Rumours of the Apocalypse have been greatly exaggerated. In the hours leading up to day one of Rock On The Range, Ohio’s meteorological prognosticators had predicted naught but torrential rains, thunder, lightning and general waterlogged misery all day long. But the metal gods are having none of it. Instead, the proceedings, sprawled out in the historic city of Columbus, kick off without a drop in the sky as Missouri’s Shaman’s Harvest  take the Ernie Ball stage just before noon, administering a bruising set of whisky-soaked, double-fisted electric blues, rendered with a wild, untamed abandon and with that, the party is underway.
Making the trek up from South Carolina, Islander  ratchet up the velocity with a thrilling barrage of rap-metal, wasting not a second of their 30-minute set. It’s not yet 1pm and we’re dripping with sweat.
The roar of the main stage crowd that greets We Are Harlot  underscores how dramatically things can change in just a year. At this time last year, Danny Worsnop was still fronting Asking Alexandria, but today it’s clear that the American heartland have embraced Harlot with feverish delight, as the band run through a masterfully-paced campaign that sees the lads in top form. Propelled by guitarist Jeff George’s titanic and impossibly danceable hooks, the set includes Dancing On Nails and a howling cover of Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down.
Running back to the Ernie Ball stage, we catch Vamps  showcasing precisely why they enjoy such a rabid global fanbase. Infusing a relentless alt-metal attack with muscular industrial riffage and impossibly bendy stage acrobatics from frontman Hyde, the Japanese metallers have earned a legion of new fans.
With their eighth studio release just out, Apocalyptica  bask in a warm Ohio welcome, taking the stage with singer Franky Perez, who leads the metal-worshipping cellists through new material like Cold Blood as well as hits like I Don’t Care.
Most curious on today’s lineup, ‘90s refugees Live  hit the main stage with singer Chris Shinn, who replaced original frontman Ed Kowalczyk after his acrimonious split from the band, whose chunky, mid-tempo alt-rock feels not so much dated as out-of-place among today’s hard-charging lineup. The Dillinger Escape Plan  don’t so much take the stage as spontaneously combust into a vortex of sprinting, gyrating and skull-powdering heaviness. It feels as if at any one moment, at least two of the five members are in mid-air, with shirtless and steely-eyed singer Greg Puciato ascending the scaffolding and then hauling out into the crowd, where he grabs a punter’s straw hat and fits it on himself without missing a syllable. We are utterly bereft when the breathtaking set finally draws to a close.
Fan favourites Hatebreed  administer a ruthless hardcore beating on the Jagermeister stage, with Jamey Jasta orchestrating a full-throttle campaign that includes In Ashes They Shall Reap and Destroy Everything.
Although there’s no shortage of legends in the arena today, none boast the enduring and inimitable legacy of Slash , whose already-prolific post-GNR legacy has taken on a comet-like momentum since assembling Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators as his full-time band. With the sun washing Mapfre Stadium in a warm golden glow, beach balls ping pong across the grounds, girls dance in the aisles and ecstatic punters raise their beers to the sky as the band run through Night Train, You Could Be Mine, Back From Cali, Slither and Paradise City. At this moment, there is no bigger party in the United States of America than Rock on the Range.
Marilyn Manson  takes the stage promptly at 8pm but ever the showman, he waits nearly a full minute before turning to acknowledge the crowd, who howl with delight at the sight of his painted visage. There is an element of real danger in his set – an unhinged menace that infuses his every gesture with dangerous unpredictability – at one point he chews a setlist while singing the chorus of Mobscene. Sleazy industrial riffage fills the stadium on belters like _The Dope Show _and The Beautiful People, as the singer lurches, bobs and shakes with the spasmodic fervour of a snake handler. Smearing makeup on his face between songs, he’s entirely black by thunderous closer Irresponsible Hate Anthem.
Fellow midwesterners Slipknot  have toured relentlessly for nearly a year and they proceed to destroy the already-high expectations with a 90-minute scorched earth campaign of hits that draw deeply from their vast catalog. The stage awash in flames, smoke and the eye-popping sight of nine men hurtling about in masks and jumpsuits, the Iowa wrecking crew wring the final drops of energy out of the capacity crowd with a set that includes The Heretic Anthem, Psychosocial, The Devil In I, Custer and closer Surfacing.
Day two, you’ve got an awfully high bar to clear.
All photos by Stephanie Cabral.