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Ozzfest's energy, decibels higher this year

MANSFIELD -- Ozzy Osbourne's traveling metal circus -- better known as Ozzfest -- came ringing into town yesterday with 20 bands, 20 trucks, 40 buses, 525 crew members, and nearly 14 hours of music. It started early, ended late, and touched every style of metal from old-school Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to the speed-core, noise-core, and whatever-core played by young bucks looking to make a name for themselves on a second stage where decibels and testosterone were pushed to the max.

The show sold out, though the one-night stand was down from two nights in the past. But the energy level was definitely higher than last year when some poseurs were on the grounds (Marilyn Manson, for one) and Ozzy played with his solo band rather than with Black Sabbath, which lived up to expectations last night with a pummeling set that had the horn salutes raised high.

And Osbourne, who looked much better than he did last time, startled some fans with video to his opener, "War Pigs," which juxtaposed photos of George Bush and Adolph Hitler, with an unprintable caption about how they resemble each other.

Although Ozzfest is typically a celebration of alternative lifestyles, this year's version often had a political edge. The band Otep reminded the crowd to question "priests and police and politicians." The group Bleeding Through said the country needed a "new leader." And a couple of acts stood up for the troops overseas: Black Label Society's Zakk Wylde dedicated a song to them, while Superjoint Ritual's Phil Anselmo said "crushing the enemy is something we had to do."

The second-stage action started just before 10 a.m. and was filled with many of the best underground metal bands. Atreyu had to cancel because it didn't make it back from a gig the night before in Montreal, but the schedule ran ahead of time as a result. The SoCal band Throwdown played solid, throat-shredding hardcore, Magna-Fi got "Down In It," as their song implied, DevilDriver (featuring Dez Fafara of Coal Chamber) offered screaming speedcore with a dark edge, and God Forbid boasted dreadlocked singer Byron Davis, who had the most piercing voice of the day. Boston's Unearth refreshingly mixed some aggression with showmanship, Every Time I Die offered unhinged hardcore, and Otep had a female singer whose ghoulish screams kept up with the boys.

Also on the second stage: Italy's Lacuna Coil sounded like a wanna-be Evanescence, Lamb of Cool was brutish to the point of silliness, but the best was yet to come with Hatebreed (with confident singer/shouter Jamey Jasta showing why he's the host of MTV2's "Headbangers Ball") and Slipknot, boasting all-new masks and black robes like Darth Vader's minions, but they rocked the crowd and ignited the moshers more than anyone else.

On the main stage at night, Slayer scored with its punishing speed metal -- and Judas Priest struggled after them before singer Rob Halford, who reunited with Priest last year, took command with hits that held the crowd captive. And then Sabbath wrapped it up with metal mentor Ozzy managing to offer some new tricks to fight off any dinosaur rust.

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