Save for a two year spell where the fest was dangerously overrun by nu-metal bands (and not good nu-metal bands either), I have attended Ozzfest every year since 1998, missing only the first two years that many have told me were two of the best. The premise has remained the same, several of the brightest new stars of mainstream metal are there on the second stage, some slightly more promising names are opening the main stage, and then some of the brightest stars of the genre EVER are there either headlining the 2nd stage or co-headlining the first stage, which is of course headlined by the festival’s namesake, either in his solo band or as vocalist for the godfather’s of metal themselves, Black Sabbath. Add to this a wonderful carnival area complete with overpriced food and beverage, fairly priced non-band t-shirts and jewelry (among other things…I noticed they never did sell that $300 “Tobacco Pipe” that the one hot lady at the tapestry booth was trying to sell all day), and fun and games with such titles as “Drown the Clown” (who after listening to him all day we REALLY wanted to) and the ever-popular “Kick Me In The Head With A Soccer Ball.”
This year was also a test of endurance for myself. My day job is working third shift at a gas station in Roscoe, Illinois, which is about an hour from Alpine Valley. I got off work at 6:30 am the day of the show, went home for shower, breakfast, and e-mail checking, and then sped off down the highway trying desperately to reach the event in time to see all the bands. Unfortunately, I just missed Black Dahlia Murder, but having seen them the two previous years at Milwaukee Metalfest (to steal a line from comedian Dane Cook…”or as I like to call it, ‘Satan’s Asshole’!” –author), I can only muster a guess that they just slaughtered. Made my way to the stage very quickly as I heard “99” by The Haunted coming across the wind, and I come to the stage to see 2 Bjorlers, 2 Jensens, and a Dolving just kicking extreme amounts of ass onstage. It looked slightly out of their element to see them at such an ungodly hour of the morning, but they were having an absolute blast. Closing the short set with “All Against All,” it was plain to see that the tone of the 2nd stage had been set for me for the rest of the day, where the thrashier or more European a band was, the better they were going to do.
Bury Your Dead is a perfect example of something I am really starting to hate about hardcore music and about Ozzfest. I like to call it “Neanderthal Hardcore” because of its bare-bones basic approach and the real lack of anything new that a band like this adds to the genre. Of course, Bury Your Dead had more people up at the stage than pretty much anyone else before As I Lay Dying, and that just goes to show the way it is with crowds like these, and that is that all the redneck, simple-life-and-simple-music folks all come out to play for a band like this. I think it might be that their brains can’t process good and complex stuff like Soilwork and Trivium, so they just make do with what they can process, and because BYD is so simplistic and uneventful, it is easier for them to grasp. Same goes for bands like Hatebreed, Throwdown, and even to a certain extent It Dies Today, who played later on in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, the riffing was heavy and the singer was oh so brutal sounding, but it was just boring as hell.
After them, the chill filled the crowd. We had all heard of this horrible band that had been plucked to be on Ozzfest this year, and they were up next. We’d all heard the horror stories of them getting booed the first few nights of the festival. We’d all been convinced to come to the show and experience them with a jaundiced eye, wary of whether or not Jada Pinkett-Smith (movie star, she of “A Low Down Dirty Shame,” and “Collateral” fame) and her new band Wicked Wisdom could hack it. Suffice it to say, and I will be brutally honest here…I actually kinda liked Wicked Wisdom. For lack of a better description, other reviewers at previous shows have called the band an Evanescence rip-off, but that is completely inaccurate. I’d offer more comparisons to something like a cross of newer Kittie and Otep, but without the growling. Her band was fairly good, and they had an awesome grasp on heavy music, just laying into the tunes with a lot of feeling and heaviness, but I must call attention to Mrs. Smith herself, because in all due respect she is a terrible singer. Her singing was off-key to the point where you didn’t need college courses in music theory to notice it, and her voice had a dreadful half-scream to it that reminded me a helluva lot of Otep Shamaya when she kinda half-speaks/half-sings her lyrics like the dramatic poet that she is (could you detect the sarcasm there?). I’m sorry, I know she’s the obvious focal point of the band (except when husband Will Smith is spotted headbanging behind the amps, which yes, that was the case today), but she’s terrible and this band would do so well to buy her some vocal lessons. (A real disgrace. If you're Sharon Osborne's drinking buddy, you get a prime slot like this even if you have no talent and haven't paid enough dues to headline Mary's Place, much less Ozzfest. Meanwhile, the like of Overkill are starving for a long overdue break this no-talent ho gets handed to her on a plate.--Enraged Mality)
Gizmachi is a band I’ve kinda written off until today’s fest. They are signed to the new label started by Slipknot’s Shawn Crahan, and that is always a huge red flag to me. I consider Slipknot to be a great band, but I’m always wary of when members of other bands start their own record labels because I’ve heard a lot of these bands and to be perfectly frank…most never live up to the hype when they are signed to a label owned by someone famous. Gizmachi however, was most impressive (I’m downloading the album right now to see if I want to buy it)! Their set was heavy-as-hell, with a lot of unique interplay between the instruments, and their lead guitarist could really shred when he wanted to. I dunno really how to explain it…maybe the halfway point between Chimaira and newer Slipknot, but either way, and despite the technical problems that the soundguys had, I really enjoyed it!
The band I came to see on the 2nd stage didn’t disappoint in almost any aspect...we are talking about Soilwork here. They just opened up with the blistering title track off the newest CD and everyone in the crowd new full well what they were in for. The band then kicked into “Follow The Hollow” off of the brilliant “Natural Born Chaos” CD, and then tore into newest single “Nerve,” which really got the crowd moving to it’s pummeling rhythm. A fast one came with “Blind Eye Halo,” and then finally closing the set with what many consider their favorite single the band has released thus far, “As We Speak.” My only gripe of their set, is that I noticed a little moment in “Nerve” where Speed Strid sang the clean part in the chorus, and then put the mic down, but there’s still singing. And no one was at the mic! Was this a backing track just for that song, or was it just an echo-based effect, I dunno…but I noticed this and took note of it very much, and it stuck with me the remainder of the set. I dunno, could have been nothing, but it begs to ask the question. (I hate to break it to you, but this is the most overproduced, over-digitized and over-triggered band in metal right now. Their records are so shiny and clean that I doubt they can even come close to duplicating them live without a lot of trickery and tomfoolery--Dr. Mality)
More neanderthal chugcore in the form of Trustkill Records’ own It Dies Today, and while the band was a bit more interesting to me because they did kinda throw in some technique here and there and really went for a cooler musical approach, it was plain to see that it wasn’t really working on this crowd. Oh well… I was interested in Arch Enemy to see how they would hold up with session guitarist Gus G. sitting in for one-half of the Amott brothers guitar tandem, this being Caparison-wielding Christopher. Needless to say, he wowed me. His takes on the guitar solos were perfect, and he has crowd presence to boot, but not even frontwoman Angela Gossow could top the totally inspiring look of bassist extraordinaire Sharlee D’Angelo, who seems to have forgone his trademark Rickenbacker for an Ibanez Iceman bass, and who nevertheless was totally in his element here in the live arena. The man just exudes stage presence and was just totally jamming. The songs they played just killed too, but there’s just isn’t much difference in the material from “Anthems of Rebellion” compared to the newest disc, “Doomsday Machine,” and it shows extremely painfully in the live setting. That aside though, the band really did kill.
Trivium were extremely cool. This is a new school band making about the best attempt I’ve ever heard of old school Bay Area-/NewYork-thrash metal. It’s technical, precise (except for the moments where frontman Matt Heafy would try to pull off a live guitar solo), and extremely brutal. Matt Heafy is going to be a gem in the metal scene, as he’s already showing a spark of brilliance, especially in the live setting. His guitar playing, although not as dexterous as we would’ve hoped, is a mix between Slash and Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho, who also is who Heafy reminds me a helluva lot of in terms of stage presence,absolutely mimicking the pose that Laiho is known for. The other guys up front got into the act to, and they had a lot of fun up there for sure. A real blast!
A Dozen Furies were good too, but if you’ve seen them on “Battle for Ozzfest,” then you’ve seen them here. It really is the exact same thing. Good tunes, great stage presence, and they can really work a crowd.
Mastodon – to me – were absolutely boring. I don’t know why everyone loves this band and why there CD was voted the best of 2004 by Revolver magazine. This band is absolutely horrid and I just couldn’t tolerate it. I had to leave the 2nd stage area about a song in.
As I Lay Dying is a band that recently a lot of my friends have been kinda looking up to. They derive a lot from more extreme genres (like a lot of hardcore bands these days do) and although they do it slightly differently with the bassist handling all the clean parts, they do utilize a yin-yang approach on vocals of having both clean and guttural singing (like a lot of other hardcore bands these days do). In all honesty, a really good set, but ever since Killswitch Engage became really popular, this type of metal has exploded to the point where there just isn’t a whole lot of room for growth or movement in the scene anymore. This just happens to be a band that had a really popular song that got played on MTV2 a lot (“94 Hours”), and so they have become heroes of the scene. Blah blah blah, a good set by a good band, but anything more than that is debatable.
Killswitch Engage did what they do best…they were Killswitch Engage. Taking tracks from their two Roadrunner releases like they always do, the band killed onstage and were an absolute riot whenever guitarist Adam D opened his mouth and this almost Devin Townsend-like spew of hilarious insults and jive talk came out. The songs were great, played professionally with a lot of room for improvisation that comes usually from only the most seasoned live pros, but here they pulled it off effortlessly, doing more Zakk Wylde squeal harmonics than even Zakk Wylde did in his set later that day. Very good, it’s obvious they are hear to stay in my opinion, but like with all metal music…the next album will show.
Rob Zombie opened with “Superbeast” and then followed with my all-time favorite White Zombie song “Supercharger Heaven,” but immediately into his set I felt like the crowd was being pissed on. Here was a living heavy music legend, the most successful guy in a band who has gone solo since Ozzy himself, and he seems just all too pleased with himself to give a lackluster vocal performance. I mean, he was missing lines here and there, missing cues, throwing out whole phrases, and substituting lyrics at any point. Guitarist John 5 was a welcome addition to the set and he just killed, as did the rest of the backing band, but I’m sorry, Rob is tired. He needs to either hang it up altogether and just do movies, or he needs to at least give it a well-deserved/-needed rest.(He has already made clear that his future is in movies...hence his phoned-in performance here.--Dr. Mality) The guy just can’t hack it in a live setting.
On to the main stage where I missed most of In Flames set as I was trying to find a short line for water/pop (first year ever I spent more money on beverages than on T-shirts). I eventually got to a spot on the lawn in time to see them jam out “The Quiet Place” and “My Sweet Shadow,” proving to me that as lackluster as the sound was on their last album, the tunes themselves at least hold their own in the live setting.Black Label Society was in top form as always, jamming out swamp stomp in about the liveliest fashion it can be stomped out in. Zakk’s vocals get better every year, and of course his guitar playing shredded. They just need a later set as far as I’m concerned. Every year they always play towards the beginning of the main stage, and I think they’ve paid their dues enough. Put them on ‘round 8 o’clock or something from now on, huh?!?
Proof that American thrash metal has been resurrected, Shadows Fall took the stage and slayed us all. Newest single “Inspiration on Demand” was definitely the highlight of the set, being dedicated to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden and just having this truly awesome chorus and epic feel to it that was only enhanced upon watching the new music video for it on the big screen behind the stage. Other top cuts were “Destroyer of Senses,” “Stepping Outside the Circle,” and previous single “What Drives the Weak,” which had everyone singing along (or at least everyone around me). Awesome!
Mudvayne is a band that progressively becomes better musicians and songwriters with every album they put out. Whether or not it holds true for the live setting is debatable, as guitarist Greg HAS been livelier than this in the live setting, and well…let’s just face it; bassist Ryan and vocalist Chad are ALWAYS all over the place. Ryan especially was just nuts, and noticing him playing in shorts, it got to me to wondering…I want to see him get up on stage in an Angus Young schoolboy outfit, just for kicks. Anyways, their set was killer, with all the hits and a few songs that begged some of us to ask why they played that instead of this, (like the inclusion of “-1” instead of “Internal Primates Forever” from the brilliant debut). On occasion we noticed a bad queue or timing issue, and Chad even introduced “-1” incorrectly [“This song is called ‘Forget to Remember’…(and then after Greg starts playing the intro to “-1”)…no it’s not, I’m a dumbass. This song is called ‘Negative One’.”]. This all aside, it was cool to see Mudvayne again.
Let’s just cut to the chase…Iron Maiden KILLED!!! They owned Ozzfest tonight! Upon learning quite some time ago that they’d only do songs from the first few albums, it was a heartbreaker for myself as my favorite album has always been “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” Still though, the band ran through early material ranging from the opener “Murders in the Rue Morgue” to closer “Running Free.” They had the stage props ranging from a sitting devil to a a redcoated Bruce Dickinson with a British Flag (for “The Trooper”), to of course…a walking Eddie that resident dumbass guitarist Janick Gers just had to try and fight off. With Janick, the best part of the night was when Bruce told him to keep practicing after he did a post song guitar noodle. The awesome set culminated with some stock crowd participation and the closing notes, and then the band left after just one encore, causing those of us in the crowd to beg the question, ”Where the hell was ‘Wrathchild’?”
Black Sabbath I will be honest and say that I only stuck around for because they had promised in a press release to change things up and play a few different songs than they normally do. This came to be true as the 2nd song they played this night was…”After Forever”? Not at all a song I would have expected from them in a live setting this late in their careers. The Black Sabbath set truly was what you would expect from the seasoned veterans. They stomped their way through classic tunes and ritual Ozzy bantering about how he wants the crowd to get “f---ing crazy.” The toll of a long day and Ozzy’s ever-worsening vocal delivery was starting to wear on me, and I had to vacate. As I was leaving, the first chords of Iron Man where starting up and Ozzy was singing right along with them, inspiring the crowd to do the same.
All in all, I had a blast as per usual. I did a fairly good job of using sun block before entering, but my face is still a little red and my eyes are now red from the lotion rubbing into them. After getting out of the parking lot, driving was becoming a very taxing thing to attempt, so I was pulling out every trick I knew to keep me awake, from the comedy albums I had just bought from Mitch Hedburg (R.I.P.) and Richard Pryor, to pulling into McDonald’s to get some food. Nothing was working so the 2nd McDonald’s that I pulled into, I just kinda camped out in the parking lot and slept a few hours so I could drive again. I bought a soda and thanked them for not calling the cops on the sleeping man in the parking lot, and I was on my way home. I will wait for next year, and hope that next year’s fest is even better. It always is…
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