SACRAMENTO — Northern California’s annual hard rock festival, Aftershock, continued its upward trajectory as one of the premiere national events for heavy music. What began back in 2012 as a one-day and one-stage event has ballooned into a multi-day extravaganza. Last weekend’s sold-out festival expanded to three days format.
As the festival kicked off, fans were already buzzing about next year’s incarnation of Aftershock, which will be headlined by two sets by Metallica.
Roughly 35,000 fans packed downtown Sacramento’s Discovery Park each day to mosh and crowd-surf through a sprawling, diverse lineup of acts, headlined by Slipknot, Blink-182 and Tool. Metal, punk, grunge, rap and artists that fit outside those genres, like The Hu and Babymetal, were represented.
Masked Iowa metalheads Slipknot kicked off Friday’s festivities with a bang, performing a vibrant set of material from throughout its songbook. For a band that has always thrived on visuals, Slipknot upped the ante in lighting, pyrotechnics and stage design with a multi-tiered stage flanked with various percussion kits. Frontman Corey Taylor held court, ripping through songs like “Unsainted,” “Before I Forget” and “The Devil in I” with a dynamic mix of screamed and sung vocals. The show even concluded with percussionist Clown taking a flaming baseball to a steel drum.
Other Friday highlights included a reunion of Massachusetts rockers Staind. Aaron Lewis and company were in top form, not missing a beat from performances of yesterday. Lewis has one of the best voices in modern rock, with the vocal prowess to adeptly move from tender acoustic balladry to a heavy guttural roar. Lewis doesn’t subscribe to traditional rock star tendencies, choosing instead to belt out the material. He kept a low profile on stage while Staind mixed in deeper cuts like “Eyes Wide Open,” “Paper Jesus” and “Raw” alongside a fiery performance of “Mudshovel.”
Elsewhere on Friday, Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale received a cake and was serenaded with a song for her birthday before the band dived into its set. Hale provided vocal fireworks throughout, opening with a dramatic a cappella performance that immediately commanded the attention of the massive crowd.
The Southern California fires created some problems for bands traveling to Sacramento. Rockers I Prevail had to arrange a last-minute flight to make it in time for their afternoon set while pop-metal artist Poppy had to cancel her afternoon set due to the fires.
Saturday featured potentially the fest’s most eclectic day of music, ranging from Blink-182 and Bring Me the Horizon to Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. While their was some minor controversy about the inclusion of Blink-182, the band turned in a strong hourlong performance set to a wall of light, smoke cannons and an army of inflatable aliens distributed throughout the crowd—surely a nod to former vocalist Tom DeLonge. The band played a set heavy on the hits, from “What’s My Age Again?” to “First Date” and “All the Small Things.”
Rob Zombie‘s set was ferocious and visually engaging. He ran around the stage with fervor while jumping and balancing between multiple risers at the front of the stage. Zombie’s band starred John 5, who turned in a virtuosic performance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Marilyn Manson was an unmitigated disaster. While his singing was mostly on point, nothing else was. Seemingly inebriated, Manson mumbled and spent the entire time trying to disrobe and reveal his penis. He simulated anal sex on his guitarist with his pants around his knees. The guitarist didn’t seem in on the bit. Performing much of the time with his hand down his pants, he burned a bible on a raised platform during “Antichrist Superstar” and then walked off the stage for an extended break. Minutes went by before Manson returned to close out with “The Beautiful People.”
While Blink-182 may have topped the bill, Bring Me the Horizon was unquestionably the buzz band of the weekend. Oliver Sykes and his bandmates delivered with a punishing visual spectacle that included additional performers and actors, smoke cannons and plenty of fire. Opening with the driving heaviness of “MANTRA,” the band mixed in its older, heavier material with newer and more melodic tunes. Sykes challenged the crowd to bring increasing energy.
Also on Saturday, trio Sick Puppies delivered one of the highlight moments. New frontman Bryan Scott, bassist Emma Anzai and drummer Mark Goodwin got the early arrivers moshing and crowd-surfing while the band ripped through “Stick to Your Guns” and “War” with in-your-face heaviness and debuted some new songs like “There Goes the Neighborhood.” That tune, which had a clear Rage Against the Machine influence, was naturally placed right before a cover of Rage’s “Guerrilla Radio.”
Tool were the headliners, deservedly, so we gave them their own story.
There was much conversation leading up to the festival about Babymetal. The uninitiated were curious about this phenomenon of which they’d heard so much, while the J-pop group’s fans showed up in droves to witness the metal crossover act. The big question was whether a traditional heavy metal audience might take to the group. Backed by a band of ferocious musicians, Babymetal played in front of a humungous crowd. Opening with “Megitsune,” the group rolled through songs like “Shanti Shanti Shanti” and “KARATE,” before closing out with “Road to Resistance.”
Florida metalcore band A Day to Remember provided one of the highlight sets of the final day, mixing infectious melodies with punishing heaviness and a little fun. The band is known for the very interactive nature of its performances, with lead singer Jeremy McKinnon directing the audience. The band thrived at Aftershock, injecting as much bombast as as possible. There were T-shirt cannons, toilet paper launchers and a healthy dose of pyro. The band included standbys like “Right Back at it Again” and “I’m Made of Wax, Larry, What Are you Made Of?” There were some new songs as well, such as A Day to Remember’s Marshello collaboration, “Rescue Me,” and “Degenerates.”
“Since Tool is headlining we thought we’d cover them acoustically today,” McKinnon joked while Kevin Skaff played the opening riff to “Schism” on his acoustic guitar.
The band played the soaring ballad “If It Means a Lot to You,” leading the crowd in singalong before closing with heavier standards “The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle” and “The Downfall of Us All.”
A sneaky good set that fans may have missed came from rock group Deadland Ritual. While many watched Korn or jostled for position in advance of Tool, those that came over to the fest’s third stage were rewarded with a scintillating and enjoyable performance. Fronted by Apocolyptica’s Franky Perez, the band also features Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler and Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum.
The band played a handful of original tracks and covered a healthy dose of Black Sabbath, including a faithful version of “War Pigs.”
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.