May 14th & 15th, 2016
1500 miles traveled. 2 days. 42 days bands. 3 stages. 24 hours of rock and metal.
Rob Zombie, Shinedown, Chevelle, A Day to Remember, P.O.D., Black Stone Cherry, Yelawolf
Lamb of God, BABYMETAL, Asking Alexandria, Enter Shikari, Avatar, Aranda, Vaudeville
Clutch, Parkway Drive, Monster Truck, Devour the Day, Wold Throne, Hands Like Houses, Second Pass
Disturbed, Korn, Bring Me the Horizon, Seether, Sixx:A.M., Pop Evil, Sevendust
Ghost, Hellyeah, Saint Asonia, Trivium, Red Sun Rising, Audiotopsy, Silver Snakes
Butcher Babies, Beartooth, The Glorious Sons, From Ashes to New, Lacey Sturm, Andrew Watt, City Of the Weak
Even I was skeptical whether or not Northern Invasion 2016 could live up to the high expectations set after having attended the inaugural festival in 2015. 2016’s festival was extended to two full days, and smashed into nearly 70,000 fans with almost 24 solid hours of rock and metal from 40 of the best bands currently touring the country.
Expanding the festival to two days for its second year was an outstanding accomplishment. Fans of the rock and metal genres can be fickle though. Adding a third stage to Northern Invasion was a gamble that absolutely paid off. While the main and second stages were full of national acts, each worthy of headlining their own arena or auditorium show, Northern Invasion’s third stage gave lesser known bands the opportunity to expand their fan base and play in front of thousands of people who might now have even given them a chance.
Northern Invasion’s 2nd and 3rd stages were placed far enough apart that even though these bands were going on at the same time, there was no muddled noise cross-over from each of the stage’s performances. Having the 2nd and 3rd stages placed on either side of the main stage made it easy to catch the side stage acts, then make your way back to the main stage for its respective performances. Even the distance between the 2nd and 3rd stage made it possible to catch half of each band’s set, if you didn’t mind a quick jog across the venue.
As with last year, the opening slots of the 2nd and newly added 3rd stage each day were reserved for local and regional bands. Second Pass, and City of the Weak opened the 3rd stage on their respective dates, and Silver Snakes and Vaudeville for the 2nd stage. Each of these four bands did a great job at building their crowds’ excitement level. These 4 local and regional bands earned their slots at Northern Invasion.
What was truly amazing about Northern Invasion was that it didn’t feel like a typical festival. Those of you who are also Festival Junkies know what I’m talking about. It’s always disheartening when a festival comes around and you’re invested in seeing your favorite band play, but they don’t seem to be invested in their performance. Kind of like they just walk on stage, play their music, and walk back off stage. That’s not what festivals are about. Even though festival slots are more limited on their length of time for most of the artists that play, each and every band that takes the stage should still give 100% and treat their time on stage as if they’re playing a headlining gig in front of a hundred-thousand screaming fans. What I don’t think most bands realize is how much their music influences and affects their fans, and that seeing them at a festival may be their first time experiencing the band’s music live. If that makes sense at all. It’s a matter of always being on point. Always putting on the best live show possible. Out of the 42 bands that played, this weekend’s festival would be the first time I’d seen almost half of them live. Having been to as many concerts as I have, I always have high expectations for a band’s live show. Whether it’s seeing them for the first time, like with Bring Me the Horizon, or with a band of Seether’s caliber, who I’ve seen live 15 time since they played Ozzfest in 2002, I always hope that their live show will either secure my fandom with them or make me a fan.
To help sort out Northern Invasion 2016 better, I’ll be giving you my perspective from each of the 2 days individually by their respective stages, then wrapping up my review with my own personal highlights and disappointments. Yes, sadly I was disappointed by a few of the bands who played.
For me, the first day started without any issues. After checking in with the media tent, I decided to make my way to the 3rd stage to see Second Pass open the day’s events. The band, heralding from Toronto, Ontario, did a great job waking up a few thousand fans.
With the overlapping schedule, I was not able to see Hands Like Houses or Wild Throne, but I did make it to see part of Devour the Day’s set. Today was my first time seeing the Illinois quartet, and they didn’t disappoint. Devour the Day definitely had a drawn a crowd of their fans to the second stage for their performance. While I missed Monster Truck’s performance, I wasn’t about to miss Parkway Drive’s set. Having formed in 2003 and hailing from Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia, Parkway Drive’s unique style of metalcore was one of the loudest performances of the day.
Clutch would have the honor of closing out the 3rd stage of Northern Invasion’s first day. The band originally formed in Germantown, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C, in 1990 after befriending each other in high school. This would be my first time seeing Clutch, and these veteran musicians didn’t disappoint.
While I missed Vaudeville opening the the 2nd stage, I was fortunate enough to catch at least some of the performances from the rest of the 2nd stage. Aranda took the stage like a hurricane and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Avatar brought their unique style of Swedish Cabaret Death Metal to a few thousand screaming fans. Enter Shikari, British rockers formed in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, formed in 1999 under the name Hybryd by members Chris Batten, Rou Reynolds, and Rob Rolfe. These guys know how to rock a crowd.
Northern Invasion was really more of an international music festival. Nearly a dozen bands heralded from outside the U.S.A.
Fellow Brits Asking Alexandria followed. This would be my first time seeing Asking Alexandria since the departure of vocalist and founding member Danny Worsnop, and I was intrigued to hear their new material and how 24 year old Denis Stoff’s vocals compared to Worsnop’s. Losing a lead singer usually means the end of a band. Asking Alexandria, having originally formed in 2008 in York, North Yorkshire could have easily called it quits after Worsnop left the band, but these guys weren’t about to let their fans down.
“We hadn’t reached our destination yet, and Danny had,” admits Bruce. “I think it was necessary. When it happened, I was devastated. I lost my best friend. We even started referring to this part of our career as ‘The Black period.’ It was the darkest time, but we weren’t going to give up. If he hadn’t left, I don’t think we would’ve been as inspired as we were. I also don’t think Asking Alexandria would still be around. Instead, we’re more excited than ever about this band.”
Bruce locked himself in his New Jersey home and immediately began writing ideas for what would become the group’s fourth full-length album, The Black [Sumerian Records]. He studied their early material, focusing on capturing that initial magic and rekindling their groove-driven and electronic-laden metallic swing.
In order to properly do that, the band actually turned to a fan. Ukrainian singer Denis Stoff gained notoriety posting Asking Alexandria covers on YouTube and consequentially inked a deal with Sumerian Records in his band Make Me Famous. Bruce shot him an email one night. The next day, a new Asking Alexandria song had vocals.
“When I first saw him on YouTube, I thought he sounded just like Danny, and it was so weird,” recalls Bruce. “So, I reached out. As soon as he sent me the first demo, it didn’t feel like there was a new guy. He’s Asking Alexandria’s singer. It’s like it was always meant to be. He gave us a new lease on life.”
The on stage chemistry between Stoff and his band members is unmistakable. It was great to see these five guys on stage and recognize that their friendship has given new life to the band. I actually prefer Stoff’s vocals to Worsnop’s, and about ten thousand screaming fans who watched the band’s performance today would also agree with me.
The most anticipated performance of the day would soon be happening though. BABYMETAL were about to take the stage. The trio of teenagers from Japan have made quite an impression on the music world. Seeing these three young women, with an average of 15, have begun to master the craft of live concert performances. While several thousands of fans thrashed about during their set, it was exceptionally great to see so many other musicians from other bands watching from both sides of the stage. It was great to see fans of American heavy metal genre embracing the Japanese style of metal music. BABYMETAL’s set, consisting of only 5 songs, was choreographed to perfection. As these young women waved around various candy bar logos during Gimme Chocolate, the crowd had fully embraced BABYMETAL’s music. Closing their set, each of these ladies marched on stage waving BABYMETAL flags for Road To Resistance.
Lamb of God were the best choice for closing out the second stage for Day 1 of Northern Invasion. These veteran musicians know how to rock. The band’s brutal music and high energy performance was the highlight of the day for more than few fans. Lamb of God’s 7 song setlist was a mixture of tracks from their extensive catalogue, with the majority off of their Grammy Award nominated fourth studio album, 2006’s Sacrament. Lamb of God’s unique style of Groove Metal was just what the crowd needed before making their way back to the main stage for the remaining 2 bands of the day, Shinedown and Rob Zombie.
Main Stage for the first day of Northern Invasion 2016 was an entirely different beast. The seven bands that played the Main Stage were a mixture of many different styles of rock and metal music.
Yelawolf opened the Main Stage and, in my opinion, put on the loudest set of the day. Today would be my first time seeing the Yelawolf, but there was definitely buzz surrounding his performance. Seeing the Alabaman born hip hop artist live was a brutal experience. I was genuinely shocked at how well Yelawolf’s blended the genres of Southern Groove, Hip Hop and Metal into one high energy performance. During the band’s 3rd song, Yelawolf hopped of the stage, made him way to the barricade, crowd surfed, and weaved his way through a few thousand fans before making his way back to the stage. I don’t think you all realize how much trust an artist has to have of their fans to interact with them on that level.
Keeping with the Southern vibe, Kentucky natives Black Stone Cherry were next to the stage. The band’s genuine rock music was just what the crowd needed to maintain their excitement for today’s festival.
P.O.D. followed Black Stone Cherry, and continued to raise the bar for the festival experience. The Christian metal band, formed in 1992, are truly veterans and have used the past 23 years to perfect their stage shows. Vocalist and founder Sonny Sandova spent a good portion of P.O.D.’s set standing on the barricades, leaning into the crowd for a sing-along. I’d seen P.O.D. the night before in Waterloo, Iowa, and the energy level of their stage show didn’t differ from playing in front of a few hundred people in a smaller venue than it did playing for a few thousand screaming fans at Northern Invasion. It was also great to see Sameer Bhattacharya, founding member of Flyleaf, playing keyboards with P.O.D. on this current tour.
A Day to Remember, one of the few bands I’d be seeing for the first time, continued to elevate the energy level of the crowd that P.O.D. had found. Hailing from Ocala, Florida, founded in 2003 by guitarist Tom Denney and drummer Bobby Scruggs, the band’s amalgamation of metalcore and pop punk was what Northern Invasion’s Generation Y fans wanted. Seeing vocalist Jeremy McKinnon command the attention of several thousand fans during the band’s 8 song set was a spectacle to see.
As the day sun began to dip lower into the horizon, Chevelle took the stage. My first time seeing Chevelle was almost 14 years earlier when the band opened the 2nd stage at Ozzfest 2002. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have seen the band over a dozen times, nearly once a year. The musical growth the band has made is the main reason these Midwest natives continue to draw crowds to their shows.
Chevelle’s 8 song set focused on the fan favorites from their lengthy catalogue. Opening their set with Ouija Board, and moving directly into Hats Off to the Bull and Take Out the Gunman, the band set the bar high for their set. Chevelle worked a crowd of thousands into a fevered frenzy with I Get It and Face to the Floor. Their heaviest material was perfectly mixed The Red, one of the band’s highest charting tracks, and gave the fans a chance to rest a bit before slamming into Forfeit, and finally closing their set with Send the Pain Below.
As the sun started to sink below the horizon, the 2nd and 3rd stages were finished for the day, and a few tens of thousands of screaming fans were ready for Shinedown to take the stage. The band’s 12 song set list, picked from 5 of their full length releases, featured fan favorite tracks and focused on their highly popular The Sound of Madness release. Shinedown are another of the bands to play Northern Invasion that I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen multiple times over the past decade. In the past decade, a lot has changed for Shinedown. The band’s music has continued to evolve with each of their releases. Even though some of the tracks in tonight’s set list have been played hundreds of times, each was given a unique live twist, whether it be an extended intro, a retooled bridge, or vocalist Brent Smith altering his vocal range to implement an alternative tone or pitch to reflect a shift or growth for each track in the live setting.
Without the distraction of the 2nd or 3rd stages, tens of thousands of fans were fully focused on Shinedown’s set. While the band focused on their most popular tracks, which is far from unusual for a festival setting, I would have preferred if they’d chosen their heavier material. After 10 hours of thrashing, moshing and head banging, it was odd to see the crowd in a calmer, more subdued state, even if they were singing along with each of the songs played. Overall, Shinedown’s performance for Northern Invasion was the best I’ve seen for the band.
Soon enough though, the moon began to rise, the temperature began to drop, and Rob Zombie would soon be taking the stage. For those fans who’d never seen Rob Zombie live and in concert, tonight would be a special treat. Zombie doesn’t just simply put on a show, it’s an experience. Zombie’s concerts are full on, hardcore theatrics. Having nearly 3 decades of experience, the man has mastered the art of stage performance. Behind Ginger Fish’s drum kit, LCD screens lined the full length of the back of the stage. Zombie, guitarist John5, and bassist Piggy D’s mic stands were detailed replicas of Count Orlok, from the classic 1922 silent film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Orlok’s arms were outstretched like a horrific bird of prey waiting to swoop down on its prey.
With Zombie’s stage costume was inspired by the classic 70’s era Elvis Presley with a horror style twist, flashy silver jumpsuit and long tassles hanging from his sleeves, his dreads flailing from underneath a wide brimmed cowboy hat, the stage lights played perfectly off of him as he jumped and whirled around stage. Bassist Piggy D began the band’s set wearing his studded/spiked leather jacket, and the creepiest children’s vampire Halloween mask. Similar to what we’d find wandering the streets on Halloween night in the mid-80’s.
Touring for the release of The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser, Zombie’s 13 song headlining set would showcase his most recent album, but focus on his heaviest fan favorite material.
Most importantly, the entire band looked like they were having fun on stage. And why shouldn’t they? Zombie was headlining one of the largest festivals in the country, and, even after 11 hours of music, still pulled in tens of thousands of screaming fans who’d waited all day to see the band perform.
Sadly though all good things must come to an end. Thankfully we still had a second day of Northern Invasion to remind us that rock and metal music are not dead.