In October, some of the biggest names in heavy metal music brought 50,000 people to the sixth annual Aftershock music festival in Sacramento. A mild cold front moved through the region days before the event began, blowing away the smokey skies that had engulfed Sacramento from the devastating fires in the nearby wine country. The cold front gave way to nearly perfect weather for the two-day festival, with warm sunny days and cool nights prevailing. The event takes place in the beautiful tree lines Discovery Park on the edge of the Sacramento River.

Aftershock began as a single day festival, with a modest main stage headlined by the Stone Temple Pilots with Scott Weiland, and a tiny second platform, with relatively unknown bands at the time such as the Hollywood Undead. This year's festival featured a massive two-day lineup, headlined by Nine Inch Nails and Ozzy Osbourne, on two massive main stages and one smaller one.

The festival grounds also featured dozens of food and beverage stands, gourmet food trucks and artisan stalls. By early afternoon on the first day, heavy metal hitmakers were already performing on the main stages. Nothing More, fronted by Jonny Hawkins on lead vocals and additional percussion, brought their high-energy show to an already burgeoning crowd. Hawkins had a giant hydraulic drum kit that he would ride like a contraption from a Mad Max movie. The crowd loved the performance, surging towards the stage. The crowd on the first day was mostly older fans, probably due to a line-up heavy on veteran alternative metal bands like Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle.

The Eagles of Death Metal played an emotionally inspiring show, endearing themselves to the crowd early on. Lead singer and guitarist Jesse Hughes rode onstage on a tiny bicycle to kick things off. The desert rockers opened their set with a blistering version of 'Magic' with a guest appearance by Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds.

Gojira brought their French version of hardcore heavy metal to the stage next in a blaring afternoon sun. The sweaty crowd screamed their approval as the band played some of their most intense songs including 'Flying Whales' and 'Only Pain'. Drummer Mario Duplantier showed the audience why he deserved the Loudwire award which named him the best heavy metal drummer of the year.

Georgia-based heavy rockers Mastodon also played a blistering mid-afternoon set. The band have become music festival veterans and always deliver a robust performance.

As the sun dipped below the horizon the park was painted in a beautiful orange afterglow as the music switched to hip hop with Run The Jewels taking the stage. The fiesta rappers, Killer Mike and El-P, drew a huge crowd. The band played the hit songs that have made them so famous including 'Stay Gold' and 'Legend Has It'.

As evening fell and temperatures cooled to jacket weather, A Perfect Circle exploded to life in a cacophony of moody metal sound and stroking backlight. As usual, the enigmatic lead singer Maynard Keenan lingered mostly in the shadows in the back of the stage, while guitarist Billy Howerdel and bassist Matt McJunkins maniacally raced about at the front. Guitarist James Iha and drummer Jeff Friedl rounded out the alternative metal powerhouse.

The first day ended with a dramatic evening set by one of the most intense hardcore bands in music, Nine Inch Nails. Since 1988 Trent Reznor has brought his dark vision of hardcore industrial metal music to life. The current incarnation of the group is one of the most intense and melodic at the same time, from the many lineups that Reznor has organized over the years. With over two dozen former members, Reznor has drawn on many talents to produce the sounds of NIN. The massive show at Aftershock featured blinding lights, immense fog machines, and an enormous sound system, blaring the extreme noise across the park. Reznor tore through some of his most significant hit songs and new material including 'Wish', 'March of the Pigs', and 'Something I Can Never Have'.

The crowd for day two of the festival was even bigger than that for the first day. The audience also appeared to be significantly younger, possibly drawn by the many new waves of metal bands on the second-day roster. Despite an early afternoon set in the blaring sun, the space metal band Starset produced an eye-popping show full of special effects. The innovative group sounded like a cross between Arcade Fire and Metallica, and featured creative video, giant smoke volleys, led spacesuits synced to the music and more, to produce a fascinating sci-fi version of metal. The band played music from their themed new album including 'Into the Unknown', 'Satellite' and 'Telescope'.

Next up, Suicidal Tendencies brought the only real hardcore punk music to the festival. The band, fronted by lead singer Mike Muir, unleashed an explosion of crowd surfing and mosh pit dancing fans that persisted through the rest of the afternoon.

The Los Angeles based Butcher Babies had the next set which was cut short by technical difficulties. But that didn’t keep the group led by Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey from performing an explosive headbanging set that had the sweltering crowd moshing and crowd surfing en masse. The band was one of many the second day highlighting a strong showing by female metal rockers taking the lead role.

In late afternoon the Hollywood Undead played an explosive main stage set with a much larger crowd than their performance at the festival six years earlier. The audience responded well to this year's show with thousands surging towards the stage. Moshing and crowd surfing seemed to reach a fever pitch as the band tore through their triumphant set.

The next set featured Halestorm, fronted by another charismatic female singer, Lizzy Hale. When the band won their first Grammy in 2012 for best hard rock/metal performance for 'Love Bites (So Do I)', Lzzy became the woman to earn a Grammy in that category. Since then the talented singer has transformed herself into a powerhouse rocker on the cutting edge of new metal music. Combining elements reminiscent of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo classic hard rock with modern speed metal, the band produces a rich musical soundtrack that wowed the crowd in Discovery Park.

Another charismatic female vocalist led the next set by the metal band In This Moment. The Goth metal band put on the most intricate and intriguing show of the day, with all members of the group in full gothic makeup and costumes. Lead singer Maria Brink began the show emerging from a red tent topped by a white cross. Her with like persona was worshiped by a pair of masked female minions. The show featured all sorts of ritual happenstance and special effects. But the impressive metal sound and competent vocals are what made the show so compelling. The only downside was that the performance took place in late afternoon, bleaching out many of the special effects in harsh sunlight.

The next band to play the main stage was the Dallas based hardcore metal band Power Trip. The band just won the Loudwire music award for metal song of the year, with 'Executioner’s Tax'. The group played straightforward metal music without a lot of special effects, garnishing a massive mosh pit response from the enormous crowd.
Thrash metal band Five Finger Death Punch played the next set as the sun set on the park. It was evident that the cocky Las Vegas band was the main reason many of the youngest fans had come to the second day of Aftershock. As the rambunctious group riled up the crowd with their antics, young fans surged towards the stage in mass. Security guards could be seen pulling some exhausted concert goers from the oppressive crowd.

As twilight engulfed the venue, the godfather of heavy metal music, Ozzy Osbourne arrived onstage to play the final set of the festival. One of the hardest working singers in show business, the Black Sabbath singer recently finished a nearly four-year-long final world tour with the legendary metal band. But he is already back on the road with his band, featuring the return of Zak Wylde on guitar for the first time in a decade. Ozzy opened his 75-minute set with 'Bark at the Moon'. The set contained the singer's biggest solo hits, as well as some Sabbath classics, including 'Crazy Train', 'Mr. Crowley', and 'I Don’t Know'. It was a fitting end to California’s premier metal festival.

Photos by L. Paul Mann

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