Tuesday, July 27, 2004
White River Amphitheatre
Review and pics by Lord of the Wasteland
Five years had passed since I last experienced the traveling circus of the damned known as Ozzfest. For some reason, the tour has forsaken Canada every year except for 1999, when such diverse bands as Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie, Slayer, Fear Factory, Primus, System of a Down, Deftones and Drain STH took over Vancouver?s Thunderbird Stadium. That trip was a long, hot day of metal, and while most of the bands were enjoyable, there were several mediocre bands who are nowhere to be found in 2004. Puya? Pushmonkey? Flashpoint?? The few standouts included Static-X, Godsmack, Fear Factory (who headlined the second stage) and Black Sabbath, who were just getting into the whole reunion thing. Since then, the annual lineups have gotten steadily worse and worse with the low-point being last year?s dismal lineup of hardcore and emo bands like Chevelle and E-Town Concrete. Had Ozzfest hit its peak? Had the only thing to come close to a North American festival ended its all-too-brief run after eight years?
When this year?s Ozzfest lineup was announced back in February, it was a welcome return to the roots of Ozzy Osbourne and the music that made him what he is today: METAL!! Slayer, Black Label Society, Dimmu Borgir, Superjoint Ritual and a reunited Judas Priest were set to headline the main stage supporting Black Sabbath?s first appearance since 2001. The second stage sounded just as exciting with God Forbid, Lacuna Coil and Lamb of God set to join Slipknot, Hatebreed and nine others for a full day of metallic mayhem.
Just as I suspected, Canada was once again shut out of the tour but Auburn, Washington is a relatively short three hour drive away, so I set upon my quest to hit the show. Through the generosity of Nuclear Blast and Century Media Records, I was given a ticket and photo pass for both the main and second stages. The only stipulation was that Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Slipknot had a ?NO PICTURES? clause that all photographers had to sign. Otherwise we were treated pretty damn fine, I must say. The day was a scorcher and temperatures must have been nearing 100 (38 degrees Celsius). Fortunately, the photographers were treated to unlimited beverages and we got to keep shaded under a big tent behind the second stage. The White River Amphitheatre staff was beyond accommodating and Ginger, our nominated ?media wrangler,? was so sweet your teeth hurt just talking to her. A few hiccups due to miscommunication between the label and the Ozzfest publicist were ironed out pretty quickly and I was on my way!
A Bad Omen?
Despite my best efforts to get to the venue to see the first band hit the stage, bad luck seemed to be on my side from the beginning. I had planned to spend the night before the show in Seattle so I would only be a half hour away and could sleep in a bit. As I went to leave, my car wouldn?t start?dead battery. Being a newer import, finding a battery isn?t an easy task and three and a half hours later, I was finally ready to get on the road. Because 30,000 people would be flooding the lower King County area, I thought it would be worth the peace of mind to make sure a hotel room could be had at such a late hour. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to find a cheap room, my patience was at an end. It was 11:00PM?ten hours before showtime and NOTHING had gone right up to this point. I decided to stay at home and then get up at the ungodly hour of 5:00AM to drive from Vancouver, get through U.S. customs, beat Seattle rush hour and still be in Auburn with time to spare. I was making record time on the I-5 but then I hit Everett and BOOM?it was a parking lot. After waiting patiently on the heated blacktop among the endless throng of commuters guzzling coffee, reading their morning papers and doing their hair and makeup, I had enough and broke every law by whipping into the HOV lane. The HOV lane is supposed to be an express lane that only multi-passenger vehicles and buses can enter without being charged a hefty fine (if caught). As the time neared 8:45, I was desperate and was willing to take my chances. Traffic flowed smoothly as I blew past the sea of metal and rubber. I was sure to make it to Auburn?or so I thought. Having escaped the wrath of the Washington State highway patrol, I snuck back into the general traffic population without pressing my luck even further. I had made excellent headway and as I wove through the bustling downtown core of Seattle with the new Carnal Forge CD blasting out of the stereo, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel…or so I thought. Suddenly, brake lights started coming on and once again, I found myself at a standstill on the west coast?s most traveled thoroughfare. It was 9:00 and I only had a half hour before the metal was unleashed at Ozzfest and I was still a good 15-20 miles from where I needed to be. Thanks to more law-breaking and the high-quality German engineering of Volkswagen, I was able to maneuver my way out of this mess and was soon on my way. Twenty minutes?twenty miles. Oh yes, it will be done!
I had never been to Auburn before and as a precaution, I had printed off directions from Ticketmaster?s website to get me right to the venue. Well let?s just say that while Ticketmaster may have a monopoly on North American ticket sales, they had best stay the hell out of the map game because they were WAY OFF! I was always under the assumption that east and right were pretty universal directions around the world but apparently in Ticketmaster-land, things operate on a different matrix. I soon found myself going the opposite direction I needed to be based on their less than accurate specifics and one thing you don?t want to do is turn off a secondary exit from an interstate because it?s about 5 miles before you get a chance to turn around. To make a long story short (I know, it?s too late, but can?t you feel the tension and excitement building??), I finally found my way on to the road that I was supposed to be on and at 9:45 passed the gates into the White River Amphitheatre?s lone parking lot (more on that later). Once I had gathered my gear and applied a liberal slathering of sunblock to any exposed pasty skin, I took off for the gates.
Because of the many obstacles I faced getting to Ozzfest, I missed opening band Magna-Fi, who I was curious to see since they are currently advertising with Metal Rules (sorry, guys). Word on the street was that they are a decent hard rock band and got a pretty fair reception. Once I found my way to the second stage, I was shocked at how many people were already there. It was barely 10:00AM and there must have been at least 2,000 metalheads already rocking out to Devildriver! I got there just in time to hear their last song, so unfortunately I can?t offer much of a review of their set, either. The bands were noticeably ahead of schedule and I found out that they had started about 20 minutes earlier than the set times that were posted at the Ozzfest website (http://www.ozzfest.com). I got settled and met a few of the other photographers who were there to cover the show from BlizzardBeast.com, Grave Music and Abrasive Rock. The set changeovers were incredibly fast (about 7 minutes on average) and soon we were escorted to the photo pit for God Forbid.
I had seen God Forbid once before (http://www.metal-rules.com/concerts/HBB-2003.htm) and without having heard any of their songs at the time, they still kicked my ass. When their latest CD, GONE FOREVER, came out in February, I gave it a perfect review (and still stand by that assessment). I spoke with God Forbid guitarist Doc Coyle just before the album?s release and I was excited to see them play live again after familiarizing myself with their stuff. True to form, they pummeled the lively audience with a 20-minute set of thrash-infused metalcore. ?Broken Promise,? ?Antihero? and ?Better Days? were the highlights of the set as Byron Davis? ominous presence and booming roar barely eclipsed the twin guitar attack of brothers Doc and Dallas Coyle (Doc is the bald one). I said back in February that 2004 would be the year that God Forbid hit the big time. They have toured endlessly in support of this album and during the travel days on Ozzfest, they are hitting every place in between, as well. The band was supposed to play an ?Off-fest? date the night before in Vancouver along with Otep in support of Dimmu Borgir, but both openers cancelled the day of the show citing ?health problems,? which seemed to have been miraculously cured less than 12 hours later. Hmm…
Metal Blade?s Unearth were up next and somehow I missed the promotional blitz the label had for them. I had heard the name but never any music from them, but this band also left a good impression with me. Vocalist Trevor Phipps was a ball of energy, while Ken Susi and Buzz McGrath?s solos were a definite highlight. I have since got a copy of the band?s new CD, THE ONCOMING STORM, but I wish I had done so before this show. The only track I knew was ?Black Hearts Still Reign? which kicked major ass! Great band and definitely worthy of all the hype.
At this point, another hiccup came into play as somehow my name was lost in the photo pass shuffle. Despite having two e-mails directly from the promo people at Century Media and Nuclear Blast saying I was allowed to take pictures of the bands, my name wasn?t on the proverbial list and I was quickly getting shown the door. Ginger was noticeably sorry that this happened and expressed how much she wished I could keep shooting but I understood that she was just doing her job. I was welcome to stay for the show, but no photography would be allowed.
At first I was willing to accept this and then thought, uh uh, I AM SUPPOSED TO BE ON THAT LIST! I had taken all the necessary steps to get things organized, gone through Hell and back to actually get to the show. Sure I could have written a decent Ozzfest review without any pictures, but really, they are the cherry on top. I figured it was at least worth a shot to call the label and find out what happened and if anything could be done to get me that photo pass back. Through a serious of phone calls, I ended up speaking with the PR person for Ozzfest in California, who was extremely apologetic and quickly made sure I was reinstated (thanks Juliana).
Unfortunately, the process took about an hour and in that time, I missed Every Time I Die, Lacuna Coil and Bleeding Through. I had just seen Lacuna Coil a month earlier (http://www.metal-rules.com/concerts/LacunaCoil-July2004.htm) but was still disappointed I couldn?t see them again. I wasn?t too bent out of shape about Every Time I Die as I heard they are one of these screamo bands and the only thing I heard about Bleeding Through was how hot their female keyboard player is.
Back in the saddle, I made the long journey back to the second stage in time to see Victory Records? latest golden boys, Atreyu. These guys are a blend of hardcore, punk and radio-friendly hooks and seemed to be a real crowd favorite. I have heard their latest CD, THE CURSE, and it is a slice of poppy aggression aimed at the younger crowd. The band put on a decent set delivering their hits, ?Lip Gloss and Black,? ?Right Side of the Bed? and ?Bleeding Mascara? among others. Daniel Jacobs? Poison shirt and fluorescent green guitar immediately got my attention, but I think it was kind of aimed at being retro cool for the younger crowd, which I hate. Vocalist Alex Varkatzas bellowed out the harsh lyrics, while drummer Brandon Saller took care of the melodic choruses. The kids in attendance seemed to eat this band up and sung along in unison to most of the lyrics.
California?s Otep were still in my bad books for having bailed on the previous night?s show in Vancouver, but I was willing to give them another chance. I heard their debut, SEVAS TRA, and there were a few good songs on it. Their latest CD, HOUSE OF SECRETS, was released the day of the show, but I had seen the first video (?Warhead?) on MuchMusic?s Loud program the week before. Otep tends to be a bit whiny but when she gets down and focuses on the music, she has a killer growl. On her mike stand was a pig?s head and I had visions of Mayhem flinging disembodied animal skulls at the audience. While things didn?t get quite that violent, the band came out and launched into what seemed like an endless diatribe about?I don?t know?something before opening with ?Blood Pigs.? Another outburst had Otep encouraging the crowd to yell, ?FUCK BUSH?FUCK BUSH?? before ?Warhead.? Considering the band was only granted a 20 minute set, I would have thought she would have left her rants at the door and filled the time with actual songs. For all her aggression and hatred, Otep is a tiny little spitfire covered in tattoos and is very pretty up close. Backstage, I saw her getting psyched up by pacing back and forth and she definitely has a lot of energy. The only problem is that she is the sole reason for this band?s existence and without her, they are just another bunch of guys with shaved heads who would go totally unnoticed in a crowd.