Ozzfest Report - July 18 in Bristow, VA
Band Photo: Slipknot (?)
On Sunday, July 18, 2004 I enjoyed one of the best Ozzfests I've witnessed at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Virginia, despite a day that started off pretty bad. To put it all in perspective, I'll start at the beginning. I awoke to prepare for the day and immediately noticed that my right eye which was slightly irritated the day before was swollen half shut. After 30 minutes or so of being awake, I was developing a serious headache from the pressure of my swollen eyelid being open. Although I had fully intended to arrive at Ozzfest by 9:30 and see every band perform, I quickly resigned to going in to the hospital to have my eye checked out. The decision was an easy one because the headache was already terrible and I could only imagine the situation worsening throughout the day as dust, rain, sweat, and/or sun screen got into my eyes.
After two hours in the hospital to get some antibiotic eye drops, I was on my way. One side effect of the eye infection was that I was forced to wear glasses instead of contacts, which totally sucks - it's kind of hard to headbang with glasses on.
Factoring in travel time, I arrived at Ozzfest just two hours into the show. The weather was overcast and comfortably cool 70's. They were calling for a 60% chance of rain, but the weather was holding, despite passing through some rain on the drive to Bristow.
Unfortunately I missed many bands I was looking forward to see such as Lacuna Coil, Darkest Hour and Atreyu, but I arrived a couple songs into Magna-Fi's set. I was glad to get to see them perform, but only had time to snap off one photo. The crowd reaction was lukewarm, but I thought the band had a good sound live and fit in more than expected.
Let me go off on a tangent and say that the experience of watching the show with a photo pass was very different. But it was a welcome change, because I hate what they've done with the second stage at the Nissan Pavilion the past two years - they've moved it out into a fenced-in area of the gravel-covered parking lot. It's further from most everything else and they have set up the sound and video booth as well as two large Playstation sponsored seating areas blocking much of the view of the stage once the crowd reaches a decent size. The bottom line for me is that it's plain uncomfortable to stand on gravel for six or seven hours with nowhere to sit and rest my feet (and knees and back - I'm over 30, ya know.).
Anyway, the setup was that we'd photograph the first few songs from between the barriers and stage and then move off to the side of the stage for the rest of the set. Off to the side was essentially right behind the gap in the barrier where they let the stage divers back into the crowd. Not having a full view of the stage, I found myself watching crowd surfers and security - the coolest and friendliest bunch I've every met - pull crowd surfer over the barrier and send them on their way back into the crowd. It's always interesting to see all sorts of characters at an event like Ozzfest. Other than the people who were so fucked up they had no idea where they were or what the guy directing them back to the crowd was saying, everyone seemed cool and like they were having fun. There were quite a few larger and/or muscular guys who were so happily surprised security didn't let them fall on their ass once over the barrier that they'd get to their feet and grab the guy who caught them and give em a big hug. I thought I was tearing up over it one time, but then I remembered that was just the puss...
Back to the musicians, next up were Devildriver. I've been "on the fence" about purchasing their album, but their performance was excellent and got the crowd going a bit more. I love their style of music. I find Dez's voice a huge asset to the band while playing their aggressive "deathcore" style music. He beats out your typical death-growler because you can often understand what he's saying, and he sometimes throws in some different sounds, which are always welcome change in extreme music. A good performance makes for an easy sell and I was going to find myself planning to buy a shitload more CDs before the day was over.
I was curious to hear Otep, whom I've had heard of but not heard or seen. The singer, who happens to be the roughest female singer I've seen live yet, brought out what appeared to be a severed pigs head and stuck it on a mic stand. It was a quite amusing stage prop. I knew something was up when a security guard warned me to watch myself because it was going to get crazy. And it did get pretty crazy with more corwd surfing and shoes being thrown. Otep started off with some heavy, abrasive metal, but some of the later songs had longer jams and vocalizations that left my focus trailing off at a couple points.
About the time I'd heard enough of Otep, God Forbid took the stage next. I've seen them once before at last year's HeadBanger's Ball concert in DC and just couldn't get into them. I liked how they sounded a little more this time, but still couldn't get into them much. The crowd reaction remained good, and the music was getting louder with each band.
I was really looking forward to Unearth, who came out rocking hard. They played a very fast-paced set. The only thing I didn't like about their set is that the melodic elements are almost entirely lost in the live show - something that plagues this whole new wave of melodic metalcore. Still, I knew many of their songs despite their new album just arriving in the mail today and enjoyed their set thoroughly, short as it was.
Finally the headliners of the second stage were to begin with Richmond Virginia's Lamb of God. In a short period of time, I've managed to see them three times now, which is as much as I've seen any other band play live (except Ozzy, thanks to Ozzfest). Lamb of God is one of the rare bands that sounds better live than on their albums and the fans seemed to appreciate it. Somehow their stop-start, arhythmic style comes across more like flowing thrash live, and I am a sucker for good thrash metal! They put on a killer performance with songs from their first two albums and even a song from their upcoming album "Ashes Of the Wake" which I liked the sound of a lot.
It was also around this time that the sun started really breaking through the clouds and got really hot and stuffy in a short period of time. The crowd was getting larger and packed harder against the front barrier and quite a few people up front started passing out from the heat and dehydration most likely.
Lamb of God also did the much-discussed "Braveheart" thing with the crowd where they tell everyone to split down the middle and charge each other on the count of four to "Black Label".
Hatebreed took the stage next and played a decent show. I'm not really into their music that much, but recognized several songs in the set. Hatebreed sound less new-school metalcore, but man were they LOUD. They got a decent crowd reaction as well.
We weren't allowed to shoot Slipknot, so I missed the last song or two of Hatebreed's set while returning my camera to the car. I returned to watch Slipknot among the rest of the crowd and was surprised how low the volume was for their set - it didn't seem as loud as Hatebreed or Lamb of God. The band opened with several songs from their first two albums, and finally broke out with Duality off their latest release. I actually preferred the old material more, but it was all getting great crowd response. I slipped out a couple of songs later, feeling nauseous and weak, to get food and drink and locate the press tent. Slipknot were putting on a decent show, but their live show wasn't doing anything for me...or maybe it's just that I wasn't feeing well?
Before I knew it, a roar and music erupted from the main stage as Black Label Society began playing. From the lawn seating, the system sounded muffled and either the system or the breeze was causing fluctuations in the volume of the music reaching us. When I arrived the crowd was fairly subdued, with the exception of one guy wearing a leather vest with confederate flag on the back playing air guitar. I like a few of their songs, but BLS sounded muffled and muddy most of the set, with Zakk's voice lost in the muddy mix as well.
The crowd responded a little better to Superjoint Ritual, featuring Phil Anselmo, best know as the frontman for Pantera, but the sound system did not. It still sounded a bit muddy and was difficult to catch the riffs and grooves. To make matters worse, there were intermittent blasts of high-end as well. It seemed almost as if there was a threshold that when broken, the speakers emitted sound very loudly, but otherwise hardly at all. I enjoyed a few of their songs, but I was anxious to hear the other bands and for the sound system to be corrected.
Next, Dimmu Borgir took the stage. I was somewhat surprised by the warm welcome they got. It was not fantastic, mind you, but more than one could expect a black metal band to get here in the US. I didn't know a damn song they played, but they sounded good and the sound problems seemed to be clearing up. Dimmu were plenty heavy and quite atmospheric, making them one of the best black metal bands I've heard and the best I've seen live (beating out Cradle of Filth at last year's Ozzfest). They had a lot of change-ups in the their music as well, which keeps it interesting, especially in light of the simplicity of much metal from the past decade or so. Still, there is just something not right about a black metal band playing during the day. I felt that the show and ambiance would have been much better at night and outside as such.
With Dimmu Borgir's set finished, I was eagerly awaiting my current favorite band. Slayer played a somewhat short set. They played only two songs off their latest album - Disciple and Payback, the latter of which I was happily surprised to hear - none from their previous Diabolus In Musica and a decent dose of thrash to hauntingly heavy classics. While short, it was a good set and good performance. I tend to prefer Slayer indoors, however
Slayer still had not altered their set to include Angel of Death, so don't get your hopes up that they are listening...
I knew their set was almost over when I recognized the intro to Reign In Blood. Just then a cool breeze swept over my sweat-drenched t-shirt back and a chill ran down my spine, which I thought was as much from the tight playing of this thrash classic as the breeze. With perfect execution, and despite not leading into Postmorthem, it was a great finale for my favorite band of the day.
Finally, the more-or-less headliners for the night were Judas Priest, reuinited with originally singer Rob Halford. They had cool stage props and broke out with Electric Eye, with Rob singing from inside a huge eye on stage. At first it was hard to see him at all. The crowd gave Priest a fantastic welcome and response and the band rocked through their first song and several classics. Honestly, even before Elevtric Eye was over, it became apparent to me that the riffs and guitars felt very thin and simplistic. I was mostly bored with the next few songs, until they got into some slower songs that did not rely so heavily on the guitar riffs.
It was then that I realized how this year's Ozzfest had stuck to the formula once again. Typically the thrid to last band plays some extended jams and mellows the crowd out (or attempts to while they throw shit out of boredom). In past years I've attended Ozzfest this slot has been filled by the likes of Tool, Primus and System Of a Down. This year's Slayer certainly did not fit the bill.
A couple of songs into Judas Priests slower part of their setlist, debris started flying and I realized their set was long enough to cover both the winding down period AND the ramping up period before Ozzy takes the stage. However, I was skeptical if they could regain the energy. They played on with what seemed like a very boring setlist, many classics well remembered seemed thin and bland. With a planned encore, Rob rode onto stage on a big Harley motorcycle and Judas Priest launched into Hell Bent For Leather. They did recapture their energy and the crowd and ended on a fairly high note with "You've Got Another Thing Coming".
With the many questions around Ozzy's health and the drama around reforming Black Sabbath, I was interested in seeing if they too could pull off as good or better a show than Judas Priest. The crowd response was good, but playing their famous brand of stoner/doom metal, Black Sabbath are not exactly ones to stir up the crowd as much as many other bands. Still, Ozzy was nearly flawless and it was a spectacle to see the original members back together. Sabbath played a medium-length set of many of their most well-know classics.
While I'm not old enough to appreciate them when they released their many albums with Ozzy, Black Sabbath is a band I've been gaining more and more respect for and interest in over the years - it never seems to stop. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the classics in the true style of the original musicians. Every one of Tony Iommi's riffs and solos felt exactly right and fitting, as opposed to times when Ozzy has performed Sabbath classics with Zakk on guitar.
Overall, despite the problems I had that day, 2004 was one of the best Ozzfests I have every seen.
In summary, here are some highs and lows for the day:
Lows: too many long taped/sampled intros, missing the press tent and interview scheduled, main stage sound "issues", accidentally spotting a guy behind me vomiting volumes, eye infection, badly sunburned forehead and nose.
Highs: Photographing the second stage, no rain, Unearth, Lamb of God, Black Sabbath the band selection overall kicked ass!, hardly a wait to get out of the parking lot.
UPDATE: I've finally posted my photos from the second stage. You can check them out in the photo gallery.
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