70,000 Tons of Metal 2012 Day 1 Report: Ahoy there sailor!
It's almost the universal rule of festivals: in the excitement of the lead up, arriving at your destination - in this case, swapping snowy cold Kraków for warm and sunny Miami - and anticipation of the fun to be had ahead, there's a tendency to party too hard the night before. 70,000 Tons of Metal 2012 was no exception, so it was with a sore and foggy head and a bunch of new (also hungover) friends that I arrived at the Miami pier to board the Majesty of the Seas cruise ship.
Getting 2051 ticket holders - not to mention 452 musicians, 879 crew and 13 trucks' worth of equipment - onto the ship with all their respective luggage was no mean feat and it took a pretty long time. But it was fun to do some musician-spotting while waiting in line at the terminal,and funny to see that George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher has as much hassle getting through security as everyone else. After what seemed like an eon each person was issued with a "sailpass" - a handy little item that opened our cabin doors and allowed drink purchases to be added to our accounts - and ushered onto the vessel.
First thing first: find our cabins, dump our gear, then hit the bar. Having never been on a cruise ship before, I was kind of surprised at how tiny the "staterooms" were - but I guess, with 40 bands playing twice each over four days, there's not a lot of time for sleep! A quick wander around the open deck revealed the main area closed off and an army of staff loading equipment, scaffolding and materials with which to build the stage (over the top of a second empty pool).
The main restaurant area seemed to be where everyone was - the lunch buffet was open. We piled up our plates and sat down - furiously musician-spotting the whole time - and soon learned about another great thing about being on a cruise ship: drinks waiters. These soldiers in blue Hawaiian shirts were everywhere, and if you didn't have a beer in hand, they wanted to get you one. The cruise ticket included everything except alcohol and canned/bottled soft drinks, so to get a beer or other alcoholic beverage you handed over your sailpass and then signed the receipt. This system seemed dangerously easy. I thought about my credit card balance and was very, very afraid.
Unbeknown to most of the punters, the first hiccup of the trip was happening at this time: although the organizers had specified that they required a five ton crane, one with only half that carrying capacity was supplied. This meant that it took much longer than anticipated to load the gear onto the ship, and subsequently both the building of the 12 ton stage and the ship's departure were delayed.
For now though, everyone was content to hang out on the top deck and watch the crews at work as the afternoon wore on. The beers were flowing and I chatted with Roope Latvala from Children of Bodom and Chris Martin, the new rhythm guitarist for Atheist. Chris let on that he'd never actually played with the full band before or even met singer Kelly Shaefer - this 23 year old guitar whiz and teacher had learned the songs over the past month and was understandably a bit nervous about playing live for the first time. From what I saw later, he shouldn't have worried.
Before too much more alcohol was consumed, everyone was ordered to go to various muster points (dependent on a number printed on our sailpass) for the required safety instruction session. The crew made an otherwise dull explanation of how to put on a life jacket as "metal" as possible and I dare say it's the only cruise where the demonstration of the emergency horn blasts are each met with a huge roar, fist pumping and cheering. Demonstration over, it was back to the upper deck to check on the stage-building progress.
When the cranes had finished loading gear, the (Norwegian) captain made an announcement and 70,000 Tons of Metal 2012 was off, powering towards the Cayman Islands. Each cruise ship that we passed on our way out of the port of Miami was met with horns, cheers and choruses of "your ship sucks". Hey, we're metalheads... what did you expect?
We were so busy watching the stage start to appear on the main deck and enjoying the sea air (ok, and drinking) that I missed the fact that the first live set of 70,000 Tons of Metal 2012 was happening already: Alestorm in the Spectrum Lounge, the smallest of the three stage areas. Whoops! Fortunately, with each band set to play two sets, that meant I didn't miss out completely (on that band, anyway).
The scheduled time for Overkill on the main stage came and went, with the area still nowhere near ready. An announcement was made that Overkill's set would be postponed until Wednesday, the crews worked on, and the drinks waiters continued to do their thing.
Soon it was time for the first band I wanted to photograph: Coroner, playing in the Chorus Line Theater. Since their reformation I had seen them play twice: once as a headliner on the main stage at Hellfest, and once in a support slot for Amon Amarth in a small club in Kraków. Their Hellfest slot, way back in June of 2011, was one of the first gigs they played, and was certainly the biggest up until that point. Not surprisingly, the performance was kind of stiff and the band looked like they were uncomfortable. Their Kraków show on the other hand, less than two months ago, was great - a lot more relaxed. So I was expecting a lot from this show.
The Chorus Line Theater opened out over three deck levels, with a "dance floor" in front of the stage and then rows of comfortable lounge-style seating. Some of these rows had been removed to allow for more moshing space. The lighting was better than in the smaller Spectrum Lounge, but still not as good as the pool stage, and there were lots of those red lights that photographers just detest (no matter how metal it may seem, no one looks good bathed in red light).
Given that this was the first of Coroner's two 45 minute sets, they played mostly the songs that are part of their current regular listing, kicking off with "Golden Cashmere Sleeper". Songs like "Status: Still Thinking" and "Metamorphosis" mixed it up with essentials like "Masked Jackal" and "Semtex Revolution" and the set ended as it usually does with "Grin (Nails Hurt)". The band were, as I was hoping, really hitting a groove, and seemed to be enjoying themselves far more than the times I'd seen them previously.
Back on the pool deck, the crew were still hard at work putting up the main stage and the scheduled 10pm timeslot for Cannibal Corpse came and went with no announcements forthcoming. It had been a long and tiring day for a chick who started out with a hangover, so I said "meh" as midnight approached and went to seek the comforts of my cabin.
Don't worry though, I had much more to report on day 2...
Kay Smoljak is an Aussie photographer, geek, metalhead and goat aficioado who is currently hiding out in Berlin. She blogs sometimes at enter the goatlady.
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