Yesterday’s reprieve from the elements has come to an abrupt end, with the dark clouds opening just as the first wave of punters file through the turnstiles. Thankfully, the showers fail to diminish the beer-fuelled revelry of the tailgating army encamped outside of Columbus Crew stadium.
Amid the gathering squall, we head over to the main stage, where the first act – billed only as a “Special Guest” – turns out to be the debut of Saint Asonia , the newest entrant to the clustered supergroup conclave. Fronted by former Three Days Grace vocalist Adam Gontier, the lads kick the day off with an adrenalised clutch of alt-metal bruisers that manages to both chase the rains away and galvanise the three thousand hearty headbangers gathered in front of the main stage.
Over at the Ernie Ball stage, a yowling horde of wild-eyed metalheads clutching Sabaton  vinyl and t-shirts greet the Swedish metallers with a roar, lending a hometown vibe to the proceedings. Rain be damned, the band dive headlong into Ghost Division, riding hard through an abbreviated thirty-minute set that includes Carolus Rex and Primo Victoria.
With a steady drizzle hydrating the main stage crowd, one would be forgiven for mistaking Of Mice & Men’s  opening salvo for a clap of thunder. Frontman Austin Carlile is all grins between songs as he whips an already-feisty crowd into a delirious swarm of circle pits and crowd surfing to killer cuts like Public Service Announcement, Broken Generation and Feels Like Forever.
With the imminent release of his new album, Cauterize, Mark Tremonti  is chomping at the bit to kick off a new album cycle and he comes out swinging, with a bludgeoning set of stadium-friendly riffs and blurred finger fretboard dynamics.
Across the stadium on the smaller Jagermeister stage, Saxon  celebrate their thirty-fifth anniversary with a fist-pumping greatest hits showcase that includes Motorcycle Man, To Hell And Back Again and The Eagle Has Landed.
Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts  have attracted a massive gathering by the main stage. Lashing rains greet the band as they take the stage, as Weiland’s wildly-talented guitarist, Nick Maybury, fires off the pulsating opening riff of Crackerman, and while the stadium registers its collective approval, it’s quite apparent that a slippery stage is hindering the musicians’ movements. Unfortunately, Weiland is clearly not in top form this afternoon, however, his delivery notably sluggish and off-tempo.
Next to this evening’s headliners, the most talked-about act today are Babymetal  and well before their entrance, 20,000 curious onlookers have noisily crammed in front of the Ernie Ball stage to see if the band are indeed for real. Then it happens. Against a backdrop of bludgeoning melodic death metal, the perky trio leap, kick, windmill and throw horns in perfect synchronicity as the baffled faces in the crowd melt into broad grins of fist-pumping approval to a set that includes Gimme Chocolate, Catch Me If You Can and closer Zettai.
On the main stage, In This Moment  offer the only logical follow-up to the Babymetal spectacle with an eye-popping showcase of colours, smoke canons, thunderous metalcore riffage and Maria Brink’s captivating gyrations, covering blinders like Sick Like Me, Adrenalize and Whore.
”I hope you brought your disco shoes,” jokes In Flames’  frontman Anders Friden, as the Swedish melodeath dealers proceed to lay waste to Columbus with a thirty-minute set of bludgeoning riffage and double-kick destruction on mosh anthems such as Everything’s Gone, Where The Dead Ships Dwell and Paralyzed.
Unlike many of the nu metal legends suiting up for the genre’s Lazarus-like rebirth, Papa Roach  never slowed down and their well-oiled stage show, including Face Everything And Rise and Scars sees the stadium shudder with the stress of a capacity crowd jumping, moshing and ferrying surfers to the photo pit as if they had a quota.
“These motherfuckers only gave us forty minutes to do our best songs,” laments a gasmask-sporting Al Jourgensen, over at the Ernie Ball stage. “I figure we have at least forty-two minutes’ worth,” the Ministry  frontman cracks, feverishly orchestrating an industrial metal maelstrom that includes Punch In The Face and Thieves.
Massachusetts’ Godsmack  have been around long enough to know exactly what a stadium crowd needs and they serve up a double helping on the main stage, serving up acres of Drop-D grooving bouncy and elasticky tempos that prime the Rock On The Range crowd well for the headliners.
It’s hard to conceive how many of today’s bands might sound without the incalculable influence of Judas Priest , and tonight the metal gods guide the seething audience through a retrospective of their 33 year career, including Jawbreaker, Victim Of Changes, Painkiller and Hell Bent For Leather, featuring Rob Halford riding out on his Harley.
Waterlogged, riding on fumes and having the time of our lives, we’re already looking forward to day three.
All photos by Stephanie Cabral.