Discovery Park, Sacramento, CA
September 15, 2013
By Dan Wall
Photos By Brad "Phil Collins" Neville
With all of the great rock festivals held here and abroad, it would be foolish to say that last weekend’s Aftershock 2013 show in Sacramento was the best. But it certainly stands tall right beside this country’s Moondance Jam, RockFest, Rocklahoma and Rock on the Range, or any of the legendary rock festivals held in Europe during the summer.
Last year, seven bands played at a one-day festival here in Nor Cal to test the proverbial waters. This year, the weekend-long event featured over 35 bands that included modern rock superstars Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, Shinedown and Volbeat, along with veterans like Megadeth, H.I.M. and many others.
This show marked the first time that a huge two-day festival featuring mostly modern rock acts sold the kind of tickets that this one did in Northern California. Over 32,000 fans jammed the lovely Discovery Park near downtown Sacramento on a picture–perfect weekend that represents why California residents put up with all of the other bullshit to live here. The weather was ordered from God above, (even though He probably wouldn’t have been happy with most of the lyrical content heard,) and nearly everything else about this festival went off without a hitch as well..
The list of what went right is long, but it starts with the bucolic festival site, located about two miles from downtown. The tree-lined space was perfect for the two main stage set-up, and another stage located a hundred yards away, barely out of ear-shot, just below Highway 5 (great exit access.) These three stages featured some of the best young bands in the business. The main stages, set-up side-by-side, allowed for quick set changes and provided the best marquis performances. The security was professional and treated everyone with respect. Water and soda were $3 a pop, beer was priced reasonable from $6-9 (If that’s reasonable… but see the menu at a sporting event lately?) and plenty of gourmet food trucks dotted the landscape. Artists greeted fans and signed in the various tents, there was plenty of merch offered along the perimeter, and you could snag a few free guitar picks and play a demo guitar in the Epiphone and ESP booths. The V.I.P. area was located on an elevated slope near the stages, which provided plenty of shade, numerous food and drink stands, picnic tables and a myriad of high-def TV’s piping in images from the stage for those who might need to rest after two days in the 80 degree heat.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the show on Saturday, which featured Korn, Shinedown, Megadeth, Papa Roach, Skillet, Buckcherry, Testament, In This Moment, Steel Panther, P.O.D., Otherwise and many others. Sunday was the day for modern metal, with the genre’s two biggest acts, Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch, both putting on tremendous performances.
One thing this show allowed was the big bands to bring their full production, and Avenged Sevenfold’s Sunday night performance rivaled the best of Iron Maiden, Metallica and KISS. A7X, as the kiddies like to call them, has turned into one of my favorite bands, and the quintet’s new album, Hail to the King, is my favorite album of the year so far. The group’s 13-song, 80-minute set was chock full of fire, bombs, smoke and enough guitar solos to keep the true metal heads in the crowd happy. A huge “skeleton king” armed with a sword that is featured on the band’s new, hot-selling t-shirt, was prominent behind the well-decorated stage.
The band played four from the new album (the title track, “Shepherd of Fire,” “This Means War” and “Requiem”), as well as a selection of its best songs, including “Critical Acclaim,” “Welcome to the Family,” “Nightmare,” “Buried Alive,” “Afterlife” and “Bat Country.” Lead vocalist M. Shadows had us all worried towards the end of the band’s last tour when his voice gave out, but he seems fully recovered, soaring sonically over the twin lead guitar magic of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, both slinging custom signature Schecter axes. Bassist Johnny Christ and drummer Arin Ilejay kept the whole thing together, and the band turned in one of the best live performances I’ve seen this year. It took me a while to get this band’s tasty mix of modern rock, classic metal and some power metal overtones, but since seeing the group’s Nightmare tour a couple of years ago, I have become one of A7X’s biggest fans.
If you don’t like Five Finger Death Punch, that’s okay, but don’t get anywhere near lead vocalist Ivan Moody to tell him. He’ll probably kick your ass. This is one lean, mean outfit, featuring Moody, guitarists Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook, bassist Chris Kael and super drummer Jeremy Spencer. Bathory sported his Ferrari Red signature Dean guitar, Hook thrashed his white and black striped Gibson Explorer, while Spencer pounded his LED lighted DDrums. The band mixes the hard edge of Pantera with modern rock overtones and the interesting two-voice technique employed by Moody. He often sings like he’s trying to spit out one of his lungs, but he can come out of that with a lovely, melodic falsetto that carries the choruses. Hook is a revelation on lead guitar, and the band’s best songs (“Under and Over It,” “Bad Company,” “Lift Me Up” and “The Bleeding) all feature Moody’s incredible vocals and the band’s guitar interplay. And Spencer is one of the best drummers in the business.
It would be a crime not to mention one of the festivals “what is our world coming to” moments, when Moody led a procession of tots and their parents onstage to sing the soon-to-be classic (and in some areas, soon to be banned classic) “Burn MF” (the MF stands for mother fucker). Nothing like a six-year shouting out “burn mother fucker burn mother fucker burn” while bouncing on dad’s shoulders. All of these kids got a lollypop and a signed picture from Satan (just kidding, maybe).
Before I carry on with the individual band reviews, I must mention bands like A Day to Remember, All That Remains, and Asking Alexandria. All feature seemingly nice young men who play accomplished heavy metal/thrash music that at times can be pretty much indistinguishable from the group that proceeded or followed them. It’s not to say that those bands are particularly bad, but they are similar in their approach, and it can be a challenge determining just exactly who it is up there playing the songs.
That same problem would not befall Volbeat, a band I knew little about before seeing them here. Suffice it to say, I was impressed, because I’ve spent the last week getting all of the band’s albums and listening to them at a volume that has forced the wife on a trip to Reno this weekend (on the way, I asked if she could pick up one of the band’s import live albums at a little shop near Roseville. She said no).
Volbeat is from Denmark, the home of Lars Ulrich, Mercyful Fate, and many hot blonde girls. The group plays a fusion of rock, metal and a touch of rockabilly thrown in for good measure (this does not really affect the band’s twin-guitar attack, however). The group lists Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and King Diamond as influences, so your guess is as good as mine as to what we should really call this sort of music. But it is heavy, melodic, different and catchy as hell, and I found the band to be a refreshing revelation on this day.
Guitarist/vocalist Michael Poulson is a skinny guy loaded with tats, wielding a black SG, and a voice to kill for. He doesn’t really sound like anyone else, which is the same that could be said about his band. Joining Poulson on guitar is New Yorker Rob Caggiano, who used to play with my buddy John Bush in Anthrax. Rob laid down the lead with his purple ESP custom ax. Bassist Anders Kjolholm and drummer Jon Larsen are as solid as they come, and it’s no surprise these guys are headlining their own American tour to support “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies,” an album you should go out and buy as soon as you finish this review (along with the new Avenged and 5FDP records as well).
Songs such as “Hallelujah Goat,” “The Warrior’s Call,” “The Mirror and the Ripper” and “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza” roared by like a group of galloping horsemen, and teen girls who weren’t born when these guys were playing Metallica covers in the garage responded like Katy Perry was up there singing “Firework.” A total triumph and another great set at Aftershock 2013.
I just saw Halestorm at the Moondance Jam ( a review which can be found on the Saturday review of the festival on this site), and I’ve seen the band three times on this tour, so I am happy to report that from what I saw, the band is still ripping up onstage. Unfortunately, the group played at the same time as Pop Evil, and since I have seen them a number of times, I chose to spend some of the band’s set elsewhere. Lzzy Hale still looks amazing, rocking a white Gibson Explorer, black bra, fishnets and high heels… the guys rocked it hard as well: Joe on the custom Tele, Josh on the P-Bass, and Arejay on the Ludwig sparkle kit. Just about all of the band’s singles made it into the set, from what I heard. But I’m ready for these guys to get back in the studio and record album number three. (If you like Halestorm, seek out my other reviews of the band on this site, because nothing has changed about the stage show, and I loved those other performances).
Speaking of Pop Evil, the group has grown into a seriously rocking unit since I last saw them onstage. The group certainly has settled into its new songs, from the splendid “Onyx” record, including the number one single “Trenches.” I had a chance to visit with the band’s bassist Matt Dirito, who was extremely gracious with his time, despite the fact that the band had just flown in from Shreveport, Louisiana to play FIVE songs. You read it right, FIVE songs. But Dirito was grateful for the slot. “We haven’t played out here much,” the lanky bassist said. “But if this festival proves anything, it’s that rock is not dead. Especially on the West Coast.” Well put, and I think that this band, which owes plenty to Shinedown, Three Doors Down and a touch of Sevendust, is well on its way to stardom. Matt even has a Facebook page dedicated to his hair. Leigh Kakaty on vocals, Nick Fuelling on the black Les Paul studio, and Dave Grahs tore it up on the PRS single cut.
H.I.M. (His Infernal Majesty to those of you who missed church on Sunday) is one of my favorite groups but it’s a bit rough seeing these guys play in daylight. Singer Ville Valo likens himself to a vampire, so I was bit surprised he survived the 50-minute set (he must of got ahold of some of Bill’s blood from “True Blood”).
If you have seen or read about the band, you know that there would be no H.I.M. without Valo, and he plays up his rock star weirdness like no other singer I’ve seen. He has more tattoos than the guy on Prison Break. He smokes more than an overworked chimney during an Edmonton winter. And he’s so thin, I’m convinced his next Big Mac will be his first. His lifespan expired about four weeks ago, but he’s still here, the band’s spiritual leader, main songwriter and resident sex symbol (even though he does nothing to play up that image onstage).
Onstage and on record, Valo starts most songs in a deep baritone that often soars into a memorable melody, while Mikko Lindström and the band build a Gibson SG guitar-heavy/keyboard-filled base around his lyrics, a pattern that H.I.M. uses for most of its compositions. The band chose to rock hard during this set, which featured a number of songs from its new and very heavy record “Tears on Tape,” as well “Soul on Fire,” “Buried Alive By Love” and “Rip Out the Wings Of a Butterfly.”
It must be mentioned that Soil played the side stage, and I can’t figure out if Soil is a better band than Drowning Pool. All I can tell you is that both are better with Ryan McCombs as its vocalist, and since the man with the mighty roar just returned to Soil (a group he fronted for five years before joining Drowning Pool in 2005), he has helped Soil’s profile just as much as he did DP’s when he was in that group (the last record he did with Drowning Pool is one of the best modern rock records of all-time). Looking like they had just flown in from Tokyo or points unknown, the band ripped up five songs including its hit, “Halo.”
For long-time followers of this site and classic rock, please know that this review is provided for two reasons-one, I think a lot of these bands have roots in classic rock and deserve to be heard. I don’t know if I could exist as a music fan without new music to keep my head in the game, and finding bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat have done just that. Second, a festival put together this well needs to be reported on, regardless of whether you like new bands or are still clutching a copy of the Black Album. I plan on following these bands and others and making you aware of good modern music that pays homage to the greats of the past, hopefully for years to come.
Thanks to all for making Aftershock 2013 one of the highlights of my summer. Can’t wait to do it all over again next year-and I will be there for both days next time, you can bet on that.