Fans from all over the world converged in the mountains of San Bernadino, California for Ozzfest Meets Knotfest 2017. Taking place at the Glen Helen Amphitheater & Festival Grounds, the scenic vista of mostly blue skies and mountains all around us was the perfect setting for a weekend of some of the most entertaining, heaviest bands on Earth. After arriving in California a night early, but missing the pre-party show, the Ghost Cult crew got settled in at our hotel, had a great meal and beers at BJ’s Brewhouse, and rested up for the big weekend ahead.
Most of the east coast hasn’t had much of an Autumn temperature wise, but it was a perfect a fall day as you could imagine, for early November. The grounds of Glen Helen Amphitheater & Festival Grounds are sprawling and really spread out. In fact maybe a little too spread out, with side stages A and B far a away from the amphitheater. A pop-up third stage sponsored by Nuclear Blast was closer, but still. It’s a idea to have patrons walk through the entire expanse of the place to experience everything, multiple merch tents, other vendors, and beer and food offerings, but it was a bit all over the place. Still, the lovely weather, beautiful scenery, and great music made the day made it all worth it.
Some of the early bands on day one of merit were Fallujah, Night Demon, Tombs, Kyng, Havok, and 1349, owning not only to the depth of the entire weekend, but to the incredible talent on hand. The venue was filling up with people, and I wondered if some of the early day heads were camping there? For a fest where camping is a big sell to some, we never saw even a hint of campgrounds.
One of the highlights for me going in was to see Possessed. As one of the first death metal bands I ever heard or liked in high school in the 80s, I love Possessed. Jeff Beccera was a beast on the mic and whipped the crowd into submission with his delivery. They also played a brand new song that has me amped for their new album, their first in 32 years, coming in 2018 via Nuclear Blast.
Next up over various stages were birds of a feather High On Fire, Baroness, and Orange Goblin. High On Fire were brutal, never subtle, and in your face. Just gut punch of riffs, and sweat and smoke added from the crowd. Baroness were nothing short of amazing. Playing songs mostly from Purple (Abraxan Hymns) with a straight up view of the mountains behind the band, I felt myself transported away mentally several times while they jammed. Rare to American stages, Orange Goblin was, mega-heavy, but lacked some of the panache of the earlier bands.
Kreator was the last side stage band and they just absolutely slew. Putting on a thrash metal clinic, they really drove home the point that they are truly unfuckwithable. Its hard for any band to follow these guys, even Children of Bodom playing a throwback, 20th Anniversary set list next was no match for the Teutonic thrashmasters!
After spending some time in the Spartan press area, conducting some interviews, and hanging out with media friends, it was time to strap in for the final stretch of the night. The temperature dipped noticeably once darkness overcame us. It was also was a touch windy too, but strategically placed giant propane towers kept us warm, even deep in the throng of the crowd. Some people on the lawn lit fires to keep warm, clearly feeling the anti-authority vibe versus security. They were also expertly manned and entertaining as hell. I felt like yelling “Fire! Fire!” like Beavis.
Deftones were up next and they put on an incredible show. From the first notes of ‘Head Up’ to the last feedback chords of Engine No. 9, the band killed it! Their 13 song set represented all their albums and definitely satisfied the crowd who sang almost every word.
Prophets of Rage stole the show for the entire weekend with their performance. While they relied a lot on their self-titled début release from earlier in 2017, they also leaned on hits from Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, all of whom their band is comprised of. Several crucial moments were pure inspiration. First was an instrumental tribute to Chris Cornell in the form of ‘Like A Stone’, with the crowd singing all the words. The second was a sick hip-hop solo middle section from Chuck D, B Real and DJ Lord who not only played some of their own classic tracks, but also a medley that included the original version ‘Bring The Noise’ and ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain.
Similar to his set at Chicago Open Air, Ozzy didn’t come here to fuck around at the fest baring his name. He kept to the classics and the hits, with some choice Black Sabbath sprinkled in for good measure. Ozzy sounded good, although the sound system seemed to let him down a little at points, as if he couldn’t hear himself. Ozzy is a trooper and a pro for 50 years in music, so he didn’t let that stop him. Zakk Wylde also shredded and played out of his mind, as did the rest of the band. I know Ozzy is on the fence about new music, but on a night like tonight, I think the fans would be fine with more of what we saw tonight.
Day Two was a little colder, and a overcast, threatening rain the entire day. Thousands of fans bought ponchos, only to have it never rain a single drop. Thems the breaks at a festival folks.
Between the late night, still adjusting to the west coast and daylight savings time we got a lat start to the day. We caught the end of Code Orange who was tearing it up on the side stage. Riding high on one of the biggest albums of the year in Forever (Roadrunner) I feel this is just the beginning for them. Next on the day was a murderer’s row of bands, owing to the best this festival can give the fans. Death Angel was just fierce. They brought their “A” game. Having never seen DA on a big festival stage, they seemed really at home here and usually have seen them tear up small clubs and theaters, their performance worked even better in this space.
Only a band like Goatwhore could follow Death Angel. The band smoked through a lot of new material from Vengeful Acsencion (Metal Blade) as well as a brand new song that was incredible. The band is really untouchable live. After Goatwhore we needed a break and not caring for the next band, we grabbed some chow at one of the many food trucks. Most of the festival venue caters to carnival food, but being in SoCal there were some good Mexican options, and a few other choices that had us interested.
Next up was The Black Dahlia Murder on the side stage. While they have no weak albums, I have always preferred seeing them live to on record. Today was no exception. They were sick and the crowd seemed to really feel them, going apeshit. After TBDM did their thing, Life Of Agony played on the other side stage. Having not played the west coast in over a decade, I was interested to see how the crowd would react. Well, no worries there, because LOA had heads in the crowd and a lot of curious new fans to win over. And win them over they did. In a sense, the band almost had to work much harder than they normally would for a club show packed with their crowd, which made the performance that much more impressive. The new material went over as big as the old-school hits.Good times.
The final side stage band was Testament. Weirdly – no one accounted for the aforementioned daylight savings time, and it got dark mega fast. So fast, that it seemed like no one at the fest had planned for this and Testament was playing in near darkness! It fit the mood, but it was a little odd for the band who made jokes, until a lone spotlight lit them, to comic effect.
Back on the main stage Prayers and 18 Visions brought the local flavor back to the show. The fans filled in the amphitheater again to close out the weekend.
Stone Sour put on a phenomenal show as did Marilyn Manson in his return to the stage following his accident. I know Manson was in terrible pain the entire show, battling to even get up there and make it through some songs. But his gutsy performance drew respect and love from the crowd. Any other performer would not have gone in so hard this situation, which speaks volumes about MM’s dedication.
I was worried about some Rob Zombie burnout for myself, seeing my third RZ show of the year and a second time in a month. However, Zombie shocked me with his third different stage set up, and a different setlist too. Sure, the hits were played, but Rob put on a great and unique show, once again proving he is one of the surest headline acts in the world right now.
Ozzfest Meets Knotfest was an amazing experience and Ghost Cult will be back!
WORDS BY KEITH CHACHKES
PHOTOS BY OMAR CORDY/OJC PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTOS OF OZZY BY STEPHANIE CABRAL USED BY PERMISSION