LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Marking its fourth year in an era when many wonder if a president can even stick around that long, Louder than Life returned to Louisville's Champions Park as the calendar slipped from September to October.
Playing under a sun that was much more seasonal and relenting than on the same stages the weekend before at Bourbon and Beyond, some two dozen hard-rock and metal bands drove the two-day, much-larger crowd into a frenzy, where even the most tepid managed to at least headbang or throw up a set of horns with a hand.
Closing the festival, a band that has made no secret of their hope for White House regime change. Prophets of Rage features the musical components of Rage Against the Machine, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, with Public Enemy's Chuck D and DJ Lord, joined by B Real of Cypress Hill, filling in for the ever-recluse frontman Zack de la Rocha.
Promising that dangerous times demand dangerous music, they smashed the main stage with a set of predominantly RATM songs, spinning into a hurricane that whipped the sea of people into riptides of mosh pits that swallowed up the gnarliest of crowd surfers.
Having played earlier, Tim McIlrath and Zach Blair of Rise Against joined to sing vocals for Prophets on MC5's Kick Out the Jams, covered on the Rage-era Renegades album, which was also revisited during the next, Cypress Hill's Kill a Man, allowing B Real to deliver his original lines overtop Morello's thudding riffs.
In between RATM metal-protest standards, from Testify to Bulls on Parade, came a medley of old-school hip hop and a few originals — PE and Cypress Hill songs delivered by Chuck D, B Real and DJ Lord along with a cover of House of Pain's Jump Around, and the most notable of the new stuff, Hail to the Chief, a song critical of Vice President Mike Pence.
While the Prophets album itself comes off as something that would have been a nice collaborative movie soundtrack in the rap-rock fashion of the early 2000s, the live renditions meet the intensity of RATM's original work meaning this side project, launched in an election year to Make America Rage Again, could stick around for another term.
Out of Sleep Now in the Fire, Morello toyed with part of Audioslave's Cochise. That project, which had also featured the musical members of Rage, led by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, also got attention in what effectively was a Tom Morello greatest hits party. Prophets let the crowd pay tribute to Cornell's memory by having them sing out the words to an instrumental Like a Stone.
On Saturday, the Prince of Darkness himself closed the main stage. Joined by Zakk Wylde, perhaps the most metal looking of metal guitarists in metal history, it only took two songs to show off the timelessness of Ozzy Osborne's work, shredding through a vibrant Bark at the Moon into a spotless, sinister Mr. Crowley.
The high point came midway through the set, as Wylde took the solo of Black Sabbath's War Pigs into expansive depths rarely seen outside of a Phish show, segueing into a rolling drum solo that morphed into Iron Man.
A closer of Crazy Train into an encore singalong Mama I'm Coming Home ended with another Sabbath song, Paranoid.
The Ozzman still cometh at full force, even at age 68.
Earlier highlights included Rob Zombie on Saturday, himself running through a catalogue that should be strong enough for Rock Hall of Fame consideration someday. Five Finger Death Punch delivered on a level that's between Pantera and Type O Negative and included a cover of Bad Company that worked as a flashback to Paul Rodgers at the prior weekend's festival.
And Incubus on Sunday, a superbly original band that emerged in a quite unoriginal time, quickly building adoration at their early-2000s peak and somehow losing it just as quickly. A decade-plus later, they still deliver a polished show that compels pretty much everyone to tilt their heads to the sky, begging from someone to, Pardon Me as I Burst into Flames.
May there be at least four more years where the stages at Louder than Life burst into exactly that.