Review by Greg Maki
I don’t know how, but each year, Rock on the Range, the best music festival I’ve ever attended, gets better. The lineup largely features acts from the same pool of bands playing all the festivals throughout the “World’s Loudest Month,” but the atmosphere here is different. Everyone knows this is the big one, and if you want to make a splash, this is the place to do it, whether you’re a headliner, a new face that’s won a battle of the bands to get here or a new band of familiar faces making its world premiere.
With all three days of the sold-out festival featuring varied, something-for-everyone bills, Rock on the Range doesn’t try to be trendy or cool—which makes it incredibly cool to me. It’s the kind of festival where one night you can see a band that’s been at it for 40 years and played a large role in shaping what metal is today, and the next day you can take in a performance by the biggest-selling independent rapper in the United States. You can see acts as local as hailing from the host city, Columbus, Ohio, and from countries around the world, including England, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan and Denmark.
For three days, Mapfre Stadium (formerly Crew Stadium) is heaven—or should that be hell?—for hard rock and metal fans. Here’s how I spent what undoubtedly will be my best weekend of 2015.
Friday, May 15
11:45 a.m., Ernie Ball Stage — SHAMAN’S HARVEST
A band I first heard in 2010 at Rock on the Range and hadn’t heard since until last year, when Octane started playing its single “Dangerous,” kicks off the weekend. Frontman Nathan Hunt is hairier than I remember, and the band is heavier and tighter. They play a song called “Country as Fuck,” but this is pure hard rock.
12:30 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — HIGHLY SUSPECT
I also saw this trio the previous Monday at a strange venue in Annapolis, Maryland, opening for Scott Weiland, and the festival setting suits it much better than a room in which the entire audience sat at tables.
1:05 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — WE ARE HARLOT
A year ago this weekend, We are Harlot played its first-ever live show here at Rock on the Range. I didn’t see that performance, but I did catch the band two weeks earlier at Carolina Rebellion. They seem a bit more energetic here today, even amid technical difficulties, and frontman Danny Worsnop looks a lot happier with this band’s melodic hard rock than he ever did in the metalcore act Asking Alexandria.
1:40 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — DOROTHY
The first of several female-fronted acts that will perform throughout the weekend delivers a fun set of bluesy hard rock. I’m eager to see/hear more.
2:15 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — APOCALYPTICA
The Finnish band now has a permanent singer in Franky Perez, but with instrumentals forming about half the set, cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lotjonen and Perttu Kivilaakso remain the stars. “I Don’t Care” (originally featuring former Three Days Grace vocalist Adam Gontier) is the first legitimate hit song the crowd has heard so far today.
2:55 p.m., Jagermeister Stage – DANGERKIDS
The almost-local Dangerkids (from Dayton, Ohio) play a high-energy set, and the crowd at the Jager stage, which has grown considerably throughout the early afternoon, responds in kind.
3:30 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — LIVE
I had no idea Live was still an active band until the ROTR lineup was announced late last year. Since then, I’ve learned Chris Shinn has been handling lead vocals and rhythm guitar in place of Ed Kowalczyk since 2012. Crowd response is lukewarm initially, but that quickly turns to approval when song number two is “I Alone” and it’s followed by “All Over You.”
4:15 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — BEARTOOTH
Hailing from right here in Columbus, Ohio, a massive audience gives Beartooth a hero’s welcome. I’m not so much taking in how the band actually sounds as I am the incredible level of excitement in the air that you can almost reach out and touch. It feels like a special moment for both the band and its fans.
4:50 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — BREAKING BENJAMIN
Just as at Carolina Rebellion, the crowd goes nuts for Breaking Benjamin, now featuring frontman Benjamin Burnley and a reconstituted lineup he put together in 2014. They pull everyone in instantly by opening with the hit “So Cold,” and “Polyamorous” and “The Diary of Jane” go over just as well. I enjoy a medley of covers—“The Imperial March” from Star Wars,” “Schism” by Tool, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and “Walk” by Pantera.
5:40 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — HATEBREED
After learning at last year’s Roast on the Range that Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta has only one thumb, I can’t help staring at his hand. The band pummels as usual, but I’m distracted—and hungry, so I find myself an overpriced and unsatisfying cheeseburger.
6:15 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — SLASH FEATURING MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS
I’m not one of the lucky photographers approved to shoot Slash’s set, but I enjoy watching it anyway. How often do you get to see a bonafide legend who’s still relevant today three times in less than two weeks? (I also saw—and photographed—Slash at Carolina Rebellion and two days earlier in Baltimore.) Four of the 10 songs are Guns N’ Roses favorites, and one is from Velvet Revolver, and the new songs stand up well, too. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City” bring the house down as always.
Set list: “You’re a Lie,” “Nightrain,” “Back from Cali,” “You Could Be Mine,” “Bent to Fly,” “World on Fire,” “Anastasia,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Slither,” “Paradise City”
7:15 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — FALLING IN REVERSE
I haven’t followed Falling in Reverse since seeing the band in 2012 at Rock on the Range, and it’s gotten significantly better—and bigger—in the past three years. The group brings a main-stage level of production to the Ernie Ball stage, and frontman Ronnie Radke owns it.
8 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — MARILYN MANSON
Marilyn Manson, accompanied by longtime cohort Twiggy Ramirez on bass, Gil Sharone (formerly of The Dillinger Escape Plan) on drums and Paul Wiley on guitar, takes the stage in daylight, though he does his best to block out the sun with fog machines. This year’s album, “The Pale Emperor,” is his best work in 15 years, so it’s disappointing that opener “Deep Six” is the only song in the set list from it. It’s essentially a greatest-hits set, which should be expected at a festival, and the theatrics consist mostly of Manson smearing lipstick on his face and changing his jacket. He also cuts his hand with a broken bottle and further decorates himself with blood. The band sounds good; Manson is inconsistent in his vocal delivery, but that’s always been the case. He leaves the stage a couple times to get closer to the fans up front, something I don’t remember seeing him do in the past.
Set list: “Deep Six,” “Disposable Teens,” “No Reflection,” “mOBSCENE,” “Lunchbox,” “The Dope Show,” “Rock is Dead,” “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Personal Jesus,” “The Beautiful People,” “Irresponsible Hate Anthem”
9:30 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — SLIPKNOT
The crowd is huge, filling the stadium, for the day one headliner. The giant devil head that has loomed behind all the other main-stage acts today finally has its rightful place on the Slipknot stage, which is home to the biggest show in metal today. With eight musicians, platforms that rise, fall and spin, and gouts of flame shooting up throughout, it easily could devolve into chaos at any time. At the heart of it all, frontman Corey Taylor draws everything together. His performance is so dynamic, and the band’s growing catalog of songs has become so strong that they are never are overwhelmed by the spectacle. This is what a headliner looks like. The bar for the weekend has been set.
Saturday, May 16
11:50 a.m., Ernie Ball Stage — SCREAMING FOR SILENCE
The winner of the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands, Screaming for Silence from Omaha, Nebraska, opens day two with dark skies overhead. The band also is due $15,000 in new gear as a result of its big win.
12:35 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — LIKE A STORM
It’s fitting that the Auckland, New Zealand, quartet is on now, since the rain comes in hard and fast, sending much of the crowd running for cover, only to stop after a few minutes. The band endures, however, giving those who stick it out the weekend’s first and only didgeridoo solo.
1:10 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — SAINT ASONIA
I’ve never seen a crowd so big this early in the day, but that’s because this is the world premiere of Saint Asonia, the new band featuring former Three Day sGrace vocalist Adam Gontier, Staind guitarist Mike Mushok, former Finger Eleven drummer Richie Beddoe and bassist Corey Lowery, veteran of many acts, including Stuck Mojo, Dark New Day and Eye Empire. The band takes the stage, and I immediately notice how much better and healthier Gontier looks (he had become thin and haggard by the end of his Three Days Grace tenure). Unsurprisingly, the music sounds like a cross between Staind and Three Days Grace, and in addition to original material from a forthcoming album, the set list includes Three Days Grace’s “I Hate Everything About You” and Staind’s “Mudshovel.”
1:45 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — SABATON
No band I’ve seen so far has been more fun than Sweden’s Sabaton. A couple songs in, I’m ready to follow them into battle, or at least pump my fist and chant, “SAB-A-TON! SAB-A-TON!”
2:20 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — OF MICE & MEN
Of Mice & Men doesn’t often allow photography of its festival performances, but we’re all allowed to shoot this time. It’s a lot of hubbub over a fairly typical metalcore act. I find it strangely amusing that the two bass drums are emblazoned with giant ampersands. The Austin Carlile-fronted band clearly is doing something right, though; its fan base seems to be one of the most devoted of the weekend.
3 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — TREMONTI
Not just a guitar hero, Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti is an accomplished singer and songwriter, leading his eponymous band through a set mixing elements of speed metal and big doses of melody. Few in the crowd seem familiar with the material, but that might change after the performance.
Set list: “All That I Got,” “You Waste Your Time,” “Brains,” “Another Heart,” “Decay,” “Wish You Well”
3:35 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — SCOTT WEILAND & THE WILDABOUTS
Scott Weiland has taken an awful lot of heat lately due to videos of subpar live performances making the rounds online. This is my third time seeing him in the past two weeks, and the biggest thing is not that he’s been bad, he’s just been so different from what we remember seeing with Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver. The suit and tie, the Mick Jagger-like stage moves—they’re all gone. The Weiland of 2015 dresses in an old T-shirt and jeans, and moves almost in slow motion. He seems more interested in the songs from his new album, “Blaster,” than he does in the STP classics, but about four songs into his set, the rain finally comes on in earnest, and I head for the cover of the media tent.
4:20 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — NONPOINT
The rain lets up just in time for Nonpoint, a band I’ve seen many times during the past 15 years and decide to catch again here because I’m not one of the chosen few to photograph BABYMETAL on the Ernie Ball Stage. I’m glad for that, because Nonpoint is on fire. The crowd is enormous, and the energy from the stage and those watching is unreal. Drummer Robb Rivera later takes to social media to call this best show the band has ever played, and I believe it.
Set list: “Pins and Needles,” “What a Day,” “Hands Off/99 Problems,” “Breaking Skin,” “F**k’d,” “In the Air Tonight,” “Bullet with a Name”
4:55 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — IN THIS MOMENT
I wonder what In This Moment’s fog budget is? I’ve never seen a band use so much of it, and it plays havoc with the settings on my camera. I’m no fan of the direction the band has taken since its 2012 album, “Blood.” But essentially becoming the Maria Brink Show is working, as fans are loving every minute of this performance, especially “Whore,” which finds Brink wearing a dunce cap and sitting on a stool. I’m happy it’s daylight and not a dark club so we can see the rest of the band on stage.
Set list: “Sick Like Me,” “Black Widow,” “Sex Metal Barbie,” “Adrenalize,” “Whore,” “Blood”
5:40 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — IN FLAMES
In Flames frontman Anders Friden wants to smell Rock on the Range. Sounds like a bad idea to me, but maybe they do things differently in Sweden. All the band members seem so happy to be here, and it’s infectious.
6:15 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — PAPA ROACH
Another festival, another Papa Roach performance. It’s always a fun, energetic show, but at some point—i.e. now—it becomes overkill. It’s time for some fresh faces.
7:15 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — MINISTRY
While no one would describe Al Jourgensen’s face as “fresh” (though I’m surprised to learn later that he’s only 56), Ministry is not a regular on the festival circuit here. Uncle Al, who takes the stage wearing some sort of gas mask and walking with a cane, is displeased that he has only 40 minutes to play. “I figure we got at least 42 minutes of quality shit!” Though he comes off as a cranky old man—I won’t be surprised if he yells at us to get off his lawn—his performance, which includes the classic “N.W.O.,” is ferocious.
8 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — GODSMACK
In a refreshing change of pace from some of the other acts on the bill, Godsmack, a veteran band with a long list of hit singles, plays four songs from its latest album, last year’s “1000hp,” in its set. Though I’ve been a fan for years, I don’t find myself listening to Godsmack much these days, so I’m almost surprised by how good Sully Erna and company are. And no matter how many times I see it, Sully and Shannon Larkin’s drum battle (“Batalla de los Tambores”) always blows me away.
Set list: “1000hp,” “Cryin’ Like a Bitch,” “What’s Next,” “Straight out of Line,” “Awake,” “Generation Day,” “Something Different,” “Keep Away,” “Voodoo,” “Batalla de los Tambores,” “Whatever,” “I Stand Alone”
9:40 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — JUDAS PRIEST
Scott Weiland is 47 and Al Jourgensen is 56, and they both resemble old men onstage. Meanwhile, Rob Halford, at 63, is still the Metal God, still killing it. Judas Priest doesn’t have the fireworks of Slipknot last night, but they don’t need them. Watching them perform is like watching living history—if that living history is a face-melting metal band with a singer who still delivers those inhuman screeches and wails. They’re also not afraid to slip in new tunes among the classics, with “Halls of Valhalla” from last year’s “Redeemer of Souls” particularly strong. I’m saddened by how many people leave before and during Priest’s performance, but it’s their loss; they’re missing the weekend’s finest moments.
Set list: “Dragonaut,” “Metal Gods,” “Devil’s Child,” “Victim of Changes,” “Halls of Valhalla,” “Turbo Lover,” “Redeemer of Souls,” “Jawbreaker,” “:Breaking the Law,” “Hell Bent for Leather,” (encore) “Electric Eye,” (encore) “Painkiller,” “Living After Midnight”
Sunday, May 17
11:45 a.m., Jagermeister Stage — SANTA CRUZ
The final day of a festival is always slow and sluggish, usually until late afternoon or so, but Santa Cruz, a Finnish band that mixes ‘80s glam metal sensibilities with a more modern attitude, does its best to wake up the early-arrivers. They have my attention, becoming my first “find” of the weekend.
12:30 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — SEPTEMBER MOURNING
And here’s my second, a band that grew out of a comic book. Frontwoman Emily Lazar, clad in white leather, portrays the character of September Mourning, a human-reaper hybrid, and the band members, all in black, are the reapers after our souls. Visually stimulating and the music, especially “Children of Fate,” holds up—a bit of Marilyn Manson, a bit of In This Moment, but not derivative. I eagerly await an album release later this year.
1:05 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD
Another been there, done that kind of band for me. I see the entertainment value in what they do for those into their combo of metal and hip-hop, but it’s not my thing.
1:45 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — STARSET
Severe weather in the area leads to a delay of close to 30 minutes, during which the crowd sings along to old favorites such as “Sweet Caroline” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The sun stays out the whole time, and eventually, Starset, from Columbus, Ohio, takes the stage, and I feel awful for the band members in their futuristic riot gear on this hot, humid day. I’m intrigued but must head back to the main stage, which remains on schedule.
2:20 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — THE PRETTY RECKLESS
The Pretty Reckless played the Ernie Ball stage a year ago but, since they went on later in the day, probably played to more people then they did today on the main stage. The set list is almost identical to last year’s and features all the hits.
Set list: “Follow Me Down,” “Since You’re Gone,” “Sweet Things,” “Heaven Knows,” “Going to Hell,” “Fucked Up World”
3 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — CROBOT
Another repeat from last year, and this band has improved a lot in the past 12 months. Its sort of throwback, ‘70s hard rock sound stands apart on this bill, and I’m becoming a fan.
3:35 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — ANTHRAX
A band like Anthrax, one of the “Big 4” of thrash metal, seems so out of place at a festival like this, and I love it. (They’re playing on the main stage between The Pretty Reckless and Halestorm.) The set list is a good mix of old and new but is criminally short at 40 minutes.
Set list: “Caught in a Mosh,” “Got the Time,” “Antisocial,” “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t,” “In the End,” “Indians”
4:20 p.m., Jagermeister Stage — UPON A BURNING BODY
It’s hot and humid, and I need a break, but if bands are playing, I feel obligated to shoot. Upon a Burning Body wins the award for best-dressed band of the weekend, as they are—minus the singer, who’s shirtless—wearing suits and ties.
4:55 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — HALESTORM
I’m a longtime Halestorm fan, but the new album, “Into the Wild Life,” just does not do anything for me. So it’s disheartening when they fire off five songs in a row from that record, along with the single “Apocalyptic” a little later. These tunes sound a little better live, and at least they stick to the more energetic numbers, but the new material isn’t even close to anything from the first two albums.
Set list: “Love Bites (So Do I),” “Freak Like Me,” “It’s Not You,” “Amen,” “Scream,” “I Am the Fire,” “I Like It Heavy,” “Mayhem,” “I Get Off,” “Apocalyptic,” “I Miss the Misery”
5:45 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — MOTIONLESS IN WHITE
Festival fatigue is setting in for me as one of the more visually interesting bands of the weekend performs. I can’t even imagine how hot the bassist must be in his Leatherface costume.
6:20 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — VOLBEAT
Volbeat gives me a second wind. The set list features most of the hits but also some album tracks that are bit of a surprise at a festival. Frontman Michael Poulsen dedicates “Sad Man’s Tongue” to BB King, and they treat us to about half a new song, which sounds faster and heavier than anything from their last effort, “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013).”
Set list: “Hallelujah Goat,” “A New Day,” “Lola Montez,” “Danny & Lucy,” “Dead but Rising,” “Sad Man’s Tongue,” “The Hangman’s Body Count,” “Still Counting,” “The Garden’s Tale,” new song, “A Warrior’s Call,” “The Mirror and the Ripper”
7:15 p.m., Ernie Ball Stage — TECH N9NE
Lauded as the best-selling independent rapper in the United States, Tech N9ne’s show also rocks hard with a full band behind him.
8 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — RISE AGAINST
Rise Against has gotten fairly big over the years—just look at its billing here—and I guess I kind of missed the boat. I can’t name a single Rise Against song. Maybe I should investigate further, but I just want to sit down at this point.
9:20 p.m., Monster Energy Main Stage — LINKIN PARK
My first time seeing Linkin Park since they toured with Metallica more than 10 years ago. I’ve never been a fan, but Chester Bennington has earned some points with me lately due to his stellar work with Stone Temple Pilots. The band sounds great, and a huge crowd remains to watch them. They’re no Slipknot or Judas Priest, but it’s hardly an anticlimactic end to the weekend.