+ 21 bands over 13 and a half hours
+ Three different climates
= One wet, exhausted UnEarthed.com staff member
I love Ozzfest. This year marked the fifth trip I've made to Ozzy's annual festival tour in Holmdel, NJ, and the fifth uniquely good time that I had. One year was special because of a girl, one because of great seats and this one because I had a shiny new press sticker and photo pass.
What that basically lead to, something that took me most of the day to find out after talking to a legion of security and media relations people, was that I was able to photograph the Second Stage acts (during their first three songs) and get into the small, yet blissfully cool media tent. For a music fan, being able to be in the photographer's pit (that small space between the barricade and the stage) was an experience I will never forget. At times, I was inches from the artists, having the best spot in the house to see them – all in the name of journalism. UnEarthed.com rocks.
Due to venue security rules and the excessively strict enforcement of said rules, I was booted out of the PNC Bank Arts Center after the second stage wrapped up. Without a Main Stage pass, I was not allowed to stay within the venue with a camera – something that made little sense as I saw dozens of fans with disposable cameras around. But, whatever, I came prepared and had a lawn ticket as well so I was able to get back inside to catch the `big name acts'.
Before I get to them, with this being a review and all, I feel that I should give some insight into the performances of the Second Stage acts.
Leading off the day was Pulse Ultra, an adequate, if generic, opener. Close on their heels came Otep. That is the name of the band, and the front woman of what can only be called an experience. Otep, the singer, was incredible – scary beautiful with a voice that makes the growls of Kittie's Morgan, and even those guttural utterances of many male singers, seem weak and unimpressive. She seemed to go into a trance several times during the 20 minute set and raised each and every roar from the tips of her toes. Definitely a sight to behold, even if you don't care for the music itself.
Taking to the stage next was SOiL, who ripped into a set of songs from their debut release “Scars“. I felt that a lot of the energy that was put out by SOiL was lost among the open-air, early morning crowd, much like with Flaw who followed them. A week before Ozzfest, I saw both at a smaller venue (the Vanderbilt on Long Island) and think that the club environment favors their emotional, straightforward metal music.
After hearing a lot of hype about Neurotica, I was eager to see them. Unfortunately they came across to me much like Pulse Ultra – rather generic.
With an interview with SOiL on the horizon, I took the opportunity to cool down at the press tent after Neurotica's set so I missed 3rd Strike, The Apex Theory and Chevelle. A good friend stuck it out and reported back that 3rd Strike was “terrible”, Apex was “pretty damn cool” and Chevelle “nothing special”. Now I do not endorse his assessment, but felt that I should put in a word about every band.
I returned into the searing heat in time to see the U.K.'s Lostprophets and I greatly enjoyed their set – the best import from across the pond in a long time. They put a lot of energy and passion into their music and the fans seemed to feel it as well. For some reason that escapes me, they threw a big jug of cheese balls into the crowd near the end of their set. Bizarre, but what can you do they are Welsh.
Now all of the tension and anticipation came to a crux when New Jersey's own Ill Nino took to the stage and tore through a disappointingly-short set that included “God Save Us“, “Revolution/Revolucion” and “I am Loco“. These guys are modern metal at its best.
The Norwegian death metal outfit Meshuggah somehow took the stage after them and played their thick, drudging metal to a seemingly-ambivalent crowd. Hatebreed followed hot on their heels with a blistering set that finished up with their anthems “Before Dishonor” and “I Will Be Heard“. Jamey's energy was palpable as he ran around the stage trying to get the crowd up and moving. He called for circle pits numerous times but the young crowd seemed to have no idea as to what he was talking about; it was still an impressive set of music. Both Hatebreed and Flaw eliminated a guitarist from their midst in recent months and both played incredibly tight, powerful sets. Sometimes less is more …
Headlining the Second Stage was Down – a group that will be forever known as Phil Anselmo's side project. That label comes as no fault of their own however as Down puts out their own brand of thick southern rock n' roll. At one point Phil asked the burgeoning crowd if anyone has seen Pantera, COC, Eyehategod or Crowbar before. Most people kept their hands up and screamed as he mentioned each one. Liars. Regardless, early in the set I realized that as much as I was loving this photography thing, I am still just a big fan. Phil jumped over one of the monitors onto one of the stacks put up in front of the stage. The stack moved and, at that second, I realized that if he was to fall, I'd drop my $700 camera to grab the SOB and help him get back up on stage. I guess you just have to have your priorities. But, he didn't take a tumble and continued to tear into material from both of Down's albums, “Nola” and “II“.
Due to venue rules, I had to leave the premises to put my camera back in my car (don't ask, I don't get it either) so I missed Andrew W.K. After listening to his album, the only thing that I missed was a chance to see Kelly Osbourne take the stage for “She Is Beautiful“. I'll live.
I caught the end of the Black Label Society – powerful biker metal. Zakk is good – the man knows how to handle a guitar, as he has proven over the years with Ozzy.
Hot on Zakk's coattails was Adema, better known as Jonathan Davis' brother's band. They still haven't stepped out of the Korn front man's shadow but they put on a decent act. They are currently doing Off-fest dates with Drowning Pool, who took to the stage after them. Drowning Pool is among the top of the nu-metal scene, but with a seated audience in front of them, they lose a lot of their power. They topped off their set with Metallica's “Creeping Death” – a classic song that they did an admirable job of covering.
During the course of the Texas rocker's performance, the stifling heat gave way to a cool breeze under a dark blanket of clouds. By the time P.O.D. came out, there was thunder and lightning and pouring rain. I am man enough to admit that I skipped their set to cower underneath an awning to admire the girls in the rain. They finished off their set with “Alive” which was even more poignant amid the forces of nature.
Rob Zombie's music brought me out from under the awning to witness a truly unique and amazing moment. While playing the White Zombie classic “Thunder Kiss `65“, Zombie yelled “Let's go!” At that exact instance, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. You can't plan something like that folks. Even without bringing a huge stage show, Zombie managed to get the most visually-amazing set of the day.
System of a Down attempted to follow him up with their 'headlining' set before Ozzy and were disappointing. The Armenians did get probably the biggest fan reaction of the day but from my vantage point on top of the lawn, they did not stand out from any of the other nu metal bands before them.
The Prince Of Darkness himself provided the nightcap with an hour-and-a-half set that featured his usual songs, his usual antics and his usual hilarious video introduction. While the music was run-of-the-mill Ozzy, the dottering, doting father of three proved he still has what it take to rock a crowd. Even an incredible, awfully long solo by the afore-mentioned Zakk Wylde (that included playing behind his back and playing with his teeth), could not steal the show from Ozzy. Offering prayers to his cancer-stricken wife and repeatedly attempting to get the rain-soaked and exhausted crowd to go f-ing crazy, Ozzy is still the undisputed reigning King/Master/God of Metal.
Another performance for the ages, and another memorable Ozzfest for me despite becoming a walking sponge. I love this stuff.