Good music, a bit of chaos and some lousy weather for the prince of darkness' travelling festival...
Even the traditionally quiet Maynard James Keenan couldn't resist a comment yesterday. "Are you cold?" he asked the crowd at a cold and rainswept Donington racetrack. Well yes, but with the fifty thousand strong crowd having braved the weather for eight hours already, very little indeed would see them wimp out before the final fireworks to signify that metal had indeed made the return to its spiritual home after six years away.
The Prince of Darkness and his hordes should have been disappointed however by the disorganization of the stewards and perhaps reconsider the location of the second stage - the dry, small capacity indoor exhibition centre at the side of the racetrack. Many people trying to gain access to bands such as Otep, American Headcharge, and Ill Niño were turned away by stewards because the centre was already too full. Likewise, the decision in the middle of the fest to close one of the exits from the main arena and put some barriers down in the middle of another did not do them any favours.
Technicalities aside, the music on show on the main stage was more than enough reason to put up with the organization. AntiProduct started proceedings just before 11.00am. Their blend of power punk though was not as well received as it might have been later on the second stage where it was originally supposed to be. Those expecting Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society meanwhile didn't have long to wait and with his blessing of all those already into their drinking stride, Wylde and co proceeded to blast away the grey morning with the first wake-up call of the day. Classic metal, loud and proud.
Fresh from a stonking gig in Birmingham the night before, new sensations The Mad Capsule Markets were also on top of their form and while their blend of electronica and metal may not have filled the venue in the way that other's music did, there's no doubt they gained many new fans today. They will, and should, be back. Oh yes.
Drowning Pool, despite their name, didn't see the rain but did stir up the mud in front of the stage as they ran through their set with aplomb. Closer 'Bodies' in particular had the pit jumping hard enough to see if the stage rattled but you had to wonder if the cold had got the better of the band themselves who seemed somewhat lacklustre.
In comparison, Cradle of Filth sacrificed a fan or two to the metal Gods with an almost full stage show met halfway through with a downpour that left you wondering if they should have tried something else instead. Still, the black nature of tracks like 'Her Ghost in the Fog' mirrored the thoughts of the diehards left to ponder how to get dry.
Millencolin and Lostprophets, sandwiching Dani Filth's mob with some distinctly lighter fare, each grasped the answer but let it slip away with an audience who started to wonder who was on the second stage. Their skate punk sounds work wonderfully on a great day but weren't enough to keep people's thoughts away from the location of the nearest bin liner or waterproofing. Like Drowning Pool they seemed also somewhat waterlogged despite the actual lack of drizzle.
From the mad pogo'ing of ShinobivsDragonNinja to the bludgeoning of senses in the form of Disciple, Angel of Death, and Raining Blood. Slayer in full onslaught mode are a sight to behold and they never take prisoners. Besides Ozzy, Messrs King, Araya, Hannemann and Bostaph are the elder statesmen at the fest but their aural assault is as devastating as ever. Like Fedex, they always deliver the goods and this was no exception.
A hard act to follow, but bettered nevertheless. This being only System of a Down's seventh concert in the UK since hit album Toxicity was released, there was an atmosphere of heightened anticipation in front of their set. Could they really live up to the reputation the press had built for them? The answer was clear. Within a minute into opener Aerials, SOAD had the crowd eating from the palms of their hands. Mad genius Daron Malakian needed only to play the first few chords of a song before Serj Tankian had ten thousand or so fans singing along with him. Even in the light rain, the energy and enthusiasm in the band was infectious and if anyone had doubts before they came on, they were quashed by the time the final chords of Sugar saw them leave the stage. A defining moment.
In contrast to SOAD's fans, Tool's faithful respect their music and, like the band, stand back to the let the sound and new visuals speak for them (as MJK, in total black, isn't - as usual). Their blend of mix-matched time signatures, enigmatic lyrics and strong rock is a marked counterpoint to the get up and go before them but no less affecting. Classics Sober, Aenima and Stinkfist find their way into the set amongst those from current album Lateralus including The Grudge, Parabola, Triad and the title track itself. It is the musical equivalent of a hallucinogen with none of the drawbacks.
And so to the reason a horde of metal fans returned to their traditional place of worship. Ozzy Osbourne may not look any younger but from the moment he tells the throng's they're not loud enough and moons them all to get some reaction it's obvious that he has every intention to continue growing old disgracefully. His set is evenly spread along his Sabbath and solo career, and while you know that he loves every song as much as the next it's not difficult to see where the audience's preference is. Still, with his red-tipped tresses flying about the stage as he gees himself and the crowd up time and time again, it's hard not to love what he does and wish him back for another (warmer) turn.
"I hope you've seen or heard something that inspires you today", said MJK at the end of Tool's set. Indeed. With so much variety in the bands on stage today, there would be few today who couldn't answer in the positive but if Ozzy's promise for the fest to return here next year is fulfilled, let us all pray that the organizers are inspired to sort out the accessibility issues they had this year. A bit of sun wouldn't hurt either.
See you in 2003.