Nicholas Kobe on Sonic Temple 2024: Fred Durst ‘radiates light-hearted fun,’ Judas Priest still rocks, and Slipknot finally ‘makes sense’

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOUB) – The third ever Sonic Temple Art and Music Festival brought some of hard rock’s biggest names to Columbus over the weekend. Nicholas Kobe attended the festival and reported back to WOUB Culture. 

Thursday, May 16

On the opening day of Sonic Temple 2024 I found myself united with hundreds of other hard rock fans, not so much based on our musical likes and dislikes, or even in excitement over the festival; but mostly because we all had a hard time just getting through the gates.

Unlike last year, there was only one entrance, which meant a line so long it spilled out into the scorching hot parking lot.

Once inside Sonic Temple proper, however, the mood lifted. This is thanks to Nita Strauss, my first set of the 2024 festival.

An image of guitarist Nita Strauss playing on stage at the 2024 Sonic Temple Music Festival.
Nita Strauss plays the first day of the 2024 Sonic Temple Music Festival in Columbus, OH. [Photo by Jake Miller DWP]
Her virtuosic guitar playing is,  of course, the highlight, but I was impressed by her backing band as well, in particular her vocalist. Having her kick off my Sonic Temple was the perfect start, especially considering Nita’s previous Sonic Temple experience, which she spoke about when I interviewed her earlier this year.

After Nita, the overall quality dropped off, with middle of the road sets from the likes of Catch Your Breath, P.O.D., and Theory of a Deadman. All three were very generic in their respective subgenres (metalcore, nu-metal, alt-rock) and left my head faster than they could enter.

The mediocrity that defined the middle of the day did end up having a purpose, however. It emphasized just how brightly the Nova Twins can shine. The English group showed a remarkable amount of talent, not only in fusing rock with modern pop music in a way that feels more unique than the “slap a clean hook between breakdowns” approach. They also were able to overcome technical issues, while keeping the good vibes going – no small feat. I loved the way Nova Twins, especially bassist Georgia South, made use of pedals and electronics to drive these songs. As an alt-rock band, they hit every note I could’ve asked for.

The post-6 p.m. stretch of day one was, frankly, absurd.

The introduction of a fourth stage this year meant more bands, but it also meant more overlapping sets and more fans frantically trying to catch bits of simultaneously occurring sets. The choices I had to make regarding who to dedicate my time to was agonizing, especially on my legs, which were sore from speed-walking from stage to stage mid-set to see a little bit of everyone.

The introduction of a fourth stage this year meant more bands, but it also meant more overlapping sets and more fans frantically trying to catch bits of simultaneously occurring sets. The choices I had to make regarding who to dedicate my time to was agonizing, especially on my legs, which were sore from speed-walking from stage to stage mid-set to see a little bit of everyone.

While this was annoying, I felt the need to do this because Sonic Temple had two great groups playing simultaneously that evening. Slayer’s guitarist, Kerry King’s new band shared a time slot with German metal/EDM fusion, Electric Callboy. Both groups represented different ends of some of the much-needed diversity in sound at Sonic Temple.

Kerry King (yes, his name is also the name of the band) sounds just like the Slayer material King’s famous for. This meant I was treated to a set full of nonstop, head-pounding thrash metal.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the festival, and on the other side of the music spectrum, is Electric Callboy, a band that blends EDM with heavy metal. While my interview with Electric Callboy gave me an idea of what to expect, the pure fun, energy, and excitement they brought to Sonic Temple still really impressed me. The group was, to be blunt, silly, and I think that’s a blessing to a festival like this.

I ran into the same kind of predicament later that evening while trying to catch both Judas Priest and Cypress Hill. Two legends booked at once. Being legends is one of the only things Judas Priest and Cypress Hill have in common. The only other is that they were both phenomenal.

Judas Priest is a band that’s impossible for me to rate objectively, as they’re my favorite metal band of all time. The simultaneous power and true unabashed fun Judas Priest constantly emits is unmatched. This, plus a setlist filled with phenomenal song after phenomenal song, proves Judas Priest still is just as fierce and awe-inspiring as ever.

While the relay between Judas Priest and Cypress Hill was exhausting, it wasn’t as exhausting as dancing through Cypress Hill’s set. This is a “get off your feet and jump” kind of band. These MCs traded their signature old-school West Coast flows back and forth in a way that never let the energy drop for a second. Cypress’ head-bopping beats,  great stage presence and audience interaction made this set fly by and left me wishing they had even more time to keep the party going.

One of the biggest surprises of Sonic Temple 2024 was sub-headliner number one, Evanescence. This was mainly due to Amy Lee’s inhuman vocal power. Fluctuating between loud, powerful, and gritty to angelic whispers, she was truly a force to behold. These ear-grabbing vocals, along with fantastic performances from the rest of the band, made Evanescence’s set one of the most epic of the whole weekend.

Oh, Disturbed was also there.

I feel like I should have more to say about the first headliner of the festival, but I don’t. Disturbed gave a good performance of what are, in my opinion, pretty forgettable songs. Their cover of The Sound of Silence is the best song of their set, not so much because it’s one of Paul Simon’s finest; it’s just a better-written song than Disturbed’s original material.

I wasn’t disproven in my skepticism about their worthiness to headline. I still feel like a 50-minute set would be a better fit for them, as opposed to all the bands I have talked more positively about, who’d make better use of the time.

Friday, May 17

Friday’s lineup left me with, frankly, very little to say.

This isn’t a bad thing, however, with most of the bands falling under the category of “good band plays good songs and does a good job.”

Two bands from the undercard that both went above and beyond, however, were Gel and Scowl, both hardcore groups with great stage presence, technical skill, and great songs to back it up. I could have easily sat through a set of theirs that was twice as long, and both bands deserve a higher billing in the future.

Speaking of good hardcore, Drain has been making a splash for a while now, and Sonic Temple was a great place for them to showcase why. Many bands say they’re “for the people” but very few pass the microphone around the front rows of the audience to have them scream the lyrics. Drain came with the energy and ferocity that gets a crowd rowdy, which is exactly what the crowd wanted.

The most notable flop of the day was TX2. The self-proclaimed “5’4 man-wh*ore”’s brand of Machine Gun Kelly-esque TikTok edge fell completely flat, with cringeworthy lyrics and mediocre vocals taking the spotlight away from the solid performance of the backing band.

On the other end of cringeworthy lyrics fell the day’s first headliner, Las Vegas’ Falling In Reverse.

Falling In Reverse was actually pretty decent, but their “14-year-old boy who found dark humor on Reddit” vibe, really soured what was, to me, an otherwise good performance. The band skillfully overcame technical issues to put on a pretty captivating show, with the notable exception of the rapping in their newest material. My hold up with Falling In Reverse’s petty rebellion clearly is the minority though. The fans were in love with it and, objectively, Falling In Reverse put on a captivating performance.

Friday’s offering of heavier options was a nice surprise, with Anthrax, Soulfly, and Mr. Bungle. While I only got to see Anthrax and Soulfly, I will welcome thrash metal to Sonic Temple with open arms. It helped that Anthrax and Soulfly gave great performances that felt like getting punched in the face for an hour, but in a good way.

Having never seen Soulfly live, I was blown away by Max Cavalera’s inhuman growls. I expected greatness from the mind behind Sepultura, but still, Soulfly easily won the “most brutal band of the day” award.

On the more alt-rock to pop-punk side, I enjoyed New Year’s Day, Black Veil Brides, Rise Against, and Sum 41, with the latter two being the big highlights.

Considering Sum 41 is calling it quits, I felt lucky to see them. It turns out Sum 41 isn’t clocking out early. They gave Sonic Temple 2024 an electrifying pop-punk set that felt refreshing in a festival of mostly harsher bands.

Rise Against was also good, with very minimal visuals, despite being one of the higher-billed bands. While a big black screen with white text that says “RISE” isn’t thrilling to look at for an hour and some change, the fact that everyone was so invested in Rise Against the whole time despite that really speaks to the performance capabilities of this band.

Finally, the night closed with The Misfits, a band that somehow lived up to their larger-than-life legend while remaining down to earth in the way punk bands should be. Clearly unrehearsed, The Misfits took minute-long breaks between every song to reconvene about “what to play next.”

They actually took audience feedback about what types of songs they should play. Not only did this add to the ethos, they were able to pull off all these sporadic changes, delivering electrifying performances each and every time. The Misfits delivered unhinged punk chaos while still being a tight, professional, headline-worthy band. While I was disappointed in the lack of festival goers who stuck around for them, The Misfits provided one of Sonic Temple’s best headline shows for the people who did.

While I was disappointed in the lack of festival goers who stuck around for them, The Misfits provided one of Sonic Temple’s best headline shows for the people who did.

Saturday, May 18

Sonic Temple day three was the latest I arrived at the festival, and while I certainly appreciated the extra sleep, I knew I had to be at the Cathedral Stage at 3:30 p.m. for Kittie, who absolutely blew me away.

The best brutal metal band of the entire weekend, Kittie had an unending ferocity that coursed through my veins their whole set. Their instrumental talent along with good riffs and melodies gave them all the building blocks of insanely killer metal. I went in having respect for Kittie, and left eager to dive headfirst into the discography of one of Sonic Temple’s most exceptional bands.

Speaking of exceptional, In This Moment and Sleep Token, two bands who represent the theatrical flair of modern metal, absolutely excelled at Sonic Temple.

In this Moment’s cult-like aesthetic was the most successful set of “personas” throughout the entire weekend. It was genuinely disturbing at moments. On top of that, their musical performance went over very well live, especially the operatic vocals. Considering I struggle to connect with In This Moment’s music on the albums, hearing and seeing it live made me appreciate the group more than I ever have.

The same goes for 2023’s big metal breakout, Sleep Token. This masked band’s genre-bending sound came across as more natural in a live environment. Their “mask and ritual” gimmick wasn’t as truly threatening as In This Moment’s, but with the help of Vessel’s butter-smooth vocals and blistering screams, it felt tumultuous, yet seductive. Both In This Moment and Sleep Token were great examples of how visuals, a well-crafted setlist, and committing to an idea can turn a good band on record into a phenomenal live act.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case across the board for day three of Sonic Temple.

Lacuna Coil had impressive moments and decent songs but failed to leave an impression on me beyond that. This also goes for In Flames, who was one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend. While I loved hearing solid performances of excellent songs, there wasn’t anything about In Flames that felt unique live versus on record.

Headliners Staind and Pantera delivered good performances. They were not good enough to make me, someone who isn’t crazy about either group, a fan (the way Kiss did last year) but both still exceed my, perhaps unfairly, low expectations.

Pantera in particular I thought was good, as did the audience. Zakk Wilde and Dave Lombardo being added to the band’s lineup ensures greatness, even if the shoes of the legendary Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrel are impossible to fill for even the best players. For Pantera fans skeptical about whether the band is even worth seeing after the tragic passing of both Dimebag and Vinnie, I’d say that 2024 Pantera is not only a loving tribute to those two men, it’s just a good Pantera show.

Sunday, May 19

As Sonic Temple’s final day came and went, a lot of the same patterns emerged.

In terms of new talent from smaller bands, Plush and Dead Poets Society resonated with me the most. Dead Poet’s brand of catchy, but grimy, garage rock really stuck out to me, with their set containing some of the most danceable grooves and catchiest songs of the whole day.

Plush’s straightforward hard rock approach isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s so excellently written and performed that you can’t help but love it. The band tore through their consistently good lineup of original tracks, along with a phenomenally executed cover of Heart’s Barracuda. In a crowded lane like hard-rock, Plush’s exceptional songs, and charismatic stage presence make them distinctly a cut above their contemporaries.

Some great performances were also given by L7, Bad Religion, and Baroness later on in the day, all performing faithful and captivating renditions of their rock-solid discography. L7 especially stood out for retaining their punk rock attitude and biting edge that dulls for most over time.

After talking to Donna Sparks before the festival, this didn’t exactly shock me, but L7’s stage banter went over better than most.

In terms of stage banter though, no act crushed it quite like Limp Bizkit.

The nu-metal punchline of a band was fully aware of how ridiculous they were, and they owned it. Lead singer Fred Durst was the funniest person at Sonic Temple and radiated light-hearted fun. On top of having me laughing more than any other band, Limp Bizikit’s songs work so well in a live context and with a floor full of fans. Over the course of Sonic Temple, the energy of the stadium was never filled with as much reckless fun as it was during Limp Bizkit, and that was a massive highlight of the weekend.

Lead singer Fred Durst was the funniest person at Sonic Temple and radiated light-hearted fun.

Unfortunately, my post-Bizkit excitement came to a violent halt with 311, a supposed sub-headliner who flopped harder than anyone else at Sonic Temple. This set was littered with failed attempts at charisma and unbearable rapping in every forgettable song. Fred Durst’s rapping in Limp Bizkit is, objectively, not great, but considering he’s so unserious, it works.

While 311’s reggae-rock fusion should make them another fun band in this light, they just weren’t. Their attempts at an unironic cool factor gave me horrible secondhand embarrassment. Except for the noticeably awful rapping, everything else was surprisingly bland for what is supposed to be a musical cocktail of a band but proved to be more of a baffling choice of subheadliner.

Sonic Temple closed with Slipknot, a band I was intrigued to see, even if I can’t get into their studio discography. I’m happy to report: Slipknot came through in full force. Just like In This Moment and Sleep Token, the iconic masks and jumpsuits tied the whole Slipknot package together in a way they just can’t in the studio. The blistering swaps between rapping, singing, and screaming feel a little less jarring when there’s the cohesive glue of visuals to hold Slipknot together.

This led to a performance that finally made me understand the phenomenon of Slipknot in a way Disturbed and Pantera failed to. With fantastic musical performances across the board, as well as an electric stage presence and an even more electric audience, I found myself enjoying their performance more than all but a handful of bands at Sonic Temple. Their larger-than-life sound and theatrics felt like an appropriate climax to finish a massive weekend of music.

Slipknit performs on stage at the 2024 Sonic Temple Music Festival in Columbus, OH.
Slipknot performs at the 2024 Sonic Temple Music Festival. [Photo by Jake Miller DWP]
With Sonic Temple 2023 being my only other festival experience, it’s hard to compare Sonic Temple 2024 to anything but that. While each excelled in certain areas, my initial skepticism of Sonic Temple 2024’s lineup did prove to be, in some ways, correct. Only half of the headliners managed to turn in shows I felt were worth top billing, with even Slipknot and The Misfits falling pretty handily short of the bars set last year by The Foo Fighters, Rob Zombie, and Kiss.

The addition of a fourth stage was nice for a variety of bands, but it did lead to a lot of tough choices and overlaps that wound up stinging me quite a bit, especially as someone who appreciated the musical diversity some of the conflicting sets brought to the fest.

Sonic Temple 2024 may have failed to live up to some of the life-changing heights of Sonic Temple 2023, but it still provided an ample selection of awesome bands and phenomenal performances to those who looked further down than just the first line of the poster.