70000 TONS OF METAL Cruise Recap Part 4

Thursday, January 27th was the final day of music on the cruise and things got started with a bang with a great breakfast, as our writers explain…

ARSIS -10:45AM Main Stage
“Good morning” isn’t something you usually hear at a metal show, but at the ungodly hour of 10:45, Arsis took to the main room stage and played with more energy and vigour than any band at 10:45AM in the history of music ever has. Crickets greeted a couple of their songs, something which mainman Jim Malone made good-natured light of, but fuck it, I thought they were great and goddamn if I’m ever going to see them play “Forced to Rock” on a boat. Twice. In one week. (Kevin)

Jim Malone: “I’ve never felt more forced to rock in my life. So I guess we might as well play it.” I don’t know how any band can get up and play a show in the morning, let alone on a four day and four night bacchanal as this cruise, but Arsis sounded fantastic, especially during their more melodically oriented recent material, which Malone and his mates clearly sound more interested in performing. I was very thankful for the decided lack of cookie-cutter American metal such as Black Dahlia Murder, As I Lay Dying, and DevilDriver, but the inclusion of the talented, and kind of overlooked, Arsis was a smart choice. (Adrien)

Best metal I’ve ever had for breakfast – sorry Attic Records. (Sean)

A metal fest is no different than a comic book convention: fans love to peruse the merchandise, and the way both the 70,000 Tons merch and band merch were being scooped up, you’ve got to think that there’s going to be a whole lot more available on the next cruise. The lineups into the conference room that served as the makeshift merch area were huge at times, and thanks to the efforts of some smart bands, who created some one of a kind t-shirts to commemorate the cruise, the 40 minute wait was worth it for many. Kudos to Exodus (“Booze Cruise 2011”), Saxon (“Rock on the open wave”), and Testament for doing just that. You can bet more bands will be following suit in the future. (Adrien)

Oh, and the shirt Raven was selling was so absurdly ugly, it’s practically a work of art. It’s impossible to describe. I should’ve bought one just for the kitsch value. (Adrien)

SANCTUARY, Pool Stage, 11:30 AM
Strange how I never did get around to seeing Nevermore play, especially considering how much I’ve enjoyed their albums over the past decade, but the least I could do was bead outside briefly to check out Messrs. Dane and Loomis scream and shred away playing their third Sanctuary show in 20 years. I was never big into Sanctuary back in the day, but admittedly “Die For My Sins”, “Battle Angels”, and “Mirror Black” all sounded a lot better than I expected to, Warrel Dane especially working hard to somewhat duplicate his ridiculous vocal work from 20-some years ago. I would have liked to have heard their cover of “White Rabbit”, but I had a huge afternoon of metal ahead of me, and the lunch buffet was beckoning! (Adrien)

VOIVOD, Main Stage, 12:15 PM
The first Voivod set was the build-up. This, I would be thrilled to learn, was the big pay-off. With a much larger crowd than their club show two days earlier, the Canadian metal legends pulled out the big guns, and save for a token Infini nod (The terrific “Global Warning”), proceeded to knock us out with classic after classic. “The Unknown Knows”, “Ripping Headaches”, “Panorama”, “Experiment”, “Tornado”, “Tribal Convictions”, and the most pleasant surprise, War and Pain’s great “Nuclear War”. Wow. The band was as tight as ever, despite Blacky looking a little on the rough side, and by the time “Astronomy Domine” ended I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. 26 years was a long wait, but I finally got a huge dose of classic Voivod in person. (Adrien)

ULI JON ROTH, Pool Stage, 1:00 PM
Aside from the odd little tweak (Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner”, for instance), this was basically the same set as Roth’s triumphant performance on the first night, but no one was complaining about another chance to hear “In Trance” and “We’ll Burn the Sky” one more time. It was around this time I was starting to notice it was getting a little chilly the further north we travelled… (Adrien)

This sounded really good from the lunch buffet, but I needed to eat so I didn’t see any of it. It sounded quite a lot like their first set of the cruise though. (Sean)

OBITUARY, Main Stage, 1:45 PM*
I was more excited to see all the classic thrash bands than Florida death metal veterans Obituary, but with a small gap in my schedule I moseyed over to the theatre so I could at least say that I saw them once, and I wound up having a great time. Sure, they play the same old stuff over and over, but hey, the experience was new to me, and I thoroughly dug it, especially “Slowly We Rot”, which closed the exuberant set. (Adrien)

BLACKGUARD, Club Stage, 2:45 PM
After Obituary I zipped up one flight of stairs to the Spectrum Lounge to see Blackguard, a Montreal band I’ve liked since their incarnation as Profugus Mortis. Granted, they’ve shifted styles so much over three or four years that it’s tempting to question their sincerity – starting off as folk metal, then doing the whole pirate thing, then going all Bodom on us – but it seems they’re finally finding their own niche, even if that niche is ripping off Alexi Laiho to pander to the US crowd. Besides, their new album is actually pretty good. And so was the first half of this show, the guitarists dueling away, frontman Paul Zinay engaging the crowd, and ace drummer Justine Ethier doing her thing. Not groundbreaking, but competent stuff all around. (Adrien)

TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, Club stage, 2:45 PM
Sadly there were too many “real” bands playing on this cruise for me to give this Bathory cover band enough attention, but what I saw of Twilight of the Gods outside was pretty darn good, Primordial’s Alan Averill leading the charge. I knew this would be my last chance to take some photos in the sunshine on this cruise, so those old Bathory tunes served as the soundtrack to one final stroll around the top deck, including the 14th-story Compass Lounge, whose circular observation deck offered spectacular views of the ship, the bands and fans, and the sea. I didn’t get to hear “A Fine Day to Die”, sadly. That being one of the greatest metal songs ever, and all. Ah, well. (Adrien)

SONATA ARCTICA , 3:30PM Main Stage
The first and last time I saw Sonata Arctica two or three years ago, I was admittedly impressed with their smooth-as-glass performance and how incredibly well they harmonised vocally. Same can be said about this showing, but if we’re being honest, this band is power metal without any power and hardly any metal. (Kevin)

Yeah, I nerdily headed back to see Sonata Arctica again, basically with the hope that they’d mix up the set list. And they did, at least to a certain extent. Snoozer ballad “The Misery”, the catchy “Flag in the Ground’, and oldie “Blank File” were all dusted off, but considering the depth of their back catalogue, churning out the same old hits on a second hour-long set seemed cheap and kind of lazy, especially compared to bands like Blind Guardian, Voivod, and Testament, who offered fans plenty of variety. (Adrien)

RAVEN, Club Stage, 4:30 PM
Sonata Arctica was just winding up when I dashed back upstairs to catch another highly anticipated set by my NWOBHM heroes Raven, which was decidedly different that that unforgettable 4 AM show on Tuesday. Not only were there more people, but the Gallagher brothers had some surprises in store. Two deep cuts from Rock Until You Drop were played, “Lambs to the Slaughter” and “For the Future”, as well as “Speed of the Reflex” from the forgotten (by me, anyway) Mad EP. However, the biggest and most pleasant surprise was seeing them do their 1985 single “On and On”. I couldn’t believe it, I’d assumed they preferred to ignore their material from their days with Atlantic Records, but nope, there they were playing a tune I played the hell out of back in 1985. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. As they ended “Break the Chain” with John Gallagher literally hanging from the ceiling above us (seriously, these guys have not lost an ounce of energy), those of us over the age of 35 were geeked to no end. But no time to bask…there were still 15 minutes left in Death Angel’s set! (Adrien)

This was awesome. Raven totally rocked my socks off with this club-sized show. Much better than when I saw the get the plug yanked on them at the BWBK 6-pack Festival in Cleveland about six years back. (Sean)

DEATH ANGEL, Pool Stage, 4:30 PM
Death Angel was pretty tight from what I heard the other night in the Spectrum. I say that because I only heard them and couldn’t really see much beyond the occasional forehead. It was better – and definitely more surreal – watching them while standing next to a hot tub, then from overhead. Truth be told, it was fricking cold and windy by this time of the cruise. I even deigned to putting a pair of long pants on! I still have little love for their new album, but when they bash out ‘Thrashers,’ ‘Bored,’ ‘Voracious Souls,’ stuff from Killing Season (the titles of which I can’t recall) and some Black Sabbath in tribute to Dio, all is forgiven. New bass player is a Cliff Burton doppleganger what with the mousy hair, Rickenbacker, bell bottoms and wah pedal. All he was missing was the Canadian Tuxedo Jacket and he would have been set. Also, if Mark Osegueda would stop talking so much between songs, they could easily squeeze another two songs into their set. (Kevin)

I just knew Death Angel’s second set would be a great one, but with Raven playing during the bulk of it, I knew where my loyalties lie. So by the time I zipped from stern to bow and up four flights of stairs, they were just finishing up “Voracious Souls”. Dammit! They did end with “Thrashers”, which was phenomenal, though. But there was no time to mope…there was half an hour left in Dark Tranquillity’s show back in the theatre! (Adrien)

I got over to Death Angel’s set to see the final four songs of the set – “Bored”, “Heaven & Hell”, “Voracious Souls” and “Thrashers”. It was just about as perfect as an ending to a set could be. The final song was dedicated to all the Bay Area thrash metal band members in the crowd watching them, which included members of Exodus and Forbidden. Awesome. (Sean)

DARK TRANQUILLITY, Main Stage, 5:15 PM*
They might have sprung from the legendary Gothenburg death metal scene, but Dark Tranquillity has turned into a band just as slick and calculated as Epica and Sonata Arctica, albeit with harsh vocals. Still, they remain a very good live band, and the 30 minutes I saw was the kind of smooth, professional show as you’d expect from them. And at least they played “The Wonders at Your Feet”, their best song. (Adrien)

TESTAMENT, Main Stage, 7:00 PM
This was the Testament set I was waiting for, as they promised to perform their 1988 album The New Order (a record I’ve long preferred to the seminal The Legacy). Even though the show started 15 minutes late, with arguably the biggest crowd of the entire cruise waiting by the doors, any frustration vanished as the band promptly reeled off “Eerie Inhabitants”, “The New Order”, the anthemic “Trial By Fire”, and “Into the Pit”. By the time they’d worked their way onto side two with “Disciples of the Watch” and “The Preacher”, the momentum they had was massive. I have never heard Testament sound as good as they did here. Oddly, the band didn’t play their cover of Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault” (I guess they’re not exactly fond of it). But the band kept going after “A Day of Reckoning”, delivering fiery renditions of “D.N.R.” and “3 Days in Darkness”, which Billy dedicated to a friend suffering from cancer. Great stuff all around, a phenomenal set so far. But then the band said goodnight, and left, 45 minutes after starting. With a good 15, 20 minutes left in their time slot, a lot of people were hoping for a little more to really push this show over the top. Not that is was a disappointing set, the performances were anything but. However, what should have been the most climactic gig of the entire cruise didn’t quite reach that point. (Adrien)

They might not have played every song off the album as promised, but Testament were still excellent. Of course, so many of these songs are in their set normally, but it still was inspiring just how tight the band was, with Alex Skolnick busting out guitar solos left and right. (Sean)

SODOM, Main stage, 9:00 PM
I was really excited to see Sodom’s second cruise gig since I was passed out for their first set of the week. Seeing them indoors doing a prime time slot was a treat too. The band kicked things off with the title track from In War And Pieces and played most of the classics you’d expect (“The Saw Is The Law”, “Outbreak of Evil”, etc). I believe these were their first two shows with brand new drummer Makka and he fit in with no problem. The band was tight and raged through their set with no problem. Always a pleasure to see live. (Sean)

FORBIDDEN, Club stage, 10:00 PM
As I mentioned on the Day Two recap, Forbidden quickly became one of my favourite bands on the cruise. I already had tremendous respect for the band’s old material and their excellent 2010 reunion album Omega Wave, but I didn’t know just how powerful they are live. There was no way I was going to miss out on another set by the Bay Area band, and even though the song selections were very similar set to the previous one, I couldn’t care less. If anything, it only hammered home just how good the new material is. We did get a cool little bonus at the end, though, as their old drummer, Testament’s Paul Bostaph, sat in on the fierce closer “Chalice of Blood’, the entire room shouting out the chorus. This is one band I would love to see many more times in the future. (Adrien)

This was my last set of music for the week and it was a great one to end with. The band was just as great this time as they were earlier in the week. It was a little hard to see them, as there were loads of other bands inside watching them, and Forbidden was up to the task. These guys are back – and arguably better than ever too. A nice way to end an absolutely fantastic week. (Sean)

BLIND GUARDIAN, Main Stage, 11:00 PM
The German band was so darn efficient at their first show that I thought I should check them out a second time, but while all the other power metal nerds were enraptured by Hansi’s array of rarities, I quickly learned that 90 minutes of Blind Guardian is more than enough for me. A lot of this stuff I was less familiar with, and it quickly grew tedious, to the point where I started laughing when they introduced the song “This Will Never End”. It didn’t help that Hansi and his fans were in full geek-speak mode during the introductory call-and-responses that I could hardly make out the song titles. It’s as if they were all speaking Esperanto. In my notes at one point I wrote, “It sounds like the song’s called ‘Agonist the Squid Farmer.’” At this point the notion of harvesting cephalopods seemed more interesting than hearing a third hour of Blind Guardian, so I took that as my cue to leave. (Adrien)

AMON AMARTH, Pool Stage, 12:30 AM
After that good-but-should’ve-been-better set by Testament, I was hoping for one huge, climactic blowout to cap off 70,000 Tons of Metal in style. Thankfully, Amon Amarth delivered. And how. What was a chilly day tuned into an absolutely freezing evening, the massive wind gusts making us shiver on the deck as we waited for the band, hoodie hoods up, hands in pockets, sunburned noses rendered icy. The colder it got, the more perfect the conditions became. It was like we were sailing the Baltic, not the Caribbean Sea. Amon Amarth has always loved to play up the Viking shtick, but this had to be the most Viking-like show they‘ve ever done. As they started into “Twilight of the Thunder God” (no long sleeves for these burly Swedes), the wind howled, and the backlit smoke, swirling crazily, created silhouettes of the four dudes onstage whipping their hair around. That wasn’t a Nordic fog, it was a spinning vortex that led to friggin’ Ragnarok. “Epic” is a word that’s become so overused in metal these days, but this, this was capital-’e’ Epic in every sense. “Twilight”, “Free Will Sacrifice”, “Runes to My Memory”, “Beheading of a King”, “Valhal Awaits Me”, “Evil Man”, “Asator”, “Fate of Norns”, “1000 Years of Oppression”, “Live For the Kill”, capping off with the always fun “Death in Fire”, “The Victorious March”, and “Pursuit of Vikings”. Perfect. Finntroll and Dusk Machine were to play next, but no, this was the perfect ending. Cold no more, I took one last glimpse towards the vast ocean knowing we’d be docked in Miami when I awoke, and headed to the cabin grateful I got to take part in the greatest metal fest ever. (Adrien)

Thanks for reading through all of our daily recaps of the festival. If it doesn’t come through in the writing, we really enjoyed our time on the cruise. It was exciting to be part of what hopefully will continue to be an ongoing yearly occurrence and it is one that all four of us will definitely remember for a long, long time.

* there are no photos of these bands, because they wore not allowing photographers into the photo pits for their set

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.