For nearly two years, Danny Wimmer Presents’ Louder Than Life Festival was shaping up to be a rock and metal event for the ages. Ahead of the pandemic, DWP announced these US festivals that featured two nights of Metallica – the most acclaimed and popularized metal act in the world. The Metallica factor alone was a huge indicator of DWP’s next festival season ambition, along with several other modern and up-and-coming artists featured as well. With Louder The Life being the first of the DWP-Metallica festivals, it looked like Louisville, KY was about to be the homecoming of the post-pandemic comeback of rock and heavy music.
Without a doubt, Metallica was at the heart of what made this year’s Louder Than Life such a climactic event for fans of heavy music. Beyond the fact that Metallica are the biggest metal band in the world, it was immediately obvious after setting foot on the festival grounds that this was a festival. for Metallica. If the litany of Metallica-related concession stands and attractions didn’t reveal it, then it was the thousands and thousands of fans wearing their favorite Metallica shirts that did. Metallica themselves seemed well aware of the excitement and hype that led to their residency at the festival, as each of their two sets touched on each era of their discography.
Friday night’s show saw the band perform a range of songs from their classic and modern catalog, creating an almost perfect mix of modern and legendary bangers. In fact, while the band’s classic material (i.e. 1981–1988) is still the most preferred, seeing Metallica perform songs from 2016 Cable and 1997 Reload sparked a new affinity for these albums – hearing a sea of fans sing the outro to “The Memory Remains” was a spectacle in its own right.
However, Metallica managed to outdo themselves with their Sunday night performance. After kicking off the evening with old school classics ‘Four Horseman’ and ‘Sanitarium’, Metallica created the biggest surprise of the festival by performing the Black album in its entirety, but in reverse order. Provided the band didn’t play a single song from that album on their Friday night set, it was already a working theory among festival goers that this was bound to happen. This combined with the fact that Metallica had just released its 30th anniversary reissue of the Black album, a kind of Black album related surprise was strongly suspected at the festival.
Hearing rarities like “Struggle Within”, “The God That Failed” and “Through The Never” were some of the highlights of the night, and you can’t underestimate how successful the band did these tracks. Kirk Hammett’s solos on these songs were perfect note for note, the thundering grooves of Lars and James offered a new perspective on the the heavy sloppy aesthetic of the album, and James’ vocal performance was as good as it ever was. For many longtime Metallica fans, the Black album isn’t exactly revered in the same way as the band’s previous albums, mainly due to its lack of thrash elements and technical instruments. However, there couldn’t have been a more welcoming feeling of appreciation that night, as fans seemed to fully embrace the Black album and his achievements for the heavy music and longevity of Metallica.
Speaking more of the general atmosphere of Louder Than Life, the festival was actually reminiscent of other European high-end rock and metal festivals except for a few unexpected incidents. Whether or not you liked his music, it was clear that Machine Gun Kelly fans were a minority at LTL. Based on the relentless wave of “hoots” and middle fingers thrown after each of his songs – the direct result of the reckless, self-defeating drama he recently lit with Slipknot – MGK was the only clear outlier at the four day rock festival. And while his music is arguably derivative and was even somewhat out of place among other headlining artists, MGK’s premise of bringing pop-punk back to the forefront of pop culture is only a good thing, especially when it comes to the future of rock music. Despite the success he’s enjoyed since his pop-punk debut, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine if MGK will ever be. fully accepted into the rock and punk communities, given everything that has unfolded over the past month. On the contrary, it certainly raises the question of whether he’ll be headlining another rock / metal themed festival in the future.
Among the more positive outliers at LTL, Judas Priest’s performance was one of the absolute highlights of the entire festival. As one of the oldest heavy metal bands on tour, it’s hard to believe the band is still capable of delivering such a tight and visually charged performance. Legendary frontman Rob Halford is always at the top of his game with his fiery voice and signature high belt screams; you could say that dopamine levels always recover after watching him reach the decisive finals on “Victim of Changes” and “Painkiller”. A solid Priest gig isn’t as good without Halford, but the same can be said of the band’s guitarists, who were just as exceptional.
Priest’s relatively new lead guitarist Richie Faulkner has captured the essence of what it means to be a literal “guitar god” on stage. There are few leading guitarists these days who wield the same precision and tone in their live performance as Faulkner. However, the day after Priest’s set, it was revealed that guitarist Richie Faulkner was performing that evening while experiencing a Medical emergency. None of this was apparent on stage or during Priest’s set, but Faulkner ended up undergoing open heart surgery right after the band’s performance. As a result, Judas Priest rightfully postponed his 50th anniversary tour to prioritize Faulkner’s health. Obviously, health should be the number one priority for any artist, but it’s puzzling to realize that Faulkner has been able to perform so well amid such severe health issues.
When it comes to festivals, DWP’s Louder Than Life was perfect for rock and heavy music. Modern artists Gojira, Spiritbox, and Sabaton have all shown that metal is alive and well in rural America, while legendary artists Metallica and Judas Priest have shown how their multigenerational fan bases have grown. It does not go without saying the underlying post-COVID tension that is present at big festivals like this, but if there is one thing certain, it is that DWP has hosted a respectable and safe environment, this has also proven to be a phenomenal comeback for rock and metal music in the United States.