HEARTSUPPORT FEST 2023 Day 2 Recap - A Testament To Music’s Unique Ability To Partner Up With A Weighty Cause

February 24, 2023, 4 weeks ago

Words by Jonathan Smith | Photos by Joel Barrios

gallery heavy metal heartsupport fest

The 2nd day of festivities would see slightly less favorable climate conditions, as Florida’s signature blend of heat and humidity would bear down on the huddled masses at the onset of early afternoon. Nevertheless, the 1:30 PM arrival of Florida natives and groove metal crushers Prison to the Hot Topic Foundation stage would see the audience ignoring the heat as they were led into full rage mode. The fist-pumping stylings of Pantera were all over this outfit’s blend of metal and hardcore elements, and no punches were pulled in the heaviness department as their unique arrangement of two basses and no guitars brought a unique element into play. 

They made the most of their short set as their tattoo-covered vocalist frolicked about the stage and scored points with the crowd at each moment, though their signature stomper “Still Alive” would steal the show. Shortly after on the Better Help stage, California metalcore maniacs and C.S. Lewis fans Silent Planet would bring a technically-charged prog-metal approach into the equation. With a blend of intricate sounds, post-rock textures and thought-provoking lyrics covering the topics of war, psychology and religion, they managed to stay in their own world for their full 20-minute tenure on stage. Their unique look relative to the rest of the festival’s lineup would be matched with a highly unique execution, with brutal djenting monster offerings with oodles of peripheral twists and turns like “Panic Room” and “Signal” standing atop a 5-song sea of atmospheric aggression.

Back on the Hot Topic Foundation stage, 2:30 PM would see the arrival of a more concentrated dose of forceful metallic bluster via Chicago straight edge hardcore trustee Harm’s Way. Sporting a more stripped-down punk arrangement with emphasis on crushing guitars, thunderous drums and charismatic front man James Pligge’s signature growl, their craft boasts a powerful combination of groove, industrial, death, and even some black metal trappings that could be likened to the mutant offspring of Code Orange, Slipknot and Godflesh. The set would be short but sweet, with the thudding riffage of their signature metallic anthem “Human Carrying Capacity” standing the tallest. At a little past 3 PM over on the Better Help stage, Georgia noise rock duo 68 would pull off an impressive set with only drums and a guitar in view. The showcase presented would be a visually intricate one, as front man Josh Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada led a raucous crowd through a musical journey that could be dubbed punk rock’s answer to The White Stripes, and the groovy rocking swagger would shine the brightest as they romped through their banger entry “Whether Terrified or Unafraid”.

As the afternoon progressed, the Florida heat would begin to ease off, though the same definitely would not be said for the energy level as Four Year Strong took the Hot Topic Foundation stage at 3:30 PM. Though these Massachusetts natives have often had their style dubbed as “easycore” given the hyper-catchy blend of pop/punk sensibilities with the signature metalcore stylings of the 2000s (not all that dissimilar to somewhat better-known contemporaries New Found Glory), their set would bring on the audience participation something fierce as uplifting, sing-along choruses and metalcore flourishes rang out in the Florida air. Their 20 minutes was a marvel of qualitative consistency, but one couldn’t help but be particularly taken by the infectious hooks of “Get Out Of My Head” and “Go Down In History”. The Better Help stage would subsequently become the stomping ground of Ohio hardcore quartet Hawthorne Heights, bringing a similarly melodic swagger to the festivities as the aforementioned Four Year Strong, though with more of an alternative/indie rock edge. In a sense, their half hour showing presented a sense of relief for those who simply wanted a collection of catchy songs to let loose to, and the saccharine-tinged goodness of infectious romps like “Saying Sorry” and “Ohio Is For Lovers” presented a particularly tasty pair of treats for the ears.

The cool of evening still a couple hours off, 4:30 on the Hot Topic Foundation stage would see more of a needed cool down from the metallic rage of earlier in the day with New Jersey Emo rockers Senses Fail. Taking on a similarly melodic and smooth approach to the two preceding bands, this tattoo-toting quintet would bring an energetic presentation into things, drawing from their extensive back catalog of 8 studio albums and matching raunchy screamo elements with ultra-smooth fanfare, with some occasionally intricate bells and whistles via the guitar duo of Gavin Caswell and Jason Milbank. Highlight moments would include a bouncy opening banger and olden classic in “You’re Cute When You Scream” that touched up a streamlined, up tempo punk rock assault with some Iron Maiden-like guitar harmonies, and recently minted groovy number “Death By Water” making a solid splash and their set-ending medley of covers “Chop Suey!/Bodies/Break Stuff/Bulls On Parade” garnering the most avid crowd response.

Things would get a tad more eclectic at 5 PM on the Better Help stage with the arrival of Canadian indie rock-tinged post-hardcore pushers Silverstein. Sporting a strongly melodic emo swagger that was still largely comparable to the sugary stylings of several preceding acts, they would mix things up a bit more both stylistically and technically speaking, ushering a fittingly quirky presentation in line with their moniker’s namesake and children’s author Shel Silverstein, and bringing the energy factor with the best of them. Their 45-minute set would consist of some familiar odes of metalcore’s heyday era such as the uber-catchy and upbeat “Smile In Your Sleep” and the emotionally-charged power balladry of “My Heroine”, with vocalist Shane Todd roaring and crooning in rapid succession. Nevertheless, some newer entries in their catalog such as “Bad Habits” and “Die Alone” also garnered a raucous response and showcased a band that is still thriving in the present.

Continuing the Canadian invasion of this festival as evening approached and the longer headliners were in view, avant-garde artists with a heavy dose of alternative metal trappings Spiritbox would take the Hot Topic Foundation stage in their usually unique and distinctive fashion at 5:45 PM for a theatrically-charged 45 minute display. A different outfit for each entry would be rocked by visually auspicious and stylistically schizophrenic front woman Courtney LaPlante, with guitarist and de facto second front man Mike Stringer mixing things up something fierce as the rhythm section provided by drummer Zev Rose and touring bassist and former As I Lay Dying member Josh Gilbert did well to punch through a sea of electronic ambiences and piercing vocals. The usual assortment of progressively realized yet infectious anthems like “Yellowjacket”, “Holy Roller” and “Rotoscope” would be the staples of their set, and despite their obviously different presentation, crowd activity would become so animated that the photo pit would be cleared after two songs.

With the light beginning to fail at the onset of 6:30 PM on the Better Help stage, the first hour long headliner of the evening, namely California-born metalcore extraordinaire outfit The Ghost Inside, would bring the fire with their highly melodic blend of post-hardcore and melodic death metal after the molds of Unearth and As I Lay Dying. The presentation would be a bit simpler than the abovementioned influences, as guitar gymnastics would be sparsely employed in favor of an accessible presentation geared towards maximum crowd participation, and there were plenty of crowd surfers forcing the security crew to earn their day’s pay from the onset of the opening song. The presentation spared no expense in the heaviness department, as their marathon 15 song set would keep the crowd roaring at full volume, with catchy thrashing entries like “Engine 45”, “Mercy” and show closer “Aftermath” shinning especially bright, though the coup de grace of their set would occur towards the middle of their set via “Between The Lines”, which would see the festival’s mastermind and August Burns Red front man Jake Luhrs join the band on stage for a truly epic display of metalcore ferocity.

The night now in full view at quarter after 8 PM on the Better Help stage, the final act of this two-day metalcore extravaganza, namely Chicago masters of the art Rise Against, would seal the deal with a blistering 75 minute set. The visual presentation was so saturated with dancing white lights and intense strobes to give the average human being a seizure that recalling the finer details of what took place musically was all but a fool’s errand, but the crowd would prove completely unphased by the exaggerated spectacle as they moshed and crowd-surfed through each entry of their 16 song set, which included a truly gripping encore performance of their trio of classic hits “Make It Stop”, “Paper Wings” and “Savior”. All the same, this highly established hit machine from the windy Midwest scored winners at every turn, and bangers in the midst of their expansive set like “Satellite” and “Help Is On The Way” proved no less potent than the explosive numbers that ushered in and then concluded this riveting spectacle.

When all was said and done, the HeartSupport Fest’s first run was a massive success from both an attendance and performance standpoint, and with the redress of a few flaws in how the photo pit was situated and some beefing up of security, it’s the sort of event that could definitely have a future if Jake Luhrs and the organization bearing the festival’s name opt to hold it again in the coming years. It was a testament to both the continued viability of the American metalcore scene more than 20 years after its initial birth and commercial breakthrough, as well as the sub-genre’s unique ability to partner with a weighty cause. Though it might not have matched the scope of some of the older socially conscious festivals that have come and gone in the preceding decades, the level of passion and camaraderie displayed by the bands and the fans was, if nothing else, equal to the legacy of what came before. The average attendee may have come away with some bruises and sore muscles, but those with less visible injuries that were the cause of this event are sure to come away better for it.

Check out our coverage of Day 1 here.

Featured Audio

OVERKILL – “The Surgeon” (Nuclear Blast)

OVERKILL – “The Surgeon” (Nuclear Blast)

Latest Reviews