70000 Tons Of Metal – Champions League Of Drinking, No Second Division, No Relegation!

January 24, 2020, 3 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal 70000 tons of metal

Thankfully, only a few of the "players" need to be cautioned and there were no red cards, at least publicly.

Even with an unusually warm East Coast winter (thus far), it was great to shed the winter coat and slip back into shorts & tank tops, despite the calendar reading 'January". Apparently another 3000 or so folks from around the globe agreed (some already in the throes of summer), boarding the Independence Of The Seas, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A few weeks earlier than in years past, the 2020 cruise ran from Tuesday, January 7 through Saturday morning, January 11, instead of Thursday to Monday of Super Bowl weekend. So what else was different about the sixth consecutive cruise BraveWords co-sponsored, apart from the dateline being in the second decade of the 21st century?  Still the same set-up 62 bands, 4 stages, but sailing on a non-Super Bowl week also allowed the final day/night to focus solely on music. Didn't need to jet (or should that be jet ski?) from deck to deck, photographing/reporting on as many overlapping performances, thus was able to watch extended portions, if not the entirety, of several sets. Overall, more metal!

Once the running order is announced, like everyone else, I plot out a strategy: which bands to see, with the fewest overlapping times. As in years past, this isn't a 100% plan of action, as complications arise, including unprecedented access to some of the artists, especially if they're friends and/or previous acquaintances. So a lengthy chat, in the casino bar, with Steve "Zetro" Souza, alongside fellow members of Exodus and Bay Area brethren Vio-lence, gets priority over most acts. Same with Candlemass guitarist Lars Johansson (and his wife), another night.

Speaking of Vio-lence, an excellent, high intensity outfit to kick off the live shows. Sean Killian's vocals were a point of contention, back in the day, and after a period of inactivity, was eager to see how they'd fare. Phil Demmel has since earned his bones in Machine Head and once that line-up imploded, made sense to reunite with Killian (whose had a second lease on life, after a liver transplant) and the rest of the original line-up (minus Rob Flynn). It was a raucous, heads down, hair shaking (well, not Killian) spectacle. "Kill On Command" saw a vicious circle pit break out, people having plenty of energy as the cruise had just begun. Killian was stiff and upright. With his posture and bald head, looked like a Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) impression. By his side was the bearded Demmel, black & white polka dot guitar in hand. Killian worked both sides of the stage and crouched by the wedge monitors, getting in the rabid crowd's face for "Phobophobia". Pounding drums and bass introduce "Officer Nice", the vocalist stretching into that higher register of a bygone era. Throughout, he flicks out his tongue and throws the horns. Finally winding up, Killian proclaims, "The party has started", as the old-timers make a triumphant exit from the stage. Great start to 70K Tons 2020!

Well, Exodus (reunited with original guitarist Gary Holt, following the announced retirement of Slayer) turned everything up a notch. Despite numerous opportunities to photograph him and his bands before, never noticed the double looped King Diamond insignia tattooed behind Holt's left ear. "Body Harvest" and "Blacklist" were up early. If there was ever a debate about the Big 4, other worthy contenders and a 2nd tier of thrash, the back-to-back sampling of ‘80s Bay Area material proved just how vicious Exodus were/are, even with their non-vintage stuff. In fact, wouldn't call the likes of "Blood In, Blood Out" or "Fabulous Disaster" essential Exodus. That (i.e. Bond By Blood era) was reserved for the final night of the cruise. Even though it's pop, by the band's early standards, people still dig (and many solely associate) "The Toxic Waltz" with Holt & Co. Steve 'Zetro' Souza shuffled the large theater/ballroom stage, half stalker, half seeming to lose his balance with every third step, shouting out the lyrics and stirring the already volatile cauldron of humanity. Impromptu casino chat with BraveWords proves he's quite a humorous fellow (sorry to break the illusion, Zetro!) Overall, great to see Gary Holt back in charge. Sure that after the Slayer stint, more old songs will remain in the running order, moving forward. 

Checked into the Star Lounge, for the first of only two visits, all weekend (a glorified bar stage, and without the oversize chairs/big, comfy couches, probably no one, but those sleeping it off, would ever venture inside). The room was packed for what blond frontman Hannes Braun declared was Kissin' Dynamite's first time on a US stage (despite being at sea). The appearance was likewise rare for those in attendance, as a quick poll revealed that almost no one in the crowd had previously seen the Germans play. Still trying to find a definitive sound, once glam, they've all but abandoned the hooky anthems for a more mainstream/streamlined sound, now that they've signed to a major label. Shame, as the high octane, green lit "Sex Is War" and traditional metal of "Love Me Hate Me" (off their sophomore effort, Addicted To Metal) provided glimpses of the band at their best.

Couldn't stay too long, as had to shoot At The Gates. Somehow the crystal chandeliers hanging above the converted rink, in Studio B, felt out of place. This was to be a more typical set, a career retrospective, whereas their poolside performance, two nights hence, would feature Slaughter Of The Soul, in its entirety. That said, there were still five tracks, off said record, aired this evening. Center stage, back to the audience, was Tomas Lindberg, in trademark trucker's cap and jean jacket. By blue tinted groove of "Cold", he'd lose the coat. From the opening strains of "To Drink From The Night Itself", the Swede is off, spasmodically moving about the stage, in irregular patterns, presenting a difficult target for the camera. The aforementioned title track was up second, a bit of a surprise. Barricade surfers kept security busy throughout the night, while onstage, Lindberg menacingly picked up the mic stand, to start "Under A Serpent Sun". During that one (and others) he'd cup his hand to his ear, imploring the wiggling sea of bodies beneath him to illicit and even greater response.   
 
Is there a bigger oxymoron than true Norwegian black metal, on a cruise ship? Regardless, in the dark theater, illuminated in eerie alien green and blue lights (with occasional white strobes) Emperor kept fans rapt with opening "Ye Entrancemperium". Much like global festival headlining appearances the last couple of years, Emperor offered their Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk album, in recorded running order, (apart from the short, closing "The Wanderer"). Following crowd sung "Thus Spake The Nightspirit", the eyeglasses wearing singer/guitarist announced it was time to, "Pick up the pace". Enter "Ensorcelled By Khaos". When the album tracks were completed, Ihsahn & Co. took a brief moment (in white light) to acknowledge the crowd's delight, before adding a couple of fan favorites, including chaotic, blue/strobe filled "Curse You All Men!", devilish red hued (and circle pit inducing) "I Am The Black Wizards" and traditional finale, "Inno A Satana". There were instances where the entire venue was dark, despite the band still playing. But mostly it was a rapid fire lighting display, the participants (apart from Ihsahn) virtually stationary.

While the Norwegians should have brought my night to a close, after a glance at Soilwork, actually showed up for a 3:45 AM set, in Studio B, by longtime friends Seven Witches. As they soundchecked to an empty room (actually me and about 3 others), James Rivera wore his Ben Franklin spectacles, as Jack Frost referenced me, from the stage, by name. The first of two shows opted to highlight the Passage To The Other Side disc. Time constraints prohibited playing the entire album ("Fever In The City" and "Betrayed" being cut) and those aired were not sequential. A handful of hearty souls showed up (remember, the body clock of all attendees is not set to EST) before "Dance With The Dead" commenced. Rivera opted for a Danny Filth shriek and Frost added brief backing vocals to "Last Horizon". The pumped up version of Def Leppard's "Wasted" could be an unofficial cruise mantra. Frost stomped as he played "Mental Messiah" closing the proper set, and "Nature's Wrath" as the encore. More tomorrow...

More coverage of Day 1 here.

DAY 2

Always find the second day to be the most active (39 bands, essentially two-thirds of the entire roster!), as there's the port of call and only a "half-day" scheduled tomorrow (some of whom have already played and may be foregone, in favor of parties, signing sessions, interviews, etc.) and on the last day, some are already winding down (packing and planning for early Saturday morning departure) and goodbyes take precedent over a second viewing of bands (since all have performed at least once, by then). Music begins at 10 AM and winds up 20 hours later (although karaoke goes on throughout the night). Musicians and fans alike are still energized and friendly, meet-ups in the casino bar are more frequent. First order of the day (even skipping breakfast) was the Candlemass signing session. Six months earlier, in Germany, Leif Edling had asked me for a new BraveWords hockey jersey, to replace the one he'd worn to tatters, over the last 13 years. So onboard the ship, Metal Tim decided to surprise the guys, awarding the entire band personalized swag, as a thank you for giving us (as fans), decades of enjoyment. To say they were touched is an understatement. 

From there, had to hurry topside, to see Possessed on the deck: my pictures to accompany a later interview/feature Tim & Seph would conduct later in the day. As a matter of fact, there were artist chinwags all day. The BW team would only reconvene many hours later. Can honestly say that, up close, Possessed were one of (if not THE) loudest set I've heard, in more than 40 years of attending metal concerts. Not sure how it sounded two decks north, but have a feeling they heard the So Cal black metallers in Havana, off our starboard side! Concentrating on the ‘80s Combat releases (as they would on their second set, too), adding in only a trio of new material from the new Revelations Of Oblivion (a CD that garnered many Top 10 finishes, worldwide). Wheelchair bound singer Jeff Becerra (the lone original member since reactivating the historic moniker) was already screaming out "Pentagram" by my arrival. Positioned center stage, and periodically moving to his left or right, either side of him was a leather and studded guitarist, churning out nasty riffs, at top speed. Did I mention in was eardrum shredding loud? "Storm In My Mind" indeed! The closing run of "The Exorcist", "Fallen Angel', "Death Metal" and  "Swing Of The Axe" finale caused a stir, three decades ago, but the current incarnations (thanks to equipment/technology) are all the more caustic. Simply vicious.   

Bloodbound singer Patrik Selleby felt the devil horns atop his bald head aren't enough and now has a green, grassy patch affixed to the right side of his face. Sort of V meets Locutus of Borg. The rest of the guys are outfitted in medieval tunic shirts. "In The Name Of Metal" was an early example of the Swedes' pumping power metal. A bouncy "The Warlock's Trail" has a Celtic feel, Selleby working the very edge of the stage, in front of the wedge monitors. Charging out of the gate with a falsetto scream, the yellow and strobe lit "Stand And Fight" sees the crowd clap overhead. Eventually, the singer removes his suit coat, revealing a vest, no shirt underneath. A red lit "Moria" gives way to "Dragons Are Forever" and "Nosferatu" closes an enjoyable set. Orphaned Land's Kobi Farhi is not your traditional frontman. Sure he tries to get the crowd to experience the event at hand, but he noticeably gets into the vibe, as well. Rather than collect female underwear, his mic stand is adorned with a lone kufiyah, or Middle Eastern scarf, in which he wraps himself, throughout the folk tinged set. He also exaggerates traditional dance steps, as he moves around the stage. Initially bathed in deep purple, the Israeli outfit get the crowd to clap in unison and occasionally sing along to "The Kiss Of Babylon", "Sapari" and "All Is One". The lighting is fairly monochromatic, like the LD only hit the switch at the start of each new song. 

Bailed a bit early to get in line to shoot Whiplash. Funny, a lot of other Jersey guys were into checking out the thrash trio, including Mike Lepond (Symphony X/Ross The Boss) and Jack Frost (Seven Witches), both grabbing a seat before the show started. Portaro (guitar/vocals) is the last of the three original Tony’s, now looking more like a white bearded member of ZZ Top than an ‘80s thrash/speed metal maniac. He's sort of tethered to the mic (can't get too far away, before having to return, to sing), thus it's difficult to command the larger ballroom stage. So the songs better be good. With the passage of time, what was once aggressive, now sounds like revved up blues. Case in point, "Insult To injury" which seems mid-tempo. The bassist helps out w/ lyrics, and on occasion, so did an undocumented visitor, from the wings, who just as quickly departed the stage. At one point, Tony asked, "Are you having fun? There's no time for fun. It's time to get serious. This is 'The Burning Of Atlanta’." Jump around music, sort of highly amplified, speed picking, adrenalized bluegrass. "War Monger", "Stage Dive" and "Red Bomb" brought back memories of my days in college radio.

Finntroll are a photographer's dream, what with the black on white raccoon eyes and flopping elf ears. Each of their shows was to showcase a specific era, this, an old school set, culled from the Finns initial trio of platters, the second, their three latest. A mix of folk and death (especially the gruff vocals), after a couple of snapshots, it was up to the pool deck, for Grave Digger. True, saw them just a few weeks back, at the one-day Knockout Festival, in Karlsruhe, Germany, but can never get enough of Chris Boltendahl's troupe. After kicking off with "Saved By Metal", it was a storming "Lionheart", Axel Ritt (he of the striped guitar and sneakers) demonstrating his worth. A slower "The Clans Will Rise Again" follows. Early arrivals saw the band run through "Lawbreaker" in rehearsal, now unleashed on the entire crowd, the revving motorcycle intro raises the intensity: clickety-clack Teutonic metal at its finest. It's dusk, the sun disappearing on the horizon. Boltendahl laughs when the drummer muffs the start of green lit "Dark Of The Sun". He gets the crowd to sing the titular choruses, be it this one, or previous "Lawbreaker". Chris announces this is the first show of their 40th anniversary. "The Curse Of Jacque" was unexpected. Atypically slow and moody, a scythe wielding (cos-play) Reaper wanders through the crowd, as Jens Becker (bass) begins the fist-thrusting "Seasons Of The Witch". Ritt plays his axe vertically. "Highland Farewell" sees the Scottish melodies piped in via pre-recorded tapes, as Ritt's guitar is a virtual lap steel, propped horizontal across his leg. The buzz saw guitar of “Excalibur" has Ritt alongside Becker, center stage, for the first and only time. Boltendahl berates a weak singing effort, "Holy Moley, my grandmother sings louder than all of you!" Things improve on "Ballad Of A Hangman", Ritt seemingly defies gravity, bent backwards as he plays. The guitar is virtually acoustic, for the nearly a cappella vocal intro to "Rebellion" as a freight training wind blows Boltendahl's silver mane. Splay legged Ritt, is stage left. Now dark, the stage is the only illumination on the deck. A circle pit turns into barricade crashing crowd surfers as the assembled Euros and South Americans voice their appreciation. During "Heavy Metal Breakdown" finale, Ritt leaves the stage, only to re-emerge in the crowd, standing right next to me! Alongside Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades", it's one of the definitive international ‘80s metal anthems. Back onstage before the song's completed, Ritt does more guitar god calisthenics, on his knees, laying with back on the floor. Hopefully North American dates will come to pass, this year.

The phrase ‘80s metal means something different to me. Instead of Sunset Strip/MTV success, I think of the aforementioned Grave Digger, the beginnings of thrash and European acts like Candlemass, i.e. the music to which I was listening, buying and/or playing on college radio, during that vaunted decade. Speaking of the Swedes, long a fan, but also thrilled to be able to bring them to the initial BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend, back in 2003. Since then, seen them (with various vocalists) several times. Now with returning original singer Johan Längqvist, they're a happy bunch (musically, might not sound gleeful, but trust me, they are). Truthfully, regardless of frontman, the live setlist has been pretty consistent for decades. New albums come and go, but there are certain staples that MUST be aired and in an abbreviated festival (cruise) time slot, there's not a lot of room for embellishment. Who cares, the classics are godly and delivered this weekend with a renewed urgency and heaviness. Lars Johansson said his Marshall stack was turned to 8, which is a major (aural) statement. Lots of fog envelops the stage for opening "The Well Of Souls". Bearded mainstay bassist Leif Edling has taken to wearing a hat onstage and almost missed the boat, leaving his passport in Tampa. "Dark Reflections" gives way to "Mirror Mirror", about as speedy as the doomsters will get this evening. A green lit "Astorolus - The Great Octopus", the lone newbie (from the Grammy nominated Door to Doom CD, a track which features a Tony Iommi solo) is introduced by drums. Despite being outdoors, the stage is completely red for "Bewitched", which Edling announced as "The first video." It segues into a similarly moody "Dark Are The Veils Of Death". Afterwards, Längqvist introduces each member of the band (apart from himself), then Mappe Björkman starts the sporadic "A Sorcerer's Pledge". Again, almost a cappella, the guitar slides into more up-tempo and aggressive territory. The familiar funeral paced closer, "Solitude", rounds out the night. Dare I say, heavenly? Or is it devilishly good?

Epica feature founder/guitarist Mark Jansen on gruff vocals, but most identify the band with Simone Simons, the raven haired beauty. Tonight was a career spanning set (later in the cruise they'd donate a show exclusively to the Design Your Universe disc). "The Obsessive Devotion" had the keyboardist wearing a chest mounted, semi-circle keyboard that allowed him to wander all over the stage, including the front edge. Blue tinged "Storm The Sorrow" was a highlight, as was the old school "Sancta Terra" and usual "Consign To Oblivion" finale.

Usually, I'd be excited to see Venom: the bombast, the danger, but the last few times (overseas), Cronos has predominately opted for newer material, saving the ‘80s classics until the final portion of the evening. Glad I went tonight! With the arrival of competing Venom Inc., perhaps old Conrad Lant has learned his lesson (well, at least here he did), stocking the setlist with plenty of vintage (some rarely heard) gems. Just like the old days, the stage was heavily shrouded in fog, uncomfortable squelches coming from his infernal four strings. The trio jumped right in, with "Black Metal". "Bloodlust" was also up early and he adjusted the lyrics of another, to "70,000 Gates Of Hell". The smoke machine kept pumping out a Newcastle approved mist, as Cronos continued his handiwork. Lit in purple, he whispered the words to subtly begun "Buried Alive", then swung the intensity pendulum in the opposite direction for "Rip Ride". When he sensed a lull, the frontman yelled, "Come on, you pack of lazy bastards." There's a slower groove to "Welcome To Hell" that didn't exist in the ‘80s. Announcing "Countess Bathory" as, "An old lady who liked to bathe in blood," the stage was an appropriate shade of crimson. Come "Don't Burn The Witch", where's the intensity or (ahem) venom? Sludgy, yellow/red lit "Warhead" is offered with extended histrionics. The tempo/intensity returns, come blazing "Witching Hour".  A couple of newbies follow "In Nomine Satanas" and "A Thousand Days In Sodom", before concluding with "In League With Satan". Maybe you can go (old school) home again!

Down in the theater, the hamstrung Michael Schenker Fest was taking place, hobbled by the 11th hour absence of Robin McAuley. He's the lone original MSG singer who currently can replicate his ‘80s greatness, although most would agree that his vintage material pales in comparison to the original discs with Gary Barden, or even the one with Graham Bonnet. Have seen this package several times over the last few years, so an evening with only Barden and Doogie White held only a passing interest. Both available vocalists appeared on UFO chestnut "Doctor, Doctor", the guitarist wisely trotting out the pair for the opener, so photographers could get pix of them during the initial 3-song restriction. Next, no singers, for the instrumental "Into The Arena". Barden, in Aussie field hat (Gday, Bruce!) handled "Are You Ready To Rock". In fact, in the absence of Bonnet & McAuley, the only other MSG songs were "Armed And Ready" and "Attack Of The Mad Axeman". 

Schenker, Venom, Candlemass, Grave Digger...what year is it?

More Day 2 coverage Day 2.

DAY 3 

Awoke, on Day 3, in Cozumel. It's alike an airport, or bus depot, for cruise liners, double (sometimes triple) parked. Just a few weeks prior, two ships ran into each other in Cozumel. Popular destination! However, unlike past 70K events, there was no readily available beach (i.e., required taking a taxi to another location). Since the Henderson’s had made an early morning exit, wasn't about to strike out on my own, especially given the recent reports of attacks at Mexican tourist destinations. Didn't help that some of us were under the impression that we were to re-board at 14:00 (European/military time), as (mis)printed in the ship's daily newsletter (delivered right to your cabin). Tourists are dropped off in a maze of trinket/souvenir shops. Like the proverbial rat seeking the cheese, there's one entrance, a different exit and plenty of corners and false endings. In this case, hoping you'll fall for their raps and purchase some tequila, blankets (really? in summer heat/humidity?) or jewelry. Have to give it to one barker, who when declined "something for the chiquitita," retorted, "then maybe something for the neighbor's wife!" To enter this tourist trap/mall one had to walk past a security outpost, with what appeared to be a drug sniffing dog. To enter Mexico. Think about it... I know there's an opioid crisis in the USA, but are the Mexican authorities really concerned on all the cruise-going grandmas and grandpas bringing drugs INTO their country? The inane hypocrisy. 

A couple of forward thinking local thrash/death metal acts had flyers throughout the ship, advertising their morning appearance at the Hard Rock Cafe (when was the last time any of the Stateside licensees hosted live music, let alone anything close to metal, outside maybe Vegas). Once extricated from the trinket lined maze, the two-level restaurant was right across the street. But no bands were playing and no one seemed to want to serve, when we sat down. Not really interested in alcohol, at 10 AM, although plenty of black shirts already had a neon color concoction in front of them, others sticking with metalhead staple: beer. Out of friends, entertainment options and the sky turning cloudy (the black clouds actually producing a short sprinkle), it was back to the boat, where the food was "free", could lay out on the pool deck and have drinks delivered (or merely a few feet away). Only upon my return was the published timetable faux pas discovered, the correct time (now hours away) posted prominently on an electronic signboard, near the gangway entrance. 

Come five o'clock, it was time for Flotsam & Jetsam, the first band on the outdoor stage since we began the homeward bound journey. That is a garden slot, as most have just returned from a day on land. After (hopefully) showering & cleaning up, there's nothing else to do, so a large contingent flock to see whomever is playing, prior to grabbing dinner and going about the ship, for the rest of the evening. Flots didn't disappoint, doling out a heavy dose of old school, beginning with "Doomsday For The Deceiver". When finished, Eric AK asked, "How you all doing?" Oh course, everyone cheered, to which the frontman responded, "Bullshit! You're nursing a hangover, like I am." "Desecrator" sees AK air guitar in front of the Plexiglas walled off, stage side Jacuzzi. In the crowd, a circle pit ensues, with one guy pushing his wheelchair buddy around the ring. "Iron Maiden" tribute gives way to "I Live, You Die", which the singer claims is from '83, "before I was born". From the debut, we also got "She Took An Axe" and "Hammerhead". Flots finished this amazing set with "No Place For Disgrace." Couple hours later, in conversation with AK, in the casino bar, we joked they should have made special shirts for the boat, referencing FLOATzilla! Maybe next time.  

Next up, Atheist. Since the '91 US club tour, with Candlemass, have run into singer Kelly Shaefer at least once a decade: Wacken, Hole In The Sky, now the boat. He spasmodically throws himself around the room, be it "Unholy War", something off Unquestionable Presence or the title cut from Piece Of Time (which brought the show to an end). As the ship increased speed, trying to outrun rain/weather, we could feel the ship sway, making photography even more tricky. 40 mph winds topside (temporarily) scuttle Ihsahn's solo set, abruptly shutdown, due to threats of ripping the lighting rig apart. Once again, as with other years, the promotional banners affixed to the rigging had to be removed (catching too much breeze, like a sail), throwing a monkey wrench (spanner, for our British readers) into the schedule. With an uncertain lull in the proceedings, time to ponder: Who's braver, the guy crowd surfing in a Day-Glo green Borat man-thong swimsuit, or the security guys who have to catch him?  

Stopped in to see Wintersun, albeit the first time with Jari Mäenpää solely as a singer, having dispensed with his guitar a while back. Still think he looks like the live embodiment of Snow Miser (wintry brother of Heat Miser, from the Rankin & Bass Christmas special, A Year Without A Santa Claus). There were three risers for Jari and the instrumentalists to jump on/off, while plying speedy (but long winded) power metal tracks like "Sons Of Winter And Stars" and "Time". The blue/purple color scheme of the album artwork is featured prominently in the stage lighting and the frontman still wears his black martial arts attire, embroidered with double dragons, one either side of his chest. Ventured topside, as much to investigate the weather conditions and time delays, as much as seeing Devin Townsend. Boy, am I glad I did. Forget the sour lemons, it's lemonade, all around, courtesy of the Canuck madman. See, most people wouldn't take the stage under such adverse circumstances. Sure the wind was vicious (but many after him would also play), however, the situation rendered his click track, keyboards and several effects inoperative. Rather than cancel, he not only mustered on, but laughed/joked his way through a set, almost exclusively Strapping Young Lad material, that only endeared Devy to his fans, that much more. During "Detox", a wheelchair bound soul was lifted above the crowd, threatening to breach the barricade, despite no room/runway to accommodate him. When the gent was hoisted again, Devy got his attention and said, "You are my hero, my friend." Between songs, Townsend offered his quirky commentary ("There's 70,000 tons of guac in here") or made those in attendance yell various things ("balls!") Lots of red hues, with chartreuse pinpoint lights (looked like lasers, from afar) and strobes. I'll give it to a persistent smoke machine operator, who never quit, despite the mist being instantly swept away in that gale. 

By contrast, the old school metal of Grave Digger seemed tame. Second performance was very different from the earlier one, although the final 1-2 punch of "Rebellion" and omnipresent "Heavy Metal Breakdown" remained intact. "Headbanging Man" And "Witch Hunter" was a great start for what Boltendahl called an "old school" set, the singer in black/white striped pants that matched the paint job on Axel Ritt's guitar. "Circle Of Witches" is followed by a pumping, strobe illuminated "Knights Of The Cross", which sees the crowd sing the titular chorus. Ritt's prowess and rock star poses are on display throughout. The inclusion of a slower, green lit and drum syncopated "Wedding Day" was a huge surprise. Pace quickens for speedy "Tattooed Rider". Before bowing out with the trademark sign-off, the Germans added "The Round Table", "Morgane le Fay" and the quixotic "Zombie Dance" (the only selection, either 70K show, from their most recent effort, The Living Dead). Post-cruise, the band returned home to put the finishing touches on a new album. Can't wait!

The rest of the night was framed by uncertainty. Would they be able to continue on the pool deck, what with the harsh elements? Would it run on time and/or curtail the set lengths? How long must I wait to get a beer? (Just kidding, as there's an oasis about every 100 feet, on the decks with music). Under the cloud of uncertainty, struck out in different directions, sampling different acts and enjoying the company of a rotating cast of characters in the casino (even playing a few $5 hands of blackjack, in between). Curious to see how many people showed up to see my buddies Seven Witches in the small club, ducked in for a few songs. Not that you can really see the band, apart from being one or two people back from the barricade. There were electric fans, at the foot of the stage, which blew guitarist Jack Frost's hair around, like an ‘80s video, especially during "Nature's Wrath". They juggled the running order from the previous set. Then it was on to the darkness of the blood splattered Finns in Moonsorrow, who share some members with countrymen Finntroll. Word came down that the 12:30 AM start for At The Gates' Slaughter Of The Soul set would be delayed by an hour. Eventually, there was a ship wide announcement, via the intercom system, "At The Gates will start in five minutes!" Logistically, probably not a good idea to send a thousand or more people, in one direction, on short notice. Metal Tim opted to go, I did not.

More Day 3 coverage at this location.

DAY 4

Didn't need reminding that today is Friday, but the floor mats in the elevator tell what day of the week it is, as things tend to run together. Feeling surprisingly good for the fourth and final day (fifth if you count the pre-gaming in Lauderdale, the night before we pushed off), but time to take inventory: Are there any bands missed, that "need" to be seen? Things get hectic, so make sure to say "goodbye" to musicians and friends, when you have the chance. Pack-up (suitcases have to be placed in the hallway, for pick-up and off-loading, unless you carry them yourself)...

As such, not a ton of early commitments. After a leisurely breakfast in Windjammer, the 11th deck buffet, where we eat all our meals (there are seated dining rooms, some requiring an additional charge: steakhouse, sushi bar, etc.), rather than check out the annual belly flop contest, took in a snippet of Edenbridge. Given the classical music history of cities like Vienna and Salzburg, not surprising the Austrians perform female-fronted symphonic metal. There was a Celtic lilt to "On The Other Side", the title track from last year's release, complete with piped in banjo/fiddle. There remained a strong, persistent breeze on the pool deck, where Orphaned Land were more in their element: bright sun and shirtless guitarists. Normally, all the drum/cymbal hardware has to be sandbagged on the deck, due to winds, but today, even Kobi Farhi‎'s mic stand had to be anchored down. 

Possessed were set to play in the theater, located on Deck 2, in the bow of the ship. As such, could really feel the vessel pitch and roll. Like Ace Frehley, "Trouble Walkin". The stage had scrims and a giant backdrop that Becerra and his leather gauntlet and studded crew couldn't use on deck. Tolling church bells and gurgling vocal atop a symphonic intro greeted the blackened stage. "Eyes Of Horror" and "Death Metal" were early favorites (both in terms of band chronology, and the day's running order). Loud, but not as bombastic as the outdoor gig, could still hear the buzz saw volume being ratcheted up, exponentially, throughout the set. Pre-recorded intro leads into "The Heretic", complete with whammy bar dive solo. The onslaught ended with "Burning In Hell". Would have thought Possessed, Exodus or some similarly evil sounding act would have been kings of the barricade crashers, but that title reigns elsewhere. Rumor suggests Trollfest might lay claim, but in terms of those personally witnessed, the crown (unexpectedly) belongs to Finntroll. The humppa Finns all wore black, while the crowd was sprinkled with purple unicorns and otherworldly characters, to say nothing of the floppy, elf eared musicians onstage. The cos-play kids (in full regalia, this being the last day of the cruise) invaded the stage front security barrier with the regularity of waves lapping (Lappland?) against the shore, i.e. non-stop.

In '89, Toxik released Think This, an album that fit nowhere. While a fury of technical riffs, not heavy enough for the thrash scene, and although high pitched/clean vocals, too intense for the mainstream crowd. Sort of a heavier Crimson Glory. Loved that record, especially the between track samples, providing (not so veiled) juxtaposition commentary. The straw cowboy hat might have been a little off-putting, especially for our European friends, but no qualms about the execution, focusing on material off said disc, although "Heart Attack" (off World Circus) appeared early in the set. Attendance at the second Soilwork gig was hampered by timing. The cafeteria/dining hall only reopens at 6:30 PM, so expect a crush of people. Thus, bands playing at that time are hamstrung by those seeking sustenance. They also butted up against Candlemass, on the back end. Still, the likes of "Nerve", "Full Moon Shoals" and the always impressive "Drowning With Silence" satiated the musical palette. 
 
For their encore performance, in the theater, Candlemass unleashed an avalanche bass sound, pounding off the chest, 50 yards away. The three tier, stadium seating did nothing to dissipate the pulverizing effect, as Seph and I watch (Tim had a press conference and the Captain's dinner). "Mirror Mirror" to open, the guitar tandem Mats Björkman and Lars Johansson playing off one another. A red lit "Bewitched" sees all but the drummer at stage edge, especially an energized Leif Edling (bass), all those months without being able to perform live seeming miles away. Mappe and Leif match bass/guitar chord on the purple/blue/aqua hued "Dark Are The Veils Of Death". Drums begin "Demon's Gate", the two guitars center stage. Leif purposefully kicks over Johan Längqvist's mic stand and commences the bottom end rumble. "Well Of Souls" segues into "Crystal Ball". Rather active, these Godfathers of Doom. Neither word epitomizes movement, but usually lethargy. Not today. The boat continued to lurch heavily. Was it the resonance from the Swedes? 

10 PM, the deck is dark, perfect aesthetic for Emperor. Ihsahn made repeated references to the "breeze" (which actually made it difficult to stand, if a sudden blast hit you unexpectedly). He even started a "Wind, wind, wind" chant. Thanks to gusts that felt like they were moving the ship sideways, the blue/green tinted "Thus Spake The Night Spirit" had wisps of stage fog whipped in as many chaotic directions as the music itself. Essentially the same Anthems set as on the first night, "The Majesty of the Nightsky" was inserted, once said album was completed. Conversely, Cronos decided to all but forego the old stuff (the ‘80s material which was packed into Venom's opening set), preferring to (sadly) concentrate on the post-Mantas/Abaddon era. 

Which only left Exodus, doing the complete Bonded By Blood album. Sure, it was with Zetro, but as he mentioned, once he joined the band, in '86, that was the only album they had (and of course he's sung most of those tracks, thousands of times, since then). A vinyl era release (lasts 40 minutes) is not enough for an hour-long festival set, so they'd augment the running order, with closing version of Metallica's "Motorbreath" and Saxon's "Princess Of The Night". However, the highlight remained those classic cuts. Good thing there's no wigs or hairpieces, as the wind blasted Gary Holt and Steve Souza's hair, alternately making them look like they'd been in a wind tunnel test, or Cousin Itt. Playing on his recently completed time in Slayer, Gary's guitar strap had an inverted cross, surrounded by the words, "Holt Awaits". A mix of green lights, swirling smoke, the band was frenzied, seemingly revitalized by getting to perform the milestone. During "And Then There Were None”, Zetro stalks the stage, as the two guitars and bass stand across the front. Holt gets an extended solo. During "Lesson In Violence", he and Lee Altus (ex-Heathen) trade solos. Between songs Zetro mentioned, "Three days ago, we started as bands and fans, but now we're one big metal family." Such is the informal interaction aboard ship. He also thanked security (who) "Let us smoke weed in our rooms." Especially since the cabins are supposed to be smoke-free, although a walk down the musicians' corridor quickly proved otherwise. "Metal Command" and original singer Paul Baloff-specialty "Piranha" quickly follow. The album running order intact, the final song of the night (and for most, the last song of the cruise, although Carach Angren did start, after Exodus finished) was "Toxic Waltz". One last chance to mosh, although that one means more to others, than it does me, especially given what we just witnessed/heard. Never can beat that original Exodus material!

Next year, 70000 Tons returns to Jamaica, will you be amongst them?

Featured Audio

NIGHTWISH – “Noise” (Nuclear Blast)

NIGHTWISH – “Noise” (Nuclear Blast)

Latest Reviews