By Jamie Harvey
It took planes, trains and automobiles to get the hordes of Metallica fans to Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J., for Orion Music + More on a weekend perfectly bookended by thunderstorms. As metalheads clad in black T-shirts dotted the grounds framed by water and a casino-filled skyline, we embarked on a weekend that promised a unique festival experience. For Metallica fans, and music fans in general, Orion Music + More promised two Metallica shows of epic proportions and a unique way to interact with the band and meet fellow fans.
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich introduced the first act, Baroness, who opened on the festival's main stage. Their dense guitar tones echoed across the fields that were still wet from the night's storms, bending around each fan and pulling them into the experience. Heavy yet melodic, it was the perfect appetizer.
Texas-based quartet the Sword were introduced by Metallica frontman James Hetfield, who headbanged along as he watched their set and even filmed the crowd with his iPhone from the side of the stage. Their Southern sludge pleased the crowd, as did a cover of ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses."
I caught a few songs from Memphis country rock act Lucero's set before heading across the field. Hetfield introduced Los Angeles' Kyng as a band who was highly recommended to him by "Headbangers Ball" host Jose Mangin. Kyng's killer set inspired the weirdest pit of all time — dozens of men playing what appeared to be a game of football. Kyng's unique combination of heavy beats and bluesy rock vocals had those unaware asking, "Who is this band?"
As the time approached for night one of Metallica, I thought about how they were my first metal band. Tonight would bring a first-ever performance of their seminal 1984 album Ride The Lightning in its entirety. After a handful of Metallica favorites, including "Master Of Puppets" and "Sad But True," a video introduction kicked off the performance of Ride The Lightning, which they played in reverse order. "Escape" was played for the first time, amplifying what was already monumental. After the album was complete, favorites such as "One" and "Seek And Destroy" ended the night with a spectacular pyro and fireworks show.
One of my favorite newer bands, A Place To Bury Strangers, kicked off day two for me. Their psychedelic combination of electronica and rock seemed an odd fit at surface level, but their always-engaging performance and extremely loud sound drew a good crowd.
Ghost are also a favorite new band of mine, and after seeing them as much as possible already on their first tours, I still get extremely excited as they walk onstage. Band members Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls were dressed in white for their daytime show, and their satanic melodic rock provided a sort of Black Mass on this Sunday morning. Ghost's carefully curated personality, aesthetic and sound have inspired devout fandom, and on this day those of us already converted stood among the new recruits with their mouths agape at the spectacle.
I ran across the field for Landmine Marathon, who took the honor of playing the heaviest set at a metal-based festival. I've seen them play in dark corners of small rooms for years, and to see them on this stage where their assaulting sound could reach the masses was like watching a wild animal be freed from captivity.
I watched portions of several eclectic sets: the bluesy guitarist Gary Clark Jr.; comedian Jim Breuer doing Metallica impressions; and the Black Dahlia Murder's screams and blast beats, before I experienced the most atypical opener for Metallica — country superstar Eric Church. In a set that featured fire and smoke worthy of any metal show, my Texas roots were showing as I sang along to his cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive."
Metallica's 1991 self-titled release (also known as the "Black Album") was the first metal album I ever owned, and to experience it live was special. Pressed up against the catwalk, I watched these mythical metal statesmen play songs that brought a flood of memories of me dancing around my bedroom, occasionally stopping to wonder why I liked Metallica instead of New Kids On The Block or turn it down at my parents' request. As the band stomped around the stage they played the album in reverse — "Of Wolf And Man" and "Wherever I May Roam" have always been my favorites from this album. Metallica are the product of the simplest metal formula: a perfectly defined riff over a hard-driving beat with vocals that meld into the space in between.
I giggled during Hetfield's nightly "Metallica Family" call-and-response banter, but it rang true. Evidenced the next day by the black metal T-shirts worn by sunburned, worn-out and sore festivalgoers, Metallica is no doubt one of the biggest music families in the world.
(Jamie Harvey splits her time between California and Texas, and is the rock community blogger for GRAMMY.com. She has been to more than 500 shows since 2007. You can follow her musical adventures and concert recaps at www.hardrockchick.com.)