By Alun Thomas

Thanks to Nuclear Blast USA I was fortunate enough to attend this years Chicago date of the Ozzfest for nothing, the stipulation being that I interviewed a member of their representitives, Norwegian Black Metal band Dimmu Borgir who are on the coveted main stage. While the interview went off without a hitch and will be documented here at a later date, the main reason to be at Ozzfest 2004 was to see the reunited Judas Priest with Rob Halford, as well as Slayer and to a far lesser degree the original Black Sabbath lineup. The second stage was highlighted by Slipknot, Hatebreed and Lamb Of God, bands who I have a hard time fathoming taking the places of Priest and Slayer anytime soon.

I arrived at the ingloriously named Tweeter Center around noon, collected my press credentials and tried to locate the media tent among the throngs of fans already in attendance, bearing in mind the gates opened at 9AM. I scoured the premises briefly, unimpressed by the typical scenarios of paying ten dollars for a can of beer or eight dollars for a hot dog. I could starve. With two and a half hours to my interview I headed to the second stage to demean myself by watching the supposed up and coming new acts of the US metal scene. Playing was Bleeding Through, who I caught one song of, and failed to leave an impression. Up next was Otep, whose blonde female vocalist tried hard to rile up the fans, mainly to no avail, by going on anti George Bush tirades, the likes of which are increasingly common and tired. The music was dire, heavy but without any individuality and was met by mostly silence. Atreyu followed, the Orange County band described as ‘metal-rock’, their only highlight being their diminutive guitarist who sported a headband and and a Warrant t-shirt, making him look like a fourteen year old. Musically it was indistinguishable from Otep. Darkest Hour promptly followed, the show running ahead of schedule amazingly, and bored all playing speed of light thrash with no conviction. Thie guitarist pleaded to the crowd to form a circle mosh pit ‘circa 1986, starting with you two posers right there’. Funny he should accuse them of being posers, what with their uniform appearance, bowl shaped haircuts, Old Navy shirts, Amish like sideburns and all. They didn’t look metal and their speed was unmelodic.

I chose to miss Lamb Of God, Hatebreed and Slipknot to prepare for my interview, but from my impressions the second stage bands were tepid beyond belief, a view shared by Dimmu Borgir’s guitarist Galder whom I interviewed. They all sound the same, look the same, try too hard to be tough with every second word being ‘fuck’. I don’t buy it, but it seems the obedient masses might. Maybe. Following my interview I took up my position for the main stage, comprised of Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, Superjoint Ritual, Dimmu Borgir, Slayer, Priest and Sabbath. Waiting for the stage to be set up gave me ample opportunity to scan the crowd type. Ages of all variety were on hand, toddlers to those in their fifties, the bands appealing to a broad age range. There were the typical hordes of drunk white males, shirtless with forced expressions of toughness which only made me laugh. Some things never change. I wish I had been wearing just a pair of shorts, standing fists clenched, head raised, sweating, staring to the heavens as Slayer played. I wouldn’t have been out of place.

Black Label Society went by unnoticed, receving mild applause, Zakk Wylde’s main purpose being to ask us in supporting the troops in Iraq. Aside from that, nothing to report. Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual fared no better, Anselmo’s worn out stage rants raising a laugh or two. As always he told the cowd to ‘crush any poser standing there with their arms folded’, a line I first read from him in a 1992 issue of Metal Hammer. I knew he would say that. Old Phil praised the crowd, putting down a previous Chicago Ozzfest as the worst crowd ever. He must not have noticed no one was reacting to their music today either. Phil preached metal to the very end......get back with Pantera then. Dimmu Borgir elicited barely a cheer, their dull form of symphonic black metal overdone and indecipherable. It was obvious from the start the crowd was there for three bands.

As soon as Slayer began their predictable hits ridden set, several moshpits erupted, which made for better viewing than hearing ‘Dead Skin Mask’ again. A huge Mexican annihilated all around him, squashing skinny little guys with greasy long hair. Matters escalated when the lawn section of the crowd began throwing plastic bottles, cups, anything, onto the seated section in front of them, which rightfully angered them into throwing the objects back, the end result resembling a warzone in Beirut. Slayer meanwhile churned out the dreaded ‘Mandatory Suicide’, ‘South Of Heaven’ and ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ trio, only suprising once with ‘Hallowed Point’. Also played were ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Disciple’, ‘Stain Of Mind’, War Ensemble’ and ‘Bloodline’, an obligatory set lost in the cavernous setting. The crowd didn’t notice, now tearing up the turf, engaging in running battles throwing massive chunks of dirt at all and sundry, the lawn section practically destroyed.

Things died down as Priest made their entrance, their type of metal not the sort that can incite violence as easily as Slayer’s. Security formed a barrier between the warring crowd factions to calm things down and prevent more innocent bystanders from being hit by full bottles of water and three feet pieces of dirt. Priest won the crowds attention immediately with ‘Electric Eye’, their seventy five minute set another cliche’ hits affair, but one played so well it belies their age and could have fooled you into thinking it was still 1984 and Priest were still on top. They just might be. The crowd ate up ‘Breaking The Law’, ‘Living After Midnight’, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ and ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, but seemed lost during ‘Heading Out To The Highway’, ‘Beyond The Realm Of Death’, ‘Victim Of Changes’, ‘Painkiller’ and ‘The Sentinel’. ‘Touch Of Evil’ also was treated with mixed reactions, not a favourite of mine either, and who really needs ‘The Green Manalishi’. Their musicianship was beyond fault though and clearly metal still lives. I noticed Halford’s tendency to rush his way through the lyrics, no doubt having had his fill of singing them. Halford is Priest, and the crowd worshipped his every note, the band relieved to have him back I’m sure. The highlight of the day, easily.

Sabbath followed, but I stayed only for ‘War Pigs’ and ‘N.I.B.’, knowing full well there would be no ‘Back Street Kids’ or ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor. Maybe if Dio or Glenn Hughes had been on hand I could have been persuaded to stay. I’d sooner see Purple up there. But we all know who’s name is on the event. The blind Ozzy devotion is nonsensical at times. Sabbath may have been first, but I’ll take Priest before them. By the time I found my car Sabbath had finished half their set already. That’s okay, sleep was more important. Unless Saxon are added to next years bill I don’t think Ill be back. For a free pass it was worth it though.