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Rhapsody Of Fire, Sodom, Lacuna Coil Highlight Day One Of 70,000 Tons Of Metal

Photo of Lacuna Coil

Band Photo: Lacuna Coil (?)

When winter strikes the northern hemisphere, we know it’s time for our annual sojourn to the biggest and best floating festival on earth – 70,000 Tons of Metal. Back on its third different boat in three years, Ultimate Metal Cruises returns to destroy the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean with the most diverse and powerful lineup in its sixth voyage. This year, the boat returned to Jamaica, but a different port – Falmouth. Last year, a disastrous blizzard it the Northeast U.S. leaving many stranded on the beaches of Ft. Lauderdale upon return to Port Everglades, something I surely hope wouldn’t happen (he says with tongue firmly planted in cheek).

For lovers of all metal, you can find something to latch on to:

• Death metal fans could find solace in bands like Bloodbath, Incantation, Fallujah, Ghoul and Dia De Los Muertas.

• Those fond of melodic death metal can find inner peace with greats At the Gates, Children of Bodom, Starkill and Insomnium.

• Doom metal was well represented with Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre and My Dying Bride.

• For the symphonic death metal lover, you can’t get much better than Rotting Christ, Epica and Fleshgod Apocalypse.

• The power metal warrior in all of us is appeased by Rhapsody of Fire, HammerFall, Stratovarius, Twilight Force and DragonForce.

• Symphonic metal is represented with Delain and Visions of Atlantis.

• Those with traditional tastes are awakened by Diamond Head, Jag Panzer and Squealer.

• The thrash metal fiends can circle pit to Sodom, Krisiun, Vader, Distillator and Nervosa.

• Black metal fans seeking a frosty winter blast can reach to Aura Noir, Belphagor, Carach Angren, Thyrfing and Tsjuder.

• However, the feast that awaited the folk metal lover was unmatched in 2016 with Turisas, Tyr, Skalmold, Arkona, Abinchova, Subway to Sally and one of the best live acts on the planet Eluveitie.

• Then there is Samael, originally a black metal act turned techno/industrial metal giant.

In my fourth year on the cruise, there is a feeling of being a “veteran.” Well beyond the years of a newbie, once you master the locations of the venues, thinking on the fly when it comes to which bands to cover and finding time to eat or sleep, you reach that status. Two years into the switch to 60 bands and a bigger boat, 2016 finds the floating festival on the Independence of the Seas, sister ship to 2015’s Liberty of the Seas.

I for one was partial to Majesty of the Seas, the smaller, now retired vessel that was so identified in with the cruise. Its pool deck was masterful – allowing the viewer to see the pool deck shows from anywhere on the top deck. With Liberty of the Seas in 2015, the pool deck was “half” the size with the other half blocked by a bar, so it felt a little cramped, though the multi-levels overlooking the bigger stage was quite cool. The real problem in 2015 was the cancellation of all pool deck shows from 10am-5pm, due to high winds. With Majesty, the pool deck was completed the first night, even if an hour or two late.

This year, I was hoping the hardest working crew at sea would have better luck. Won’t find out until Friday and there was a full slate of metal shows running all night at the boat’s other venues: the fantastic stage of the Alahambra Theater (known last year as the Platinum Theater and previous years as the Chorus Line), the boat’s most fun place – Studio B – The Ice Rink and the dreaded Pyramid Lounge (known last year as the Sphinx Lounge – or “Sphincter” by fans – and previous years as Spectrum Lounge).

With an eye towards avoiding the Pyramid Lounge unless forced to attend, I plotted my path through the running order, which was surprisingly available two days prior to my flight to Ft. Lauderdale. The chances of it happening with no changes was greater than Cam Newton’s chances of not allowing nervousness to cloud his play at the upcoming Super Bowl. It was just physics…and inevitable.

At least this night there wouldn’t be any delays or issues and the night consisted of: Raven, Ancient Rites, maybe DragonForce, At the Gates, Lacuna Coil, Sodom, Iced Earth, Katatonia, Rhapsody of Fire, Tyr and then if I could make it: Thyrfing and Insomnium.

Raven have always been a favorite of mine – the Gallagher brothers having been in the metal side of my life for as long as I’ve been into it. It’s surreal that not only do I get opportunities to see them, cover them, shoot pics of them in my 40’s, but I know John and his wife Melanie personally, and consider them friends. Long past are the days when Raven are a “UK” band – having moved to the Mid-Atlantic some time ago. Raven is now – in my opinion – a U.S. band.
Despite all the young acts on board that play with a ferocious appetite, the Gallagher brothers and Baron Hasselvander still rock harder and expend more energy then the younger acts. Mark and John have some trademark live moves – most notably the “axe fight” when the duo crosses bass with guitar in a live battle. The band rifled through classics like “Hard Ride,” “Live at the Inferno” and “On and On.” They were the perfect opening act for this cruise.

Ancient Rites – the Belgian epic extreme band – was an interesting choice for viewing. Not an enormous fan of the band, I do happen to own the band’s latest “Laguz” and the last album “Rubicon.” Vocalist Gunther Theys played right into the Ice Rink crowd with the band’s highly unique style. Guitarist Erik Sprooten has the leather and spikes of an old school 80’s metal warrior. The balanced sound fluctuating between black metal and melody went over quite well with the crowd and it was a lot of fun to watch their entire set.

I headed to Alhambra to catch and shoot a few tracks of DragonForce. The place was packed, but there seemed to be a delay. I watched the clock since if it was this busy here, I really wanted to be back at the Ice Rink to see At the Gates, fearing the photo pit would have its largest concentration of photographers. Fearing the delay here would be lengthy, I headed out – but caught a glimpse of Visions of Atlantis frontman Siegfried Sammer, who I stopped to chat with. He was seated with Firewind frontman Henning Basse and drummer Johan Nunez, both of whom I previously met at ProgPower USA – Henning in 2012 with Mayan and Johan in 2015 with Dragonland. As a matter of fact, I shared the stage with Johan and Dragonland, so it was fun to catch up.

I headed back for At the Gates, later learning that Dragonforce had issues with ear monitors and managed to pull off only one song, so the cruises first rescheduling would take place. I sure hope it would be the last. When I left Siegfried, I said “see you at 10am on the pool deck…IF its ready, and that’s a big IF.” The past can jade a fan…

At the Gates, recently resurrected with the return in 2014 of the stellar “At War With Reality,” was a must see for me. The rink was packed, but I managed to be one of the first in the pit. The band commanded the stage and crowd, with Tomas Lindberg full of glorious energy. “Death and the Labyrinth” started off the set (from “At War With Reality”). 1995’s “Slaughter of the Soul” was well represented with the title track, “Suicide Nation,” “Under a Serpent Sun” and “Blinded By Fear.” The rest of the set was tunes from “At War With Reality,” including “The Circular Ruins,” “Heroes and Tombs,” “The Book of Sand” and ending with “The Night Eternal.”

I skipped must see Twilight Force at the Pyramid Lounge in favor of At the Gates, hoping to catch their set on the pool deck on Day 4. What could go wrong, the pool deck had to be ready by Sunday?

So back Alhambra to catch Italy’s Lacuna Coil – a band I haven’t seen since the first cruise I attended in 2013. They were amazing then and remain so. Having split with long time guitar team of Cristiano Migliore and Marco Biazzi, the band tapped Los Angeles native Daniel Sahagun (who also filled in on bass for the band in 2014). Lacuna Coil is currently putting the finishing touches on the upcoming new release “Delirium” after the highly successful “Broken Crown Halo” release in 2014.

As always, the band puts on a high energy show featuring one of the best male/female duo in the business – Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro. Alternative metal styles are hit or miss with me, and Lacuna Coil has always been a hit. The interactions with Scabbia and Ferro are infectious and the band has a unique ability to draw out the fans energy rather than just feed off of it. The set was dominated by tracks from “Broken Crown Halo” – featuring “Die & Rise,” “Victims,” “Cybersleep,” “Zombies” and “Nothing Stands in Our Way.” The band opened with “Trip the Darkness” and “Kill the Light” – the only two from 2012’s “Dark Adrenaline.”

I left just a little bit before the end of the set to witness one of my “bucket list” bands – Sodom. Here is another act that has eluded me despite having a lifelong obsession. “Persecution Mania,” “Better Off Dead” and “Agent Orange” all rank in my Top Albums of all time. The band is still firing on all cylinders with the latest full length “Epitome of Torture” (2013). Like Destruction last year, I can finally check off the another of the Big 4 of German Teutonic Thrash (Tankard the only one left) from my list of to be seen live.

The three piece blasted through such pure thrash classics as “Outbreak of Evil,” “Blasphemer,” “Remember the Fallen,” “Nuclear Winter” and closer “Bombenhagel.” Newer tracks like “Sacred Warpath,” “Stigmatized” and “My Final Bullet” sounded fresh and killer mixed with the old, proving Sodom remains timeless and true. 2001’s “M-16” was represented with “Napalm in the Morning” and the cover of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” combined with the “Better Off Dead” classic “Saw is the Law” for the “Surfin’ Saw” amalgamation. The highlight of the set was the fan assisted Lemmy tribute of “Iron Fist,” a song that is just as identifiable with Sodom as it is Motorhead. The band was exactly as great live as I envisioned before this night.

The marathon continued back at Alhambra with Iced Earth. After such excitement with “Dystopia” in 2011, the less than thrilling Stu Block follow up “Plagues of Babylon” in 2014 soured my interest somewhat. Still though, Iced Earth has never disappointed live. It was good to see Stu cut back the beard a bit. The resemblance to Zakk Wylde has been getting a bit creepy over the last few years. Seeing Brent Smedley back behind the kit was a pleasure.

The set started with “Plagues of Babylon” and the album favorite “Demoncide” before back tracking through such classics like “Burning Times,” “The Hunter,” “Damien,” “Vengeance Is Mine” and “My Own Savior.” “Days of Rage” – the 2 minute blaster from “Dystopia” was the highlight for me, since the only song from either “Iced Earth” or “Night of the Stormrider” came from “Pure Evil.” This first set left me hoping for better in set two on Sunday.

I bounced back to the ice rink to snap a few shots of Katatonia. I’ve never been a huge fan of the band, nor have I understood the lure. I do enjoy some of the material, but if you are heading to see them for a thrilling engaging energetic performance – you picked the wrong subgenre. A few photos are all I needed – since Jonas Renkse has his old man Ozzy Osbourne look and style down pat. After a few it becomes repetition. Time for the highlight of my evening.

2016 presents an opportunity for the planets to align that allow me to witness both Rhapsody of Fire and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody twice in the same year. It has been far too long since I’ve seen Alex Staropoli’s Rhapsody Of Fire (last time when the band toured with Australia’s Voyager) and I was super excited to see the band with Turilli heir apparent, Roberto Di Micheli. The band is firing on all cylinders, having just released “Into the Legend,” arguably the band’s best effort in many years.

Fabio Lione can command a stage like few others in the world – from his presence, movements, voice and ability to get the crowd pumped. Many fans who poke fun at the band’s lyrical content filled with dragons, warriors, elves and unicorns still find themselves spellbound by this band’s driving rhythms and sing-a-long choruses. Lione is a pleasure and an honor to watch and shoot and it still amazes me how his voice remains so incredible strong after so many years and so many cigarettes. He defies all logic and all critics and my admiration grows each time I get to see him.

“Distant Sky” and “Into the Legend” were the two new ones of the set. The inclusion of “Reign of Terror” (as it turns out in both sets) was the most appealing for me. That song is one of the heaviest and deadliest in the Rhapsody of Fire catalog and to hear Fabio sing the near black metal style verses is such a treat. Other classics in the set included: “Unholy Warcry,” “Holy Thunderforce,” “Dawn of Victory,” “March of the Swordmaster,” “Village of Dwarves” and “Emerald Sword.” It was a perfect set for this night and the band sounded brilliant. This particular set pretty much made this cruise – and it was only the first night.

Growing a little tired from lack of sleep, I headed to grab a few slices from the 24 hour pizza place on the promenade and then decided my only shot at seeing Tyr (due to scheduling) was now – so I headed back to the ice rink.

Tyr has always fascinated me. Here is a band with sound that is both basic but askew. I remember reviewing “The Lay of Thrym” and describing band’s sound as power metal played at a 20-degree angle. The sound is so identifiable and unique and the band is pretty incredible live. The highlight of the set was “Hold the Heathen Hammer High.”

This was by far the best first night of the four cruises I attended. But it was time to turn in…tomorrow would prove to be a very long and very productive day. Let’s just hope the pool deck is ready by 10am!

Do not miss out when the 2017 installment of 70,000 Tons Of Metal departs for Haiti on February 2-6, 2017. Ticket prices include all on board entertainment, most non-alcoholic and non-carbonated beverages, all meals in the dining rooms, most on board restaurants and even 24 hour room service. For more information or to book your high seas metal adventure, head on over to 70000tons.com.

CROMCarl's avatar

Carl Frederick the content manager for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.

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