Ozzfest Main Stage : Milton Keynes Bowl

Black Sabbath, Tool and Slipknot are among those rocking the Main Stage at Ozzfest 2001...

In the middle of the sun-blasted Milton Keynes plain, just south of the Village of the Damned, an Iron Maiden-shirted townie stands and [I]stares[/I]. “Fackin’ hell,” he splutters, as a shaven-headed child, smeared in charcoal battle-paint, a voluminous orange boilersuit hanging baggily over his skinny frame shuffles past, “I didn’t realise people actually dressed like [I]that[/I].”

Ozzfest, 2001: let this be remembered as the day that [I]ye olde[/I] heavy metal came face to face with the young usurper nu-metal. The battle will be hard-fought, but that can wait : right now, it’s not even midday, but the prehistoric Raging Speedhorn are on a mission to fuck this shit ’til it walks with a limp. As they christen the day in gory style with thrash-pop monstrosity ‘The Gush’, the first casualty drags himself from the moshpit, drenched in blood. Concussion with your breakfast-time bacon bap, sir?

Or just some ropy nu-metal? Hed(pe) clearly fell out of the rap-metal cliche tree and hit every branch – sexism, dreadlocks, hamfisted scratching – on the way down. Meanwhile, not even guest appearances from Slayer’s Tom Araya and Corey Slipknot can shake the feeling that Max Cavalera’s Soulfly is just a stop-gap between his role fronting the mighty Sepultura, and a comfortable retirement.

Papa Roach put in a workmanlike festival performance, Coby Dick stumbling the stage like a punch-drunk middleweight as ‘Last Resort’ delivers its payload of angst. But the day’s first real You Shoulda Been There moment comes with the long-awaited return of Tool. Theoretically, debuting a good chunk of the baroque math-metal of astounding new album ‘Lateralus’ to the Corey Slipknot-hungry hordes should have been an act of lunacy. But as Maynard James Keenan strides onstage, letting his black overcoat drop to reveal little more than a skimpy latex waistband, and launches into the winding passages of new track ‘The Grudge’, even their most complex musical equations make perfect sense. There’s no getting away from it, this is progressive metal; but Tool side-step the genre’s pretentious cliches with such wild-eyed faith and terrific invention that you never doubt them, not once.

And then!! Slipknot!!! SLIIIIIPKNOT: now undoubtedly one of the most viscerally thrilling live bands in the world and also a reflection of just widespread the heavy metal crisis has become. Even two years ago, who would have thought that a band that worships dead animals and sounds like hell’s own earthquake would achieve such worldwide recognition? The Welder spends most of the gig twatting any bouncer that gets between him and the crowd – but still finds time to clamber back to his decks to scratch out a bonkers Squarepusher-style drum-and-bass interlude! Two ‘Knot members play cymbals with their heads, on a drum-kit that lifts twenty feet off the ground! The Clown Shawn Crahan’s face is covered with blood and he taunts his fans – or ‘maggots’ as the group like to call them – with the head of a dead bull. While the two new songs aired – ‘Disasterpiece’ and ‘Heretic Song’ – deviate little from that trademarked Slayer-prolapsing-a-stomach-full-of-metal-rivets sound, you’ve got to concede it’s a case of same old, same fucking great.

But with all the shit well and truly fucked, can the headlining Black Sabbath measure up? Well, they’re back from the dead, and it suits ’em just fine: Ozzy scurrying across the stage like a crack-crazed Widow Twanky; Tony Iommi, dressed like the Bee Gees’ dandy evil twin; Geezer Butler, the geriatric spit of Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls; and Bill Ward – absent from the last Sabbath reunion with a dodgy ticker, but here, proudly military-saluting from behind his drum-kit.

‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘Snowblind’, ‘Iron Man’: they all sound, still, like the very building blocks of rock’n’roll. There’s the odd slightly embarrassing moment – the look on Ozzy’s face when he realises that no-one remembers the words to ‘War Pigs’, the lukewarm reaction to the apocalyptic sole newie, ‘Scary Dreams’. But as a mighty ‘Paranoid’ grinds to a halt and Sabbath hurtle into their last encore, fireworks splattering messily across the night sky, it’s time to forget the young pretenders. You know it because you’ve seen it carved on desktops, scrawled on toilet doors, written in blood on the Black Mass altar: Sabbath [I]rool[/I].

Louis Pattison

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