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Metallica Bring Thrash and Power to Opening Day at Orion

Arctic Monkeys, Modest Mouse, Gaslight Anthem and more help kick off festival

June 24, 2012 9:24 AM ET
metallica orion
James Hetfield of Metallica performs during Orion Music and More in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Joe Papeo

The Arctic Monkeys deserve a medal for taking the pre-Metallica bullet on the first day of the Orion Music + More festival. While their set time immediately before the headlining hosts’ may have looked good on paper, what it really meant was that they lost a few hundred audience members at the end of every song as the crowds gathered around the main stage in anticipation of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning set. By the end of the Arctic Monkeys’ performance, it would not have been difficult to push all the way to the front railing, a feat that would have been impossible with any of the other bands who played the same stage earlier in the day.

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Once the lads from Sheffield finished their strong set, Metallica took the stage to the familiar strains of their longtime Ennio Morricone-penned opener, "The Ecstasy of Gold," and immediately brought their fans way back – as far back as possible – to the first song the band ever recorded, "Hit the Lights." They wasted no time further laying on the thrash with "Master of Puppets" and "The Four Horsemen." The much-hyped Ride the Lightning section arrived a few songs later, with the band performing the album in reverse, probably an easy decision for a record that ends with a long and winding instrumental ("The Call of Ktulu") and begins with as fast, heavy and precise a track as the band has ever written ("Fight Fire With Fire"). The song "Escape" received its world premiere, a somewhat shocking feat for a 28-year-old song, but hearing it live served as a sufficient reminder as to why it had been cast aside for so long.

Despite a two-hour-plus running time, there was a somewhat hastened "let’s power through this" attitude for much of Metallica’s set, particularly in the no muss, no fuss delivery of the Lightning material. The "playing an album in its entirety" conceit can lend itself to more of a countdown feeling, rather than something that earns and builds its own momentum, since there’s no suspense as to where things are going. But it’s hard to argue with the strategy of coming back from an encore break and playing the ultra-heavy "Battery" and "One" back to back.

Outside of their own set, the boys in Metallica were plenty busy throughout the day, appearing at various festival attractions and introducing the majority of the day’s bands. James Hetfield’s appearance at the custom car tent caused many a heavyset, bearded metalhead to run giddily in his direction, camera at the ready, not unlike a tween One Direction fan, and enough people predicted Rob Trujillo’s guest spot with his old band, skate-thrash heroes Suicidal Tendencies, to make their set one of the day’s best-attended. Trujillo stuck around for five songs, demonstrating monstrous chops on the bass in styles that he isn’t allowed to even broach in the context of Metallica.

Despite the festival’s four stages all being named after some of Metallica’s more abrasive songs, there were plenty of gentler – and welcome – tones to be heard throughout the day. Modest Mouse’s set saw frontman Isaac Brock dressed for the nearby beach in a white shirt and small purple shorts, and finally brought to reality the image of a beefy dude in a Slayer shirt pumping his fist to some gentle jams from the northwest.

The close proximity of the stages to each other made it easy to catch multiple spectacles in rapid succession, from Roky Erickson absolutely roaring his songs about paranoia and vampirism in front of a slight but polite crowd, to a performance by hardcore heroes Fucked Up, which, when viewed from afar, looked like a band with no singer, as frontman Damian Abraham spent the entire set submerged in the crowd, much to the chagrin of the security staff who had to keep his microphone cable intact.

Other highlights included the heavy psychedelia of Wooden Shjips, who didn’t draw a massive crowd but made a compelling case with their alternately catchy and pleasantly droning set, and the upbeat Gaslight Anthem, who delivered a well-attended performance, likely bolstered by appearing in their home state, although points are reduced for frontman Brian Fallon offering heartfelt but belated encouragement for audience members to go see Roky Erickson, whose set had ended four hours earlier.

Texan stoner rock crew the Sword – introduced by Trujillo as a band that will "smoke you under the table, just ask Kirk" – put on a relentless hour-long show that left riffs strewn all over the stage, punctuated by a cover of "Cheap Sunglasses" that turned into a massive sing-a-long.

Sunday will bring further diversity to the Orion stages, including the breezy surf pop of Best Coast and Gary Clark Jr.’s guitar heroics, as well as a back-to-front performance of the Black Album, hopefully with a few surprises along the way.

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