Louder Than Life returned louder than ever this past September 23rd-26th, at the Highland Festival Grounds at KY Expo Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Usually part of the Trifesta, a three-festival month created by Danny Wimmer, this year Louder Than Life was all on its own. Chosen to carry the torch for 2021, Louder Than Life had record setting attendance with over 160,000 over four days of live music.
Upon arrival, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. After parking the vehicle, walking around, you could see the pre-gaming outside the venue, the camaraderie amongst fans, who, for the most part were gathering together for the first time in 18 months. Walking up to the main entrance fans were met by a new security check. Having to prove negative Covid-19 test results or full vaccination was the first hurdle to enter. Once an employee was happy with what was shown, a fancy reflective red wristband was given and attendees were instructed not to remove it at all for the duration of the festival.
From the point on, things were just like I remembered them. The layout of the venue, stage setup, concessions and merchandise areas were all as they were in 2019, with the exception of a monstrous tree having been removed that once held a “bar” to purchase drinks from, and add a bit of shade. Upgrades to the site have ben done over the years while waiting to host another festival, showing fans that DWP is in it for the long haul by investing in the grounds and their well-being.
Thursday, September 23rd
With a late start to the day, music began around 2pm with Blame My Youth on the side stage. Escape The Fate treated fans to an 8-song set that included hits from their newest album “Chemical Warfare”, followed by Sevendust and Jeris Johnson. Wage War and Zero 9:36 pumped the crowd up with new hits, while Anthrax (whose latest release was 5 years ago), just came to thrash out and party with the crowd. Although there were some technical difficulties with Beartooth vocals, nothing could stop lead singer Caleb Shomo from hyping the crowd up and starting one of the heavier mosh pits of the day.
90’s rap group Cypress Hill (which I thought was odd to be on the bill) was really good, and brought back a lot of memories from high school with their hit “Insane In the Brain.” Aaron Lewis took the stage with his group Staind wearing one of his many antigovernment T-shirts, this one had an AR15 on it and said “Hey Beto… Come And Take It” Speaking truthfully though-out the set, he touched on many things he was unhappy about with the current state of the country in between 13 songs spanning their 7 albums. KoRn closed the night out right, by playing a hit list from their catalogue with a 14-song set that included a 4-song encore.
Friday, September 24th
Music started a bit earlier today, with Joyous Wolf taking the side stage and hitting it hard getting the crowd going early. ’68, South Of Eden and The Violent all had good sets, playing to a slowly filling venue. Fan favorites Fever 333 took to one of the main stages shortly before 4pm, and as expected, lead singer Jason Butler became a whirl-wind of chaos from the first note to the last. They are one of my favorite groups out right now, for a lot of reasons, the main being the level of energy they bring to the stage, and how it funnels to the crowd. I haven’t met a person yet, who has seen them for the first time, and doesn’t walk away in sheer amazement of what they witnessed.
Swedish heavy metal band, Avatar followed bringing more big-top circus to the stage with their theatrics. Killswitch Engage brought pandemonium to the fairgrounds with circle pits, mosh pits, and even a wall of death, all within their 40-minute set. French rockers Gojira, and Rise Against kept the crowd moving, before Jane’s Addiction took us back to the past with a collection of their most famous hits. “Just Because,” “Janes Says,” and “Mountain Song” were just a few placed in their short set, priming the crowd for Metallica.
At 9:15pm the lights went out, and Metallica took the stage. With the 30th anniversary of the Black Album being this year hopes were high for this weekend’s performances. For over 2 hours, Metallica played a medley of hits covering their entire career… with the exception of a single song off the Black Album. Leaving fans to wonder what was in store for Sunday’s final performance.
Saturday, September 25th
Today saw music starting shortly after 1pm, with a lot of up-and-coming artists playing the multiple stage. The Messenger Birds, Siiickbrain, and Bones UK were woven throughout the timetable with Diamante, and RED. Hearing amazing things about Spiritbox, I was amazed to see lead singer Courtney LaPlante sing everything from melodies to deep metal growls throughout their short half hour set.
Ice Nine Kills brought the horror to Louisville, with a fully immersive set that had a show on the surrounding screens, as well as a bludgeoning on stage of a girl during “Hip To Be Scared.” For anyone who loves horror movies, and metal, Ice Nine Kills is a perfect match with both their latest albums having songs built around the entire genre.
Butcher Babies and Atreyu took the stage at the same time, giving me a bit of a hike to see both during their set times. Heidi and Carla of Butcher babies commanded the crowd, while Brandon Saller and Atreyu had the crowd singing, surfing and moshing. Asking Alexandria took to the stage and were plagued by issues with their mics. Lead singer Danny Worsnop made light of the situation cracking jokes in between songs and swapping mic after mic that was handed to him. Most of their set the crowd could be heard pulling lead singer duties with Danny chiming in whenever the mic would work. Immediately after, Ronnie Radke and Falling In Reverse came out swinging. Not wasting a moment, Ronnie hyped the crowd up, had a waterfall of crowd surfers keeping gate security on their toes, and instructed fans to open up the pits and mosh harder.
Suicidal Tendencies closed the side stage today with a monstrous crowd, almost begging the question as to why they were not on a main stage. Volbeat kept it going with a 12-song setlist playing fan favorites like “Lola Montez,” “Sad Man’s Tongue” and even a Metallica cover song “Don’t Tread On Me.” Machine Gun Kelly limped through his set greeted by nothing but constant booing between and during songs. Fans screamed obscenities, threw things, and one even jumped the barricade and tried to swing on him. All this due to his cheap shot at Slipknot, over wearing masks as 50+ year-old-men.
Disturbed closed the night out with no pyro, theatrics of gimmicks. Just a drum set, guitar amps and pure rock and roll. Lead singer David Draiman played to the crowd moments before starting “Down With The Sickness” by poking fun at Machine Gun Kelly. Stating “You know what they say about us 50-year-old guys who wear masks… we’ll kick your ass!!!” All this while holding the signature mask from the video. As the crowd broke into a thunderous roar, Disturbed laid into the song.
Sunday, September 26th
With today being the last day, rumors were flying and hopes were high amongst fans about Metallica’s final setlist. Ayron Jones, Fozzy and Dead Poet Society open the stages one after the other as fans started to trickle in. Four full days of rock and roll seems like a great idea until you add the midnight parties and lack of sleep. Today the long days and short nights were catching up with people and it was a slow start for most. Badflower took main stage at half past 2 and had the crowd engaged in one humungous sing along.
The Hu, put on an amazing show, with Mongolian throat singing mixed in amongst their songs. Skillet was great as usual, with lead singer John Cooper talking between songs, and getting the crowd hyped up for the rest of the day. Pennywise brought us all back to our punk rock days with an 11-song set that included covers and guest appearances. Breaking Benjamin, (who stepped up at the last minute for a band cancellation) rocked hard, over 15 songs with almost no filler talk between songs like usual. Judas Priest was direct support for Metallica tonight with Rob Halford showing fans that he still has what it takes to hit notes he created more than 30 years ago. During the set, it was reported that lead guitarist Richie Faulkner suffered an Aortic Aneurysm while on stage and was rushed to a near by hospital for open heart surgery directly following their set.
Metallica took the stage for the second time just after 8 pm and hit it hard with “Hardwired,” “The Four Horsemen,” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” before the stage went dark and a video interlude started. With excerpts from everything Black Album related, fans were treated to clips from recording and touring footage to news clips before James, Lars, Robert and Kirk walked backed out and laid into the Black Album in its entirety. Backwards!! Ending with “Enter Sandman” a two-song encore of “Blackened” and “Creeping Death” followed closing out four full days of pure Rock and Metal.
For most, Louder Than Life was a return to normal. A meeting of friends 2 years in the making, a fulfilled promise by Danny Wimmer Presents to deliver double Metallica to the masses. And deliver they did!!! Walking out of the venue people were talking about everything that transpired throughout the weekend with poise and excitement. With next years dates already announced many spoke of putting tickets on layaway, and booking hotel rooms. Next years event has been announced for September 22nd-25th, and tickets and camping passes are already available at the official website www.louderthanlifefestival.com