By Michael Alan Goldberg
Another year, another Ozzfest! Now in its ninth incarnation, the traveling carnival of metal continues to plow across America while other package tours like Lollapalooza have bitten the dust. Like its equally successful and long-running cousin, the punk-oriented Warped Tour, Ozzfest continues to thrive by keeping its base constituency happy: there are no grand mission statements, no efforts to reach out to the non-believers, just a full day's worth of deafening, no-bullshit hard-rock for the faithful.
You gotta respect that. The 14-hour, 19-band extravaganza kicks off at 9 a.m. (now there's a wake-up call), and features nearly every metal genre and subgenre alive, kicking, and throwing a big middle finger these days. Here's a look at just a few of this edition's potential highlights:
Who's done that "one last reunion" thing more times over the past decade - the Sex Pistols or Black Sabbath? This really, really could be the last time you ever get to see the mighty Sabbath play live, though.
Thanks to MTV, everyone knows that Ozzy's not quite in tip-top physical, rock 'n roll madman condition, and that was before he almost bought the farm in an ATV wreck last year. But the rest of the band - guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and, particularly, hulking drummer Bill Ward - hasn't exactly aged all that well either. Still, reports from the tour's early stops suggest that Ozzy remains able to hit a few of the high notes in between steady streams of swearing, and the foursome has been bashing out commendable versions of "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man" during their 75-minute, show-closing set.
Fans aren't talking about his coming out of the closet anymore, they're just amped about the new album the reunited Priest is releasing this year. Word is they're not previewing any of that material, so you'll just have to settle for a set of the classics.
Perhaps lost amid the reunions of Sabbath and Priest is the fact that drummer and fan favorite Dave Lombardo is now back in the Slayer fold after a 10-year absence. To celebrate, the long-running thrash icons (they've been at it for almost 25 years without ever breaking up, slowing down, or going to group therapy) performed their 1986 speed-metal masterpiece Reign in Blood in its entirety last month, which they filmed for a DVD set to drop in September. Who knows - maybe they'll pull off that stunt again, but whatever they play you know it'll be loud, brutal, fast, and evil as shit.
Well, the masks-and-jumpsuits thing might be a little old-hat by now, but Slipknot still knows how to work a crowd into a frenzy. In fact, the Iowa band - which sports what, about 28 members? - opted out of the main stage to headline the smaller second stage, so they could get an even more violent, concentrated mosh pit going.
Slipknot's faithful followers, known affectionately as the "maggots," were a little worried that the group's recent hiatus (during which nearly every member pursued a side project) was really the end, but they've come back this year with a new album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, which is being hailed as a punishing return to form. And say what you will about the masks, these guys are smart - for the most part, these guys can rock out a crowd of thousands and then go to the supermarket or the movies without being bothered. In fact, that weird guy standing next to you eating a hot dog just might be Slipknot's drummer or something.
He's right, though - Hatebreed's one of the best live hardcore acts going, putting an extra aggressive spin on the East Coast style pioneered by Agnostic Front and Sick of It All. And since they average more than 300 shows a year (nope, no Disneyland vacations for these guys), you know they're gonna be battleship-tight.
"Dimmu Borgir," apparently, is Norwegian for "we will pulverize your dark soul with midnight metal straight from the Scandinavian tundra!" OK, maybe not, but these guys are definitely the most prominent purveyors of black metal at the moment, blending monstrous riffs with a flair for goth-industrial and orchestral drama (not to mention long black hair and scary leather outfits). Hey, when your bandmembers are named Shagrath, Silenoz, Galder, Vortex, Mustis, and, uh, Nick Barker, how else are you supposed to sound?
Pantera is history, and, frankly, the way he was going for a while there, a lot of people thought ex-frontman Phil Anselmo was gonna be history as well - at one point a few years back, a heroin overdose actually left him dead for about four minutes. But the growling singer got his shit together and committed all his energies to long-running side project Superjoint Ritual, a gritty, crushing, hardcore-influenced quintet that also features Hank Williams III on bass. Yep, that Hank III.
Hey, this band is ripping off Evanescence! Actually, it's probably the other way around - Italy's Lacuna Coil, a sextet fronted by Cristina Scabbia (a rare female performer in the Ozzfest sea of testosterone), has been kicking around the European metal underground since 1996 with a sweeping mix of searing guitars, bruising rhythms, ambient atmospherics, and ethereal vocals. This should be one of the more compelling performances of the day. •