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The 70,000 Ton Hangover: Reflections On Three Days Of Metal At Sea

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Band Photo: Behemoth (?)

Can 21st-century metalheads ever be truly happy if they’re not bitching about something on the web?

The pointless arguments over bands’ music, which mostly boil down to matters of taste, are exhausting enough. And there’s a simple solution to dissatisfaction with a particular tour package: stay home and masturbate.

But complaining about festival lineups? Really?

I have some news for you, sport: the only Perfect Metal Festival Lineup, which exists only in an individual’s imagination, attracts an audience of one. Your Perfect Lineup is different from mine.

There needs to be a common denominator, a compromise. I don’t know about you, but when I’m not basking in my serene, elite metal knowledge via trve and righteous, smarmy and self-congratulatory screeds on Facebook, I actually enjoy watching a live show in the company of others. And in reaching the compromise to make that social event possible, everyone’s Perfect Lineup inevitably becomes less than perfect. Such is the transition from fantasy to reality.

In the process, like small children finally realizing that vegetables aren’t going to kill them, we learn that the reality is almost always better than the fantasy (discounting the fact that the latter doesn’t exist). MTV’s Butt-Head once mused on this very issue: “If nothing sucked, and everything was, like, cool all the time… how would you KNOW it was cool?”

At a several-day festival with dozens of bands on multiple stages, we NEED at least a handful of acts we know we can ignore. Otherwise, think of the immense pressure to be constantly on our feet, rushing back and forth, watching every equally important band with rapt attention. Even if possible, it would be simply overwhelming. We’d pass out from exhaustion and forget to enjoy ourselves. Plus, the truly special acts wouldn’t seem as special.

Last summer at Tuska Open Air in Helsinki, rather than bitch about the injustice of Bring Me The Horizon directly preceding Anthrax, I was grateful for the chance to relax and have a beer before catching a show by one of the Big Four.

Last month at sea on the fifth annual 70,000 Tons Of Metal, it was a little trickier. Of all the world’s metal festivals, this floating event probably comes the closest to matching the fantasy, or at least it did this year. The reason, aside from the idyllic Caribbean setting, lies in sheer numbers. A sixty-band roster, jammed with as many prominent names as our tireless promoter could manage. Too many amazing bands and too little time.

And you know what? Were each band not playing TWO sets apiece, I might’ve opted for the mundane reality over this near-fantasy. We sometimes speak of “too much vacation.” Well, this came dangerously close to “too much metal to handle over one weekend.”

Take the first evening alone - Thursday, January 22. When acts such as Therion, Annihilator, Arch Enemy, Kataklysm, Apocalyptica, and Korpiklaani play overlapping sets in two different venues - and you’re already exhausted from the laborious process of boarding Royal Caribbean’s mammoth LIBERTY OF THE SEAS - you have some sacrifices to make. And that’s not even counting the Sphynx Lounge (quickly dubbed “Sphincter,” simultaneously, by just about everybody) or the Pool Deck stage.

“PLEASE BE PATIENT WHILE WE ARE BUILDING THE WORLD’S LARGEST OPEN AIR STAGE STRUCTURE TO SAIL THE OPEN SEAS,” implored Thursday’s schedule in the official "70k" brochure. A quick peek topside Friday morning made it clear that the Pool Deck stage would not be finished in time.

While the delays provided a welcome respite from the constant pressure to be everywhere at once, they played havoc with the set schedules, rendering the brochure essentially useless. We awoke each morning to find freshly printed revised schedules poking beneath our cabin doors. The first batch of Pool Deck sets that Friday - Trollfest, Corrosion Of Conformity, Destruction, In Extremo, and Amorphis - all were shoehorned in amongst Saturday’s activity.

The point is, there is simply no way to see and experience everything that 70,000 Tons Of Metal has to offer; you’ll die trying. And the pressure to try is enormous, especially for Americans. The rare opportunity to catch plum underground European acts was elusive, always shifting, and dependent on one’s dedication to being in the right place at just the right time. The cascade of rescheduled shows triggered by the numerous delays only turned up the pressure.

Do I watch Soulfly on deck now or in the Platinum Theater in two days? Do I watch Venom play a set of classics, or wait for them to debut their full new album “From The Very Depths?” Where will the tremendous epic sound barrage of Wintersun or Behemoth sound better - indoors or outdoors? If I rest between Primal Fear and Alestorm, will I be up to catching Melechesh’s second set at the “Sphincter?” Or if I am, what if that conflicts with Soulfly’s second?

Where will I fit in Whiplash? Jungle Rot? God Dethroned? And on, and on, and on.

And if I missed Alestorm the first time, do I really want to stay up until 5am Monday morning - their second set was the last to be rescheduled, on account of a hangover, natch - mere hours before returning to port?

These types of questions dogged us for 87 hours on the water. For someone like me, who wishes desperately to watch as many bands and soak in as much molten metal as humanly possible (with a handful of exceptions), answering them was a painful ordeal. If you’re the picky type - the person who doesn’t feel complete without loudly announcing his disapproval of this band and that, lest his standards of purity be questioned - it was easier.

So why complain about bands, folks? Regardless of your level of discrimination, you’re going to be forced to make sacrifices anyway. Plus, after less than twelve hours on 70,000 Tons Of Metal, no matter who you are, you soon learn that it’s not even about the lineup. Not completely.

It’s about standing in a two-berth cabin with three other guys, scratching your heads while trying to work out just how to sleep four without things getting weird (luckily, an empty cabin was provided).

It’s about standing at your emergency muster station in the packed Sphincter Lounge prior to sailing time, struggling in vain to hear the garbled safety drill instructions through the semi-functioning portable P.A. Eventually you and the strangers around you are forced to start cracking jokes: “So why do they gather us together down BELOWdecks… so we won’t have to drown and die alone?”

Side note: it was generally agreed that having George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher on hand to translate the crew’s instructions into Metal would’ve been a nice touch.

It’s about chanting in unison with a couple thousand other metal fans lining the railing, “YOUR SHIP SUCKS!” at passing vessels as you exit Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades.

It’s about vacating your seat at Studio B - a converted ice rink - just before Riot finishes, whisking past a series of oversized portholes just above the churning waterline, hopping on an elevator topside, watching the last of Cannibal Corpse with a piña colada in your hand, darting back onto the elevator, and breezing into the Platinum Theater at the last second to catch the entirety of Amorphis’ “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” performance.

It’s about exiting the crowded restroom an hour later, and watching in horror as an inebriated fan stumbles past you on his way inside - oblivious to the Niagara Falls of urine already streaming down his legs. It’s about screaming a warning to hundreds of passersby about the river of yellow puddled across the marbled floor.

It’s about hopping in the fast-moving line at Sorrento’s Pizza, one of the dozens of storefronts on the main promenade deck, on the hurried migration between sets. Snatching up a couple slices, wolfing them down, then cutting in line to snatch up a couple more. You’re fueled for the next couple bands.

It’s about downing that extra drink for a liquid blanket against the chill, and brushing your face clear of your hair as it whips around in the salty sea breeze, as Blind Guardian leads hundreds in a “Valhalla” singalong.

By the end of a jaunt on 70,000 Tons Of Metal, if you’ve applied yourself properly, you won’t even remember whose sets you watched in full and whose you glimpsed for a mere couple songs. It shouldn’t really matter, because it all starts to blend together. So do the bar tabs; with continuous concerts comes continuous imbibing, leaving your wallet hundreds of dollars lighter - guaranteed.

But that doesn’t matter either (you saved up specifically for this trip, right?). The very surreal nature of the event - a heavy metal festival on a luxury ship at sea - both overrides all landlubber concerns and, at the same time, imprints each special (or trivial) moment on your mind and memory that much firmer.

This was my second time aboard “70k.” My first was in 2013, the third annual trip, aboard MAJESTY OF THE SEAS. Prior, my only cruise had been Christmas 2004 aboard MARINER OF THE SEAS. A plain old cruise. Among other ports, this one stopped in Jamaica, as did LIBERTY (though 2015 did not afford me the time to disembark).

I’d come down with a fever the first night out. The next day, recovering, I took a stroll around the deck for some therapeutic sea air. In my pocket was a Discman (remember them?). In the Discman was a copy of Kataklysm’s then-new “Serenity In Fire” I’d bought at Borders (remember them?) a few days previous.

I leaned against the rail at the forecastle - the fabled “King of the World” spot - and, overcoming my terror of ledges, stuck my head out, focusing on nothing but the sea gliding swiftly beneath me. In my ears blasted “The Ambassador Of Pain.” In my brain niggled the recurring thought: “I HAVE to see these guys live.”

And I did, many times, since then. But if you’d told me, then, that over ten years later, I’d be watching said band perform those very songs on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship… I flat-out would not have believed you.

In light of this kind of magic, engaging in typical metalhead nitpicky bitchfests over festival lineups seems silly, and, in the end, futile. Regardless of lineup or vessel, this event offers more than enough for everyone.

As evidenced by the endless array of sunken, droopy, agonized faces in the debarkation queue Monday morning, January 26. Musician, fan, or otherwise - those who rage together, crash together.

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a native Virginia writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine.

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2 Comments on "The 70,000 Ton Hangover"

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deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

1. deathbringer writes:

Nicely written! And I completely agree with your bottom line and say the same often: "Regardless of lineup or vessel, this event offers more than enough for everyone." I don't even care where we docked or if the lineup could have been better, or the stage done on time. It was still a blast.

# Feb 19, 2015 @ 9:20 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
CROMCarl's avatar

Writer/photographer

2. CROMCarl writes:

As always....excellent. It was a pleasure to be there again with you and Doug.

# Feb 19, 2015 @ 10:25 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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