It's difficult to overestimate Black Sabbath's influence in the hard-rock world. Though the British quartet, formed in the acid-rock daze of the late '60s, was consistently reviled by critics, its fans--many of them musicians--took the group's grimy, blues-inflected minimalism to heart.
Over the years, Sabbath--and to a lesser degree the solo efforts of its infamous original frontman Ozzy Osbourne--has been an inspiration to artists. This legacy is the key ingredient in Ozzfest's success, and what made this year's festival, which came to a finale before a rowdy crowd of some 50,000 at Blockbuster Pavilion on Saturday, so outstanding.
Keyed up as everyone was--onstage and off--for this purported final appearance by the reunited Sabbath, the group's set was riveting. The big hits ("War Pigs," "Iron Man," "N.I.B.") sizzled, and Osbourne's wailing vocals were shadowed by an audience chorus of thousands. The less well-known selections generated more low-key crowd response, but were equally absorbing and allowed the musicians to indulge in some smoldering jams that showed off their esteemed skills.
Sabbath closed the evening with a bang both musically (a fired-up rendition of "Paranoid") and pyrotechnically with a fireworks display worthy of a Fourth of July celebration.
The celebratory mood of the day seemed to bring out the best in all the bands. Rob Zombie conjured up his usual brew of industrial-tinged metal and theatrics with less stage dressing than he normally uses, but even more vigor. The thrash-masters in Slayer hammered out music as dark and virulent as ever, inspiring their fervid followers to pull up the seats on the periphery of the pit and crowd-surf them up to the stage.
The Deftones followed Slayer, and the band's mellower, moodier music made for a welcome break. Primus did an admirable job of containing its quirky funk-metal sprawl, generating all the eccentric intensity that distinguishes its concerts in a mere 45 minutes. Boston's Godsmack delivered the beefy, Korn-ish material from its debut with more vibrant energy than the studio versions. System of a Down put on a forceful demonstration of its brooding, volatile metal despite a murky sound.
The dense crowds made trekking between two stages rather challenging, but the intrepid were rewarded with a diverse second stage lineup that featured some first-rate groups including Puerto Rico's Puya, Sweden's Drain sth and Fear Factory.