Metal mania 

Ozzy steals his own show with Black Sabbath reunion

HiFi Buys Amphitheatre, July 7 -- It's 9:59 a.m. The sun is beating down in the parking lot and the sweat has long since begun to pour from the mass of waiting fans, clad mostly in uncomfortable dark colors. As the clock strikes 10 a.m., both the venue gates and the inaugural beers are opened, and the horde of metalheads are herded into the amphitheater. Welcome to Ozzfest 2001, the sixth year of the three-stage touring festival started in the mid-'90s by Ozzy Osbourne and his wife/manager Sharon.

Otep, fronted by a scathing female vocalist of the same name, started the festivities on the Levi's Stage soon after the doors opened. Fans were eager to start jumping around, but some seemed to be conserving their moshing energy for later in the day. Otep played their 20-minute set before it was time for Spineshank.

Throughout the morning, the handful of bands on the smaller two stages would play brief sets as their roadies scrambled around, trying to accommodate the short set changes. The crowd continued to build as countless nu-metal acts such as Union Underground, Nonpoint, Drowning Pool and Taproot entertained the testosterone-fueled fans. By mid-afternoon, thousands were present to view the final Second Stage act, Mudvayne. Adorned with bizarre face paint (hmm ... that hasn't been done before), the quartet ripped through several brutal tracks from their album L.D. 50, including the pit favorite "Dig."

Kicking off the Main Stage was Black Label Society, led by Zakk Wylde. The former Ozzy guitarist and his band pounded out gritty '80s death metal that exhibited Wylde's astounding guitar prowess, but they were unable to interest the audience members, many of whom probably were wondering why the group wasn't using a DJ like everyone else.

When Crazy Town hit the stage, guitarist Squirrel approached the mic and yelled, "It's 4:20! Time to light up!" The crowd, a mass of exposed pale flesh, went wild. Actually, it was 4:05, but who's counting? After all, there's nothing like a blatant drug reference to make a horde of teenagers hurl their fists into the air. The seven-member group bounced through a slew of catchy rap-rock tunes, including "Toxic," "Darkside" and "Butterfly."

Chicago group Disturbed seemed to be the first real crowd-pleaser of the afternoon. Their set was strong, but in an awkward moment, vocalist David Draiman quipped, "I want you to take everything that is dark and loathsome inside of you and pour it into me. Shout it out!" before launching into a cover of Tears for Fears' "Shout." I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh or feign tormented anger like everyone else.

The audience also was treated to performances by Linkin Park and Papa Roach, two groups that play radio-friendly metal with a rap influence. The bands jumped around stage with youthful exuberance as they performed catchy metal songs. Tunes such as Linkin Park's "One Step Closer" and Papa Roach's "Last Resort," famous teenage anger anthems, were surefire hits with the audience.

The nine members of Slipknot, clad in different masks and matching coveralls, crowded onto the stage before exploding into a set of both new and old material. Despite their instrumental precision, however, the group's complex sound didn't translate well to the live setting, where the high number of instruments proved to be a challenge for the sound crew at the mixing board.

The sun had just begun to go down when Marilyn Manson and his band charged on stage and ripped into "Irresponsible Hate Anthem." Even Manson's elaborate costumes and bizarre set design didn't upstage the music itself, which was performed with fantastic precision and clarity. The one-hour set was rounded off with a thundering rendition of "The Beautiful People" that had the whole audience screaming along in unison.

But all it took was the opening riff of "N.I.B." for the audience to know that Black Sabbath was going to steal the show. A bit surprisingly, each member of the reunited group seemed refreshed, revived and genuinely happy to be playing. Ozzy shuffled around the stage with an evil smile on his face, howling through crowd sing-alongs such as "War Pigs" and "Iron Man." Sabbath even debuted a new tune, a sinister bluesy dirge that was startlingly good. All of a sudden, life had been breathed into this comparatively ancient band.

Popular heavy metal may be currently undergoing a changing of the guard from the old school stylings of Pantera and Slayer to the new sounds of the Ozzfest bands, but anyone who witnessed the look of eerie vitality in Ozzy's eyes will tell you that he'll still be the ringleader for years to come.

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