This past Saturday (November 4th) and Sunday (November 5th), Ozzfest met Knotfest once again, as they had last year, for an epic collision of metal, hard rock, a little goth, a little hip-hop and a lot more metal. Pits were moshed, heads were banged, fun was had. Here are eight of the best things we saw at the two-day hesher marathon.
On Saturday, Deftones opened their set with a blast from their early days: "Head Up" and "My Own Summer (Shove It)." Both songs are from 1997's sophomore album, Around the Fur, but the band most likely performed them less to celebrate that personal landmark's 20th anniversary than because those songs are almost always on the must-play list. Either way, singer Chino Moreno was leaping into the air like it had only been two years since that recording, not 20. Later albums were also fully represented. During 2010's "Rocket Skates," Moreno lept onto Sergio Vega's bass amp, as the song thundered to Abe Cunningham's drum beats. Vega closed the tune by throwing his bass against his amplifier. Still dangerous after all these years.
There's nothing surprising about Rob Zombie delivering a wild, fire-breathing stage show filled with monsters, chicks, hot rods, UFO's, serial killers and loud guitars. The rocker-turned-movie director has always been a four-dimensional artist obsessed with American pop and trash culture, fueling his hard rock and visual flair. "The world is fucked up enough," Zombie declared. "The next hour is the only thing that makes sense to me." He arrived atop a giant boombox to shout a frantic "Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown," kicking his shiny bell bottoms into the air. "More Human Than Human" had John 5 slicing off swirling riffs, as Zombie walked along the crowd, grabbing the hands of fans to keep his balance. During a stretched-out take on the White Zombie rocker "Thunder Kiss '65," he dropped in the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," sending the circle pit into overdrive. "You know how you sit around with your friends and cry about the good old days?" Zombie asked the crowd. "Let's make tonight one of the good old days!"
The cholo-goth duo Prayers had maybe the biggest challenge of the weekend, delivering their brooding, electronics-based songs to a crowd ready for loud guitars. "I know we're a bit out of our element," vocalist Leafar Seyer admitted during the set, noting their unlikely place "up here with all of these legends." It was easily the most danceable music of the day, but Prayers share some dark themes with the metal masses, opening their 4:35 p.m. performance with "Edge of the Blade," from their upcoming album. "I don't worship the devil," Seyer shouted, "the devil worships me!" Some Knotfest fans were won over, but a few were openly hostile. With bearded partner Dave Parley on stage right layering beats and synth lines, the singer was a theatrical presence, covered in tattoos from the gang life and the supernatural. But his most startling prop came during "Ready to Bleed," when he pulled out a knife onstage, waving it around like a challenge to anyone doubting the darkness of Prayers.
In his first performance since shattering his right leg in an onstage accident in New York on September 30th, Manson arrived on day two of the festival Hannibal Lecter-style: strapped standing upright in a motorized wheelchair. His leg was in a cast, and behind him stood the huge two-pistol prop that fell on him a month earlier, as he greeted the crowd: "Los Angeles, I'm broken, but you can't break me." Attended to by a pair of dudes in surgical scrubs, Manson turned his injury into another layer of performance. "These are the guys that give me illegal narcotics — allegedly," he joked before roaring into "The Dope Show." His determination to put on a full theatrical performance meant lingering breaks between songs as Manson changed positions, costumes, etc. He wasn't going to sit in one position all night like Axl or Dave Grohl. He crawled up onto a gurney to sing a raging "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." By the end, Manson seemed to have fully regained his mojo and dark sense of humor, wearing white religious robes as he closed "The Beautiful People" by blowing a kiss and slowly spinning his upright chair, before rolling off the stage.
With Slipknot not playing this year's festival, and as that band's Shawn "Clown" Crahan remained mostly behind the scenes as the unseen ringmaster, it was up to Corey Taylor to represent from the main stage on Sunday. His straight-ahead hard-rock act Stone Sour isn't much like the obsessive metal of Slipknot, other than sharing an anxious frontman, but Taylor delivered a typically intense performance, attacking the stage, and swinging and banging his head like few others can. The band ripped through "Made of Scars" and "Absolute Zero," and performed what may have been the weekend's only ballad when Taylor picked up a guitar to play and sing "Through the Glass."
The rap-metal supergroup launched their 12-song Ozzfest set with the explosive eponymous track "Prophets of Rage," originally recorded by Public Enemy in 1988. Supercharged with Tom Morello's eccentric guitar, it made for a wild, confrontational entrance. It's also the title of the band's politically charged debut album, full of songs that took on extra power live, such as "Hail to the Chief" and "Living on the 110." There was explosive force from the group's trio of instrumentalists (Rage Against the Machine's Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk), playing new songs alongside classics. There were sonic pyrotechnics from Morello, but subtlety, too, as in the cello-like intro before "Bulls on Parade." The Rage players returned to perform an instrumental of Audioslave's "Like a Stone," dedicated to their late collaborator Chris Cornell. "I know this is Ozzfest," said rapper B-Real, standing with Chuck D. "Can you fuck with some hip-hop!" The Rage trio left the stage as the two rappers dove into a hip-hop medley fully embraced by the metal crowd, including: "Insane in the Brain," "Can't Truss It" and House of Pain's "Jump Around." Before the band closed with "Killing in the Name," B-Real said, "Dangerous times call for dangerous songs." Indeed.
After last year's debut of the combined Ozzfest Meets Knotfest, and its heavy-hitting headliners Black Sabbath and Slipknot, the 2017 edition had a lot of live up to. Day one was headlined by Ozzy solo, and his 14-song set began with a muscular "Bark at the Moon" and "Mr. Crowley," Zakk Wylde back at his side shredding on a bullseye guitar. On Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots," the guitarist changed things up with some personal flash that made the tune almost unrecognizable, but soon found a balance between classic doom metal and Wylde shredding. After Ozzy complained of the cold weather (somewhere in the mid-50s) making it difficult on his voice, fans could soon hear why: On Sabbaths "War Pigs," the legendary metal shouter's voice cracked, and he coughed between lyrics. After shaking his head, Ozzy left the stage as his band took over on an extended wind-out on the song, turning a brief stumble into a memorable headbanging triumph. Whether a planned part of the show or something to give Oz a timely break from the elements, there was something heroic about the power and audacity in Wylde's several minutes of soloing, finding the place where Iommi meets Rhoads, roaming into the crowd, playing with guitar behind his head, with his teeth, etc. It was long enough for Oz to take an actual nap, if he wanted, and he returned many minutes later with voice recuperated enough for the rest of the night.
The biggest names were on the main stage both days, but fans took the spotlight at the Ozzfest Meets Knotfest second stages, where circle pits opened up on the wet grass for hours of intense stomping and swirling. A few were bloodied, and none were complaining. Like most acts on the auxiliary stages, underground extremists the Black Dahlia Murder, Tombs and Code Orange had a raw intensity that lit up the crowd during their afternoon sets. Movement on the grass never stopped, as dozens of moshers young and (some) old surfed to the front and went back around again, and again, and again.