WANTAGH, New York — When a guy in the next row throws up on the seat in front of him and passes out on it, and when two girls 10 feet away lift their tops and make out, and it all happens before 7 p.m., you know you must be at Ozzfest.
Metal's annual all-day summer ritual Wednesday at the Jones Beach Amphitheater was once again a bacchanalia of volume and decadence that left thousands dazed and amused, and fortunately the excitement onstage eclipsed the action in the crowd. But while prior years mostly celebrated the then-current faces of metal, Ozzfest 2004 is more like a history lesson, which means that the lineup is the heaviest and least commercial yet.
Heavy Metal 101 was highlighted with a lesson from headliners Black Sabbath, a band that surfaced in 1970 as a vitriolic antidote to flower power and virtually birthed the metal genre. Sabbath opened with "War Pigs," during which they compared projected images of the Vietnam War and World War II with shots of the war in Iraq. Ozzy Osbourne toddled from one side of the stage to the other and roused the crowd by jumping up and down, wriggling his fingers in the air, clapping his hands above his head, baring his teeth and shouting his trademark motto: "Go f---ing crazy!" His bandmates provided oppressive, stark cathedrals of sound as they ripped through doomy classics like "Black Sabbath" and "NIB" and more upbeat tracks including "Fairies Wear Boots" and "Paranoid."
Inspired by the aggression of Black Sabbath and the virtuosity of Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest rose up against tepid '70s radio rock and the harsh, industrial climate of Birmingham, England, to pioneer a movement known as the new wave of British heavy metal. The band reigned well through the '80s, but Priest's enthusiasm and appeal waned after singer Rob Halford quit in the early '90s. Now, he's back in the band, and Priest seem as primed and charged as the motorcycles Halford rides onstage during "Hell Bent for Leather."
Photos from the Ozzfest show in Hartford, CT
The group kicked off its rain-soaked reunion set with "Electric Eye," and as guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, clad in leather pants and T-shirts, riffed away, Halford emerged from the iris of a giant eye. Wearing a black studded leather trench coat with dangling tassels and black gloves, the singer sauntered across walkways at either side of the stage, delivering his vibrato-laden high-pitch vocals. Unlike Sabbath, the members of Judas Priest ran around, striking poses and swaying back and forth in tandem as they played. The band mixed early numbers like "Victim of Changes" and a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" with later hits including "Breaking the Law" and "Screaming for Vengeance."
Combining the velocity of hardcore and the imagery of slasher flicks, Slayer spat in the face of commercial '80s metal bands like Mötley Crüe and Ratt to become one of the leaders of the thrash metal scene, paving the way for death metal. A full 21 years after the release of their first album, Slayer showed they're as bleak, visceral and adept as ever. The band's bloodletting started with the bellowing title cut from 2001's God Hates Us All, but the set was largely filled with gems at least 15 years old, including mid-paced mortar blasts like "South of Heaven" and "Hell Awaits" and pummeling brain frazzlers such as "Chemical Warfare" and "Angel of Death." Visually, the band was a mass of blurred hair and even less visible hands.
After thrash metal took firm hold of the underground in the mid-'80s, a bunch of hardcore fans who dug metal started to bond with headbangers who appreciated hardcore — a kinship that was up to that point unprecedented. Bridging the gap and cementing the mosh-laden peace were groups like Agnostic Front, DRI, Crumbsuckers and Discharge — outfits ex-Pantera singer Phil Anselmo draws from in his current band, Superjoint Ritual. "I wanna see headbanging like it's 1983" shouted Anselmo, whose band ripped through pile-driving songs like "F--- Your Enemy" and "The Alcoholik." Rowdy as ever, Anselmo dedicated two songs to himself, saying at one point, "We are the most dangerous band on this planet." The singer repeatedly urged fans to stand up and threatened to beat up anyone who remained seated, and when someone in the crowd shouted out the name of his old band, things got ugly. "Pantera's dead," Anselmo replied. "You can boo all you want, it's a waste of breath."
The Ozzfest second stage was almost as popular as the main stage, and although they started playing at the ungodly hour of 9:30 a.m., the 14 bands provided abundant entertainment value that showcased the new face of the metal underground. Headliners Slipknot powered through tracks from their entire catalog, including "Spit It Out," "Heretic" and "Duality," and created a monumental, percussive wall of sound peppered with propulsive rhythms, roaring vocals and the occasional melody.
Hatebreed's set was brief but pulverizing, as frontman Jamey Jasta led his army through a batch of hardcore metal songs inspired equally by Slayer and Agnostic Front. At one point, he directed the crowd to form a giant mosh pit around the sound booth, and as the more timid crowd members scurried out of the way, around 150 hardcore moshers ran in a tumbling circle that resembled Pamplona, Spain's running of the bulls. Also having fun with the pit were Lamb of God, whose singer divided it in two and then had each side charge the other like warriors in the film "Braveheart."
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