Rock music could be described as a genre typified by an unbridled spirit, so it’s all too fitting that one of the biggest festivals in the United States would be situated in the state with the very same motto. But the dance often observed at the aptly dubbed Louder Than Life Festival being a far-cry from clogging isn’t the only unique aspect of this event since its 2014 birth. In what could be likened to one of the world’s biggest flea market extravaganzas, this 4-day occurrence also features an assortment of whiskey, craft beer, gourmet food and numerous other exhibits, making the heavy crowd draws an all the more logical outcome. Indeed, the massive 160,000 person attendance witnessed at the previous festival in 2021 was one for the ages, and with 5 stages lined up to feature dozens upon dozens of prominent bands from a wide range of styles, expectations for a similar invasion to rock Louisville, KY this year correspondingly high.
As morning gave way to the early afternoon on September 22, 2022 it would be the ladies who would start the festivities on an auspiciously high note. Taking the Loudmouth Stage at 12:30 pm, the young quartet of Plush would make a mighty ruckus, led by the powerful pipes of former NBC’s The Voice contestant and singer/guitarist/songwriter Moriah Formica, and took the daunting task of starting this massive event practically in stride. Everything from a passionate performance for the duration of their half-hour set to a comparatively elated response from the audience was on point, with standout offerings including their bottom-heavy opening banger “Athena” and a raunchy rendition of Alice In Chains‘ “Man In The Box.” Meanwhile over at the Revolver Stage at the stroke of 1:05 pm, the Nashville-based, grunge-infused power trio The Dead Deads would bring a more 90s attitude into the equation. Though of a more rustic, punk-like quality than the 70s rock traditionalism and virtuoso tendencies of Plush, the energy level was highly similar and had a more varied, if somewhat scatterbrained sense of dynamics that often paralleled the stylings of Hole and L7, most notably on their fast-paced offering “Ghosts” and more riff-happy yet spacey anthem “In For Blood.”
The reign of feminine energy over things was definitely not over as by 1:30 the Anaheim-born, female-fronted groove rocking powerhouse New Years Day took over the Loudmouth Stage. Despite being dogged throughout their half hour set by sound and equipment issues, the band powered through their set of bottom-heavy, fist-pumping anthems and likely won over a few newcomers to their audience as vocalist Ash Costello shrieked and wailed towards the sky like an anger-infused cousin of Gwen Stefani while the rest of the fold did their part to work the crowd, most notably recently recruited drummer Tommy Rockoff, with their ground-pounding closer “Hurts Like Hell” and an industrially tinged and nuanced reinterpretation of Pantera‘s “Fucking Hostile” stealing the show. By way of total contrast, the set of blues-rock band Dorothy, led by the smoky, soulful yet ethereal voice of the woman for whom the fold is named, went off without a hitch over on the Space Zebra Stage. To say that she knocked it out of the park would be putting it mildly as rousing, poignant and heartfelt odes like “Rest In Peace” and “Raise Hell” saw her voice and the easygoing grooves of her support band riveting all within an ear’s shot of the PA system.
With the approach of mid-afternoon, the tone and tenor of the festivities would begin to take a slightly heavier turn. Donning the Loudmouth Stage, Canadian metalcore trustees with a slight post-metal vibe Spiritbox laid their hard-hitting niche on the audience to a truly boisterous response that saw plenty of rabid moshing and crowd-surfing for their 30 minute run. The spacey vibes and pop-like catchiness of opening crusher “Circle With Me” and the eerie industrial vibes with a deep chugging groove and a truly vicious screaming display out of singer Courtney LaPlante of “Holy Roller” were definitely the high points, but truth be told, the ferocity of the crowd response was constant for the whole half hour. On an entirely different note, rock duo and sons of famed Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich dubbed Taipei Houston brought a less conventional blend of alternative and hard rock influences into the mix that stood somewhere between The Kills and The White Stripes on the Revolver Stage. Though arguably an acquired taste, brothers Myles and Layne brought plenty of enthusiasm to the table and came away with an impressive showing between their animated jam “The Middle” and a similarly upbeat “As The Sun Sets”, no small accomplishment given their newness to the scene and the heavy expectations that are likely resting on their shoulders.
At 4pm the mood would take a rather curious shift, as while the mixture of modern rock eclecticism and feminine energy remained undaunted, the tide was clearly moving towards a less visually traditional place. Case and point, the otherworldly persona and grittily charged Lilith Czar, whom donned a particularly sultry leather apparel and brought her gravely blend of Fiona Apple and Stevie Nicks stylings to Louisville without skipping a beat, while her touring drummer would make a hell of a ruckus and occasionally become the center of attention with her own brand of animated performance as the fold delivered solid renditions of fan favorites “King”, “Anarchy” and brought the house down with a stellar cover of Nicks‘ “Edge Of Seventeen.” However, arguably the most flamboyant performance of the hour would be snatched up by newer British pop punk sensation Yungblud, who brought what could be best described as a hybrid of Malcolm Young‘s school boy get up and the emo-trappings of My Chemical Romance to the table in a visual sense. His brand of rocking out may have been a tad less impact-based than most of the other acts, but his comparatively young audience was a sea of screams in approval at his on-stage antics, most notably his angst-driven online smash “Parents.”
The blend of pop and rock sensibilities and an almost avant-garde approach to youthful lyrical expressionism would become a theme as mid-afternoon began to flirt with the evening hour. Continuing the ongoing celebration of girl-power, the dark cinematic trappings of punk-infused rage and discontent that would typify Royal & The Serpent‘s performance on the Revolver Stage. Led by the school girl gone bad, visually-geared melodrama with a riot-girl edge approach of vocalist Royal, they would feature several emotionally charged performances of their newest studio offering “If I Died Would Anyone Care,” with their rendition of “I’m Not Sorry” bringing it all home. By way of contrast, the more fuzz-driven and psychedelic sonic tapestries painted by Cape Cod-born rockers Highly Suspect proved a more subtle yet no less effective contrast from the Space Zebra Stage. The almost sludgy and heavy feel of the guitar sound, when combined with a confessional and alternative rock-informed vocal delivery out of helmsman Johnny Steven would see a favorable crowd response, most notably during their slow-going yet dynamic smash hits “Little One” and “My Name Is Human”, leaving little mystery as to how they became a Grammy nominated act.
The later afternoon would prove a boon for those seeking their rock with a more stylistically traditional flavor, though the twists were naturally still there for those that craved them. Melodic rockers Giovannie & The Hired Guns, whom might be mistaken for Suicidal Tendencies but play more like Breaking Benjamin, would amp up the masses at the Disruptor Stage something fierce with a solid collection of compact and catchy anthems, with banging hits like “Rooster Tattoo” and “Ramon Ayala” stealing most of the crowd’s thunder. But never one to miss out on an opportunity to leave a crowd riveted, iconic modern rock kings and queen Halestorm would bring the fury to the Loudmouth Stage during the earliest warnings of dusk, lead vocalist Lzzy Hale belting out impressive notes one after the next while her drumming extraordinaire brother and the rest of the group left little mystery as to why they are one of the hottest acts around between an on point sound, phenomenal stage presence and showmanship, with their set closer “The Steeple” being one for the ages. By stark contrast, the aforementioned rock traditionalism with a modern coat of paint was followed by a wholly unconventional blend of bleak punk atmospherics and socio-political cynicism on the Disruptor Stage courtesy of rap duo Ho99o9. Suffice it to say, one has to see them at their game first hand to truly appreciate the wavelength that they play on, but their performance on particular odes like “Bite My Face” and “Sub-Zer0” definitely brought a high level of appeal to their dark outlook.
As the light slowly began to fade above the festivities, the heavier hitters came out to play, and with it came a skyward level of professionalism and showmanship. Rocking the Space Debra Stage, Gothic-tinged alternative metal mainstays Evanescence turned in a massive performance despite recent lineup shifts, with Amy Lee‘s angelic voice ascending to empyreal heights as the chugging guitars, pounding drums and spacey keyboard backdrop painted vivid visuals of passion and melancholy. Newer offerings like “Wasted On You” and “Use My Voice” were welcome additions to their repertoire in the audience’s estimation, but per usual, the most boisterous responses came to seminal classics “Going Under” and the spellbinder show closing performance of “Bring Me To Life.” Over at the Revolver Stage circa 7pm, industrial metal pioneers and longtime veterans Ministry made an auditory killing despite not having total darkness above their heads to add to the aesthetic, with Uncle Al turning in a highly energetic display despite his advancing years. The elements and setup were definitely on their side this going around as, in contrast to their ill-fated showing at Welcome To Rockville, there was no rain to dampen and shorten the show as the sea of faces cheered to the classic, politically-charged vibes of “N.W.O.” and the transmogrified atmosphere of Black Sabbath anthem “Supernaut.”
The fall of night would not see a denouement to the growing level of intrigue that was at work, as the headlining acts would take full advantage of the change in atmosphere. Metalcore mainstays Bring Me The Horizon definitely played the stage show angle brilliantly over on the Loudmouth Stage, kicking off their set with a surreal visual of an android woman talking to the crowd before bludgeoning them with their progressive-blend of electronic music and metallic thunder. The crowd response was correspondingly furious, with circle pits raging like the onset of Armageddon was upon Louisville, and crowd-surfers as far as the masses were spread, with fiery performances of “Parasite Eve”, “Kingslayer” and “Drown” going over the most auspiciously. Fun-loving comedy rock duo Tenacious D would dial down the decibels ever so slightly on the Disruptor Stage, but even with Jack Black‘s advancing years and somewhat expansive waistline; the huddled masses were all on fire to the goofy high-jinks with a rocking edge, with entries like “The Metal” and “Dio” drawing loud responses, though the zenith point of the show was definitely when Amy Lee made a guest appearance for a riotous rendition of “Kyle Quit The Band” and a modified version of “Lee” featuring her as the lyrical subject.
With the night now in full swing and anticipation now well through the non-existent roof, the hour of the headliner commenced with the arrival of 9pm on the Space Zebra Stage. To put it plainly, one does not merely hear a concert when industrial rock titans Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, as the spectacle that unfolds is as much a visual one as it is an auditory one. Thankfully for the photographers in attendance, the elaborate light-show and pyrotechnics that were along for the ride were not as overbearing as during the Welcome To Rockville performance and shots of Tent Reznor and the rest of the fold were far easier to obtain, but the sounds were positively deafening. The air that hung above them instantly turned majestic as powerhouse displays of classic anthems “March Of The Pigs”, “Closer” and “Burn” raged forth from the stage. Much of the set featured choice cuts from 1992 EP Broken to commemorate its 30-year anniversary, with Trent taking several moments to reflect upon the circumstances of its creation. Following a closing 1-2 punch of brilliance featuring “Head Like A Hole” and “Hurt”, the only downside of things was that such a stellar performance had to come to an end.
Fatigue appeared to be the most likely consequence of such a long day of activity, but even after the grueling 2 hour set that closed out the first day of the event, anticipation of what was to come over the next 3 day was what hung over the minds of the thousands upon thousands that had adopted Kentucky as their new temporary home. It stood as the opening chapter of yet another triumph for the live music scene, and between the benchmark performances and the wide array of other attractions that Louder Than Life had to offer, a renewed sense of camaraderie had clearly been struck for all. It’s a testament that how so many seemingly disparate artistic expressions can be brought together for a common cause, and as everyone retired to their hotel rooms for the night, the joy of the old normal being restored was likely wiping away any memory of the isolation and fear that dominated everyone’s live for the opening years of the 2020s, marking this festival as being as much a specific victory as it was a general celebration.