Kicking off at 11am and closing around 10pm on two consecutive days, Loud Park 2010 offered up a grand total of about 22 hours of heavy metal. Perhaps not everybody’s idea of a relaxing weekend, but for the heavy metal “faithful”–yes, the genre is a kind of substitute religion–this was a perfect opportunity to forget about the workaday world and immerse their souls and eardrums in the expansive sounds and epic emotions of their favorite music with 20,000 of their fellow devotees.
Not everybody could or wanted to attend both days, or even stay for the whole of one of them. Commitments, logistics, preferences, and possibly even the petty schisms of the metal world may have played their part. In my case, I was able to see three bands on the first day–Stone Sour, Halford and Korn–and five bands on the second day–Kuni, Spiritual Beggars, Angra, Motorhead, Avenged Sevenfold and Ozzy Osbourne–a total of about 11 hours of metal. This was more than enough to keep my ears ringing for the next couple of days, although a hardened (and possibly deafened) metalhead of my acquaintance claims that the volume wasn’t nearly what it should have been–no bleeding ears!
When I arrive on Saturday, Stone Sour have just taken the stage with their muscular, competent, but oddly unexciting rock. Hard to believe that frontman Corey Taylor is also the singer for Slipknot, as he comes across all friendly, earnest and full of camaraderie. Maybe Stone Sour is Dr. Jekyll to Slipknot's Mr. Hyde. After the pulsing, thudding but managed mayhem of Made of Scars, Corey breaks it down to tell each and every one of us how special we are to him.
"I'll tell you what: we almost didn't make it to this show," he tells the audience, trying for a bit of emotion. "We were almost unable to come and be a part of this with you. But we found a way to be here with each and every f**kin' one of you tonight. And to see you having as much f**kin' fun as we are, thank you so much. You have no idea what that means to me." (Gush gush gush!)
While straining for intimacy like this probably works well with Stone Sour's main demographic of lonely teenage boys, it tends to grate on hardened journalists and be lost on Japanese audiences, who like the talky bits between songs to be short and sweet. I also start to suspect his motives when he keeps mentioning that each song is from their most recent album, Audio Secrecy. Corey’s all 'Triumph of the Will' as he relentlessly emits waves of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, man-I-love-you-guys camaraderie between songs delivered at full-throttle. The guy's a real salesman. He even has a few tricks that probably work quite well on the cornball circuit.
Before Get Inside, one of their big songs from their eponymous 2002 debut, he tries to inject a little more drama. "I don't know if you’ve noticed, but I am having a problem with my voice tonight," Corey tells us in an obvious attempt to fish for sympathy (his voice is fine). "Do I sound OK? Do I sound OK out there, my friends? Do I sound alright?" (Yes, Corey, now get on with the f**kin' song.) "It doesn't matter. I am going to give you every fucking thing I've got and you're gonna f**kin' have it right now." (Erm, OK…)
After promising to "stir things up" and "get a little psycho," the pummeling, brutal rock of Get Inside follows, but it’s all too workmanlike to be psycho. It lacks rough edges and comes across kind of slick.
About halfway through the set, the rest of the band disappears, leaving Corey on stage alone with his gently strumming guitar for Bother, a song that starts off all small, meek and lonely, only for the band to return and crank it up. It's clichéd, but effective in counterpointing the more standardized, pedal-to-the-metal fare that follows, like Digital, dedicated to "a generation lost inside their heads," and the melodic thrash of Hell and Consequences. Predictably, they save the best for last, ripping through the numerological angst of 30/30–150 with plenty of verve.
Next up, it's Halford, the band built round Judas Priest legend Rob Halford in his wilderness years outside Priest (1992 – 2003). The self-described "Metal God" is one of the music's true greats, with the most famous voice in the business. Made in Hell launches a vast section of the audience into a NWOBHM comfort zone with crunching guitars and searing solos topped by Rob's lacerating screech. We have now entered the realm of serious metaldom.
After two more songs in a similar vein, he pauses to address the audience. Apart from looking suntanned and healthy, it's obvious his prolonged stay in California has been affecting him badly. The wonderfully lachrymose West Midlands-speaking voice of the past has now been replaced by a rather twangy mid-Atlantic accent. Using incomplete sentences, he also sounds strangely robotic–somehow appropriate for a man who claims to be made of metal.
Just like Stone Sour, Halford also has an album to imprint on the minds of the metal masses, but with better justification, as the just-released Made of Metal album is getting its live premier here. They hit us with the album's title track, which counterpoints chugging guitars and pummeling drums with what sounds like a quirky pop jingle, then the comic-operatic-tinged Undisputed–both songs demonstrating Rob's ability to give the basic metal sound a perverse and interesting twist.
But legends like Halford can’t stay in the present for long: Nailed to the Gun, from his first post-Judas Priest band Fight, sees the God of Metal in from-a-growl-to-a-scream mode. Next up is the lumbering Eastern menace of Golgotha from 2002's Crucible, in which his vocal soars hypnotically like a muezzin's call to prayrt. Then the set's highlight–faithful, high-powered versions of classic Priest: The Green Manalishi and Diamonds and Rust. Close your eyes and you could almost be at the recording of legendary Priest live album Unleashed in the East.
Metal is musical extremism, so it can sometimes suffer from the feelings of familiarity that come with legendhood. This seems evident in the appreciative but slightly muted response that Halford receives for his efforts.
Next band Korn, however, are closer to the mark of metal mayhem. Their druggy, funked-up, and f**ked-up nu-metal, full of discordant chords, weird, daisy chain melodies and off-kilter rhythms–and complemented by their oddball fashion sense–creates the kind of disturbing vibe on which metal thrives.
But the simulation of insanity is underpinned by powerful musicianship, especially from their faultless, newly-recruited drummer Ray Luzier, the engine-room and gear box of the group's flexible, meandering and frequently intense sound.
The potent mood created by the ghostly chants, rhythmic bursts and jarring chords of opener Right Now is supplemented and exploited by subsequent songs Here to Stay and especially the grinding guitars and deranged melody of Falling Away From Me. They even do an unrecognizable, oddball version of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall.
The rich aural textures immerse the audience, gradually heightening the pitch of excitement until at the climax the stuttering intro riffs of Blind have a remarkable effect. Suddenly, as mysterious as crop circles appearing in a field of wheat, great gaps appear in the dense crowd in front of the stage as they start to circle frantically around in swirling masses in preparation for the oncoming aural assault. The tight rhythmic bursts and intense mood that follow keep the moshpit swirling until the merciful end.
This is officially the last song of the set, but as the last band tonight, they are allowed a brief encore. Suddenly singer Jonathon Davis appears with a set of bagpipes–not that he knows how to play them too well–but the gesture is warmly received. This introduces the tortured regurgitation of nursery rhymes that is Shoots and Ladders. Something like this shouldn’t really work, but it does–the hallmark of all edgy music–and Korn nail it.