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Ozzfest, Punchestown Racecourse, Co. Kildare, 26th May, 2002

each act marked out of five

"Ozzy won't be performing today!"

What a start to the day. After waiting in a ridiculously long queue for hours just to get into the venue, not to mention all the waiting we had to do to get a bus, that was not what we wanted to hear. The Lord Of Darkness struck down by a throat infection! Surely someone had to be taking the piss, but no, and all we could do was collectively trudge on and make the most of the day.

Due to the aforementioned queue, I only just made it into the venue in time to catch Cyclefly (3). Declan O'Shea, with his freshly shorn head and tinfoil pants, lurched about the stage while sneering and screeching in his distinctive Cork accent. Mixing older material, like 'Super God' and 'Crawl Down', with songs from their superb "Crave" album, they proved themselves to be a strong warm-up act. Expect to be astounded next time you catch them in a small venue.

The second stage was inconveniently placed in what I can only presume are the stables. Anyway, it was a huge shed and OTEP (4) were making it their own. I only caught the end of their set and I've been kicking myself ever since. Front woman Otep Shamaya commanded the stage like an old pro, while switching between raps, regular vocals and death metal growls with ease. The noises that come from her throat would scatter a herd of elephants at a thousand paces and they've been haunting my nightmares ever since.

Back to the main stage, and Drowing Pool (3), who I had really planned to avoid and/or laugh at, were on. Having previously only heard 'Bodies', and being unimpressed by it, I wasn't expecting much, but they were actually quite good. They've got a clutch of good songs and a decent frontman in the shape of Dave Williams. They went down a storm with the younger sections of the crowd, naturally. Live 'Bodies' can hold it's own and got the first major pit reaction of the day. Nice.

Unfortunately for me, I then wandered back into the shed to see who was on the small stage. I'd never heard of Flaw (1) before and I don't think I ever want to hear of them again. Their boring brand of nu-metal was not what I needed just then and they get my "worst band of the day" award.

The buzz that's been surrounding Lost Prophets (2) for the past year was, today at least, sadly unjustified. I was really looking forward to seeing these guys live, but they had to go and disappoint, didn't they? The sound was terrible, with pretty much everything being lost in the mix, except for the DJ's terrible vocals. 'The fake sound of progress' and even the riff-tastic 'Shinobi VS Dragon ninja' fell flat and remained uninspiring. Maybe next time.

Therapy? (5), on the other hand, have never been a disappointment and are always great live. Andy Cairns was confident and talkative, while their new drummer proved himself as a fine replacement for Graham Hopkins. Opener 'Gimme back my brain' was evidence that the new material can compete with their older material live and shows that they are still a band to be reckoned with. "Troublegum" was the most represented album, 'Die Laughing', which was dedicated to Ozzy, 'Nowhere', 'Isolation', 'Unbeliever', 'Screamager' and the crushing 'Knives' sent to pit into a frenzy, while 'Potato Junkie' with its refrain of 'James Joyce is fucking my sister' was the jab in the ass that the day needed. Fucking excellence, pure fucking excellence.

With Ozzy out of commission, Ill Nino (1) were promoted to the main stage for the day to flesh out the line-up. This was another band who I'd been looking forward to seeing live. The reports from their recent show in the Ambassador with POD were all positive, but today they were about as much fun as a wet sock across the face. 'God save us' was flat and boring, their singer cursed like a sailor, but without any muscle to back it up, and why their guitarist was wearing his schoolbag was anyone's guess. They were little more than a second rate Sepultura. The fact that their cover of Soulfly's 'Eye for and eye' sounded the same as the rest of their set was proof enough of where they've been robbing their riffs from.

Slayer (5), on the other hand, were everything they were expected to be. Brutal, crushing, powerful; excellent. Blasting through a set that was made up of older material, they had the bodies in the pit pounding the shit out of each other. 'Disciple', 'South of Heaven', 'Angel of Death', 'War Ensemble' and 'Post-mortem' ran amuck on the now stunned masses and even the rain couldn't put a damper on events. With Dave Lombardo on drums and Kerry King stalking the stage like a lion hunting his prey, this was classic Slayer at their best. There was no way this was going to be anything other than perfect.

Meanwhile, in the shed, Mushroom Head (1) flapped about like dying fish. They'd obviously misjudged the size of the stage because, with all eight, I think, members and their posters and banners up there, they hadn't enough room for a small duck, let alone to move. The sound was piss-poor, coming out of the speakers like a mess of feedback and indistinguishable noise. One of the most pitiful bands I've ever had the misfortune of witnessing live.

Thank God then for System of a Down (5). Easily the most exciting band of the day, as well as begin the most eccentric, they lived up to everyone's high expectations. Absolute lunatics on stage, especially the swirling tornado that is guitarist Daron Malakian, they led the crowd by the hand through the outer regions of their twisted, "Alice through the shattered looking glass" musical landscape. Chants of 'Pull the tapeworm out of your ass' echoed for miles during a vicious rendition 'Needles', before the whole venue went crazy for 'Bounce' and 'Ddevil'.

Dave Lombardo joined System onstage for 'War?', which genuinely sounded like a battle field filled with blast beats and serrated guitars. Old and new material gelled together perfectly. It's hard to believe this is a band who've only got two albums out. They're quickly reaching the status of living legends and could quite soon become the biggest band in the world as long as they keep performing like they did today and writing classics like 'Sugar', 'Chop Suey' and 'Toxicity'.

Kittie (3) took to the stage in the shed like their asses were on fire. They tore strips off the walls and Morgan Lander, with her growled vocals, almost made Slayer look weak. Not quite, but damn close. Legs akimbo and hair wind milling everywhere this was aggressive and I would have loved to stay longer, but Tool (5) were due on stage at any moment.

And there they were - the band of the day. The saviours. Ozzy may have been sick, but Maynard, wearing only his underwear and painted blue, and co. made sure we didn't go home disappointed. There's something about this band. You can't dance to the music and you sure as hell can't mosh to it, but it carries as much energy as any other band on the bill, including Slayer and S.o.a.D. Treating us to a collection of songs from both "Lateralus" and "Aenima", Tool were in fine form.

Maynard's vocals were pitch perfect as he stomped about on his little platform at the back of the stage, while images of spirals and strange, freaky wormlike creatures and that thing off the cover of "Undertow" played on the screens in the background. Emotional, moving and easily the most powerful band of the day, there was little else to do but stand there, mouth open and admiring.

Ken McGrath

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