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Samael, Moonspell, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Eluveitie And So Many More Cap The Longest Day - Day Two Of 70,000 Tons Of Metal

Photo of Cradle Of Filth

Band Photo: Cradle Of Filth (?)

I woke around 7am – excited for what was not only the first full day of the cruise…but what I hoped would be the most concerts I’ve ever attended in any single day of my life. It was all mapped out…but the question is – would the pool deck be ready?

I headed up to Deck 12 to assess the situation…and once I made it to the yellow police tape, I realized – here we go again. In 2015, the high winds at sea forced the crew to abandon building the pool deck stage (the largest at sea) until the morning. It took them until 6pm to get it ready for Soulfly’s set, forcing all other shows to be reworked indoors. This year, the plan going in seemed to be to rework the shows where available – likely at the end of the evening within the venues inside. I recalled my joke to Siegfried Sammer of Visions of Atlantis – “I’ll see you at 10am…IF – and that’s a big IF…the pool deck is ready.” Well, it appears the jinx was on because Visions of Atlantis would be bumped to Saturday. The guard told me that 11:30am was the target time for completion, which is still way better than 2015.

I headed back in for breakfast and then to dump some of my photos to my external photo drive. I planned to skip the Dutch thrash act Distillator and catch them on their second set, but since there was a ton of free time and I was itching to check out as many shows as I could, I headed down to the Alhambra to check them out. I had heard their 2015 debut “Revolutionary Cells” and it reminded me of pure Destruction, right down to the Schmier screams.

When I arrived, the band was in full swing, and not shockingly the band was the same make up and style as the German legends (who incidentally, played 70k last year). This style of thrash has always been a favorite of mine – old school, German style with ripping riffs, wailing screams and ridiculous amounts of hooks. Distillator was a pleasant surprise as they filled the biggest void (if any) on the boat – old school thrash. The band played eight of the nine tracks from “Revolutionary Cells” and it was an honor to witness it!

I headed back up to check on the progress of the pool deck situation. At first, it was still closed and talking to event security, it appeared its opening was imminent. I went back to the room to switch batteries and get ready for the long day. By the time I came back, Holy Moses was in full swing as the first pool deck act. A shortened set was on tap, but that didn’t diminish the intensity of the legendary Sabina Classen, a stalwart and pioneer for women in metal. Though she may be in her 50’s now, Classen still rocks it harder and louder than so many others.

Most people highlight the career of Doro Pesch – and rightfully so – but Sabina Classen has one just as storied (35 years), though somewhat “lesser known.” Holy Moses is kind of the “anti-Doro” musically, an acquired taste among many metalheads who prefer cleaner vocal styles and more traditional sounds. The band is rooted in punk and early thrash and Classen has a harsh, often guttural voice. This was another “bucket list” band for me – one that had been around my metal life for its existence, but a first in live exposure. They were a pleasure to experience.

I headed down to the room to do a quick change out and prepare for Gamma Ray’s pool deck set (which was flip flopped with Subway to Sally in a non-impactful scheduling change). I was so excited to see Kai again – especially now that he has relinquished part of the vocal duties to new member Frank Beck. Issues ensued on the pool deck again for this – the second set since work was completed. The side banners appeared to be an issue in the high winds, something the crew would repair at the port in Jamaica tomorrow.

Sadly, Gamma Ray’s set was shortened a bit, but it didn’t dampen my excitement in the warm Caribbean sun. Kai is such a legend and to see him and the band again…well, it’s been way too long. Even my strong desire to never hear Helloween’s “I Want Out” again in my life by either Gamma Ray or Helloween, didn’t detract from sheer pleasure of witnessing one of the best German power metal acts out there. In fact, it was a relief to hear the song with Frank Beck – who nearly gave the well overused song new life. The band excited the large crowd that gathered with such greats as “Somewhere Out in Space” and “To the Metal.” The party was definitely in full swing now!

I skipped Susperia’s ice rink performance (a regret) in favor of seeing modern folk favorite Subway to Sally on the pool deck. It was a decision I came to regret, for my Susperia live experience still alludes me. Subway to Sally was on the boat a few years back and they are fantastic live….so I wasn’t going to miss them any chance I could get.

The pool deck – primarily filled with Germans – were there to root on the pride of Potsdam. Eric Fish is a dominant frontman – sporting his trademark shorter blond hair locked in by a wide black headband. The band – in the vein of Eluveiite – is numerous and extremely fun to watch, with instruments ranging from guitars to lutes, to violins, mandolins, flutes, tin whistles, bagpipes, a two string bass and the hurdy gurdy. I sure wish I took German in college, because in as much as I love the music, it would be great to sing along one day.

I headed back down to the Alhambra Theater to catch Moonspell performing the phenomenal “irreligious” album in full. As I entered the theater, the band was already in full swing. Just as I entered the photo pit, vocalist Fernando Ribeiro was introducing guest vocalist Mariangela Demurtas (Tristania) – a very pleasant surprise. She assisted in the performance of “Raven Claws.” Of all the times I have seen Moonspell – this was the finest performance. The stage was perfect, the set up was perfect, the sound was divine and the lighting was awesome. One of the best performances on the boat.

But I have seen Moonspell a bunch, and I didn’t want to miss the mighty HammerFall on the pool deck, a band that I had still never seen. As I reached Deck 12 and came outside, I saw my friend David and we ran into Rhapsody of Fire frontman Fabio Lione, who was trying to light a cigarette in the high winds. I huddled in with him to assist and when successful it sparked a 20 minute candid conversation ranging from what happened with Kamelot to how he introduced Alessandro Conti to Luca Turilli. It’s no secret that I’m a Rhapsody fan boy and Fabio is my favorite vocalist, and all this conversation served to accomplish is deepening that love I have.

HammerFall’s set was already a couple of songs in. Only a conversation with Fabio could prevent me stopping and running to make that first song. I came into the pit during “Any Means Necessary” and stood in awe of another favorite singer – Joacim Cans. I chuckle when friends talk about how “he has lost his voice” over the years. Cans was dead on and perfect and was a sincere honor to watch. The band promised a 70% change in set to at the Alhambra on Saturday night, but I was very happy with hearing tracks like “Blood Bound,” “Last Man Standing,” “Let the Hammer Fall,” “HammerFall,” “Threshold” and the newer track “Bushido.”

HammerFall was cheesy power metal greatness at its best. Just the rhythmic and synchronized headbanging from guitarists Oscar Dronjak, Pontus Norgren and bassist Fredrik Larsson was incredible fun to watch, reminiscent of mid-80’s Accept. The Swedes remain one of the best power metal bands out there, especially with the re-dedication to the pure sound of the band’s early days (declared before the release of the latest album “(r)Evolution”). They love what they do despite certain fans that poke fun and they are completely unapologetic about it – a trait I live by.

I headed back to Alhambra for Bloodbath’s first set. The Swedish death metal machine was made up of a bunch of musicians pulling double duty, including vocalist Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost), bassist Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) and Anders Nystrom (Katatonia). Outside of Paradise Lost’s re-incorporation of the old death doom sound on the latest album “The Plague Within,” this supergroup represents the pure death metal outlet of Katatonia’s Renkse and Nystrom, a stark difference from the depressive, often boring rock of their main act.

Covered in blood and drenched in red light, the atmosphere was perfect for the style of satanic gore death metal spewed forth by the band. Per Eriksson’s look was perfect – shirtless, drenched in blood and skeleton thin to the point where I wished someone would order the poor guy a plate of hamburgers. Remember the corpse that Hellboy conjured out of the grave in Russia, which he slapped on his back as a guide? Just add stick legs and a penchant for spastic movements and you pretty much have the visual. Holmes was a black gown and upside down cross away from his normal street clothes look with Paradise Lost. Oddly, with the base of his mic stand broken off by pure accident, it added to the effect appearing like a monopod or a spear. The band was great to watch, but don’t expect a whole lot of movement on stage, except from Eriksson.

I headed to the ice rink to witness the mighty Jag Panzer, one of my all-time favorite bands (and favorite U.S. metal band short of Twisted Sister). I hadn’t seen them since 1998 in New York City, when I was a lot younger and half the size. At the time, they were opened for Iced Earth, so the coincidence of having both on the boat didn’t allude me. I know guitarist Mark Briody and vocalist Harry Conklin, so my early arrival resulted in a chat with the guys at sound check. I was a bit alarmed at the lack of people who showed up, but by the time the band hit the stage, it filled in nicely.

Jag had a set list right out of my heart – mixing “Ample Destruction” classics like “Licensed to Kill” and “Warfare” with “Age Of Mastery” classics “Iron Eagle,” “Lustful and Free” and “Iron Eagle.” Intermixed were “Black” (from “The Fourth Judgment”), “The Mission” (from “Casting the Stones”), “Death Row” (from “Jag Panzer” EP) and “Chain of Command” (last re-recorded on “The Age of Mastery”). The band was as energetic and amazing as the last time I saw them, as if age didn’t even factor. The Tyrant Harry Conkin is such an engaging frontman – eliciting the crowd’s attention with both force and humor. The guitar duo of Mark Briody and Joey Tafola is unmatched in U.S. metal. What a performance – one worth the wait. As a matter of fact, the only band merch I purchased on the boat was Jag’s 70k special long sleeve shirt – a most fitting piece to my vast collection.

Back to Alhambra for the first of two Stratovarius sets. In terms of Euro-power metal, it really gets no better than this Finnish act. I’ve been a fan since I purchased the Japanese pressing of “Fright Night” back in 1989, when Timo Tolkki was vocalist and guitarist. Though time and age didn’t play well with Tolkki’s psyche, ever since “Polaris” in 2009 and the addition of Tolkki’s replacement Matias Kupiainen, I would dare to argue that the band has never been better, more stable and is literally on one of the best hot streaks of amazing albums in the genre. The band’s performance at ProgPower USA in 2014 was one of my favorite live performances. There they performed “Visions” in full.

I got prime position in the pit and waited for the band to emerge to “My Eternal Dream” (from the latest album “Eternal”). The nine song set – “shortened” to accommodate the epic 12 minute “Lost Saga” (much to my glee) – was littered with classics. “S.O.S.” “Against the Wind,” “Hunting High and Low” and “Phoenix” anchored the classics. Newer classics like “Unbreakable” and “Shine in the Dark” fit right in to perfection, proving that Kupiainen is indeed the savior. Timo Kotipelto sounded majestic and there is no more fun keyboardist to watch than the legendary Jens Johansson – complete with his illuminated rubber ducky laden keyboard. I never pass up any opportunities to see the band, since U.S. tours and appearances are so few and far between.

Oddly, I skipped out on one of my favorite bands – Epica – on the pool deck (which I’ve come to regret, since it involved an appearance of Eluveitie’s Shir-Ran Yinon on violin for the perforamance of “Quietus”) and Rotting Christ at the ice rink. Fatigue and hunger were the leading causes – so I took a little break to recharge and capture a second wind for Eluveitie at the Alhambra.

The running theme in my reports is “never pass up the opportunities” to see some of the best live bands you will ever see in heavy metal. Nothing fits that credo to a tee than Eluveitie – the Swiss folk juggernaut which reaches the top echelon best live bands in every year I’ve seen them. Absent regular bassist Key Brem – the band enlisted the assistance of Skalmold’s Snæbjörn Ragnarsson. His jeans and barefoot appearance fit perfect with the earthly rooted music of the band.

There is just something about the variety of instruments (many of which are tethered to vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann’s mic stand) and myriad of fantastic musicians that grace the stage that sets Eluveitie apart from so many acts. Combine this with a great love of the music they perform and such an incredible appreciation for the fans that propelled them into this position. Eluveitie sports one of the most talented women in heavy metal – Anna Murphy. Her vocal style and stunning hurdy gurdy are the glue which holds this band together. Chrigel is larger than life…and his sincerity and love for what he does is perhaps the biggest thing fans take away from his performance, even if the music doesn’t grab you (which I would find highly improbable). Eluveitie doesn’t just perform…the band unites us, reminding the world how strong the power of peace and love is. I don’t just “like” Eluveitie – I adore them.

With all intentions to shoot the pool deck set of Cradle of Filth, here is where my one gripe with 70k comes out. It seems that when “bigger named” acts hit the pool deck at night – there is a slight change in the security procedures. Over the years, I have befriended many of the event security at this event, so I’ve have learned to appreciate their guidance and rely on their amazing security while shooting in the pit. Occasionally, there are some snags, but usually for good reason. The usual procedure for a photo journalist is that “anything goes” – within reason. Because of the fact that it takes an inordinate amount of stamina and determination to properly cover this event, 70k is the only one where I expect to get into the pit for some portion of a set, no matter what point I arrive. Then there are those few times where I am shut out – and the communication from security is “it’s the band’s management” that is the cause, while the band’s management says “it’s security in the pit.” Regardless, every year it seems that night time “prime time” sets on the pool deck always result in gaps in coverage. Enter Cradle of Filth….where my intention was to capture this performance to skip the second on Sunday in favor of another act. It didn’t go as planned – since I was “too late” to get into the crowded pit. Oh well….

I took another opportunity to take a little break – so I headed towards Alhambra with the full expectation of covering Children of Bodom. As I passed Sorrento’s pizza, I ran into Jag Panzer’s Mark Briody – and I had one of the loveliest conversations of the entire trip. We spoke at length about personal “off the record” items, as well as what is going on in Jag Panzer camp with a new record, which Mark reported was about half written at this point. I didn’t feel so bad about missing out on Children of Bodom, not when I get an opportunity to speak with one of the genuine greats in the industry.

I made it in time to be one of the first in line for Paradise Lost’s pool deck set. Oddly, the rules were back to normal and I was able to capture what I needed from the U.K. doom legends. When
I entered the pit, I took a look at the set list and was floored….”Shades of God,” “As I Die,” “Tragic Idol”…..good lord. Five minutes later, a crew member with a Sharpie crossed out all three – victims of delays and bands running over. Still though – “Gothic,” “Widow,” “The Painless” and “Enchantment” were formidable tracks from the band’s back catalogue. The remaining tracks were primarily from the stunning latest album “The Plague Within” (a top five for 2015 in my book): “No Hope in Sight,” “Terminal,” “Victim of the Past,” “Flesh From Bone,” “Beneath Broken Earth.”

Despite the cuts, the band performed brilliantly. Though not much of a “stage performance” can be found – as the most of the members stand still – Paradise Lost is all about the music. The material was bone crushing, melancholy and melodic with a touch of gothic death that makes the band one of the most unique on the planet. They only thing that could have topped this would be to see them as they performed with the Orchestra of State Opera Plovdiv in Bulgaria at that gorgeous outdoor stadium built on the ruins of the Ancient Theater in Bulgaria. No complaint though…I was mesmerized by this brilliant band.

Fatigue of a very long day was setting in now – but one of my primary goals was to catch the pool deck set of Fleshgod Apocalypse to obtain full photographic glory since the second set was at the dreaded Pyramid Lounge. There was only one thing that would propel me into that third and fourth wind – my #2 bucket list band Samael. Here is another band that I spent a lifetime waiting to see. Even though this is not the first trip to the U.S. (ok…international waters), nor the band’s first time on the boat, they alluded me. The perfect marriage between techno, industrial and black metal was about to finally come to fruition for your author at the Alhambra.

When I watched YouTube videos from Samael’s last performance on the boat, it was strange to see them in “street attire.” Grown accustomed to the “uniform” look of the “Slavocracy” video, I was half expecting that appearance. When the band hit the theater this year….that’s precisely what I got! Vocalist/guitarist Vorph was in full dress uniform and Marco “Makro” Rivao was decked in black with his face painted half black/half white. The band was as stunning visually as they are musically. It was very hard to keep my camera steady as I battled the fan within, who just wanted to rock out and rock out hard. After a few songs of shooting…it was time to do just that.

When I exited the pit – with camera dangling to the side – I used all the reserved energy from the entire day to explode with a self-contained zone of rage that I used to do in my younger years. When the aforementioned “Slavocracy” was performed – I could feel every muscle and nerve frayed beyond capacity…but I didn’t care. Back and neck pain be damned – this was SAMAEL dammit!!! There was no flaw in this performance. Watching percussionist/keyboardist Xy with his half drum, half keyboard rig – standing, jumping, pounding both drum and electronic samples…it was pure heaven. This right here could very well have been the best performance of the weekend…but then again – Sunday’s “Rain of a Thousand Flames” wasn’t even a glint in my mind when Samael raged the Alhambra.

Physically drained…I thought about packing it in after Samael. Back pain was pretty intense, but Fleshgod Apocalypse was still on my radar and it kept me up. I headed back to the pool deck to take in some Turisas – always an incredible live act that I wanted to see at least once.

I reached the pit just after the start of Turisas’ set. By now, the rate of photographers had dwindled and I pretty much had free reign of the pit for as long as I wanted. Anytime I can stand in the presence of a frontman as dynamic as Mathias Nygard, the better. Despite my feelings towards the dreadful 2013 release “Turisas2013” (an album the band was still recording on the boat the last time they were here), Turisas is too great a band to cast off. I predict a return to form on the next release for sure.

One thing is certain – the live performance is completely unhindered. Here is another band that is as visually stunning as they are sounding in a live setting. On a ship in the middle of the Caribbean is even better given the Viking look and nature of the set. The band played classics like “Battle Metal,” Stand Up and Fight” and “The Great Escape.” It was so great to see them again.

I flirted with the idea of heading over to the ice rink to check out Novembers Doom, but by now fatigue was taking over. I did make it straight down a few floors for my only time at the dreaded Pyramid Lounge to take in some Firewind. Sadly, this proved to be the only time I was able to catch this amazing band. Still, it was so great to see Gus G, Bob Katsionis and one of my favorites – Henning Basse so close up.

The cramped lounge was not conducive to a guy with knee and vein issues, but still it was so great to capture some images of these legends in a “small club” atmosphere that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see. Henning is a master on the mic and Gus and Bob are the backbone of this band’s melodic metal sound. It was also a pleasure to see Johan Nunez on drums – last I saw him was filling in for Dragonland at ProgPower USA in 2015.

I dragged myself up to other half of the pool area to found a lounge chair to rest in while I waited for Fleshgod Apocalypse to set up. It was about 3:30am. This move almost proved costly, since I nodded off plenty of times before I realized that the crowd gathered for Fleshgod’s performance at 3:50am.

I made it to the pit with renewed vigor and excitement for this performance – one of my most anticipated. As the machine generated fog filled the stage, the intro started and Veronica Bordacchini walked out slowly adorned in a Victorian era dress and mask holding a staff. She made it to her mic post when the intro suddenly kicked out. It took a while, but it appeared to be a wireless issue from the iPod to Francesco Ferrini’s keyboard rig since the crew was running a hard line to get it back operational. The intro restarted and the show went off as previously planned.

One thing about Fleshgod Apocalypse that is so brilliant live is the visual. Last time I saw them – it was like a 1800’s zombies – with tattered suits and corpse paint. This time, the suits were much less tattered and it appeared only Francesco Ferrini and drummer Francesco Paoli adorned white makeup. That’s not as relevant as to how friggin’ cool this band looks live. Backing the look with incredible sound that can only be described as the “Watchtower of death metal” – the band burst forth a set of chaotic order, symphonic and ripping death that is an overwhelming sight to see and witness.

After three quarters of the set complete, the technical issues struck hard again, thereby shortening the set much to the dismay of the band. I know they were not happy with this set – but for a fan it didn’t matter. …for Fleshgod Apocalypse was one of the most thrilling live acts out there and to sum up this long, long marathon day on the boat….”never pass up the opportunities”! Time for bed!

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

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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