10 most defining moments in Ozzfest history

Ozzy Osbourne performing at Ozzfest 2010 at the O2 Arena, London
Ozzy Osbourne performing at Ozzfest 2010 at the O2 Arena, London (Image credit: Chiaki Nozu \/ Getty)

It’s been over two decades since The Prince Of Darkness decided to start his own travelling heavy metal circus. Back in 1996 the idea that a festival solely consisting of metal bands could be a success was considered laughable, but, as is the norm, the mainstream grossly underestimated the dedication and passion of fans of heavy music. Almost immediately The Ozzfest grew into every summer’s must see event. We document the ten most significant events in the history of Ozzfest.

Ozzy Gives Two Fingers To Lollapalooza (1996)

Back in the mid ‘90s the most successful touring festival on Earth was Lollapalooza – the brainchild of former Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. When Ozzy’s manager Sharon Osbourne decision to get the Double O booked on the bill for the summer of ’96 was met with scoffs of derision, she decided to take matters into her own hands and book two shows – one in Phoenix, Arizona and one in Devore, California, on October 25 and 26.

“They laughed at the idea [of Ozzy playing Lollapalooza],” Sharon Osbourne recalls in an interview with the Guardian. “They all thought Ozzy was so uncool. So I thought ‘Right, I’ll organise my own fucking festival.” And in that moment one of metal’s most prominent brands was established.

Bringing together a bill that featured Slayer, Danzig, Sepultura, Biohazard, Fear Factory and headlined by Ozzy himself, the shows sold out almost immediately and The Ozzfest was born. Suddenly fans looking for something a little more extreme than corporate grunge and MTV-approved alt-rock had a place to go.

The Return Of Black Sabbath (1997)

The very next year Ozzfest fully capitalised on its promising start by announcing a full 22-date US tour. It proved to be the cementing of the festival as a staple in the yearly calendar, grossing far more than any of its competitors in 1997 (including Lollapalooza). One of the main reasons for the draw was the jaw-dropping cast that included Type O Negative, Machine Head, Pantera, Neurosis and Ozzy playing a solo set. But, ultimately, what that drew so many back to Ozzfest for another year was the return of the godfathers of heavy metal. For the first time since his departure nearly two decades previously (if you ignore the one-off Live Aid gig in 1985), Ozzy Osbourne could be seen onstage with Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, plus Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin, playing a set of songs that created the blueprint for every other band on the bill and beyond. The fact that almost every member of every band would congregate at the side of the stage to watch Sabbath like excited school children every night says it all. In fact Neurosis’ Scott Kelly has gone on record since to claim that the only reason the band took the tour was the chance to see their heroes every night. Respect indeed.

Ozzy Osbourne performing with Black Sabbath at Ozzfest 1997

Ozzy Osbourne performing with Black Sabbath at Ozzfest 1997 (Image credit: Mick Hutson / Getty)

Marilyn Manson Vs The Religious Right (1997)

Although the inclusion of Sabbath made metal fans drop to their knees in praise, it still wouldn’t have made much of a dent in the mainstream consciousness if it weren’t for the controversy of one man. For many, the event went from hot ticket to utterly essential on June 15 1997 when America’s biggest boogeyman Marilyn Manson joined the tour. At the time Mazza was a year into touring his Antichrist Superstar; an album that really kickstarted the cult of Marilyn Manson. And if there is one thing America doesn’t like, it’s a man that encourages its youth to rip up bibles and dress solely in black. Unsurprisingly, there were religious protests, there were bomb threats, there were injunctions made to try and stop the God Of Fuck from taking to the stage. But take to the stage he did, and, with the stories of onstage animal murder, self-harm, smoking human bones and Satanic rituals making headlines only adding to the intrigue and clamour to see him, in doing so Ozzfest became the most famous tour on Earth.

Marilyn Manson performing at Ozzfest 1997

Marilyn Manson performing at Ozzfest 1997 (Image credit: Kevin Mazur / Getty)

Ozzfest Crosses The Pond (1998)

If you were a British metal fan around this period, then you’d be well within your rights to cast somewhat envious looking glances over to the United States while all this was going on. From the first year of its formation there were teases coming from the Ozzy camp that Ozzfest would one day make it over to the UK. Plans were cancelled for a mooted Finsbury Park show in 1997 late in the day, and we all wondered if we’d ever see heavy metal’s finest show on British soil. But on May 23 1998, at the Milton Keynes Bowl, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Pantera, Foo Fighters, Slayer, Soulfly, Fear Factory, Coal Chamber, Life Of Agony and more rolled into town. Talking points included Korn pulling out the day before to be replaced by Therapy? at the last minute, Pitchshifter’s JS Clayden opening the whole festival by walking out dressed as a vicar, Slayer inciting as many circle pits this country had ever seen at once at that point, and Pantera nearly stealing the day by turning the entire Bowl into their own personal backyard barbecue. But nothing was going to upstage Sabbath, especially when original drummer Bill Ward joined the band onstage… and promptly had his pants pulled down in front of 60,000 people by Ozzy.

Limp Bizkit Are Toilet (1998)

Although Ozzfest had always promoted the hottest upcoming bands, it was in 1998 that it fully opened its doors to the nu-metal movement that was just about to become the biggest thing in music. The line-up was still eclectic, with Ozzy being joined by the likes of Motörhead, Megadeth, Tool and The Melvins – although it was Incubus, Sevendust, Coal Chamber, System Of A Down, Snot and the long-forgotten likes of Ultraspank and Kilgore that made it clear Ozzfest were firmly on the nu-metal bandwagon. But if one band were to take the baton and run the furthest with it, it was Limp Bizkit. With a legitimate MTV hit on their hands with their cover of George Michael’s Faith, and a tenure supporting Korn on the first Family Values tour, Fred Durst and co. did their upmost to steal Ozzfest from under the noses of the establishment. This meant starting every show by emerging from a giant lavatory, designed in part to mock the metal purists that believed Bizkit had no place at the festival, it became the most talked about thing on the tour that year – especially with fans and friends alike continually being brought out of it to join the Bizkit party onstage. It was brash, bratty, funny and far from subtle… all qualities that went on to define the nu-metal movement. And, whether you ended up loving or hating them, it was Ozzfest that put Limp Bizkit on the map.

Slipknot Take The Second Stage (1999)

Entering its fourth summer, Ozzfest was developing a reputation of promoting, not just the best bands within our world, but the most promising too. The acts that have appeared on the second stage make quite a list (and we’ll get to that later) but in 1999 strange noises were coming from the Ozzfest camp that one band were dominating the shows every day – and it wasn’t Rob Zombie, Deftones or System Of The Down on the main stage, it was a little-known group of nine masked psychopaths named Slipknot. In one summer the Iowans went from an unknown band to the most talked about act in all of metal. The stories have now passed into legend; the coin toss to see who takes a punch in the face before each show, the onstage vomiting, not letting vocalist Corey Taylor speak before show time. A tiny taste of the chaos that Slipknot inspired each day can be found on the promotional video for Wait And Bleed, taken from Ozzfest, but it’s only scratching the surface. The maggots were born at Ozzfest.

Rock Returns To Castle Donington (2002)

For all the success of Ozzfest there were many people who were still unmoved, comparing it to the only other metal festival that could hold a candle to it; The Monsters Of Rock at Donington Castle. Ozzy had played the final MOR in 1996, before it was laid to rest presumably, many suspected, forever. So it was like two worlds beautifully colliding in 2002 when it was announced that the third UK Ozzfest would be moving from the Milton Keynes Bowl and back to Donington’s hallowed turf. In truth the event was fairly hit and miss, the weather was awful, System Of A Down had to cut their set short after a lighting rig was blown down and nearly decapitated drummer John Dolmayan and the site was a total clusterfuck of mud and poorly organised stewarding. But the sight of Cradle Of Filth playing behind forked lightning, Slayer inspiring thousands to cake themselves in mud and Tool playing a mind bending post-Lateralus set of almost near perfection will live long in the memory. Plus, one year later, Donington was re-christened as Download festival, who have gone on to have quite a history of their own.

Cradle Of Filth performing at Ozzfest 2002

Cradle Of Filth performing at Ozzfest 2002 (Image credit: Brian Rasic / Getty)

The New Wave Of American Heavy Metal Seize The Day (2002)

By 2004, the Ozzfest formula was starting to seem a little stale. What had started off as a reflection of the most cutting edge music had suffered from metal becoming way more mainstream. With nu-metal on its arse, in terms of creativity, artistic merit and people giving a shit, Ozzfest took a punt on more traditional metal sounds. Sabbath were back as headliners, but with them were another group of legends in Judas Priest and the likes of Dimmu Borgir, Slayer, Superjoint Ritual and Black Label Society. But what really re-invigorated the Ozzfest was coming from the new American metal bands that could be found on the second stage that year. Hatebreed, Lamb Of God, Atreyu, Bleeding Through, Every Time I Die, Unearth, God Forbid, Devildriver, Throwdown and Darkest Hour reads like a who’s who of the bands that gave metal a shot in the arm in the mid-noughties, and all of those bands made their Ozzfest debut that year (except Hatebreed, who were there the year before along with Chimaira, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage). In noticing the change of the guard, Ozzfest kept themselves cutting edge and relevant.

Members of Judas Priest, Slayer, Lamb Of God and Dimmu Borgir at an Ozzfest 2004 press conference

Members of Judas Priest, Slayer, Lamb Of God and Dimmu Borgir at an Ozzfest 2004 press conference (Image credit: L. Cohen / Getty)

The Second Stage Syndrome (every year)

For all of the great bands that have performed over the years under the banner of Ozzfest, its arguable that the greatest legacy it can claim is the ability to bring through the hottest new sounds in metal on the much revered second stage. From the first year when Coal Chamber took their first steps on stage, the second stage has played home to future stars such as Static-X, Mudvayne, Hatebreed, Skindred, Meshuggah, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Killswitch Engage, Lamb Of God, Mastodon, Arch Enemy, Trivium, Devildriver and Behemoth. But three acts stand out as bands that are the personification of the Ozzfest Second Stage dream, Slipknot (see above), System Of A Down, who went from the second stage in 1998 to the main a year later as one of the most anticipated bands of the whole tour, and Disturbed, who started bottom of the bill and ended the tour as being touted as ‘The future of metal’ by Ozzy himself and racking up multi-platinum sales of debut album The Sickness. If Ozzfest breaks you, it can break you really, really big.

Knozzfest Cometh (2016)

After the final touring Ozzfest in 2007, over a decade after it reared its head, Ozzfest has taken a backseat to many of the other festivals available to metal fans on both sides of the Atlantic. A one-off show in the US in 2008, a short run of dates in London and Israel in 2010, and a pairing of two-day events in Japan in 2013 and 2015 aside, it has been pretty quiet this decade as Ozzy begins to call time on his glorious career. But, just when you thought that the Ozzfest was no more, it sprang up again by gaining a powerful, masked ally. The announcement that Ozzfest will be joining forces with Slipknot’s own Knotfest is massive news – a chance to see master and pupil duke it out for possibly the final ever time. And how apt that the man that made Ozzfest will hand over the baton to a band that made their name on Ozzfest. While being backed by a stellar cast including everyone from veterans Anthrax to nasty noisemongers Suicide Silence, it’s already captured the imagination in the same way that the original Ozzfest did in 1996. Where we go from here and what the brand itself does next we can only speculate, but, two decades after Sharon Osbourne gave Lollapalooza the middle finger and went out on her own, it’s time we showed our appreciation for one of the most iconic and celebrated events our world has ever seen. Happy twentieth birthday Ozzfest, Satan knows what we would have done without you.

In Pictures: Ozzfest and Knotfest join forces in California

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.