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It's Still OZZFest, Even Without Ozzy

Of the Oakland Press

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Rock ’n’ roll, Ozzy Osbourne once sang, is “here to stay.” But he’s not — at least insofar as OZZFest is concerned. This is a season of odd transition for the 11-year-old heavy metal festival tour, which has bucked box office trends as one of the most consistent packages on the road — 437,982 headbangers turned out for the tour’s 25 shows ins 2005. But this year Osbourne, who’s headlined every previous OZZFest either on his own or with Black Sabbath, announced he was going to relinquish his role and let other, younger artists entertain the massed metalheads.

But not entirely.

Osbourne — who missed a couple of shows in 2002 when his wife and manager, Sharon, underwent chemotherapy for colon cancer — first decided to play 10 select OZZFest dates, including some headlining the second stage. Since then he’s added another fi ve, putting him on 60 percent of the tour’s 25 shows. Talk about bowing out slowly ...

Nevertheless, it has raised the specter of OZZFest without Ozzy, a prospect the other participants fi nd disappointing but understandable.

“Well, I mean, he’s not 21 years old anymore,” says guitarist Daron Malakian of System of a Down, which is on its fourth OZZFest run and is closing this year’s show. “The guy’s been doing it for a long time — and doing it consistently. No offense to the Rolling Stones, but they’ve taken a lot of time off in between (tours). Ozzy comes out every year and does his show, so you can’t blame him for wanting some time off.”

Disturbed frontman David Draiman, whose band is similarly on its fourth OZZFest, adds that “the man has paid his dues. He’s been through a lot. He can pick and choose what he plays now; there’s no reason to push him beyond his limits. It’s a little sad, but ... I’m thankful for whatever dates he can play.”

But Draiman also feels, “OZZFest will always be OZZFest. It was created by them (Osbourne and his wife). It was for Ozzy. It will always be about him. That’ll never change.”

Show must go on

Osbourne’s longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde, meanwhile, says it’s about time Osbourne began scaling back.

“I’ve always told him, ‘The best thing about OZZFest now is it’s bigger than you. You can show up and play whenever you want. If you want a year off, you can,’ ” says Wylde, who’s backing Osbourne on the OZZFest dates he is playing as well as headlining the second stage with his own band, Black Label Society. Wylde also is recording a new album with Osbourne.

“He’s been nonstop forever, man,” Wylde continues. “I said, ‘If it’s becoming a pain ... you can take a break, relax, enjoy a little time off and then come back and we’ll hit it hard again.

“It’s like the NFL or something; just because a certain guy isn’t playing doesn’t mean the NFL isn’t gonna go on, y’know?”

And, as Lacuna Coil singer Cristina Scabbia notes, “He’s there anyway, even if he’s not playing. It’s something he created with Sharon. They’re still supervising everything, so you can feel him everywhere.”

Disturbed’s Draiman notes that, in lieu of Osbourne, “System and us will just have to do the best we can to carry that torch a little bit” — a daunting prospect, to be sure.

“You can never expect in a million years that you’re going to make up completely for his presence,” Draiman says. “It can’t be done. This is a guy who’s one of a kind. He’s the godfather of metal.”

Big shoes to fi ll

System of a Down’s Malakian notes that, as a historical figure in the music, Osbourne — with or without Black Sabbath — brought a context to the festival that others will be hard-pressed to equal. “System of a Down isn’t a new band, but we’re not 30 years old, either,” the guitarist explains. “There’s been so many generations that have grown up listening to (Osbourne), whether it’s ‘War Pigs’ or ‘Crazy Train.’ When you see Black Sabbath, they’re a band that’s been around over 30 years with people growing up listening to them, so there’s a history and a connection with people.

“We’re not those guys, so it brings a lot of pressure to come through and bring something to the table that hopefully will keep up with that.”

Both of this year’s headliners do bring plenty to the party. System hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart last year with two albums — “Mezmerize” and “Hypnotize.” The group also caused a stir recently by announcing plans to go on an open-ended hiatus after OZZFest, though Malakian says rumors of a permanent split are overstated.

“I think when a band says, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna shoot out records consistently for a little while,’ people are gonna assume that we’re breaking up,” says Malakian, who will be using the time to start a new band called Scars on Broadway. “But we’re not calling it that. We just want to go off and do a few other things.

“If we were breaking up, we wouldn’t be able to get on stage together on this tour, y’know.”

Disturbed, meanwhile, is still celebrating the chart-topping success of its 2005 album, “Ten Thousand Fists,” a politically charged work that features a remake of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” — with a video was directed by animator and toymaker Todd McFarlane.

And while those two bands, as well as Wylde’s Black Label Society, are well established, OZZFest XI’s lineup is fi lled with plenty of fresh metal fare, from main stage newcomers such as Lacuna Coil, Avenged Sevenfold and Dragonforce to second stagers including All That Remains, Strapping Young Lad, Bad Acid Trip and A Life Once Lost.

“There’s no question that OZZFest is the reason for the growth and discovery and breaking of many a band. We certainly owe them a lot,” Draiman says, noting Disturbed fi rst played OZZFest’s second stage in 2000.

“It’s a proving ground. It hardens you and teaches you how to do what you do better. There’s this unspoken but sort of friendly competition going on; seeing a lot of great bands makes you want to play better and play harder. I think people come (to OZZFest) for that reason as much as to see the big names.”

OZZFest 2006 takes place Wednesday (July 19th) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Gates open at 10 a.m. Tickets are $86.50 pavilion, $46.50 lawn. Main Stage acts include: System of a Down, Disturbed, Avenge

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