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Slayer Heads List of Heavy Groups Competing With OZZFest

Of the Oakland Press

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The members of Slayer have nothing against OZZFest. The headbanging icons were even one of the headliners on the 2004 edition of that tour.

But they’re also happy to be topping the bill on the inaugural Unholy Alliance Tour, the brainchild of Slayer manager Rick Sales and, in the words of singer-bassist Tom Araya, an intended “alternative to OZZFest.”

“OZZFest was great,” says Araya, 45. “If we did it again, we wouldn’t be upset. But a lot of kids that are into this music are a little displeased with how OZZFest has come together and the bands on OZZFest now.

“(Sales) thinks there’s room for something else that can also continue as the years go on.”

Slayer’s manager isn’t the only one banking on the appetite of the heavy metal crowd to support more than one giant package tour each year. After a well-received first year in 2005, the Sounds of the Underground tour kicks off its second run Saturday, with a stop Aug. 3 at DTE Energy Music Theatre. Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine introduced his Gigantour package last year and is said to be preparing another edition of the tour to go out later this year.

Organizers of OZZFest, whose 11th season comes to town July 19 at DTE, can certainly posit that imitation is the greatest form of fl attery. And few of the upstart metal tours will talk about themselves without referencing Ozzy Osbourne’s traveling summer show. As Gigantour’s Mustaine notes, “My intention was never to be disrespectful to Ozzy or to Sharon (Osbourne, his wife and manager) or to try and say, ‘Hey, Gigantour’s better,’ because, frankly, they’re my friends. I would like to keep it that way.”

But, Mustaine adds, there’s different ways of approaching the same idea — in his case, focusing more on the bands and less on the overall personality of the audience.

“I wanted to pretty much take the festival back to being about the music and not about profiling or lifestyles and stuff,” he explains.

And Randall Blythe of Lamb of God — the band that has played OZZFest, headlined last year’s Sounds of the Underground tour and is now part of the Unholy Alliance show — adds that the performers also are seeking different kinds of experience.

“There’s a lot of rules to OZZFest, ’cause it’s such a huge operation,” Blythe says. “Metal’s supposed to be an underground scene, so some of these (other tours) can get back to that, maybe, while OZZFest still does its thing.”

Slayer manager Sales envisions Unholy Alliance as “an annual global event” whose programming will indeed counter some of OZZFest’s traditions. Most of the shows, he says, will be at indoor facilities with “amenities like air conditioning and indoor bathrooms.” The outdoor shows, he promises, will be in permanent facilities rather than open fi elds, though OZZFest mostly goes the same route. He says the tour also is being mindful to play venues that offer “less expensive concession prices.”

Overall ticket prices are a factor, too. Unholy Alliance tops out at $39.50 for its five-band bill. Sounds of the Underground hits fans $29.50 in advance ($35 at the door) for its 12-group, 10-hour show. OZZFest carries a heftier price tag — $86.50 pavilion, $46.50 lawn — for 18 acts and a day full of metal that begins at 9:30 in the morning.

Nevertheless, says Rick Franks of LiveNation, which is promoting all three tours’ Detroit area stops, OZZFest remains “the big dog because it blends commercial as well inside hard rock. It’s a festival. It’s a lifestyle. There’s a lot of different looks to it. Sharon continues to freshen it every year with her creativity.”

Slayer, meanwhile, is bringing its own creativity — and especially some new music — to the fi rst Unholy Alliance trek.

The group’s 13th album, “Christ Illusion,” is due out Aug. 8. It’s the quartet’s fi rst set of all-new material since “God Hates Us All” in 2001, a delay caused by business machinations with its label, American Recordings. But Araya says that while the wait was “frustrating,” it also gave Slayer time to hone its new songs — mostly rants against organized religion along with some political observations — to an even higher standard of sonic brutality.

“We don’t steer too far from who we are and what we are,” the bassist explains. “There are some minor subtleties; we always like to add something to it. There’s no real science or concept, though; we’ll come up with a song, and if everybody goes, ‘That sounds ... cool!,’ we’ll keep it.”

One thing Slayer fans are particularly stoked about is the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo, who left the group in 1992 and returned when the drum chair opened again a couple of years ago. Araya says the reunion “feels like he never left,” giving Slayer a “comfort factor” for both the band and his audience.

“It was initially for him to sit in so we could still work while we auditioned drummers,” Araya notes. “In the process of doing that, you kind of update each other on your lives and what went on in the time in-between. During the course of all that, our new album got brought up and he made it known it would be cool if he could be part of that, and it went from there.

“It’s really nothing new. It’s Slayer — kind of how it should be, I guess.”

All three of the summer's big heavy metal festivals are coming to the metro Detroit area in the next five weeks. Headbanging heaven can be found at the following shows:

* The Unholy Alliance tour with Slayer, Lamb of God, Mastodon, Children of Bodom and Thine Eyes Bleed plays at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (July 6th) at Cobo Arena, 301 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $39.50, $34.50 and $29.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

* OZZFest 2006 takes place July 19th at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Main stage headliners include System of a Down, Distburbed, Avenged Sevenfold, Hatebreed, Lacuna Coil and Dragonforce. Black Label Society, Atreyu and Unearth headline the second stage. Doors open at 9 a.m. Tickets are $86.50 pavilion, $46.50 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

* Sounds of the Underground begins at 1 p.m. August 3rd at DTE. Headliners include As I Lay Dying, GWAR, In Flames, Trivium and the Black Dahlia Murder. Tickets are $29.50 in advance, $35 day of show. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

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