“Arrrrrrrrrrrrre you ready?!” Korn’s Saturday night set whipped the 40,000 strong Knotfest crowd into a headbanging, fistpumping, bodyslamming frenzy, just one of dozens of heavy metal high points that punctuated the annual Slipknot-headlining weekend-long megaconcert in San Bernardino, California.
How do you sum up a festival featuring 50 heavy music bands, dozens of lifestyle merch booths, amusement rides, motocross and hordes of metalheads from across the planet? It kind of felt like Ozzfest with a hint of Burning Man, especially in the evenings when festival-sanctioned blast furnaces were matched by ad-hoc bonfires on the lawn, fueled by concertgoers chucking wood, cardboard and anything else that burns (or melts) into the flames. The dark, psychotic ambiance of Slipknot was felt everywhere on the grounds of the San Manuel Amphitheater, a warm and welcoming rage that made every metalhead feel at home for the two day spectacular.
The festival kicked off early Saturday afternoon with three stages strewn across the sidestage lawn, blasting every imaginable genre and subgenre of heavy metal in the California heat. Stage 002 and 003 were flip sides of a rotating platform; as one band finished, the entire stage swiveled to present the next act already plugged in, tuned up and ready to jam.
There was far too much music being played on Saturday to hear it all, but some of the best bands included Goatwhore, Red Fang, and Ice T and Body Count ripping through a particularly vicious set of cop-killer metal. Even technical issues couldn’t faze Ice T, who entertained the crowd with dirty jokes (SVU jokes, as he called them) until the guitar was repaired. Headlining the side stages was the always-entertaining GWAR, who sprayed blood and urine all over the eager crowd of metalheads in between on-stage monster fights and general declarations of murderous intent.
Over on stage 004, bands like Belphegor and Kataklysm offered extreme metal for the masses while the Headbang For The Highway stage (005) featured up-and-comers like Green As Emerald, Skyburial and Kaustic shredding for curious new fans. It was especially nice to see high school-aged groups who usually play local bars getting their chance to thrash for the Knotfest faithful. Throughout the early afternoon, Knotfest attendees were able to freely bounce between the stages and enjoy food, beers and Slipknot-curated entertainment like a museum, the Mad Max-style Terror Dome and the thrilling, terrifying upside-down Mega Loop.
But it was the mainstage entertainment that really locked Knotfest ‘15 in as a can’t-miss metal event. Pepper Keenan reunited with Corrosion of Conformity for a special set that leaned heavily on the Deliverance-era songs, and Trivium and Mastodon each held down their 40 minute sets like the modern metal giants they’ve become. By 7pm on Saturday, Knotfest had already outdone the much-maligned Mayhem ‘15 lineup and the headliners had barely gotten started.
The sky was dark and air was cool by the time Korn sauntered onto stage, with the high hat intro to Blind hissing behind them. Celebrating 21 years since their debut release, Jonathan, Fieldy, Munky, Head and Ray ripped through the entire first half of Korn for the ecstatic Knotfest crowd, before visiting later favorite hits like Falling Away From Me and Freak On A Leash. With a monstrous performance that brought the entire venue to their feet, Knotfest night 1 could’ve ended right after Korn’s set and called it a spectacular day of headbanging. But one final act awaited the metal faithful, and despite a small but noticeable stream of fans who chose to leave early, most of Knotfest was in store for a magical set from the legendary Judas Priest.
Despite a mind-blowing 45 year career (!!!), Judas Priest is alive, well and kicking more ass than ever. The addition of Richie Faulkner injected some fresh youthful blood into the band for their Redeemer Of Souls record and tour (read my review of their Denver show here) and Priest absolutely killed it as the Saturday night headliner.
Blasting through classic hits like Metal Gods, Turbo Lover and Screaming For Vengeance, Halford’s voice was fully on point, and never more so than for the encore of Painkiller. Roaring through highs and lows backed by the sizzling guitarwork of the band, Judas Priest ruled the night with Halford’s clenched iron fist and steel-wrought lungs.
The only downside to Saturday’s metal utopia were the shortened sets from Korn and GWAR, both bands currently touring as full headliners for the rest of the country besides SoCal. Otherwise, fans enjoyed amazing value for their ticket price, seeing metal bands of every genre and every level of success and popularity all in one spot. Those who camped out on site partied well into the night, and those of us who crashed in nearby motels did as well. Virtually every fast food joint and convenience store in the city of San Bernardino was flooded with black t-shirt wearing metalheads into the early hours of the morning, and the best was still yet to come on Sunday…