Dio Vs. Ozzy Vs. . . . Lordi Cola?

While I believe we must not erect monuments to our own credulity, in my childhood, it was possible for preteen and even teenage mall people to believe that Ozzy, Alice Cooper and Danzig actually had, like, daily commerce with Satan.

Now, skepticism about these matters has shone its light even a little bit into those quarters it previously had not reached. Did not George W. Bush himself confess his love for The Osbournes? And yet, here's what I once believed about the Great and Powerful Ozz: that he did regularly slaughter chickens, goats, et alia, to the delight of Satan; that he did frolic in their blood and worship unholy demons; that he lived, not in comfort with a satellite dish and ping-pong table, but in the sylvan glade beneath the shadow of the Mountains of Madness, where only in the full midnight moon could he show his True Form, etc. I remember being disappointed when I first heard Sabbath, on a cutout cassette tremblingly bought at the Wherehouse, that they didn't seem to be getting down and grooving with Lucifer. Rather, they sounded majorly bummed about Satan and on some kind of righteous trip about war, poverty and disease!

The classic Sabbath lineup that inspired such cosmic terror—Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward—is not playing Ozzfest this year. The demotic second phase of Sabbath, which replaced Ozzy's eerie midlands Druid-tone with the mighty Wagnerian chops of singer Ronnie James Dio and traded the spook of “feel” drummer Ward for the military thunder and precision of Vinny Appice (credited in small type under the words “SPECIAL THANKS” on the back of 1983's Live Evil), reunited for a well-received tour this spring under the name Heaven and Hell. This version of Sabbath was long-derided by purist types as glue-huffing, plebe-rite, Dungeons N Dragons stuff, and besides, wasn't Dio from Jersey or someplace? However, as larger audiences seem mysteriously to be aligning with Greg Ginn's tastes in music from 20 years ago, Sabbath's Dio phase has ascended to be accorded due reverence as a distinct metal company with a specialty in serious face removal and will tour the U.S. again this fall.

Whether there is really anything like a struggle between Dio and Ozzy for control of Black Sabbath at this late date, it is difficult for me, given the titanic size of personalities involved, to avoid imagining the two legendary singers locked in a struggle of mythical proportions. The hope for heshers is that Ozzy, seeing Dio's splendid success with Heaven and Hell, will be driven to amplify his performance to head-exploding levels of absolutely bonkers commitment, bouncing his proto-pogo dance and shrilling the classics with a Bacchic fervor that in turn surprises Dio, who orders his Neon Knights to charge and do battle with Ozzy's Children of the Grave, immanentizing the eschaton and splitting time and all dimensions of this universe in half.

Ozzfest tickets are free this year, which is a reasonable, forward-thinking idea, given the amount of money people are expected to spend on things like water, soda, beer, food and merch at festival concerts, and for that reason alone, it is hoped the tour will be a huge success, i.e., that hordes of pagan metalhead hard-drug abusers with seriously diminished capacity for cognition will not just swarm down from the hills without tickets, and then, once refused entry, start tearing children and animals to pieces in a blind, uncomprehending rage. Also it is not yet known how successfully the online ticket distribution evaded scalpers.

The bands do not really seem to have much to do with the doom-metal, stoner-rock Sabbath-influenced thing happening so vigorously in SoCal and throughout the nation at the present time—Nick Oliveri of Mondo Generator, once a Queen of the Stone Age, probably comes closest of this crowd to that particular axis of evil. Rather, this Ozzfest is almost touchingly international, including such acts as Chthonic, who in addition to having picked out perhaps the ultimate metal name, are tied up with aboriginal Taiwanese politics and folk culture, and Finland's power-metal monsters, Lordi, who are no-shit space-party monsters who want you to buy their soda, Lordi Cola. So far as high-tech modernity has demystified the metal performer, it has bewildered the metal audience with the sheer profusion of bizarre ways in which the performer, naked upon the stage, can dramatize exploitation. What needs to be developed in metal is a universal vocabulary of agony, so that development of an individual style can follow mastery of a standard technique and the unholy prophecies of Hawkwind be fulfilled!


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