WOUB’s Nicholas Kobe attends his first ever music festival: Sonic Temple 2023

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOUB) – Sonic Temple 2023 provided attendees with not only an exciting festival experience but musical moments the entire world will be talking about for years to come. Over the course of four days, bands both big and small performed for crowds of thousands.

I had the privilege of attending Sonic Temple 2023. While I can’t fit all 33 bands I saw into one article, I want to recap the most memorable performances that made Sonic Temple a great festival to be my first. 

Editor’s note: This article references Kiss’ Sonic Temple performance at their last in Ohio – as it turns out, only a few days after the festival, Kiss announced additional Ohio dates. For full and complete information on Kiss’ performance schedule, visit

Thursday, May 25
Thursday was the opening day of Sonic Temple and most of my expectations around the day proved to be correct. Headliners Tool and Godsmack were the weakest pair of the weekend. Tool’s performance ranking lower in terms of headliners for me is a matter of mainly personal taste. Visually, however, the performance was stunning. The screens behind the band were flooded with strange psychedelic images that felt completely incomprehensible yet absolutely breathtaking. The band also performed quite well, it’s just that a set of long, harder to digest songs isn’t quite the flash of excitement I want to cap off a day of music. I enjoyed Tool – I even respect Tool – but as I’ve never really been a huge fan, this just was not for me.

The other headliner, Godsmack, played before Tool and was easily the weakest of the weekend. While the performance was fine, I found Godsmack’s flavor of post-grunge radio rock to be completely unremarkable. It was remarkable that Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford joined the band onstage to play Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and The Beatles’ “Come Together” – but I feel it shows a weakness in Godsmack’s original material that the “crowd pleasing finale” had to be someone else’s music.

While these two headliners weren’t perfect, some of the other bands on the setlist were some of the highlights of the whole festival. The first band I saw, Bloodywood, hailing from New Delhi, India was not only extremely interesting because of their incorporation of traditional Indian music into nu-metal, but simply had banger after banger to perform. Nu-metal is typically not the first subgenre of metal I seek out but the seamless transitions from melody, breakdowns and rapping mixed with very socially relevant lyrics makes Bloodywood a band that can go toe to toe, and in some aspects even beat some of the titans of the genre.

Punk legends Anti-Flag was a band I had grown fond of from listening to their entire discography prior to my interview with their drummer Pat Thetic. Their performance was electric. It was insanely catchy and fun, yet extremely punk, complete with strong politics and even a medley of some punk classics, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.

Rising metal stars Bad Omens won me over as I had failed to enjoy their music, aside from a few songs, before seeing them live. Their entire set was endlessly singable yet appropriately heavy. It inspired me to give the band a well needed second chance. While it took some time, I now consider myself a fan.

Same goes for metalcore veterans Bullet for My Valentine. The only truly bad set I saw was Joey Valance and Brae, who’s Beastie Boy inspired rap style was out of place at a rock festival like Sonic Temple. Despite good group chemistry, their one note setlist and below average rapping made it one of the more questionable inclusions of the weekend.

Friday, May 26
Friday was a different story. The two best performances of the day were the headliners, Queens of The Stone Age and Avenged Sevenfold. Queens of The Stone Age’s performance was their first show in three years, and they did not miss a beat. Bringing back classic songs, and playing material from the upcoming record In Times New Roman live for the first time ever. I think Queens of the Stone Age has one of the most consistent discographies in modern rock music and the constantly enjoyable setlist more than proved my point. Josh Homme was also one of the most genuinely funny front men of the weekend. The entire performance was exactly what I had hoped for with a band as good as Queens of the Stone Age.

Avenged Sevenfold plays the 2023 Sonic Temple Festival.
Avenged Sevenfold plays the 2023 Sonic Temple Festival. [Image courtesy of Sonic Temple]
Avenged Sevenfold also knocked it out of the park. I was initially a little worried about their performance as I haven’t liked the two singles off their forthcoming album, the quality of their studio music however, did not change the fact that live, Avenged Sevenfold is phenomenal. They bring a fire to their live performance that makes even the worst moments in their discography enjoyable. Pretty much every note was played perfectly, yet there was enough added flair, surprises and interaction with the crowd that made Avenged an ideal live experience.

Aside from those headliners, there were plenty of good bands that played earlier in the day. Des Rocs was absolutely captivating as his old school rock and roll voice and swagger brought his already stacked setlist to the next level. Black Stone Cherry was one of the best country influenced rock bands of the entire weekend and Japanese band Band-Maid brought  exceptional classic heavy metal to Sonic Temple, dressed as maids and singing in Japanese.

There were, however, a few disappointments.

Chevelle performs at Sonic Temple 2023.
Chevelle performs at Sonic Temple 2023. [Image courtesy of Sonic Temple]
Chevelle was another band that honestly I didn’t see what droves of fans flocked to the arena for. In a similar vein to Godsmack, their music just failed to grab me. Knocked Loose was arguably one of the heaviest bands on the setlist so I was really anticipating their set. The only issue was that the higher vocals didn’t particularly work for me, and the instrumental work was nothing really to write home about. Still Sonic Temple day two was mostly pretty good bands. It’s the day I spent the most time at the festival and I enjoyed a majority of what I saw there. Even the bands I just criticized were enjoyable, they just failed to grasp me.

Rob Zombie performs at Sonic Temple 2023.
Rob Zombie performs at Sonic Temple 2023. [Images courtesy of Sonic Temple]
Saturday, May 27 
Saturday’s headliners, Kiss and Rob Zombie, gave what I would argue was the best and second best performances of the festival – respectively. Rob Zombie was non-stop fun start to finish. His growling vocals sound perfect live, and the punch of the nu-metal instrumentation is upped a thousand percent in a stadium setting. Pretty much every song on the set had me bobbing my head. The only people who probably didn’t enjoy the Rob Zombie set were the parents of young children, who were likely unaware of the extremely NSFW images that would be blasted up on the screen with zero warning. While I like Rob’s crassness and his outlandish sense of humor, this isn’t a show to bring the kids to. If you’re an older fan of heavy music though, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss this.

KISS performs at Sonic Temple 2023.
Kiss performs at Sonic Temple 2023. [Image courtesy of Sonic Temple]
The night capped off with Kiss’s final performance in Ohio. It’s a monumental occasion, and while it is sad that such a legendary band hanging up the hat, Kiss went out on top. The best pyrotechnics and lighting effects of the entire weekend were at their set. Every moment where you could reasonably think “hey I think there should be fire here” there was. The band was still very polished, both instrumental and vocally.

Long sections of the show were given to each member for an extended solo section, making their technical talents abundantly clear. Like Rob Zombie before them, it was another set that was endlessly fun start to finish. I was singing and dancing along the entire hour and a half, and I only knew three to four Kiss songs by heart, I was just learning them as I went. While the band’s studio work never made me understand the phenomena this band is, their live show filled in those gaps. This was genuinely one of the best live performances I’ve seen in my life, and I feel so lucky I got to see Kiss before they go.

The sub headliners Saturday also had some notable heavy hitters. Metalcore legends Trivium put on a fantastic show, only hindered by the lack of time they had to thoroughly cover their ten album discography. Avatar played one of the best and most theatrical sets of the entire weekend. I was initially worried because of my disappointment in their new LP, but Avatar’s circus maestro persona for this show and general off the wall behavior took this set to a whole new level. The band themselves were also phenomenal players.

Falling in Reverse was a pretty mixed bag with some fun older songs and some pretty awful new material. Rap-rock group Attila unfortunately had one of the worst sets of the festival. They sounded like stereotypical gym bros trying way too hard to be heavy. Overall however despite seeing much less bands on Saturday, I actually mentioned them all here, I found some of the highest quality performances on this day and probably the best day of the festival overall.

Sunday, May 28 
Sonic Temple decided to go out with a bang – enlisting Foo Fighters and Deftones as Sunday headliners.

While on a list of “bands I like” going into Sonic Temple, Deftones would be high, their actual performance ranked a lot lower. They were far less interactive with the audience than the other headliners – and they had a confusing stage setup. The band had LED poles that could light up, but they were right in front of the screen displaying the visuals for each song. The LEDs obstructed the view of what was otherwise very interesting visuals.

The Deftones perform at Sonic Temple 2023.
The Deftones perform at Sonic Temple 2023. [Steve Thrasher/courtesy of Sonic Temple]
That all being said, in terms of ranking headliners, the final three days of the festival were so good that complaining about Deftones feels like splitting hairs. The band sounds excellent live. They were extremely heavy in a way most bands at Sonic Temple were not, which I really appreciated. They also just are fantastic musicians. Every song sounded exactly how you’d want it too. The omission of “Sextape” was certainly a strange choice but regardless, I really enjoyed Deftones set.

The Foo Fighters were the final band of the festival and the only one given two hours to perform. They were a perfect climax of the weekend. While I still may have slightly preferred Kiss, it’s only by an inch.

This was the band’s third concert since the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, and while Dave Ghrol admitted on stage that the band was less put together than usual, you wouldn’t have noticed unless he said it. The Foo Fighters performed their hearts out and it was legendary. Dave Ghrol is much more aggressive live than on record, getting into some really intense screams. An unexpected but welcome surprise.

Their new drummer Josh Freese was an absolute powerhouse behind the kit. Him and Ghrol’s medley of some of the songs Freese has played on such as “Whip it” by Devo and Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs” was a really cool moment. The shadow of Hawkins’ death loomed large over the Foo Fighters set, and Dave Ghrol was very quick to remind the crowd how the Foo Fighters would not still be around if not for the fans.

Couple the high emotions with the largest turnout for any set and an absolutely killer setlist and you’ve got the perfect finale for Sonic Temple. The Foo Fighters were fantastic, and despite all the hardships they have faced, the future seems bright for the band.

Most of my memory of Sunday is filled by the headliners as the other bands, for the most part really didn’t leave much of an impression on me. The two best sub headliners were Ayron Jones, a classic/blues rock who wrote some of the most memorable tunes of the whole weekend, and Sublime with Rome, a successor to Sublime with half of the original members. I love hearing ska live, and hearing some of the best to ever do it was such a treat. While perhaps not as strong as Saturday, Sunday packed the appropriate punch to make the finale of Sonic Temple a memorable one and left me with a good taste in my mouth.

Overall, Sonic Temple 2023 was a terrific festival. My expectations were absolutely exceeded, not only by the performances but by the festival itself. The visual aesthetic was extremely pleasing. Every decoration was fantastic and it was quite hard to pick which t-shirt design to buy.

There were a lot of interesting vendors, for food and drink as well as other goods. Some of the merchants such as Pretty Cult, Blackcraft and Hellflower Soap Company provided edgy and provocative products that one would want at a rock and metal festival. Sonic Temple 2023 was a great weekend.

As my first ever music festival, I was super pleased with my experience there. While not every band was my speed, that’s to be expected with any festival. Even the worst bands had redeeming qualities and were good performers, it was just the music itself that lacked. For every band I didn’t like there were so many fantastic groups I couldn’t even mention here. Sonic Temple turned me on to so many great artists and created musical memories that will last with me for the rest of my life, and I’d bet I’m not the only person that’d tell you that.