Day Four, 70,000 Tons Of Metal: On The Fourth Day The Rains Came; The Birthday Bash Finale
Band Photo: Atrocity (?)
I woke up with a four alarm hangover….it was my birthday! For the second year in a row, I just couldn’t believe that I would spend it in such “majesty on the seas” with bands I admire and musicians I worship. I rose after just 4 ½ hours and reached for the knife that felt buried in my left temple. A quick look out the porthole of the room revealed a cloudy, foggy and rainy day. I stumbled to the shower and managed to get ready for the first show – Atrocity on the pool deck. I took the elevator to floor 11 to get some breakfast and I peaked through the back stage door (just out the elevator) and the rain was torrential. Ok…how is this going to work?
I sat down with some food next to some of the stage crew and overheard that until further notice the pool deck shows would be moved to the Chorus Line Theater. As part of scheduling, the Chorus Line Theater shows do not normally start until 2:30pm, likely to accommodate weather related incidents. This didn’t seem like a short shower…but a long drawn out pouring. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. The schedule was quickly reworked two times over the day, adapting to delays in moving equipment and informing fans and bands alike. Needless to say, there would be no one going outdoors that didn’t want to take a swim without jumping in the pool (thought it looked like the pool and Jacuzzis did have occupants every time I took a look).
I ate my breakfast and headed to Chorus Line for Atrocity. In contrast to Spectrum, Atrocity’s show at the Chorus Line Theater was much better – free of technical glitches and much more room to see. Once again, Alex Krull invited up a couple of female fans to dance during “Satan’s Braut.” This set introduced some older material, which was a welcome addition to stellar “Okkult” material, and that included “Fatal Step” (from the 1990 debut “Hallucinations”) and “Blood Stained Prophecy” (from the 1996 album “Willenskraft”). Krull is definitely a pretty amazing frontman – brutal when singing and eternal great guy in monologues between songs. It was a pleasure, though I do wish there was a real bass player!
Sadly, the hangover forced me to break – regrettably missing Keep of Kalessin, Rising Storm and Izegrim. Next up, in the line of pool deck shows moved inside due to torrential rain, was Victory. I missed the first set at the Spectrum Lounge in anticipation of seeing the band at the pool, but Chorus Line was good enough! First off, it was a pleasure to see ex-Human Fortress vocalist Jioti Parcharidis back after a long illness. He was ready for the task – with tons of energy and soaring vocals that sounded pretty amazing! Accept guitarist Herrman Frank was true to form, taking this German hard rock legendary act through classics like “Check’s in the Mail,” “Power Strikes the Earth” and “Temples of Gold” along with newer classics “Restless,” Burn Down the City” and “Standing Like a Rock.” This was yet another in a long line of first time live experiences for me on 70,000 Tons and it was such a pleasure to see. Now let’s hope there is a new album soon from these guys!
I could not miss the resurrected Poltergeist again – so even though the pool deck performance was a missed opportunity, I headed to Spectrum to see a band that I loved and missed dearly. People forget that vocalist Andre Grieder was the singer behind the great and criminally underrated Destruction album “Cracked Brain,” the only one without Schmier that not only sounded like Destruction, but was worth speaking about. With Poltergeist resurrected, I can only hope to hear the first studio material since 1993’s “Nothing Lasts Forever” soon. Having new guitarist Chasper Wanner (Driving Force) and drummer Sven Vormann (Megora) onboard along with Grieder and original guitarist V.O. Pulver, it appears all is in good order for the Swiss thrashers! The band put on a spirited and fun performance that touched on the entire discography including title tracks “Behind My Mask,” “Nothing Lasts Forever” along with “Just Doin’ My Job.”
Moving on to the now indoor second set from Xandria, I was eager to finally check out new singer Dianne van Giersbergen (Ex Libris), who joined the band shortly after the final performance of Manuela Kraller at ProgPower USA last September. I must admit, I was a bit concerned since Kraller was by far one of the most superior singers out there and I was not too impressed with Ex Libris’ new album “Medea.” However, sometimes it’s good to be wrong! Giersbergen came out looking beautiful (and barefoot) and out poured a deep operatic vocal style that literally blew me away. The set list had classics from the latest album “Neverworld’s End,” including “Soulcrusher” and “Valentine” with a few older tracks “Ravenheart” and “India” thrown in. It was a brilliant set with the band sounding top notch and never better. With all of the vocal changes, its nice to see the band with more ambition and drive than ever and it makes the wait for the new album “Sacrificium” that much harder.
I simply had to catch Raven’s second set at Chorus Line. Not only would it be a much bigger stage for the Gallagher brothers to run around, but the sound would be better. It’s always a must see to witness Raven live, an all-time favorite of mine. The band pushed through the classics, battling and literally dueling guitar and bass (a trademark of each Raven show). They added “Stay Hard” classic “On and On” to this set – a personal favorite! Joe Hasselvander is always a treat to watch – the greatest facial expressions of any drummer ever. Raven is a band not to be missed live….and they made my birthday very special!
Just after Raven’s set, I took a mini break until Death Angel was set up in the same venue. Sounding as crisp and tight as ever, Death Angel is another live act that should be a must see. This performance was much, much cooler than the last time I caught the band – up in Hartford, CT at the Webster Theater. Vocalist Mark Osegueda is even more lethal live than on the albums, as is guitarist and founder Rob Cavestany. The band shot through newer material like “Son of the Morning,” “Left for Dead” and “Claws In So Deep” along with the classic “Evil Priest.” I know the set was limited and with more albums the harder it is to please everyone, but I would have loved to hear the band incorporate some more stuff from “Act III” and “Frolic Through the Park.” Perhaps, someday.
Finntroll was so impressive on the pool deck, I opted to drop off the camera and watch the second set at Chorus Line from the balcony. Now donning the prosthetic troll ears, fill in guitarist Brandon Ellis (Arsis) finally looked the part (outside of doing a tremendous job playing in both gigs). Of all the bands I witnessed on this voyage, Finntroll was the best at whipping the crowd into an intense fury. As in the first set, there were waves upon waves of crowd surfers (some of which were not so carefully plucked into the photo pit). The set was a distinctively older one, as warned by frontman Vreth. Selections from "Nattfödd" and "Jaktens tid" were belted forth, including "Slaget vid Blodsälv" as shown here:
For me, the big draw of the “birthday bash” was Symphony X. Of all the musicians I met or witnessed on this cruise, none were more excited and amazed as Russell Allen. Whether it was at the bar, in the karaoke lounge, on the pier on the way back from Costa Maya – Sir Russell was smiling, or intoxicated (in a most humorous way), or laughing – but ALWAYS singing. On the way back to the boat from the Costa Maya experience, Allen carried a small radio and roused fans and musicians alike to a round of karaoke in the dreaded long line back aboard – even pulling Burton Bell of Fear Factory out of line to come sing. He was quite simply a total blast to watch and hang out with. For Symphony X’s second set – it was as if all of that positive energy translated into the most perfect performance I have ever seen from the New Jersey power/progressive act. Unlike many of the bands onboard, they played a completely different set – adding “Set the World on Fire” and “Paradise Lost” to the mix.
I watched part of the show with Bonfire/Rhapsody of Fire drummer Alex Landenburg (SX is his favorite band). It was so funny just to see his face when Allen said with a grin “Unfortunately, this song will be our last song….” in what was then the middle of the set – indicating “The Odyssey” was coming. “I can’t believe it” said Landenburg – pushing to the front to see. The 24 minute opus was the pinnacle of this trip and this birthday for me. A picture perfect performance from one of metal’s finest bands and Allen capped it off with a line of females on stage paying tribute to the “Chorus Line” dance. What an extraordinary performance.
Following that up, I had one bit of unfinished business – seeing Freedom Call at Spectrum, having missed out on one of the band’s I wanted to see the most. The 2:45am show was the second to last of the night – and the world’s “happiest power metal band” proved why I waited. The only thing deterring from this performance was the fact that it was a Spectrum. The crowd that showed was spirited and ready to participate – except when vocalist/guitarist attempted a rouse when he recounted a dream about all the women in the front row lifting their shirts. The set list was deliberately fun, even though some of the songs were my least favorite from the latest “Land of the Crimson Dawn” – “Rockstars” and “Hero on Video.” Still it was such a pleasure to see them and it put the cherry on this amazing trip and birthday.
In the end, I had a few regrets, most notably missing out completely on bands like Septicflesh, D.R.I., Izegrim and Massacre. Like I said from the start, this is a 24-7 marathon for four days and careful planning needs to be made! As for 70,000 Tons of Metal, it proves once again that it is one of the greatest experiences that a metalhead could ever have. Imagine floating on the ocean with all of your food, hotel and concert venues within a short distance...not to mention all the musicians just hanging around. Its a VIP experience for every single attendee. Once 70k draws you in, it makes you endlessly addicted and you will find any way to never, ever miss it again – despite the petty bullshit that fans cry about (i.e. – announcement delays, bands announced). The performances were amazing and I have to tip my hat to the amazing work of the crew and technicians that made it all possible. Skipper Andy and the staff at UMC have truly created one of the very few festivals where the United States can not only compete with European festivals, but exceed it.
As for the top performances of the festival: Haggard stole the week, Orphaned Land shined, Finntroll was so brilliant at getting the crowds excited, Symphony X had the best single performance ever and Vicious Rumors introduced cruise attendees to the mighty vocals of Nick Holleman.
Now, please heed my advice and start planning for 2015…you do not want to miss out! Big changes were made:
1. There will be a new ship – Liberty of the Seas;
2. There is a new port - Ft. Lauderdale;
3. There are new days - instead of Monday to Friday its Thursday to Monday - January 22nd – January 26th; and,
4. There are 20 more acts for a new total of 60 over three main stages, with a potential for five stages all together. First big announcements are expected by the end of February.
It will be a spectacle unmatched by any other. 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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