70,000 Tons of Metal 2012 Day 4 Report: It doesn't get any better than this
Band Photo: Alestorm (?)
Although there had certainly been nothing to complain about with the weather thus far on the cruise, the final full day heralded the most perfect weather we had seen yet: not a cloud in the sky, deliciously warm, and thankfully not too windy (which had previously been a problem from time to time). With a full complement of great bands to check out and oddly, no ill-effects from the previous night's alcoholic adventures, I was primed for an absolutely awesome day.
At the obscenely early hour of 10am, I witnessed Swiss band Megora on the pool deck stage. I'd shared a table in the Starlight Dining Room with these guys the previous evening and I was intrigued - they have been together and playing on and off for a very long time, and were giving away a special "cruise edition" of some of their songs on CD. They played well - I guess it would be categorized as plain old no-frills "heavy metal" - and it was an easy way to ease into the morning. Unfortunately I didn't get any photographs as my camera batteries were still charging.
Next up, also on the pool deck stage, were Atheist. I'd missed their first set and was pretty excited about seeing them, especially after chatting with new guitarist Chris Martin about how he'd recently joined the band. This was therefore only Chris's second set with the full band.
Frontman Kelly Shaefer is really something else - the quintessential California stoner dude, he complained about being stuck for four days without weed but seemed pretty spun out that he and the band were actually on board - joking that when the band started out, they wouldn't have even been allowed on a cruise ship let alone be able to play. A mix of old songs and new rounded out the set but the absolute highlight for me was 2010's "Second To Sun" from the comeback "Jupiter" album, an ode to the orb in the sky that was making the day ridiculously pleasant at that particular moment in time.
The set ended on a bit of a sour note, however, when the band ran overtime and were prevented from playing "Piece of Time" to finish their set. Kelly tried to get the crowd on his side but despite all the chanting and his ranting, the stage managers stood firm and the power did not come back on for the final song to be played.
Right after Atheist, I met with the three member of Coroner for a brief interview. Unfortuately the room we were in was too small and dark for capturing on video, but it was an interesting chat nonetheless and you can read about what they had to say - about the timing of the reunion, whether they will ever record again, and more - soon on Metal Underground.
Early afternoon rolled on and it was time for Alestorm's second set, this time on the pool deck stage. Resplendent in brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts and board shorts, these Scottish pirates were pretty much the perfect band to play a cruise in the Carribbean, and I don't think more fun was collectively had at any other time on the cruise as during that forty-five minute set. Every time I saw singer Chris Bowes anywhere on the ship, he was arm in arm with one fan or another, posing for photos and generally being the most approachable, down to earth and hilarious guy around. Even if he did threaten at one point to find out where a heckler lived and "poo in his bed".
Soon after Alestorm's set, the pool area became the setting for a bellyflop contest. A number of guys - mostly of the larger physical build - took turns to attempt to create the largest splash possible, evaluated by a panel of "guest judges" and crowd participation. Last year's winner, one of the event security staff, made a valiant effort but in the end was ousted by Rob Cranny from Toronto, who had previously appeared on stage with Alestorm dressed in "rainbow-themed black metal" corpsepaint and gear. It was at this time that I noticed that the lower pool deck bar had been decorated with no less than three Australian flags, as the Aussie contingent celebrated the daylight portion of their country's national day.
Next on the main stage was Grave Digger. I'd seen these German power metal titans at Wacken previously so I knew what to expect, although I think a large propportion of the crowd (the non German portion, anyway) did not. The set kicked off with the Grim Reaper playing bagpipes, and got progressively more over the top from there. And really, what more needs to be said?
Ducking away from Grave Digger's set, I sat in on the final press conference of the cruise (having missed the previous one to catch one of my must-see bands). During this session a representative from Royal Caribbean Cruises talked about how great the concept was from the cruise line's perspective - not only is it a profitable endeavour (who would have thought, heavy metal fans drink a lot of alcohol) but the cruise line was delighted with the respect shown to staff and the ship. So it seems that while metalheads party hard and raise a lot of hell, we're good people to have around. The complete lack of "incidents" during the cruise bears this out - no violence, no thefts, no vandalism.
Next "skipper" Andy Piller officially announced the newest addition to the Ultimate Metal Cruises floating festival lineup: Barge To Hell, an all extreme metal cruise on the same ship, cruising between Miami and Nassau, Bahamas in December 2012. He also took questions from the journalists present and confirmed that there would be a 70,000 Tons of Metal in 2013, and that a third, as yet unannounced cruise was in the works for some time after that.
Unbeknownst to me and probably most of the other festival-goers amid all the hilarity, American band Riot were at this time performing a somber and no-doubt emotional task. Founder Mark Reale had been hospitalised for complications to Crohn's Diease just before the cruise, but with his blessing the band had kept up their committment to play. Sadly, the band received news that their friend had passed away just that day. Their show in the Spectrum Lounge - which I did not see - was therefore played in tribute to Mark's memory.
Out on the pool deck, I was gearing up for another great set by Coroner. Some obvious staples made it into this second set - "Semtex Revolution", "Masked Jackal", etc - but we were treated to some songs that are not part of the usual list. Here's hoping Coroner find concensus within the band and record a new album - there is so much potential for greatness.
After a brief dinner break, I headed into the Chorus Line Theatre to see Amorphis, a band that I have passing familiarity with, but which excited fellow metalheads keep telling me I should check out properly. I was pretty impressed - while I was more a fan of their older death metal songs with harsh vocals than with clean, they put on a hell of an energetic show and I'd love to get frontman Tomi Joutsen in a wind-milling competition with Cannibal Corpse's George Corpsegrinder Fisher. While Tomi lacks George's immense neck mass, he more than makes up for it with crazy energy and his hugely long dreadlocks only add to the effect. Nightwish's Marco Hietala joined Amorphis on stage for a couple of songs.
Venom's second set was coming up on the pool deck stage. This time, the band appeared without all their crazy leather gear - in fact, in black jeans and tshirts, they looked quite pedestrian. Unfortunately my opinion of them wasn't greatly improved from Tuesday's set. I personally think they would have been better off keeping Venom in the past, the myth and legend untarnished.
I hate to admit it, but it had been a huge day after not much sleep and it was all I could do to stay on my feet during Suffocation's final set in the Spectrum Lounge (which was hilarious as always - Frank Mullen would like to have a Jack and coke with an alien being, maybe listen to some metal, because he's sure there's intelligent life out there and he'd love to see a Predator in the pit). I would have liked to see Candlemass and God Dethroned one last time but it was just not to be. We'd been warned that everyone needed to be ready to get off the ship by 8am the next morning and I was dead on my feet, done in by more awesome metal than I would have believed possible.
At the time of writing It's been over three weeks sinc e that last day and looking back, I still think it was the best metal festival I've ever been to (and I've been to quite a few) and probably one of the most fun times I've ever had in my life. Seeing as over 50% of the 2012 attendees were also on the cruise in 2011, it seems that many people agree. With the back stage divider removed, most of the fans and the band members were indistinguishable (with the exception of a few particularly recognisable individuals - it's hard to miss Corpsegrinder for example). When you get down to it, we're all just black-clad, metal-loving music fans out for a good time.
In short, I cannot recommend it enough: if you can manage the cost and can spare the time, don't hesitate. It's heavy metal heaven.
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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