[12 August 2005]
Lamb of God
Sounds of the Underground, has been referred to as a “not-quite-ready-for-Ozzfest” tour in some quarters, due to its mostly independent-metal contingency. Ozz-worthy or not, bands and fans alike bring plenty of metal stereotypes to the event. But while there were long-hairs and Flying V-shaped guitars aplenty, it wasn’t a one-trick pony of an afternoon. If you looked and listened closely, there was enough subtle variety for even a non-metal-head (like me) to find some small pleasure.
This year’s Satanic majesties’ request band, Lamb of God, were the show’s headliner. Though the group made headlines by getting kicked off a recent Inglewood Forum (which is now owned by a church) date with Slipknot—church leaders were offended by the band’s prior name (Burn The Priest)—Lamb of God’s music proves less thrilling than the headlines. LoG sounded like any number of other loud, fast, non-melodic black-metal bands that filled out the all-day event. Their performance was by no means a grand finale.
The groups that made the best and most lasting impressions didn’t, like Lamb of God, play paint-by-numbers metal at all.
The act that probably stood out the most is Clutch. This group works a kind of traditional blues-rock groove that might just as easily fit in at a blues festival. Their songs, in fact, could slip into the rotation of any classic rock station, and few would notice the difference. One hears a whole lotta Led Zeppelin love running in the band’s grooves, as well as some Soundgarden-y, post-metal grunge. Vocalist Neil Fallon knows how to sing, and never resorts to the monochromatic screaming many other acts brought to the stage.
Swedish outfit Opeth was another band that mixed it up. The group, which can get as gruff and noisy as any, added progressive-rock elements and long instrumental passages to the combination. And while progressive music can be trying in large dosages (just like metal), today it provided a brief breath of fresh air. The group drew from their recent Damnation disc for “To Rid the Disease”, which included an impressive jangle-y guitar part. Vocalist Mikael Ankerfeldt said, “It’s great to be in this city where cock-rock was created,” before launching into a tune featuring, in no small dose, the words “demon motherfucker”. Obviously, there’s still plenty of metal in this band’s artistic genes despite their pronounced progressive streak.
Close your eyes, and GWAR could be almost any other shocking outfit in the day’s lineup. But GWAR exists to be seen not heard. Dressed in outlandish costumes and brandishing medieval stage weapons, the group members physically, yet playfully, fought both monsters and political figures—one “monster”, for instance, wore a George W. Bush costume while another was dressed as some sort of a church figurehead. Not only that, but after every conquest, the losing foes spewed red colored water across the audience from their severed limbs. In the president’s case, this bloody stuff shot straight up out of his head. In between tunes, two water guns splattered the happily soaked fans upfront with green and blue liquid. The group is led by Oderus Urungus (not his real name, of course), who is masked and roams the stage with an enormous strap-on penis and big, dangling, hang-on balls. The group may have some deeply buried agenda but, given their Saturday morning cartoon-like antics, it’s hard to take anything they do seriously. It all comes together a little bit like a B-movie featuring Kiss.
Every Time I Die
Every Time I Die may not have broken any new ground with their Pavement-esque, scattered rock, but the group’s sense of humor during songs like “Off Broadway”—as well as its lyrics about girls, instead of demons—offered a particularly welcome development after the antics of GWAR.
The festival’s best example of latter-day speed metal—the kind that would make Slayer proud—was provided by DevilDriver. There wasn’t anything particularly original about this act’s look or sound, but because the band was so good at what it did, and carried it all off so entertainingly, it was pleasant despite the obvious stylistic limitations.
Representing the other side of eternity, so to speak, Norma Jean was this afternoon’s lone Christian metal band. But it was hard to decipher any religious affiliation from songs like “Vertebraille”, off of their latest O God, The Aftermath CD. Because of their screamo-metal rock sound, it’s easy to see why this band has been so accepted in the secular realm: it’s nearly impossible to make out, and therefore take issue with, anything the band is saying.
Chimaira, which are gearing up to tour with Danzig, wowed this crowd with a powerful low sound on tracks like “Nothing Remains” and “Save Ourselves”. They were yet another group that don’t score high on the originality scale but succeed at hard rock by doing their thing extremely well. Similarly, Poison the Well turned their relatively generic post-hardcore songs into something strangely special, especially in emotionally gripping ones like “The Realist”.
In addition to this show’s mostly metal content, there were also a few hardcore punk bands as well. This punk contingent included New York’s Madball, as well as LA’s Terror and Throwdown. These days it’s sometimes tough to tell the difference between punk and metal and these hardcore acts mainly distinguished themselves by short hair, short songs, and guitar solos that were few and far between.
The venue for this show was a grassy area right next to the Sports Arena in South Los Angeles. Due to L.A.‘s recent heat wave, the prospects of having a good time on this Friday afternoon seemed slim. Yet there were plenty of large, shady trees on the arena grounds, as well as other covered areas out of the sun, so it was possible to prevent overheating. If you didn’t want to die of heatstroke inside the omnipresent mosh pit, you could always lay around like a boneless chickens at the boneless chicken ranch (to borrow a favorite Far Side moment), instead. And many black-clad fans did just that. What smart chickens they were.
Even though there were over a dozen bands in the lineup, attendees didn’t have to miss one act, or choose one group over another. That’s because there was only one stage. Such a singular situation can spell disaster at a festival, as it often leads to long delays between acts. But the producers of this show kept things moving right along, so there were never any large lulls without music.
As you might expect from a festival with the word “Underground” in its title, fans had plenty of access to their favorite bands. It was heartening to see groups signing posters and CDs, and actually taking the time to listen to what they had to say. This won’t be happening at Ozzfest, that’s for darn sure.
The composition of the crowd was partially composed of old-school metal dudes and partially of youngish punks. One imagines that many of these folks attended both Warped and Sounds of the Underground this year. Unlike Warped, which sported a few chick magnets, this was clearly a male-dominated crowd.
If this touring festival evolves into something annual, like Warped, it would be a good thing. Because based upon the success of this year’s package, it absolutely earned the right to return next year. That is, if Ozzy doesn’t snatch all its acts.