Phil Anselmo has nodded off in mid-conversation. It's been a long day. At just past 7 in the evening on a Sahara-hot Tuesday in Columbus, Ozzfest is in its 10th hour. More than 15 bands have taken to the metal caravan's two stages already.
It's been only about half an hour since Anselmo led his own band, resin-coated hardcore revisionists Superjoint Ritual, through 30 minutes of steel-toed thrash. His head shaved but for a knot of black hair, arms jutting out of a sleeveless red button-down shirt like a punk-rock gym teacher, Anselmo growled and glowered at the audience as if they had just drunk his last beer. "If you're standing there like a pussy, you are a fuckin' pussy," he barked at the 15,000 or so in attendance. The rest of the band clenched their teeth and shook their dirty hair next to two giant pot leaves. "Eat pussy until your jaw breaks," Anselmo instructed as he exited the stage, heading straight for his bus, where he's now reclining.
Sitting in the back lounge, surrounded by a good 50 bottles of vitamins and supplements, Anselmo knocks back one Beck's after another. He talks at 33-1/3 rpm, stretching syllables like wet taffy, his eyelids hanging so low you could blindfold the guy with dental floss. He seems as if he's just been awakened from a nap. Probably because he has.
"I was thinking so deeply, man," Anselmo says after his assistant kicks him in the foot to wake him up and continue the interview. "Can you repeat the question?" he asks, gradually picking up his train of thought.
"I've said this before, I don't need to do this shit. I don't need to tour. I don't need to fuckin' do anything like this, man. I could fuckin' sail the world, if I wanted to," Anselmo says. "But music is the most important thing in my life, and when music goes down the toilet, maybe I do too, man."
And so Anselmo is back on Ozzfest for the fourth time, bringing some danger to the annual headbanger bacchanalia that has undergone something of a sea change in 2004: Spearheaded by Superjoint, hardcore-influenced metal has taken over. For the first time in the tour's history, there are more mohawks than mullets in the crowd.
In Columbus, the side stage was dominated by rising metalcore favorites like Atreyu, five dudes who struck rock-god poses atop their amps, played fluorescent guitars, and sounded kind of like Slayer in designer jeans. Their second-stage tourmates in Throwdown looked like hardcore dudes, with short hair and spindly arms colored with tats, but they covered Sepultura's "Roots Bloody Roots," while their frontman punched the air and goaded the pit.
In years past, metal and hardcore kids have kept their distance from one another. The early crossover greats S.O.D. famously dissed the D.C. hardcore scene on their debut, while C.O.C. lampooned the meathead mentality of headbangers on an early LP. The prospect of skinheads and longhairs trading blows in the Ozzfest mosh pit initially sounded like a recipe for Red Cross intervention.
"I was kind of scared," admits guitarist Andy Williams of the Buffalo metalcore quintet Every Time I Die. "I was afraid all the hardcore kids would show up and beat up those Slipknot kids or something like that, which isn't the case. You see the hardcore kids out there doing their thing, you see the Slipknot-type crowd doing their thing, and everything is fine. On this tour, I've seen one fight, and it was ridiculous. I think it was two drunk biker dudes."
The show began at nine in an already-sweltering parking lot adjacent to the amphitheater's main stage. Despite the early hour, close to 10,000 people were on hand.
"Every show I've seen in the 9:30 slot has been fucking amazing," says Buzz McGrath, guitarist for Massachusetts metalcore bruisers Unearth, the first band to take the stage in Columbus. "I was like, 'Man, that's gonna suck,' but kids come out and mosh early in the morning."
The crowd, which ranged from middle-aged dudes in "Britney Wants Me" tees to bleached-blond 13-year-olds in half-shirts, worked itself into a lather for early bands like Devildriver, whose frontman, Dez Fafara, screamed until his face turned as red as the crowd's sunburned shoulders. Italian goth-metallers Lacuna Coil flipped their hair in perfect unison until the air smelled of Prell.
But with stripped-down metalcore largely dominating the small stage, most of the theatrics were saved for the pavilion. Symphonic black-metallers Dimmu Borgir sported corpse paint and a singer who sounded like Vincent Price coughing up a hairball. They wore lots of shoulder pads and gnarly studded boots, looking kind of like hell's hockey team.
Not to be outhammed was a reunited Judas Priest. Singer Rob Halford looked like the Queen of the Damned, dressed in a full-length black leather coat complete with tassels that looked as if they'd been swiped from the handlebars of your kid sister's bike. He sang from atop a pair of giant ramps held up by the Priest logo, while guitarists Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing ripped out solos at the crest of a large silver staircase.
Just as outsized was Black Sabbath's show-closing set, which began with an antiwar video montage that omitted a controversial segment contrasting George W. with Hitler, which had run in other markets. Ozzy sounded better than he has in years, even though he flubbed the words to "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath" and clung to his mic stand as if it were keeping him upright.
Given all the larger-than-life pomp that closed Ozzfest, the grittier, down-to-earth hardcore-influenced bands were a welcome counterbalance. They helped tear down the barrier between the audience and the artists before them. To Anselmo, that's the whole purpose of bands like his.
"I am bringing down that barrier, and we're meeting head-on," he says, chest heaving. "The way I speak to the children, man, I fuckin' talk to them as though I was their brother, their sister, their lover, their fuckin' best friend. I speak with them, man. I let them know that I care about them." With that, Phil Anselmo flashes a rare grin. "It's a strange type of fish to sell, ya know?"
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