Metal's as hotly contested as any other musical genre. Arguments always rage over which bands are sick and which are sellouts, which groups have left their mark with bruised ears and drawn blood, and which should think about hacking off their hair and heading home. Of course, the louder metal is, the more likely it is to have at least some kind of appeal. And unfortunately that's the guiding argument for the powers that be who book Ozzfest.
The traveling metal extravaganza's 2006 main stage features System of a Down, Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Hatebreed, Lacuna Coil, DragonForce and Ozzy himself, stalking around the stage like a loony magician. Not bad, but far from good while there's definitely a lot of heavy in that lineup, there's almost no variety. DragonForce, while masters at rocking power-metal clichés, have approximately three songs with the slightest tonal difference. And System of a Down is almost too "concept-driven" for its own good.
And yet it's Ozzfest's second stage that really rocks the real soundalikes. While Disturbed and Hatebreed put the hurt on with a similar frown, at least they shift their tempos a little. From Norma Jean and Unearth to Bleeding Through, Atreyu and Walls of Jericho, the side stage at Ozzfest '06 is a black T-shirt nightmare of substance-less mainstream metal. The only things more calculated than these bands' music are their haircuts.
Fortunately Strapping Young Lad, led by bipolar musical maniac Devin Townsend, offers a healthy bit of the unpredictable. "Wrong Side," from SYL's The New Black, hurtles between sub-death metal vocals and an overdriven chorus that sounds like Simon LeBon on a coke binge. And Between the Buried and Me, also on Ozzfest's second stage, is a good example of grabbing the calculated metalcore formula and twisting it. The band has just released a cover album, saluting everything they listened to in their years, and it's pretty varied. On it is Metallica, of course, and dinosaurs like Pink Floyd and King Crimson. But there's also Earth Crisis, Soundgarden and Depeche Mode and their version of Queen's "Bicycle Race" is at once incredible and trippy.
Still, that's as adventurous as Ozzfest is ever going to get, which means a lot of great shit is going unnoticed, or at least being argued over by smaller groups of longhairs. After you're underwhelmed by Ozzfest's offerings here are a few places to start digging deeper into the metal underground:
Most metalheads are familiar with Relapse Records. But in its roster of death metal torchbearers such as South Carolina's Nile or the veteran Suffocation Relapse represents what's wrong with metalcore and the side stage screamers above. While death metal is less marketable, these bands stay consistent album after album in a style that rewards with its sheer, ugly traditionalism. Isn't that better than wondering which side of the hybrid your favorite band's ass falls on?
Detroit's own Small Stone is still the place for stoner rock. Acid King, Dozer, Dixie Witch, Erik Larson and the mighty Sasquatch keep putting out hard and heavy rock even though a lot of people don't give a shit. Not many labels would be jumping to sign a band like Bottom, an all-female trio obsessed with sludge and dissonance. Plus, their drummer's name is Clementine.
Quickly becoming legend is Southern Lord, the underground California label that's been putting out extremely obscure music for years. Started by Sunn 0))) bandleaders Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley as a platform for their own releases, it became a cult home for unknowns and those who want to stay that way. Lord also distributes some of the greatest doom and gloom music you'll ever need.
Founded by doom king Lee Dorrian of Cathedral and Napalm Death, Rise Above is populated by heavy acts from a few different styles, from stoner to drone and doom. As ridiculously grandiose metal handles go, Rise Above's Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine is one of the best. If that's not enough for you to check this imprint out, Rise Above is also responsible for the ultimate doom throwbacks, Sweden's Witchcraft.
There's so much this article doesn't cover. How could it? The metal underground is deeper and darker than Sharon Osbourne could ever know. But it still serves a purpose, which is to help you look past corporate metalcore offerings. Sharon, Ozzfest and MTV will have you believe it's the heir to the throne, the most important strain of modern metal. But though metalcore has its moments, it doesn't truly fulfill, so don't be manipulated. But who cares, right? You just want something loud. But think about it. If you can't take a challenge, why the fuck are you listening to metal?
Ozzfest is Wednesday, July 19, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Rd. off I-75, Clarkston; 248-645-6666.Kent Alexander is a 16-year-old Metro Times intern. Send comments to [email protected]
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