With one day down, it was Friday’s time to shine. Quite literally, too, as the weather called for nothing but sunshine and warm weather. With more people finishing their work weeks, the festival grounds were sure to be packed out early, with fans eager to let loose for the day leading into their weekend. With Mudvayne set to headline a day with many heavy hitters, Friday was looking to be unforgettable, with a few tough decisions to be made throughout the day.
As we drove in, one thing was very clear. The festival hadn’t quite figured out the bus coverage yet as hundreds of fans lined the parking lot miles from the festival, waiting for their chance to ride to the entrance area. The day was also sadly marred by the cancellation of the much-anticipated Electric Callboy. The band had been set to return to the United States after a nine-year hiatus after the success of their newest album, TEKKNO, set to be on full display. Unfortunately, with vocalist Nico Sallach out with an ear infection that has gone on to force the cancellation of their entire United States tour, among other dates, the band was forced to pull out shortly before the festival got
While the day prior had us rushing to the main stages upon our arrival, it was the smallest stage of the festival, the Heart Support stage, that had our interest today as Dying Oath was ready to go at 12:10 PM. Local to the Virginia area, the group’s rise in the festival’s “Rising Artist” polls made them a must-see band for us. The melodic death metal band utilizes the screams of Mindy Jackson, working in perfect harmony with the cleaner vocals of Nestor Idler. The two work well off one another, creating one of the more interesting dynamics we witnessed live. It wouldn’t surprise us to see the band work their way onto bigger, better stages should they be interested in returning to Blue Ridge.
From there, we made our way down the reviled hill for the first time of the day to see what Orbit Culture had to offer. While the Swedish melodic death metal band has made waves in their home country, they are just now getting ready to take off here in the United States. The band is primed to break out after the blistering performance they delivered at Blue Ridge that had heads banging with “Saw,” a track worthy of a checkout if you’re even the slightest bit interested in the band.
We decided to check out something a bit different next with one of iHeartRadio’s nominations for Best New Rock Artist, Zero 9:36. The lead singer, Zero, came out delivering a Machine Gun Kelly-eque rap to kick off “II X Two.” The Pennsylvania native was soon joined by the rest of the band, adding another layer to the performance. The rapid-fire delivery, coupled with the full band, gave the main stage’s festival grounds a unique set that culminated with the appropriately titled “Adrenaline.”
We then battled our way down the hill again, heading back to the URW stage for back-to-back sets we knew would have our heads banging. First off was the Deathcore band from New Jersey, Fit For An Autopsy. Lead vocalist Joe Badolato announced their newest album, Oh What the Future Holds, and banged out five songs off the album, followed by four songs from The Great Collapse and The Sea of Tragic Beasts.
Fit For An Autopsy
The iconic horned masks of Deathcore outfit Slaughter to Prevail could be seen on fans throughout the festival grounds all day. The festival marked the band’s first US show since before the pandemic. After Fit For An Autopsy, the URW stage readied for the band’s arrival. To the sound of fans chanting “Slaughter!”, the Russian natives burst onto the stage with lead singer Aleksandr Shikolai, better known to fans as Alex Terrible, causing an uprising among the crowd seemingly by his mere presence. Hands down, the most crowd surfers we witnessed all day were coupled with a storm of dust that seemingly came from nowhere, as it hadn’t been a problem up to that point. Security certainly had their work cut out for them. The chaos was absolutely infectious, however, and created one of the most memorable experiences of the day.
Slaughter to Prevail
Another trip up the hill brought us to the Zyn stage as the emo-rock band Badflower was ready to perform. Not part of the original bill, the group got the nod after a string of cancellations, including Machinehead and Ukraine’s Jinjer, forced the festival to poll fans again on some replacements. Festival stalwarts at this point, Badflower never feels out of place on the main stage and were a welcome addition to the lineup. Their raw sound is undeniably catchy, with lyrics sure to resonate with fans. The band spent their time rocking out on stage, closing out the day with the newer top-five hit “30.”
As Badflower finished up their set, we made the trek down to the URW stage, where All That Remains began their sound check. About ten minutes later, the band enters the stage. This being the 15th anniversary of The Fall of Idols, the album was played in its entirety, but with a twist, it was performed in reverse order. Halfway through the set, Vocalist Phillip Labonte asked the crowd, “Do you remember a game called Guitar Hero?” Everyone hollered and cheered as the metalcore outfit played their top track, “Six.” Time to take things down a notch, Labonte states, “This next one is the closest song we have to a ballad,” before performing “The Weak Willed.” This was harmonious since the heavy track consisted of death metal growls and a double bass drum going a mile a minute.
All That Remains
With the worst of the heat over and evening setting in, Underoath’s time had come on the Monster Energy Stage. For fans hoping for more, Underoath also performed an acoustic stage for VIP attendees. The Metalcore group out of Tampa, Florida, returned to Blue Ridge Rock Festival after taking part in the festival a year prior and was tapped to perform in 2020 before the festival’s eventual cancellation due to Covid. The band showed no slowdown and did not let fans catch their breath during a ten-song setlist that ultimately culminated with “Writing on the Walls.” Time will tell if 2023 brings the group back for another round, but there is zero doubt that if the fans truly do drive the experience, they’ll be back and even better.
As day turned to dusk, the Zyn stage welcomed Halestorm to the stage. The Pennsylvania natives, led by Lzzy Hale, are always sure to leave their mark on any festival they’re part of. The Hard Rockers came to the stage ready to have some fun, kicking right into “Back From The Dead.” One song later, during “Love Bites (So Do I),” Hale and guitarist Joe Hottinger came right to the edge of the stage to jam out while Arejay Hale kept the beat going to perfection on the drums. He’d get his own chance to shine later in the set with an extended drum solo that’s become a staple for Halestorm’s live shows. An extended version of “The Steeple” put the finishing touches on an eleven-song set. Day in and day out, this band is becoming more and more of a can’t-miss act, with Lzzy Hale becoming an inspiration for the next generation of female rockers, and really rockers in general.
One of the most anticipated acts of the night, Gojira, was up next on the Monster Energy Stage. The French Technical Death Metal band is always guaranteed to draw a huge crowd, and tonight would be no different. With last year’s release of Fortitude becoming their most successful US album to date, Gojira is continuing to show no slowing down in their game. A 175-second countdown airing on the giant trons built up anticipation over nearly three minutes, with fans really getting into it once the numbers hit their final ten. Deep blues and reds painted the stage for a fantastic performance. Catching fans off guard, the lights would turn up after their sixth song, “Grind.” Thanks to the giant screens, it soon became apparent that a fan had been injured in the crowd. This was the first of what would sadly be a handful of times that we’d witness this happen over the weekend. We’d also find out later that one had occurred during Halestorm’s set. Luckily, the break was not too long, giving fans hope that the injured party would be okay. Three songs later, with fans back into their groove, Gojira closed out with “Amazonia.”
One of the hardest decisions we had to make over the four days was between A Day To Remember on the Zyn stage and Alice Cooper on the URW Stage. ICP on the Fan Support stage was also part of what was a stacked timeslot. Fans were just as much scratching their heads over where to be as we were. We eventually settled on checking out A Day To Remember, as we had both seen Alice Cooper perform in the past. As it turned out, the set would be memorable for good and bad reasons. The Ocala, Florida Metalcore band came out to a screaming crowd and immediately started showing off a diverse setlist that was equal parts alternative and heavy at different points. Eight songs into the set during “Mr. Highway’s Thinking About The End,” however, the show came to another stop as there had been another incident in the mosh pit. This was the most prolonged stoppage by far during the weekend. Still, credit goes to both the bands and the festival for realizing an issue and immediately stopping the show to ensure the injured fan could be easily accessed and tended to.
Once the situation had been dealt with, the band rejoined the stage and gave their appreciation to the security and responders. Curiously, one song later, lead singer Jeremy McKinnon would tempt fate a little by explaining to fans the art of surfing on a crowdsurfer, where one person surfs standing on another crowdsurfer. He’d go on to remind fans it was dangerous, and he doesn’t recommend it, but it was clear he was poking the bear and hoping to see it go down. His wish was quickly fulfilled as the band as the band kicked into “Mindreader.” Another injury would stop the set later in the performance, with McKinnon breaking the tension with an acoustic jam. Trying not to let the injuries put a damper on their set, the band built up to and finished with “The Plot To Bomb the Pandhandle” with a blast of confetti showering cheering fans.
A Day To Remember
Closing out the night on the Monster Energy Stage was none other than Nu-Metal’s Mudvayne. There was a time not too long ago when a Mudvayne reunion seemed completely unthinkable after the band broke up back in 2010. While the band always noted that there was no bad blood between members, Chad Grey’s focus on the then-new project Hellyeah had become his entire focus. Flash forward to 2021, when fans got the news of the band’s coming back together. While Covid would slightly delay some of the initially planned festival stops, the band started getting the ball rolling. It was clear that absence really does make the heart grow fonder as fans in Virginia packed out the main festival area for the band’s closing of Friday’s festivities. From the opening chords of the classic “Dig” through to the closing “Happy,” fans were giving it all they had, creating an environment that perhaps even Grey couldn’t fathom years ago.
And as the band closed out their performance, another day was in the books. Looking at all the amazing bands, we have been able to witness so far. It was hard to believe the festival was only halfway over. Looking at the weather forecast, we knew the next day would bring in a new set of concerns as we readied ourselves for a storm. The first few days were beautifully sunny, but how would fans, bands, and the festival respond to what looked to be a day full of torrential downpours and maybe even some lightning?
Our walk back to the lot revealed that the bus issue persisted throughout the day. While fans the night before seemed to at least be in decent spirits about it, the same was certainly not true a day after being promised the problem would be ramified. Still, there’s no denying that the fans were certainly treated to a hell of a show while inside. This was a day to be remembered, no pun intended, and it left us in a great mood leading into what we didn’t know would be a grueling rainy Saturday at the time.
Written and Photographed by the Metal Insider duo Andrew Fiero and Sara Elizabeth. ICYMI: Check out the recap from Day 1 here.