Columbus in twelve years and their rare live appearances have become the stuff of legend, and when the quartet emerged from the wings, the rest of the world disappeared.
Tool was every bit as ephemeral, enigmatic, epileptic and apocalyptic as anyone could have hoped for, absolute masters of their craft and in every way worthy of headlining an event of this magnitude. The mind-melting visuals were a show of their own, and I didn’t even sneak in any acid like the person standing, and later laying, next to me definitely did. Somehow these four mortal humans created a thunder more powerful than anything the heavens tried to conjure up to try to stop the festivities this weekend. God is dead, Tool lives on.
Total number of artists: 58
Bands representing Ohio: 5
(Miss May I, From Moths to Flames, Hawthorne Heights, Machine Gun Kelly, My Ticket Home, Pray For Sleep)
Most t-shirts by a non-ROTR band: Ghost, Five Finger Death Punch
Total steps I took: 41,609 (15.4 miles covered)
Best cocktail: Bee’s Knees (Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and lemonade)
Old hipsters in bucket hats: 1
Grossest things I saw: the guy standing at a urinal upchucking onto his own dick.