If you live in Columbus and love heavy music, then you must be as frustrated as I am when so many great tours stop in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, yet skip us. Even though it’s a relatively short drive to any of those cities, we shouldn’t have to travel out of town to see a concert. Columbus has a bigger population than all three of our neighbors and, with the glaringly notable exception of a large outdoor venue (we still miss you, Germaine Amphitheater!), there is a veritable plethora of concert halls here, from the tiny, venerable Alrosa Villa to the massive stadium on the campus of Ohio State. Fortunately, 2012 was not your average year, and a lot of great tours did in fact hit our town. Even though many scheduled concerts ended up getting cancelled for various reasons (Van Halen, Fear Factory, Dethklok, etc.), we still averaged more than one high-profile hard rock/heavy metal show a month. That might not be a great ratio for Cleveland, the so-called “Rock ‘N’ Roll Capital of the World,” but it’s pretty spectacular for us, and hopefully the start of a golden age of metal here. For the first time in ages, the amount of in-town concerts attended by me numbers in the double digits, and I’m going to count down the best ten, in descending order. Full disclosure: I did not make it to some shows which should otherwise be on this list, and that includes Behemoth, Rush, Aerosmith and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
10. Warrant at A.D. Farrow Harley-Davidson on June 23. This was a free concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of A.D. Farrow, so you can’t beat the value. Warrant may be lamenting the fact that they’re now playing at Harley-Davidson dealerships instead of arenas, but you wouldn’t know it from their performance. Even when the band’s momentum was brought to a complete stop about halfway through their set so that an interminable amount of time could be spent giving away a free motorcycle, Warrant soldiered on. They rocked an audience that was probably bigger than their usual crowd nowadays, and fed off that energy. Not only did they play all their hits, they also performed the heavy (for them) “Machine Gun,” from their underrated 1992 album ‘Dog Eat Dog,’ as well as choice cuts from their latest release ‘Rockaholic.’
9. Gwar at the Newport Music Hall on April 22. Gwar is a band with a wicked sense of humor. A sick, twisted and delightfully offensive sense of humor, to be sure, but Oderus Urungus and gang know how to get laughs from an audience. The band’s edge hasn’t been dulled one iota over the last quarter-century, but there was definitely a gloomy pall of melancholia draped over the Newport during their performance this spring. It was totally understandable, of course, because of the very sudden and untimely death of guitarist Cory Smoot (aka Flattus Maximus). The band performed as a four-piece that tour because they actually are as human as you and me, and could not bring themselves to replace Smoot yet. In fact, later on in the performance, Smoot’s guitar was brought on stage and highlighted by a single spotlight. It was a touching tribute to the late musician, simple yet heartfelt. Read my full review of the concert here.
8. Symphony X/Iced Earth at the Newport Music Hall on March 7. Symphony X is a phenomenal band and absolutely stellar live; each member is a musician at the top of his craft. However, they were completely upstaged by Iced Earth. Featuring yet another new lead vocalist, the band was chomping at the bit to prove that they’ve lost nothing post-Matt Barlow and post-Tim “Ripper” Owens, and they succeeded. New guy Stu Block flawlessly handled everything the band’s comprehensive setlist threw at him (technically, this was a co-headline tour, but Symphony X closed the show), including the 18-minute-long epic “Dante’s Inferno.” It’s hard for any band to follow that. Read my full review of the concert here.
7. The Sword at the A&R Music Bar on November 8. Perhaps the best new band of the 21st century in a super-small venue? ‘Nuff said! There are no flashy stage effects or very much between-song banter at a Sword gig, just 90-some minutes of phenomenal, glorious metal by one of the most exciting young bands on the planet. Read my full review of the concert here.
6. Lamb of God/In Flames/Cannibal Corpse/Sylosis at the LC Pavilion on December 2. Four great bands in one night! Sylosis proved they’re no flash in the pan; instead, they’re a worthy addition to the long, celebrated list of metal bands from the UK. Cannibal Corpse almost stole the show and gave the audience a clinic on what the death metal genre is all about. In Flames floundered at the start of their set, trying to follow the mighty Cannibal Corpse, but redeemed themselves in the end. Lamb of God brought the house down though, led by an extremely animated Randy Blythe, who had been recently released from a prison in the Czech Republic (imprisoned for his alleged involvement in the death of a fan that fell off the stage during a performance in that country). This show was the perfect antidote to all the holiday music that permeates our lives during this time of the year. Read my full review of the concert here.
5. Machine Head/Suicide Silence at the Newport Music Hall on January 24. I’ve seen Machine Head many times over the past 17 years, but this was the first time I’d ever seen them headline a show. Hopefully, this will end up being just the first of many. They played at least one song from every album, even the ones they recorded in the late 90s/early 00s that aren’t very popular with the fans. Guitarist/vocalist Robb Flynn is a superb, charismatic frontman, whether he’s singing from the heart while playing his flying-V or engaging the audience with stories about his life, the creation of certain songs, etc. This show will also go down in history as the last time Suicide Silence frontman Mitch Lucker, who died in a motorcycle accident last month, performed here.
4. Morbid Angel/Dark Funeral/Grave at Screamin’ Willie’s on September 23. It was a bit of a shock to see three extreme metal bands performing at a country and western bar… who knew that Screamin’ Willie’s would host the heaviest concert of the year in Columbus? We’ve been waiting a looooong time to see Morbid Angel with original bassist/vocalist David Vincent back in the lineup (seriously, I think it’s been 18 years!), but this show made up for it. Read my full review of the concert here.
3. Rock On The Range at Crew Stadium, May 19-20. Despite unseasonably hot temperatures this year and unbelievably expensive concession prices, Rock On The Range was the biggest, baddest, highest-profile show in Columbus this year. This festival has put Columbus on the map, and 2012 featured more metal bands than ever in the lineup. Rob Zombie, Megadeth, Anthrax, Down, Mastodon, Volbeat, Trivium, plus hard rock heavyweights Slash, Shinedown, Halestorm, Marilyn Manson and Incubus… this year had something for everyone. Read my full review of the concert here and here.
2. Megadeth/Kyng at the LC Pavilion on November 20. This was Megadeth’s second stop in Columbus in 2012, but whereas their performance at Rock On The Range was pretty much a greatest hits show (albeit with the semi-obscure “Poison Was the Cure” and “Dawn Patrol” thrown in), their show at the LC featured the entire ‘Countdown to Extinction’ album performed in its entirety. Combine that with the most elaborate stage show the band has ever used, as well as an on-fire Dave Mustaine talking about politics, and you have the second best show at the LC and in Columbus this year. Kyng did an outstanding job opening for the thrash legends too. Read my full review of the concert here.
1. Anthrax/Testament/Death Angel at the LC Pavilion on February 3. The Megadeth show was eclipsed only by the triple death punch of Anthrax, Testament and Death Angel. Death Angel thoroughly whipped the audience into a frenzy, and they were just the appetizer. Testament, who probably has not performed in Columbus for close to two decades for some reason, was absolutely flawless and played a comprehensive setlist comprising some of the best thrash metal ever created. Anthrax was the icing on the cake though, despite the absence of both drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello (due to the death of Benante’s mother), but Gene Hoglan and Joey Vera filled in flawlessly. Just to hear the band belt out “Deathrider” alone was worth the price of admission. Read my full review of the concert here.