Following a day of booming hard rock and metallic mania that all but run the entire gamut of stylistic expressions therein, the second day of the long-running, Florida-based festival Welcome To Rockville would take on a more consistent character. Though by no means a uniform assembly of acts new and semi-old, the focus would fall primarily on those bands that made their respective splashes either in the 2000s or at an even more recent point and time. This sense of cohesion would thankfully be accompanied by a more favorable set of meteorological circumstances, avoiding the unfortunate reshuffling of schedules that would lead to a couple of shortened sets and bands performing against each other rather than in an orderly succession. But when judging the cumulative outcome of the performances that would take place on May 19th, 2023 at the Daytona International Speedway in contrast to the previous day, it would largely be a matter of taste rather than an objective assessment.
Once again the daunting task of being first to the stage on this marathon slough of rock intrigue would fall to a younger flock, though in contrast to the orthodox and comedic nu-metal antics of Silly Goose, the up tempo and melodic mix of metal punk rock doled out by Ottto would come with a tad bit more gravitas. Much of this owes to the virtuosic bass input of Tye Trujillo, son of the famed 4-string slayer who brought the noise with Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves and has been riding the metallic wave with none other than Metallica for the better part of 20 years. Suffice it to say, this Venice Beach born trio wanted for nothing in the energy department, though Tye’s new and much shorter hair cut may have raised a few eyebrows among their existing fan base prior to the first song commencing. Needless to say, their set did well in revving up an audience that was already overflowing with anticipation as they banged out monster jams like the carnival from hell ode “Dance Of The Dead” and the chunky riff monster “Ride Low”.
The tone and tempo would be pulled back a bit for a dank and more bluesy atmosphere with the entry of Bastardane, a doom rock/metal quartet with an equally auspicious blood connection to the elder titans of thrash metal. Led by the deep and husky baritone of Jake Dallas, whom in addition to making frequent stylistic nods to 70s Ozzy Osbourne was decked out in an auspiciously theatrical getup and occasionally rocking a guitar depending on the song, they pummeled away with a level of intensity and heaviness that saw guitarist Ethan Sirotzki channeling the spirit of Dimebag Darrel through an otherwise orthodox homage performance to Tony Iommi. But the quarter of this quartet that was most likely the biggest crowd draw in terms of both awareness and response was drummer Castor Hetfield, whom no doubt did his father and Metallica helmsman James proud as he wailed away at his kit in a fashion too heavy for yet otherwise reminiscent of Bill Ward. Stand out entries from their set would include dank stompers like “Gaslight” and “Praise No Bliss”, but as with an hungry up and comer, there were no slouch points to be found.
The successor to the two sons of thrash, namely UK rock trio Tigercub, would draw the energy level down to a mellow daze yet maintain a palpable level of edge to things. Even those on this side of the Atlantic who had never encountered their handiwork could have surmised that theirs’ was a sound born out of a happenstance meeting at university given the generally high-browed and artsy character that came along with each song, underscored by guitarist/vocalist Jamie Stephen Hall’s frequent dynamic shifts between a subdued, nonchalant croon and a calculated howl. Their stage presence was comparatively static compared to the prior acts, opting for a laid back vibe befitting their alternative rock proclivities, though Hall’s guitar work often employed a highly animated, almost rockabilly-like soloing style that provided an interesting contrast with the heavy rocking grooves of standout entries like “The Perfume Of Decay” and “Sleepwalker”. Chalk it up a performance that underscored music over theatrics, but the contrast would serve them well among a lineup of faster and more visually-geared acts.
The festivities would witness a notable jumpstart in the energy department with the entry of relative newcomer yet highly visible hard rock revivalist and New York native Des Rocs. Boasting a list of influences that includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Queen; to speak nothing for the impressive array of elite rock titans that he has toured with such as Muse, The Rolling Stones and The Struts, it was predestined that his inclusion in the Welcome To Rockville family would lead to the proverbial house being rocked something fierce. Decked out in red leather and energetically frolicking about the stage like the reincarnation of Roger Daltrey, with a troupe of musicians in tow that were equally avid in their performance and on-stage mannerisms. A pure mastery of crowd work would be on display as front man/solo artist Daniel Rocco turned a few technical issues into moments of comedic brilliance, let alone the stellar vocal performance that he’d turn in that would render his banter including statements like “I’m here to drag rock and roll into the 21st century kicking and screaming if I have to!” and “This is what I was put on this earth to do!” as matters of fact rather than conceit, especially given that he’s racked up more than 130 million online streams and cracked the Top 30 on Alternative Radio since entering the scene in 2018. Fan favorites like “Wayne”, “Used To The Darkness” and a rock solid cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” were among the highlight moments, though newly minted and heavily inspired by The Who number “Never Ending Moment” would end up stealing the show.
Next up would be the hard-hitting trio from Monterrey, Mexico known as The Warning, and they would bring their usual blend of impact-based musical intrigue and raw feminine energy something fierce. Power trio becomes less a complement and more a barebones description of what this band is about, with guitarist and lead vocalist Daniela Villarreal raising the invisible roof with her soulful and sky-scraping voice. The other two sisters that rounded out the rhythm section in Paulina “Pau” and Alejandra “Ale” Villarreal were no less riveting in their delivery, bolstering the de facto sea of monstrous riffs with intricate rhythms and massive beats that left little mystery as why the Foo Fighters chose them as their support band when rocking out to 60,000 fans in Mexico City last year. Their set would send shockwaves to all in attendance via an obligatory rendition Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” that has been a staple of theirs for some time, though a similarly fierce performance of their newest single “More” and that of familiar entries like “Choke” were not far behind.
A sense of nuance combined with an old school bluesy swagger and an assortment of other influences would reign over the South Florida faithful when Ayron Jones took the stage. Being known for his stylistic eclecticism yet also bringing a consistent mode of expression to bear on the assortment of grunge, rock, hip-hop, soul and various other genres included in his signature sound, he was a marvel of professionalism on stage and a certified master of the hard rock art. Having shared the stage with such noted icons as B.B. King, Patti Smith, Jeff Beck, The Rolling Stones, as well as somewhat newer rock mainstays like Living Colour, Guns N’ Roses, Slipknot and Lamb Of God, it could be argued that Ayron was at least equal to the rather astounding precedent set by New York impresario Des Rocs earlier in the afternoon, but the performance he and his touring band consisting of guitarist Matt Jacquette, drummer Bobbi Jimmi and bassist Bob Lovelace was more visually measured, though no less musically astounding, and drenched in swagger. Standout entries from his colossal set would include “Supercharged”, “Otherwise”, and especially the high-impact power ballad “Blood In The Water”.
The energy level would be brought back to a raging frenzy with the entry of Los Angeles alternative/emo rockers Badflower into the fray, culminating in a 180 degree turn from the reflective and humble presentation of Ayron Jones to a full blown party atmosphere. As the consonant and infectious hooks of their ultra-melodic does rang out through air; a sea of incessant cheers emanated from the crowd as they were, in turn, being inundated in an ocean of colored balloons that seemed to depict the tidal wave of sound coming from the stage as they bounced about. Each member of this quartet was highly animated as they blew through their set, though special note should be made of bassist Alex Espiritu, whom all but stole the stage from singer/guitarist Josh Katz as he jumped, head-banged and moved his instrument about in every axis without missing a single note. Though only 10 years, 2 studio LPs and 3 EPs deep into their career, this was a band that checked all the boxes of a veteran act that had been rocking the stage since their adopted style first picked up steam more than 20 years ago, with banger entries like “The Jester”, “Move Me” and “Johnny Wants To Fight” being among the standout moments.
Scranton, Pennsylvania metalcore extraordinaire outfit and frequent festival attraction Motionless In White would go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining the energy level established by Badflower when they subsequently took the stage. While their bag of stylistic tricks would ring familiar to anyone with even an elementary knowledge of the mid-2000s explosion of metalcore bands that was their birth period, they’ve proven time and time again that a blend of theatricality and passion can go a long way in distinguishing one from the pack, and this afternoon’s set by them would prove to be no exception. Lead vocalist/ringmaster of this melancholy circus in white Chris “Motionless” Cerulli led this quintet of saddened mimes turned instrumentalists through a blistering set of riff-infused cuts, as the stage they were rocking was tricked out with loads of dry ice and pyrotechnics. The audience response was nothing short of pure pandemonium, as a hurricane of crowd-surfers and moshing bodies moved in perfect harmony to the pummeling blend of melodic post-hardcore and metal influenced material, with standouts like “Masterpiece” and “Another Life” inspiring the most raucous reactions.
Topping up a veritable hat-trick of emotionally charged rocking mayhem would be the Michigan-born quintet (not including touring bassist Jon Eberhard) of nu-metal/pop punk infused post-hardcore trustees I Prevail, and they had a comparably auspicious display to make them distinct from their two immediate predecessors. Even before the first chord was struck the spectacle that unfolded was a unique affair, beginning with a couple exchanging marriage vows right on the spot, which in itself could have counted for a show-stealing moment even prior to the headliners taking the stage. What followed could be described as one of the most impressive 1-2-3 punches of any set thus far, as lead vocalists Brian Burkheiser and Eric Vanlerberghe led the crowd through a frenetic battle royale to the infectious grooves of their three best known entries in “Bow Down”, “Body Bag” and “Self-Destruction” respectively. Likewise, the rest of their 45 minute set saw no shortage of frenzied circle pits and meandering crown-surfers, with banger entries like “Deep End” and show closer “Gasoline” also inspiring some truly off the rails audience participation.
The mix of rockers and shockers would get a bit more eclectic when the country-steeped swagger of Hardy (birth name Michael Wilson Hardy) came into the picture with proverbial guns ablaze. Born in the state of Mississippi and making a name for himself in the Nashville circuit, it goes without saying that this relative newcomer’s country rock bona fides were already in order before the music played, and the number of bodies in attendance chanting his name suggested a star that had been riding high in the sky for a lot longer than the 5 years he’s been at it. Decked out in attire that one would more readily associate with a rapper, singing with the level of soul and attitude befitting an old school country boy, and supported by a band that was looking to rock as hard as Lynyrd Skynyrd on their best day, terms like melting pot just don’t quite describe what the awaiting crowd was in for, to speak nothing for the elaborate display of LED screens and lighting that would culminate in one of the more elaborate visual showcases of the festival. Crowd response was at a fever pitch throughout the 12 song slough that this southern fold brought to the table, with original bangers “Jack”, “Truck Bed” and “The Redneck Song” trading blows with two highly impressive covers of STP’s “Big Empty” and Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” respectively.
As night fell above the stages at Daytona, the anticipation level was beyond measure when Evanescence, one of the elder yet not ancient standard-bearers of rock, took the stage. For all the years that have passed since the band’s breakout debut Fallen established its hegemony upon the rock charts and MTV’s then still semi-existent music video rotation, front woman and mastermind Amy Lee effortlessly filled the airwaves with her unique vocal resonance, bathing all in attendance with its beautiful mixture of Björk-like quirkiness and melancholy. The rather sizable recent lineup shift that resulted in guitarist/backing vocalist Jen Majura to exit the fold seemed a distant memory as bassist Tim McCord seamlessly melded into his new role as rhythm guitarist, whereas newly recruited bassist Emma Anzai of the Australian alt. metal band Sick Puppies fame proved equally as apt as Majura in providing additional voice work. One would also be remiss to pass up mentioning lead guitarist Troy McLawhorn’s intricate solo and riff work in helping to shape what was truly a colossal wall of Gothic and metallic ambience. Crowd response was actually at its absolute zenith during the obligatory classics from Fallen in “My Immortal”, “Going Under” and “Bring Me To Life”, as well classic entries from their sophomore LP “Call Me When You’re Sober” and “Lithium”, though newer blends of metallic fervor and somber piano work like “Use My Voice” and “Broken Pieces Shine” went over famously.
Though debates could well rage until the collapsing gates of Armageddon as to who among the headliners could be counted as the king of the hill, the last band to take the stage, namely long-beloved metalcore icons Avenged Sevenfold, pulled no punches in making their case for the crown. Having been off the scene for the better part of 5 years prior to their first comeback show the previous week in Las Vegas, their evening display of musical heroism at Welcome To Rockville was undoubtedly amped up considerably by the accompanying redemption ark, and the fervor of all in attendance made no secret of that fact. The familiar blend of old school heavy metal, alternative, progressive and post-hardcore sensibilities that has been their modus operandi since their mid-2000s commercial breakthrough was brought in spades, with the howling wails and banshee shrieks of M. Shadows and the virtuosic six-string wizardry of Synyster Gates being the chief attractions. A ballet of dancing stage lights or pyrotechnics was reciprocated with a correspondingly chaotic display of crowd activity as energy-packed classic anthems like “Bat Country”, “Hail To The King” and “Nightmare” all but cracked a massive hole in the sky above. Even more musically nuanced and elaborate recent entries like the progressively-geared “Nobody” were greeted with an explosive level of enthusiasm, topping off a day that could best be described as WTR’s reign of the young generations. Though an elder statesman beyond the age of 50 was not to be found among the lineup of this festival’s second day, it proved to be no less compelling.