Day Two, 70,000 Tons Of Metal: The Ship Was ROCKIN'
Band Photo: Death (?)
When day two began, it was about two hours from when day one ended....and I was grateful to have had an hour of sleep compared to many others who had none. Energized by Gloryhammer’s phenomenal set of unicorn greatness....I plotted my day.
It got off to a rocky start for shows, since writing my day one report forced a miss of Poltergeist’s first gig since reforming. Tired set in big time and I begrudgingly missed Freedom Call’s first set as well, two items that will not be missed on Thursday. So today’s schedule ended up like this: Swallow the Sun, Terrorizer, Bonfire, Leaves’ Eyes, The Haunted, Orphaned Land, Dark Tranquility, Carcass, Haggard, Death: DTA Tours. I sacrificed plans to see Satyricon, Fear Factory and Septicflesh, knowing that I had to follow up.
For anyone who has seen Swallow the Sun, playing in the noon sun is probably not the way to do it. It has nothing to do with the fantastic performance, but sunny days and a bikini clad upper level around the pool deck is not a lyrical topic you will find in the Finnish band’s catalog. But this is 70,000 Tons of Metal...this is precisely the type of irony you should expect. The pool deck stage was large, but the band doesn’t really require the extra space as movement is not a priority. Vocalist Mikko Kotamaki was statuesque as usual, often times standing straight up with a blank stare. But it is hard to imagine somber themes and the death doom style of Swallow the Sun causing any other behavior. The band proves over and over why they have such immense talent and this performance was flawless.
I side stepped the pool deck to head down to Spectrum to see Terrorizer for a little bit, the add on band announced Sunday after Atrocity. A spirited performance by the band drew fans in, even through the fog of the first days activities. Though I only stayed for a few songs, I thought the band sounded tight. It will likely be my only experience with them on this cruise, as the 4:30am scheduled performance in the wee hours of day three is looking unappealing.
Bonfire was one of the two old German battle axe bands to play (the other is Victory), something that drew yawns and complaints from the festival’s forum dwellers. For me, Bonfire has been one of the most solid hard rock acts out there. This was a must see personally, because LT Rhapsody/21 Octayne drummer Alex Landenburg was once again helping the band out by playing drums. Over the past couple of years, I had been corresponding with Alex, developed a good friendship which then culminated in a meeting in Atlanta with Rhapsody for the ProgPower USA kick off show. He is my favorite drummer, who I am proud to call a friend. When the news hit of his attendance, it added yet another reason why this cruise is so special.
As for Bonfire’s performance, it was the celebration of the most popular album “Fire Works,” and the band played the album in its entirety. Claus sounded as great as ever, as did the rest of the band and the crowd was won over. Its all about having fun and that is what Bonfire’s set was all about. Once thing that fascinates me is the notion that if a band is “old” they have no place still playing. Its cool when a band doesn’t play a style of music that appeals to a large swath of the younger crowd, but bands like Bonfire still bring it and rock harder than much of the younger counterparts. Hard rock bands on board each year make the diversity of subgenres as rich as it gets with European festivals.
Leaves’ Eyes was next up on the pool deck. In keeping with the way performances have been ranking on this cruise, each one gets better than the next. The hardest working musicians on the cruise have to include members of Leaves Eyes, Atrocity, Death and Cynic - who play four sets instead of two. Enter Alex Krull, the charismatic frontman of Atrocity and co-frontperson of Leaves’ Eyes with wife Liv Kristine, for an incredible performance for the mid-afternoon crowd. The band has come a long way from the early days and the latest album “Symphonies of the Night” is the most lethal and heavy in the band’s history. Liv sounded amazing with an effortless delivery that matched Thorston and Sander’s guitar melodies. Songs in the set included “Galswinthe,” “Hell to the Heavens” and “Maid of Lorraine” - my three favorites off the new record. At one point Krull gave a rousing “fuck off” to those people who think females have no place in metal. Overall, the sound was pristine and the band fired off one of the best performances on the boat.
One of the things you learn quick on the boat is that best laid plans never work out. Sometimes when you plan out the bands you wish to see....hunger and fatigue set in and breaks your will. This happened with the sets for both D.R.I. and Septicflesh, two bands I wanted to see, yet each of the set times fell within that fatigue or hunger zone and all that is left is regret.
I picked up again with The Haunted out on the pool deck. The new incarnation of the band really kicked the fans’ asses. By the time I made it to the set, some 2-3 songs in, vocalist Marco Aro had beaten the microphone into his forehead enough that blood was streaming down his face. This band was so stoked to be part of the cruise that Aro kept saying that “this is the greatest day of my entire life.” They showed that gratitude by playing classics and the newest material which stirred the crowd into an aggressive pit (one of many on this installment of the cruise). Tons of energy flowing with these guys.
One of the bands that was on the bucket list for me was Orphaned Land, who were next up at the Chorus Line Theater. Having never seen the Israeli sensations (who have played this cruise in the past), it was truly and honor to witness one of the best forms of metal woven with oriental and Middle Eastern elements. The band’s album “All for One” topped my list of albums of 2013 and the band subconsciously knew it as they played the album in full on this first set. With the departure of Yossi Sassi just weeks before the cruise, I was wondering how this would all play out, but out stepped a new guitarist (name escapes me, though vocalist Kobi Farhi did mention it). Guitarist Chen Balbus, one of the major contributors of the band’s latest album, had one of the biggest shit eating grins of any musician on the cruise and it started when I saw them checking in at the beginning and it thought every encounter over the four days.
One of the best things about this sensational live act is the commitment to peace. The symbolic combination of the world’s three biggest religions depicted on the cover art of “All is One” is the driving force behind the band. Kobi stated that they are the most popular band in the Arab world, yet the fact that he has an Israeli passport, those fans will never see the band unless things change, something Orphaned Land is doing with music...not politics. Much of the songs on the album are dedicated to his Muslim brothers in Saudi Arabia and all over the Middle East. Kobi himself adorns the attire of centuries past and really appears as Christ resurrected on stage...barefoot and in a seamless robe. This band's beautiful music combines Middle Eastern, Oriental and traditional Israeli styles. As Farhi danced, he invited up female fans onto the stage to help him. It was a fantastic live performance that exuded peace and love...something sorely needed these days.
Dark Tranquility was next up at the pool deck and they put on a pretty special performance in their own right. With a healthy dose of material from the latest album “Construct,” the band was yet another that brought so much energy to this event. Mikael (vocals) utilized the big stage and often engaged the fans directly by jumping into the photo pit and walking along the barrier to feed off the crowd energy. In kind, the crowd responded and sent waves of younger fans surfing into the pit of unsuspecting photographers (spoken from experience). This was another first time live performance for me, though I have all of the band’s releases. In a cruise of countless fantastic performances this also ranked up there.
I skipped Satyricon’s first set at Chorus Line (making up for it later at the pool deck) and Fear Factory’s set at the pool deck (playing the entire “Demanufacture” album) for a break. I returned to the action for the first of brilliant performances by Carcass. Though the later pool deck set was better for the open air, this first set was the best for visuals. The band utilized four screens to show, not surprisingly, graphic surgical procedures as they crushed the crowd with songs like “Heartwork,” “This Mortal Coil,” and “Corpsegrinder” along side new stuff “Captive Bolt Pistol” and “Cadaver Pouch Conveyer.” At one point, they broke out into material from “Swansong,” which vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker described as “the album everyone pretends to hate.” The selection started as “Blackstar” until switching to “Keep on Rotting in the Free World.”
In terms of crowd response and attendance, this show was packed to the rafters with members of Obituary, Terrorizer, Massacre and Death DTA Tours all visibly in attendance. Reaction was crazy as the band sounded as tight as ever. Add another first time performance of another favorite in my belt. This one was just killer....death metal the way it should be.
The hits just keep on coming and the next act has been a shroud of secrecy in the U.S. for many years. Germany’s Haggard had never played in the U.S., forcing fans in our country to go to Europe or Mexico to see them. As vocalist/guitarist/mastermind Asis has always dreamed of doing a U.S. tour and made reference to a possible first time tour very soon. When you see an act of this magnitude, you know just how expensive it would be. Taking classical music of the middle ages and combining it with metal...Haggard was this year’s Rage with Lingua Mortis Orchestra (who played last year’s installment). The ensemble was bigger, and we joking would refer to the band’s “700 members” as taking up an entire deck of the ship. In reality, there was a string orchestra, a soprano/tenor combo, a keyboardist, flute section and backing vocals before you even count the regular four members of the band. There wasn’t an inch of the stage not utilized.
This was a performance that topped everything in this day, even if the band didn’t meet the tastes of many cruise attendees. However, after this first set...new fans were quickly made as words like “best I have ever seen” and “blown away” were heard in many conversations leaving the area. I have always loved Haggard, but the live show is light years better than what you will find on the albums (which are pretty amazing in their own right). At one point during “Awakening the Centuries,” the entire flute section, backing vocalists and tenor and soprano vocalist did a circle headbang in the middle of the stage. Words cannot describe just how epic and cool this performance was, one that will be a cherished memory for years to come. The second set was as mandatory as it gets.
Death DTA Tours was the nightcap for me (skipping Victory, Unearth and unfortunately, Massacre’s 4am set). To those people who claim that this is merely a cashing in on the Death name, I offer a sincere fuck you. What this project accomplishes is carrying on the music and legacy of Chuck Schuldiner (who died in 2001 from pneumonia), one of the innovators and originators of death metal (old school as well as progressive death later on). It was a stunning tribute to his memory. There were a few sound issues, but overall the production was fantastic and the song selection spanned the entire catalog of Death, including “Zombie Ritual,” “Spiritual Healing” and “Flattening of Emotions.” Vocalist/guitarist Max Phelps (Cynic) did an amazing job - even sounding and looking like Chuck. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio handled the song intros and memories of Chuck. This is a must see project for anyone.
Towards the latter half the show, the band utilized the screens to show one of the most heart wrenching and eeire (as well as creepy) video, which featured candid clips and live performance pieces of Schuldiner’s career, including a clip of a home video where the camera operator asks “What would you say when you are ready to leave this world” and Chuck replied “I love you all.” It was enough to make the most hardened metalhead shed copious amounts of tears. What a way to end day two....
I was ready for more....
(For more information on 70,000 Tons of Metal, head on over to this location).
Carl Frederick is a staff writer 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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