Last weekend, thousands of people made the trek to Bader Field in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to attend the Metallica-curated Orion Music and More, a festival that not only made history musically but was also generally an incredible weekend. For two straight days, bands that had been hand-picked by the members of Metallica played on 4 different stages at the airfield, delighting their older fans and also gaining many new ones. The stages were named after various Metallica songs and albums, and included the Orion stage (the giant mainstage that Metallica played on), the Fuel stage, the Frantic stage, and the Damage, Inc. stage. There were many performances that stuck out to me during the two days that I spent walking around in the perfect weather and supporting as many acts as I could get to, and every single band that was invited to this amazing event should be congratulated on their success because, really, how many times do you get asked to open for a band as legendary as Metallica? Both days of the festival had some very strong performances, and Sunday was definitely a memorable experience for Metallica fans and fans of other bands alike.
Opening the day on Sunday was A Place to Bury Strangers, a noise rock band that I had the pleasure of seeing perform on Friday night as the House of Blues in Atlantic City. Even though playing outside in broad daylight is not something they usually do, the absence of their typical pitch-black (lack of) lighting really helped showcase their insane on-stage antics. Their audience at the Fuel stage was able to see each and every one of frontman Oliver Ackermann’s and bassist Dion Lunadon’s actions and movements, which typically include thrashing around the stage, banging their instruments against amps, and throwing their instruments up into the air without even attempting to catch them. A Place to Bury Strangers is a band that truly knows how to put on a good show. Currently they are supporting their upcoming album Worship, and their performance on Sunday was certainly enough to get me to buy the album when it drops. Their music is heavy and loud, and those who see them perform will inevitably find themselves headbanging or even jumping into one of multiple mosh pits that always break out during their shows. Watching A Place to Bury Strangers quite literally tear up the stage was the perfect way to start my Sunday at Orion Music and More, and I really hope that many people who attended the festival checked them out.
(credit: Cambria Harkey)
Next on the schedule was my personal favorite discovery of the weekend, Ghost. Ghost is a doom metal band from Sweden who definitely live up to their name. Never having listened to their music, I had no idea what to expect, but I figured they had to be good if Metallica’s own James Hetfield had picked them and even come out to announce them onstage. When the members of Ghost walked out, I was completely taken aback- these men (called Nameless Ghouls) really did look like ghosts! They were dressed completely in white robes, and wearing white masks and upside-down cross necklaces. Their lead singer, called Papa Emeritus, was both shocking and incredibly interesting; he was dressed a Catholic cardinal with upside-down crosses all over his robes and also had skull face paint on. If any band has got the shock factor down pact, it is definitely Ghost.
As impressive as their appearance was, their musical ability made their performance even more incredible. Their songs combine sacred chants with your standard heavy metal guitar riffs and breakdowns, but with a twist of catchy, melodic harmonies. Had I known some of their music beforehand, I certainly would have been singing along with Papa Emeritus as his voice rang out over the crowd that had gathered at the Orion main stage to see Ghost perform. Ghost’s performance at Orion Music and More was so memorable to me that I immediately crowned them “My Favorite New Discovery of the Weekend” and downloaded their album, Opus Eponymous, as soon as I got home from the festival.
After Ghost, we walked back to the Orion stage to catch Best Coast, a surprisingly good part of the Sunday lineup. As they are a pop-rock group from Los Angeles- and female-fronted, no less- many of the metal fans that attended Orion Music and More were wary of catching their set instead of Torche’s, as they were playing the same time slot on the Damage, Inc. stage. However, those who did catch Best Coast’s set were pleasantly surprised. Vocalist and guitarist Bethany Cosentino seemed perfectly comfortable up on the massive stage and the duo put on a spectacular performance.
Their calmer, lighter sound provided a healthy break from the thrashing guitar riffs and drum beats of so many of the other bands, and their set allowed me a chance to sit down, relax, reapply my sunscreen, and admire my funny-looking Toms tan lines on my feet. Even though some people may think that Best Coast were out of place on the bill, the band really was stellar and actually drew a pretty decent crowd, most of which seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Cosentino also interacted with the crowd a lot, talking to various members of the audience, asking their names, and even taking requests for songs to play. Best Coast was the perfect band to catch in the middle of the day and got me reenergized and ready for the next band on my schedule.
(credit: Matt Ellis)
That band just happened to be Volbeat, a heavy metal band from Copenhagen, Denmark. After a very supportive introduction by James Hetfield of Metallica, the Danish boys took the stage and commanded the audience’s full attention for their entire time slot. Volbeat drew a relatively large crowd, partly because they have gone on tour with Metallica before and undoubtedly picked up a few fans along the way, but also partly because they are all great musicians and their music is catchy and incredibly heavy. Volbeat’s set was also very diverse, which made their fans happy; they played a variety of material from albums old and new, including their opener,“A Warrior’s Call,”“Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood,”“The Mirror and the Ripper, “and older hit “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza”.
Another unique aspect of their performance was the inclusion of two very different covers. Towards the middle of their set, Volbeat covered Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna Be With You,” which received an extremely positive reaction from the crowd, as it has been in their repertoire since the release of their 2005 debut album The Strength/The Song/The Sounds. To close their extremely compelling set, Volbeat covered the outro to Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” which elicited loud screams of happiness from their audience. The general vibe that I got from the crowd was that Volbeat had impressed them and that they were glad they had been at the Fuel stage during that time slot.
(credit: Matt Ellis)
After a brief break for food, water, and the bathroom, I returned to the Fuel stage to catch a band that I had been anticipating for weeks. I have been listening to Avenged Sevenfold for years, and this would be my first time seeing them live, so needless to say, I was excited. Unfortunately, I was nothing short of disappointed by their performance. Playing one of the most abbreviated sets of the entire festival, Avenged Sevenfold barreled through 9 of their biggest hits, screamed some expletives at their fans, and promptly left the stage. Considering they were the last band to play before Metallica, I don’t think that taking the stage on time and playing for their allotted time slot would have been too difficult for them. Avenged Sevenfold had one of the largest crowds of the entire festival, in which I noticed that most people were wearing one-day wristbands, leading me to believe that most of these bros and scene kids had paid over $90 to see one band. But then again, when have the majority of Avenged Sevenfold fans ever really shown any sort of competence or sensibility?
The incredible part of my experience at the Fuel stage on Sunday was that even at 1pm, the barrier was crowded with people sporting sad A7X tattoos, worn-and-torn tote bags, and the typical “foREVer” Avenged Sevenfold t-shirts. Normally I would have no problem with these “passionate” attendees, but I became enraged as soon as A Place to Bury Strangers took the stage at 1pm and these unappreciative people actually had the audacity to turn their backs to the band playing and sit down to play with their phones. I’ve seen a lot of disrespectful people in my lifetime (I went to Catholic high school), but these girls in front of me definitely took the cake. And they were no different while Avenged Sevenfold was playing, either.
From the moment the band started playing their opening song and most recent hit Nightmare, the crowd closed in on me, pushing and shoving with no inhibitions (or basic manners, for that matter) to get closer to frontman M. Shadows. In no other pit that weekend did I take multiple elbows to the cheekbone, nor did I see people neglecting to help pick up those who had fallen while moshing, and trust me, I was in a lot of pits over the weekend. Before they played “Welcome to the Family,” Shadows asked the crowd who was seeing Avenged Sevenfold for the first time, to which he told them, “Welcome to our fucked up goddamn family!” Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really sound too appealing to me. Later in their 9-song set, Shadows introduced “A Little Piece of Heaven” by telling the crowd that it was a love story about a man and a woman, which I found to be very misleading. I actually felt sorry for the parents who had unknowingly brought their children to hear a song about premeditated murder, necrophilia, and massacre.
Finally, the band began to play “Unholy Confessions,” which usually signals the end of their sets, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Between the cheesy pyro, deceptively complex drum riffs, and growling vocals, Shadows managed to demand that the crowd form circle pits and “fuck shit up!” Call me crazy, but in my opinion, a band that demands that their fans “fuck shit up” should probably be doing the same thing in the first place instead of just standing on stage and striking generic rockstar poses while wearing a backwards baseball cap. When they left the stage about 15 minutes early, I was happy to be done listening to them but also very upset that I had wasted my time at the Fuel stage for Avenged Sevenfold instead of heading over to the Frantic stage for Titus Andronicus, who I heard were phenomenal.
(credit: Cambria Harkey)
Fortunately, Metallica was about to go onstage, the thought of which helped me to forget the atrocious set I had just watched. As thousands of people gathered around the Orion mainstage, the sun slowly went down, as did the house lights and music. The sound of close to 20,000 people screaming and chanting is an incredible cacophony, and it got the crowd energized and ready for the main event: Metallica, playing The Black Album in full, backwards. From the moment those men stepped out onto the stage, the energy level at Bader Field was through the roof. The intro that they have been using for years was just as exhilarating as it was when they first started using it, and it is definitely awesome enough for them to keep using it for years to come. During many songs, like “Fuel,”“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “Sad But True,”frontman James Hetfield actually allowed the audience to scream the choruses back to him before he continued to sing the songs.
Opening with “Hit the Lights,” Metallica made it clear that the set they were about to play was going to be nothing short of phenomenal, spectacular, and stellar, just to throw out a few adjectives that come to mind when thinking about their set. Then came “Master of Puppets,” a song that everyone who’s anyone knows. Having grown up with Metallica’s music, I was able to sing and scream along with the other members of the crowd, which made me feel like a part of something incredible. As the crowd pointed at James Hetfield and screamed, “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire!” the pure passion of Metallica’s fans (who were kind enough to immediately pick up fallen moshers in pits) was immediately evident. This is a fanbase that everyone should want to be a part of. They love Metallica, they love metal music, and they love each other.
(credit: Cambria Harkey)
After “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Shortest Straw,” Metallica left the stage while a short video documentary of the band making and touring with The Black Album played on the massive screens on either side of the mainstage. It was clear that whoever had made that video had put a lot of effort into it, and it gave the feeling that we were all about to see history in the making- which we certainly were. When Metallica took the stage again after the video, the only emotion that the crowd was feeling was pure excitement. As the first notes of “The Struggle Within” rang out through Bader Field, that excitement only increased, as we all realized that Metallica were about to play the entire Black Album backwards. Getting to hear The Black Album in full is cool, but the only thing better is hearing The Black Album in full backwards. As the band took their time playing each song, they savored every moment they were on the stage. James Hetfield wore a gigantic smile the entire night, obviously proud of pulling off Orion Music and More, but also exuberant that his band has some of the best fans that any band could ever ask for. Guitarist Kirk Hammett showed off the fact that he is extremely dexterous and can play even the most complicated of riffs while making it look easy.
As they played through The Black Album, the screens on either side of the stage gave close up views of the band playing each song, but with graphics to match. For example, during “Don’t Tread On Me,” the graphics were red, white, and blue. They also took the time to showcase each member of the band, with Lars Ulrich playing a ridiculous drum solo after Holier Than Though, and Rob Trujillo tearing it up on the bass after “Sad But True”. As the first notes of “Enter Sandman” were heard, the crowd went absolutely nuts. Typical metalheads, middle-aged women, tiny 18-year-old girls (myself) and toddlers in Metallica t-shirts were all jumping and screaming “take my hand, we’re off to Never-Never-land”. It was a truly inspiring experience, seeing so many people in unison and completely thrilled to be where they were in that moment.
(credit: Matt Ellis)
The encore included “Blackened” and then “One,” both of which were accompanied by incredible pyrotechnics and a crazy light show. But the real gem of the night was “Seek and Destroy,” which closes every Metallica set. The band really went all out for this song, incorporating multicolored lasers, fog, towers of flames, and the dropping of hundreds of black Metallica beach balls from tall towers back near the soundbooths. During the encore, Hetfield asked the crowd, “Do you like heavy?! METALLICA GIVES YOU HEAVY!” Every aspect of their performance was designed to please their fans, which is a refreshing change from all the pretentious, superficial bands out their who don’t give a thing to the fans that support them so generously. The entire night, the band referred to the crowd as “the Metallica family,” and at one point during “Enter Sandman,” James Hetfield led a sing-along, incorporating the lyrics “Metallica…Orion…together at last…we’re together at last…like a family…Metallica’s family…” Singing back those words to someone who is such an icon and a legend was mind-blowing, as was the genuinely emotional thank-you that Hetfield gave as he asked for the house lights to be turned on so that the band could see their fans.
Feeling appreciated as a fan is an extremely important part of liking a band, and if there is one band who know exactly how to make a fan feel appreciated, it is most definitely Metallica. From changing the lyrics of “Seek and Destroy” to “We’re scanning the scene at Orion tonight” to introducing every band on the bill to personally attending their own respective exhibits at the festival to enjoy and meet their fans, Metallica are a band that know how to rock, but also how to be genuine, good people while still remaining painfully badass. It’s very easy for a band as big as Metallica to slip into the “We’re here, you’re welcome” mindset that I noticed during Avenged Sevenfold’s set, but Metallica have kept a “you’re here, thank you!” attitude for the entire 30+ years that they’ve been making music and entertaining people. The entire Orion Music and More experience was incredible, from organization to execution, and I absolutely cannot wait to go again in 2013.