By Dr. Abner Mality
After having sneered at Ozzfest for about the last five years, the 2004 line-up induced me to take the plunge. Two words above all encouraged me to make the trek to the land of $4.00 Aquafinas and $6.00 Hotwings again: JUDAS PRIEST!
Maybe that should be three words. Yeah, I think JUDAS FUCKIN' PRIEST is a bit more appropriate. The return of the World's Greatest Metal Band in its classic incarnation was more than enough incentive. Never did I think I would hear Rob Halford's piercing screams in conjuction with Downing and Tipton's slicing guitar work again. If the rest of Ozzfest featured crap like Unloco, Linkin Park, Depswa, etc, etc, I would have still braved it to face the Priest.
The result of a jam-packed line-up had us minions of Wormwood in the parking lot at 9:30 on a shockingly cool August morning. And still we missed out on God Forbid and were able to check out just a bit of red-hot Unearth's set. But you can't win 'em all and overall, we were most pleased with the day's festivities. The metal Gods blessed us with an exquisitely gorgeous day of clear blue skies, low humidity and gentle breezes. Absolutely ideal, and the sublime weather in conjunction with the beautiful natural setting seemed to calm the tens of thousands of patrons who gathered for the Fest. There was plenty of moshing and crowd surfing especially by the second stage, but I never saw anything overtly violent. Even on the notoriously steep hills by the main stage, circle pits never involved more than a couple dozen moshers. As opposed to the several HUNDRED I have seen in the past.
The crowd was a rather entertaining collection of aged metal fans there to soak up the glory of Priest, Black Sabbath, and
HOWEVER! I would advise any broad weighing more than 150 pounds to PLEASE not get upper body paint applied. This year saw a bunch of female walruses stripping to the waist to have psychedelic body paint troweled on. FOR GOD'S SAKE! Have the decency to be HOT before taking off your top! Speaking of which, I was in pretty good shape out on the lawn, getting flashed by some fairly hot phillies. Ah, the pleasures of an outdoor concert!
On the whole, Ozzfest 2004 was a great experience and a much-needed boost after the dismal debacle of Milwaukee Metalfest. Thanks to all the cool people we met, like Dan and his buddy in the media tent, Chris Fox and Otep Shamaya, Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir, Hank Williams III of Superjoint Ritual, Mossy of the Heavils, Sean from MMM, and too many more to mention.
Following are our looks at some of the individual bands:
Unearth - by Thrash-head
Despite missing the first few songs due to unforseen difficulties with security at the front gates, I did manage to catch a few songs from Unearth. Really awesome stuff. Ken Susi, the short-haired guitarist, has told me that he thinks his band is much more hardcore that is incorporating the metal into it, but I would still tend to disagree. One only has to watch the synchronized movements between he and co-guitarist Buz McGrath (sorta like what Judas Priest and Chimaira do), not to mention the overall presentation and the music itself to know that there is more metal here than meets the eye. Really awesome metalcore stuff that impressed immensely. I only wish I would have seen them from the beginning.
Bleeding Through - by Thrash-head
The band that put out one of the most amazing releases of 2003 was definitely the highest on my must-see list. I mean, Slayer is ALWAYS cool, and I had never seen Priest with Halford, but having recently bought and loved the new live DVD, I can honestly say that I don't think there was a band on the 2nd stage that was more suited for the live arena. I mean, if the awesome hardcore-meets-thrash-meets-death-metal-with-keyboard-atmosphere wasn't enough (think Eighteen Visions, At The Gates, and a smidgen of Immolation all rolled into one and you...kinda...get an idea), then the way the band carries themselves on the stage is truly that which makes new fans.
The goth/fashioncore image, the crowd interaction, the acrobatics of bassist and frontman...and speaking of frontmen...JESUS CHRIST!!! You could not ask for a more perfect frontman for this type of music. Sure, he's got some of the best growls, snarls, and singing in the genre, but damn can he entertain! He flys from one side to the other as if strapped to a giant pinball, does a sommersalt, and keeps right on going. Truly a frontman for frontmen to emulate! The musicianship is all around excellent as well, from the sultry keyboardist's lush overtones, to the straight-from-the-thunder-god drumming, to the guys out front, this band is a keeper and needs to be in this scene. I thoroughly enjoyed this set.
Every Time I Die - by Dr. Mality
Dark Starr knew a little about these guys but they were unknown to me. I know frontman Keith Buckley is a bit of a wildman and got in trouble for running around naked at an Ozzfest show a few weeks prior. I do have to say, the band put full energy into their brand of "hillbilly thrash". Loud and chaotic, the unfortunate thing about this bunch is that they basically play the same song eight or nine times in a row and it gets old by the end of the set. Full marks for enthusiasm, low marks for songwriting. Not really one of the standouts
Atreyu - by Thrash-head
Coming from the same school of hardcore-meets-metal as Bleeding Through (that being Orange County) but having a much more melodic and almost downright emo-inspired tinge to it (in my opinion, they are emo, not metal. Ugh!--Dr. Mality), Atreyu is another band I waited in high hopes for. Victory debut "Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses" suffered from that all-too-common problem of all the right ingredients and not getting the best end result, but the new disc was most impressive on every level and I was anxious to hear how the new tunes stacked up live and how the same band could make the old tunes work as good as the new ones do.
Atreyu deliver the goods evenly and relentlessly; not letting up for anything. High speed buildups, cool melodic breakdowns, and everything in between. It just amazes me that a band can go from full-out aggression and break it down to some of the most ear-pleasing choruses as effortlessly as they do it. I have simply never heard it done better.
And how about that guitar playing?
Throwdown - by Dr. Mality
Here was a band that I had no prior experience with at all. Almost every description I had heard described them as "Hatebreed lite". Well, the Hatebreed comparison is not totally off the mark, but I didn't hear anything lite about these guys. In fact, from what I could tell, they stole some of the thunder from Hatebreed. It was just a brutal, naked exhibition of pure hardcore, owing just as much to greats like Agnostic Front and Madball as Hatebreed. It was foul-mouthed and thuggish and Dark Starr didn't like it much, but these guys grab you by the balls and MAKE you mosh! "I wanna see the biggest fuckin' circle pit of the day, "snarled their frontman. And he just about got it, as a huge cloud of gravel dust was kicked up by the faithful. That's a pretty good testament to the pure adrenaline of these guys. I saw them a couple weeks later in Rockford at Forest Hills and they are even more devastating in a smaller venue. They were definitely one of the sleeper acts at Ozzfest this year.
Magna-Fi - by Dark Starr
After having listened to and very much enjoyed Magna-Fi's Burn Out The Stars album, I was looking forward to their Ozzfest appearance. I thought that they would be a well-needed respite from the barrage of extreme soundalike bands that after a time can weigh very heavy. Unfortunately they didn't deliver that relief. Their live show came across as more of the same old run of the mill sound practiced by extreme bands all over. I am not sure if the album is a poor representation of the true sound of the group or if they simply altered their live sound for the Ozzfest crowd, but it was really a disappointment for this reviewer. They were certainly competent at what they did, but the true magic to the album is not the heaviness or hard rock textures of the songs, but rather the fact that the group can do this all within the structure of a catchy, well-written song. That essence was lost in the performance, only showing up in the occasional effective chorus.
Part of the problem may have been the sound at the second stage, as it was a constant problem throughout the day, but I really don't think that that can be blamed for the entirety of it. The band certainly had a high energy level and came out and delivered, giving the show all that they had. The problem is that they need a more clear and distinct sound live to bring out the more subtle aspects of their material that are what really sets them apart from much of the rest of the bands that were on the bill.
Otep - by Dark Starr
This was another of the Ozzfest performers I was really stoked to see, and they did not disappoint me. I think that's because I was expecting something a bit different than what the typical Ozzfest headbanger/mosher was, and they delivered. I guess for many of the people in attendance who were not in the know the show may have left them scratching their heads a bit. It was obvious, though, that there was a large group of the faithful gathered around the stage, and they seemed to really enjoy the band's performance.
This is a band who I am betting is different with every show. That also is a rarity in modern music. I am definitely interested in following this band, as they seem to be one of the truly original and artistic adventurers in the industry. I expect great things from them, and I have a hunch they are going to continue to deliver.
Devil Driver - by Dr. Mality
Dez Fafara's new band gets roundly criticized in some quarters by those who call the former Coal Chamber frontman and his boys "bandwagon jumpers". That could very well be true, but I thought Devil Driver kicked a ton of ass at Ozzfest and outdid more touted bands like Hatebreed and Superjoint Ritual. It was a tightly focused and sweaty set that seemed to be tailor made for the angry, mosh-hungry kids gathered at the Second Stage. A combination of death metal intensity with nu-metal chops and a hardcore vibe, it didn't disappoint and Dez is an excellent frontman. He was one of the few second stagers who didn't waste a lot of time calling everybody "motherfuckers". "Some of you may have heard of my former project," he remarked drolly. "Well, we won't be playing any of that today." Though known as a nu-metal frontman, Dez's voice has always been wellsuited for death metal and the harsher climes. His band matched his intensity with a furious and powerful set.
Original Devil Driver is not, but devastating in the live setting they most certainly are.
LAMB OF GOD - by Dr. Mality
Lamb of God's status as one of the hottest rising metal acts was confirmed when they snagged a prime spot on Ozzfest's second stage this year, sharing the prestigious "non-rotating" slot with Hatebreed and Slipknot. And in fact, the crowd reaction to these guys seemed to justify that placement. In a lot of ways, Lamb reminds me of Pantera about 12 years ago. Only these guys seem more focused, thrashier and a bit more extreme.
Poor guitar sound plagued their opening number, as lack of amplification really killed the precise riffing and aggression. This was mostly made up for by the enthusiasm of frontman Randall Blythe. Again, I hate to invoke Pantera, but Blythe has a lot of the raw "everyman" charisma of Phil Anselmo. That is, before substances clouded Phil's brain and unleashed his tongue, which any fan of Superjoint Ritual can now attest to.
The guitar sound improved as the set went on (though it never really gained full force) and one could better appreciate the precision of the playing. These guys are definitely not into simple-
Though not without some youthful flaws, Lamb of God is certainly a name to watch in the future and I greatly anticipate their next record, "Ashes of the Wake".
Dimmu Borgir - by Dr. Mality
Pardon the pun, but Dimmu Borgir were always one of the "black sheep" at this year's Ozzfest. Despite some strong inroads made in the last couple of years, symphonic black metal from Norway is still off the radar for many U.S. metal fans, particularly the bare-chested, chin-bearded toughs who dig Black Label Society, Superjoint Ritual or Hatebreed. Ozzfest 2003 featured the debut of Cradle of Filth on the Second Stage and word has it that the English decadents didn't go over that well at most stops.
Dimmu had the added pressure of being on the main stage this year. To their credit, they did not alter their sound or presentation one iota to conform to other bands. Opening with a long classical music intro, the evil ones took the stage in full corpse paint and spiked leather regalia, leaning into complex, keyboard-saturated black metal and not letting up. It was obvious early that Mustis' keyboards were emphasized too much in the mix, with the guitars not having the power they should have had. A beefier guitar sound would have added punch to this presentation.
The vocals are to me the most endearing thing about Dimmu and this part of their set was spot on. Shagrath's sinister croaking sounds more like a real Norse troll than anybody else in black metal. He has a great, evil sound,where individual words can be clearly understood. Bass player Vortex really excelled with his clean, operatic tones. He has an outstanding voice that is every bit as good live as on record and which contrasts brilliantly with Shagrath's gnarly growls.
The band zipped through a selection of cuts from their last two albums before heading into the quite epic "Kings of the Carnival Creation", which mixed fast and slow parts with a lot of bombastic melody. Finally, they wrapped up with "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse"(which has inspired one of the greatest heavy metal videos of all time, in my opinion), which has really become an anthem of the more melodic black metal of today.
Crowd reaction to Dimmu varied. They certainly had some devoted fans in the front and spread throughout the pavillion area, but reaction on the lawn was pretty subdued. This may have been the first experience many concert goers have had with the lavish, evil tunes of Dimmu Borgir. It's quite a step up from the likes of Drowning Pool or Puddle of Mudd to their semi-classical, harsh, fast metal, but I would say the Norwegians went over about as well as they could have.
Slayer - by Dr. Mality
Slayer have made the transition from the screaming young hellions of the metal scene to venerable greybeards. Plying their trade for over 20 years, they are not really all that far removed from Judas Priest and Black Sabbath in the eyes of young fans.
They were certainly one of the most anticipated bands to play at Ozzfest this year. I wasn't even out of my car before the usual bellowings of "Slayerrrr!" cut through the country air. The band's fans are absolute fanatics, but their performance this year left just a little to be desired.
They cannot be faulted musically. They are as tight as ever and there's no doubt whatsoever that the return of drum-meister Dave Lombardo has elevated their game. Dave was great, executing high speed drum rolls and fills that other Ozzfest bands could not hope to duplicate. The guitar sound was good and crisp and even Tom Araya, whose vocals have been somewhat suspect in the past, came across well.
What hurt the band was their song selection. No "Angel of Death"? It's true the song is about as surprising as Metallica playing "Enter Sandman", but it may still be the single greatest thrash song ever. It means just as much to Slayer fans as "Paranoid" means to Sabbath's legions. It certainly belonged a lot more than lame newer material like "Stain of Mind" and the awful "Bloodline".
Working with a brief set time made the inclusion of the aforementioned tracks even more mysterious. This was a set where
As a longtime Slayer fan, I would have liked to seen "Chemical Warfare", "Black Magic" or the seminal "Hell Awaits" included. But you can't have it all. The band still hammered down a fine set of thrash metal. After seeing their killer performance on 2003's Jagermeister Tour, where they played "Reign in Blood" in its entirety, I can't help but see this Ozzfest set as not quite measuring up. It was a good thrashing time, but not overwhelmingly intense as it has been in the past.
Judas Priest - by Dark Starr
There was a day when Judas Priest were in my top two or three bands, and I had seen them more often than any other band. I originally saw them on the "British Steel" tour, and the last show with Rob Halford was the "Operation Rock and Roll" tour. That last tour to me showed a band that had done all they could and had lost the fire and drive to truly be a band. So, when Halford and Priest split, and they found a new vocalist in the person of Ripper Owens, I thought that maybe it was a well needed infusion of new blood. When I saw that lineup live, though, they felt more like a Priest cover band than the real deal, and I found myself hankering for the return of Halford to the fold. Well, now in 2004 that change has come to pass, and this made the Priest appearance the most anticipated show all year for me.
The band did not disappoint! They were certainly the most vital and powerful performance of the entire day at Ozzfest. As Glenn Tipton told me in my interview with him, they did nothing other than the classics (and that in itself, although I expected it was one of the few disappointments for me). It really felt, and looked, like they were enjoying playing them again. I haven't seen them look to be so into the performance in years, and it felt great. Halford's voice was spot on, catching the high notes as well as ever, for much of the show. The only other complaint, though, is that for some reason he chose to change the timing of his delivery on some of the tracks. On most occassions this worked, but, on "Hell Bent For Leather" in particular, it really took away from the track.
It was interesting to see all the young metal heads before the Priest set, essentially disregarding the band, and thinking that they had seen the best shows of the day already. Then, to see them while Priest was actually playing, pushing their fists in the air, high fiving each other and singing along really made my day. It was obvious looking around the crowd that the Priest had won over virtually everyone in attendance, even those who doubted them. It's good to know that they were able to please both the uninitiated and the old-school fans like myself. This bodes well for Judas Priest in the new millenium, and I certainly hope to be along with them every step of the way on this new glory ride.
Black Sabbath - by Dark Starr
Ever since their original reunion with Ozzy I have made a point to see Black Sabbath whenever they came around. This time marks the 6th time I saw the lineup, and of all the shows, it was the weakest. While the band made their way through a good cross section of their classic material, the set was considerably shorter than on previous tours, and they just didn't really seem to be fully involved in the show. Perhaps they were tired, but they looked bored (Doesn't Iommi ALWAYS look that way?--Dr. Mality). They also didn't play with the precision that I have been accustomed to seeing from them, getting downright sloppy at points. The stage set was rather minimalistic in comparison to earlier tours. I have to say, though, that with all that is going on in the world today, "War Pigs" definitely has taken on a new relevance, and the video footage of war machines and armies on the march certainly brought that home.
The final word is that while this show was entertaining and enjoyable, I found it a bit disappointing. The sad thing is that after a killer screaming set from Judas Priest, the Sabbath set was a bit of a let-down. (I was more than satisfied...my expectations were pretty low after Ozzy's injuries and the band exceeded them.--Mality) It's too bad they weren't playing as well as they did in 2001, then it might have been a real contest.
By Dr. Abner Mality (cont.)
Well, you may have noticed a few bands that didn't get the in-depth treatment. Here's our painless ten second takes on
God Forbid: Missed them completely. Idiots at the security gate debated whether our press passes were legit while they played.
Lacuna Coil: Cristina was hot, the sound was not. The crowd seemed to love them.
Darkest Hour: From what I could tell, they were the most overtly heavy band of the day. I should have given them more attention, but by the looks of things, they really had the crowd by the throat
Hatebreed: Sabotaged by the worst sound of the day. Absolutely NO power to the guitar, making them sound ridiculously weak and thin. It's a tribute to their following that they still inspired some enormous moshpits. We can't really judge them by this performance.
Black Label Society: Sounded far better than I thought they would. "Biker metal" is an apt description of their heavy but bluesy sound. Zakk Wylde's vocals were surprisingly palatable and his guitar playing was outstanding.
Superjoint Ritual: I was talking to Otep when these guys were on, but I could hear loudmouth Phil running his yap constantly again. For Christ's sake, can't somebody shut this guy up? People pay good money for MUSIC at this event, not for drunken ramblings.
And there you have it. At the end of a ridiculously long day, I somehow found the strength to drag my overweight carcass up "The Hill" and make it to my car. Starr and I had an unfortunate detour on the way home, but the day was such a success, it didn't bother me much.
I don't see how future Ozzfests can match 2004, but it should be fun to see how they try!
Pictures courtesy of Dark Starr and Thrash-head, good job guys!
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