MANSFIELD, Massachusetts — Given the thick peppering of heavy New England-bred acts in this year's lineup, it seemed appropriate that metal's annual daylong summer rite, the Ozzfest, kick off in the Bay State as it did Friday morning.
Rob Zombie, after all, entered the world via Massachusetts, and Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall and Bury Your Dead all call this part of the globe home. It even appeared as though these hard-riffing hometown heroes were Ozzfest's main attractions for the sold-out crowd of 20,000 who braved the sun-soaked saturnalia.
But Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath subsequently took the stage to deftly defend their legacies as the genre's innovational stalwarts. Much like the concert's headlining acts, Ozzfest, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, has shaped the face of modern heavy metal. Ozzfest 2005's roster contains all the evidence one needs to realize that the genre's never been healthier, or more versatile
The scorched asphalt of the Tweeter Center's parking lot started to fill up at the unforgiving hour of 9 a.m., when one of this year's most anticipated (if for all the wrong reasons) bands was welcomed onto the stage by tour manager "Big Dave" Moscato: Wicked Wisdom, the aggressive new metal target fronted by black-garbed Jada Pinkett Smith. The "Woo" star was greeted with relentless booing and "f--- you"s from a furious sea of extended middle fingers as her five-piece band launched into "Fakeness," a Kittie-like tune that featured an almost spoken-word delivery from the headbanging Jada, spattered with unintelligible barks and growls.
"You think I don't know, don't you?" she asked the crowd. "But I do." Pinkett Smith laughed off the "you suck" chants and the concertgoers ridiculing her with grossly exaggerated moshing and neck-snapping headbangs through Wicked Wisdom's entire 20-minute set capped by a Disturbed-ish track called "You Can't Handle This." Screaming "Go Red Sox!" would have been Jada's best option for scoring applause.
Sporting band and Sox T-shirts, bikini tops, intricate tattoos, and an early-morning buzz, the crowd erupted at the site of Bjorn Strid, the towering singer for Soilwork. "We're Soilwork from Sweden. You must be the USA," Strid said, borrowing a line from "Spinal Tap," after the metalers ripped through "Stabbing the Drama," the opening salvo of a thunderous set that sparked frenzied circle pits, horn throwing and crowd-surfing. (Even Jada's husband, Will Smith, was banging his head offstage.) Minutes after Soilwork capped things off with "As We Speak," Buffalo, New York, hardcore heathens It Dies Today delivered a brutal, breakdown-dense battering via "Freak Gasoline Fight Accident."
The ravenous crowd summoned Ozzfest's only other female-fronted act to the stage with feverish chants of "f---ing Arch Enemy!" Svelte, blond and blue-eyed metal heartbreaker Angela Gossow, holding her mic stand high above her head victoriously as though she'd just hunted it down and killed it, emerged with the rest of her Swedish band, who rushed the stage while tearing through the intricate riffage of "Silent Wars." The pit intensified through a high-powered, air-tight set marked by blast beats, cymbal crashes, syrupy bass lines, masterful and severe fretwork, and Gossow's menacing growls.
The Black Dahlia Murder bombarded the masses with "Built for Sin," "Contagion" and "Funeral Thirst." Dahlia's spastic brand of melodic death metal — highlighted by lightning-fast guitars, propulsive rhythms, and alternately roaring and screaming vocals — whipped fans into an elbow-hurling frenzy.
Consumerism was the only option for the Ozzfest faithful between bands. Booths sprinkled throughout the venue's grounds offered everything from Ozzfest T-shirts and (permanent) tattoos to Chronic Candy: lollipops said to taste like marijuana. One booth invited metalheads to "Kick Me in the F---ing Head"; for a few dollars, fans could send a soccer ball sailing at the cranium of a man seated atop a cinder block 30 feet away.
No one crammed more music into their 30-minute set than Atlanta sludge merchants Mastodon. Drummer Brann Dailor effortlessly brutalized his brand-new, black-and-white polka-dotted drum set (complete with Randy Rhoads' visage gracing the bass drum) through huge, bombastic renditions of "Iron Tusk," "Ol'e Nessie," "March of the Fire Ants," "Megalodon" and "Aqua Dementia," leaving the crowd awestruck. While Mastodon were a tough act to follow, metalcore specialists As I Lay Dying more than held their own with a set that included both old favorites such as "Forever" and "Elegy" alongside new ones like "Empty Hearts."
Before Killswitch Engage could take the stage, the crowd, as at any New England social event involving more than 10 people, initiated a "Yankees suck" chant that continued even as guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, wearing Daisy Duke jean cutoffs, started prancing across the stage during the explosive drum introduction of "A Bid Farewell." The Metalchusetts band raced through a blistering 45-minute set of tracks with much of the undulating, shirtless audience singing Howard Jones' words back to him. Killswitch owned the crowd, then turned it over to shlock-metal monster Rob Zombie.
"It hasn't changed one bit in 10 years," said Zombie of Ozzfest, where he was performing for the first time in three years. "It's a f---ing dinosaur, and that's the way we like it. I don't want to see Clay Aiken."
Zombie, wearing a ragged Rolling Stones shirt, sequined jeans, and cowboy hat, and standing in front of a backdrop swathed with naked women, launched into "Superbeast," "Dragula" and "Living Dead Girl." He delighted the horde with the heavy White Zombie classics "More Human Than Human" and "Thunder Kiss '65." Zombie paused only when Zakk Wylde mounted the stage and commandeered one of the microphones to level accusations concerning A-Rod's sexuality.
After Rob, the crowd lumbered slowly toward the main stage. There fans witnessed pulverizing sets from In Flames, Wylde's Black Label Society, and local favorites Shadows Fall. Mudvayne warmed the crowd members (many of them pathetically executing moshpit maneuvers on top of their fold-down seats) for Maiden and Sabbath by blasting through "Dig" and the band's current single, "Happy?"
As promised, Bruce Dickinson-fronted British metal legends Iron Maiden dipped deep into their catalog for a set list boasting only the band's earliest material. After opening with "Wrathchild," Dickinson, despite his age, stomped the boards like a kid in need of Ritalin, running back and forth across the stage during "Revelations," "Run to the Hills" and "Hallowed Be Thy Name" A giant puppet of the band's mascot, Eddie, walked about all the while. An inflatable giant Goat of Mendes, complete with illuminated blue eyes, appeared during "The Number of the Beast." The Maiden then belted out the evening's only encore, consisting of the classics "Running Free" and "Sanctuary."
Then, Ozzy Osbourne emerged with his dark metal progenitors, Black Sabbath. "Can you believe this is the 10th anniversary of Ozzfest?" the festival's namesake asked. "Are you ready to go crazy? Let's go crazy!"
Classic Sabbath cuts were handled with swift precision, and Ozzy was again the ultimate showman, clapping his hands above his head and inciting a crowd that clearly cherished him. Sure, it's been 35 years since he formed Sabbath with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. As expected, the band has slowed down a bit — but it still managed to astound the assembled rabble of longhairs with "War Pigs," "Iron Man," "Into The Void," "The Wizard," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "Paranoid."
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