70000 TONS OF METAL Cruise Recap Part 2

Here we are back with our coverage of day two of the 70K TONS cruise. Tuesday was the first full day of bands from morning till late late in the evening, so put on your hat and enjoy the ride.

CRIPPER, Pool stage, 10:00 AM

Walking from the breakfast buffet to the stage, I assumed what I heard was a guy singing. It was a woman and she was good. Good riffs, I was not expecting that kind of energy so early in the morning. Only catching five tunes, I thought they were great and played a really tight set. They won over a lot of fans. Very well brewed, they have the potential to go somewhere in the future. (Albert)

AGENT STEEL, Pool stage, 11:30 AM
We were curious what the recently reunited Agent Steel would be like, but we didn’t expect their set to start as auspiciously as it did. With their singer unable to make the trip, the speed metal veterans scrambled for a replacement, and came up with a pair in Helstar screamer James Rivera and Steel Prophet’s Rick Mythiasin. All well and good, but the boys still had to rely on crib sheets for the lyrics, and with the swirling winds outside, the whole thing was starting to look somewhat of a farce. Despite the lack of organization, the band were all thoroughly enjoying themselves, and by the end, oldies like “Rager”, “Agents of Steel”, and a cover of Judas Priest’s “The Ripper” had won everyone over. (Adrien)

This was almost a write-off, but somehow this cobbled up version of Agent Steel pulled it off. Like Adrien mentioned, the last minute vocalist substitutions left the band in a bit of an awkward situation that included both singers holding cheat sheets for the entire set (minus the Priest cover, naturally), but the musicianship was strong enough that they could have done instrumental versions of their tunes and pulled it off even without the lyrics included. (Sean)

It may come as a surprise to some of you clowns that I was greatly looking forward to finally seeing Agent Steel live and in the flesh. And of course, they totally let me down. I remember the days of listening to Brian Taylor’s ‘Aggressive Rock’ radio show on Tuesday nights back in the 80s and first being exposed to these space-ace Cali thrashers, their Skeptics Apocalypse and Unstoppable Force albums, not to mention the awesomeness of the latter’s title track. Funny thing is that the vocalists knew as many of the lyrics to those songs as I did as a 14-year-old listening late at night. There was nothing inherently wrong with their performance and it’s admirable that they didn’t cancel, but crib sheets are either totally laughable or a total buzzkill. And I wasn’t laughing. (Kevin)

TROUBLE, Mainstage indoors, 12:15 PM
I hate to say it, but this was a massive disappointment. Trouble has long been a favourite of mine, especially live, but I really feel that their current vocalist is not a good fit for the band. We were there in time to see the legendary Chicago doom unit march on out to the stage to kick things off with “R.I.P.” in grand style, but as soon as Kory Clarke’s weathered voice started singing the mood was spoiled for me. Clarke just doesn’t fit with the band and his singing just spoiled those classic Franklin/Wartell riffs and twin harmonies in a way that I ended up walking out on one of my favourite bands. I just couldn’t do it. It makes me worry a lot about their new upcoming album, which they have apparently enlisted Bill Metoyer to produce. I hope he can coax a better vocal performance out of Kory Clarke than he had on this night, because their soundguy “Larry The Dude” sure couldn’t help out. (Sean)

Great doom riffs, of course, but what the hell happened to Kory Clarke? Has he been gargling thumbtacks for twenty years? The guy sounds awful, paling in comparison to his predecessor Eric Wagner. Plus his preening rock star shtick doesn’t fit with Trouble’s old school aesthetic one bit. (Adrien)

As nice it was to cool off in the theater, the place to be was outside on this day, where the weather was sensational. (Adrien)

TYR, Pool stage, 1:00 PM
There were no shortage of Viking bands on this cruise, but you knew Týr would be the band who’d transform the lavish vessel into a longship with their chanted four-part melodies, unique cadences, and Norwegian and Faroese lyrics. With the sun in a gorgeous blue sky beating down on us the foursome put in one of the best performances of the entire trip, ranging from thrilling, traditional-inspired songs like “Tróndur í Gøtu”, “Sinklars Visa”, and “Regin Smidur”, to rousing English sing-alongs like “Hold the Heathen Hammer High”, “By the Sword in My Hand”, “Hail to the Hammer”, and the Celtic-tinged “The Wild Rover”. Though I listen more to Týr’s non-English songs more than their English ones (Scandinavian languages lend themselves to this music far more effectively than English), the 45 minute performance was superb, attracting a very large afternoon crowd. (Adrien)

Fucking awesome! From the singer/guitarist’s witty and self-deprecating sense of humour to their somehow making it acceptable to experience metallic folk songs poolside under a blazing Caribbean sun, the Faroe Islands dudes totally entertained everyone, even the louts getting hammered in the hot tubs. Especially the louts getting hammered in the hot tubs. They were so good that what normally would have been the best moment of their set – seeing a German guy decked out in leather battle/viking gear from the waist up while sporting beach shorts and sandals – was mere gravy. (Kevin)

Pretty neat to see Uli Jon Roth looking down nodding in approval to Tyr’s majestic set of viking metal in the hot early afternoon sun. BTW, the band made mention that they had never played outdoors before and were definitely out of their element, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway. (Sean)

SABATON, Main stage indoors, 1:45 PM
I’m not a fan of Sabaton at all, as their version of “war metal” is so goofy it almost trivializes the real life events they draw inspiration from, but at an event like this it’s best to approach every live set with an open mind. Who knows who’ll surprise you? Well, 30 seconds of seeing Sabaton jump around in their matching fatigues was all it took to realize that, yep, they’re just as bad as on record. If Bolt Thrower is the Stanley Kubrick of war metal, Sabaton is Michael Bay. (Adrien)

I was curious to see how Sabaton’s Euro style military-obsessed power metal would come off on a festival stage and, unsurprisingly, the fans were eating it up. Seeing as how they are Euro fest veterans, I’m pretty sure a lot of those from abroad were lapping them up. I could appreciate what they were doing, but one song was really all I needed. Curiously, these guys are opening the upcoming Accept North American tour – talk about a weird combination! (Sean)

You could almost see them squeezing the cheese from their camo uniforms. (Kevin)

ENSIFERUM, Pool stage, 2:45 PM

Albert warned me that the Caribbean heat would be particularly brutal on my sensitive Prairie winter skin, so I was regularly re-applying the sunscreen as the day got hotter, but when Finland’s Ensiferum took the stage the sun was absolutely beating down on us. Not that we noticed, as the band kicked into an hour of speed-riddled Viking tunes. Although I thoroughly enjoy Ensiferum’s simple combination of galloping riffs and pub sing-alongs, when they start digging into their albums’ deep cuts, that’s when the weaknesses show. So while we all went nuts to “Ahti”, “Dragonheads”, “Battle Song”, and “Token of Time”, stuff like “Twilight Tavern” and “Windrider’ gradually made the band sound more tedious than they deserved to be. 45 minutes would have been more suitable. And by the end of the set, my neck was redder than Sarah Palin’s. (Adrien)

RAGE, Main stage indoors, 3:30 PM
I was somewhat familiar with Rage, thanks to their 2006 album Speak of the Dead, which was put out by Nuclear Blast with barely anyone noticing, but I had no idea a) how many great songs they had, and b) how good a live band they are. In front of a largely German crowd, they turned in a classy traditional heavy metal performance that exposed Sabaton for the clowns they are, highlighted by “Higher Than the Sky”, a tune that has since been played dozens of times by yours truly. Oh, and shame on me for losing 2010’s splendid Strings to a Web! That album’s a keeper. It’s a shame Rage didn’t bring any merch; that set would’ve sold a shitload of t-shirts and CDs. (Adrien)

I knew that Rage were festival circuit faves going into it, but after seeing them play live now I totally get it. This is a trio with a big sound that knows how to play together. Some great soloing by guitarist Victor Smolski was kind of the icing on the cake. Well played 80s style heavy metal done right. Time to pick up some of their older albums methinks! (Sean)

FORBIDDEN, Pool stage, 4:30 PM
By late afternoon the sun was starting to disappear behind the bow of the ship, but not before blinding us all during Forbidden’s brilliant set. Sure, the average age of the audience there was about 35, but the Bay Area band proved that their new material is just as strong as their classics, “Forsaken at the Gates” and “Omega Wave” stacking up nicely alongside “Step by Step” and “Twisted Into Form”. Led by the charismatic Russ Anderson and backed up by maniacal drummer Mark Hernandez, Forbidden would go on to be one of my favourite bands of the entire cruise. (Adrien)

I love the way that guitarist Craig Locicero keeps building momentum throughout their set. He starts off on a high, but is going absolutely bonkers by the end of the set. Good cross section of both old and new songs and it’s worth noting that Steve Smyth (ex-Nevermore) is a absolute excellent fit here. I think I am going to have to go see these guys again later in the week. (Sean)

SWASHBUCKLE, Club stage indoors, 4:30 PM
Great mosh pit action for these pirate thrash metallers. Lots of happy fans singing along. Good beer tunes. There was a fan dressed up as a shark in the mosh pit who was getting beat up extra hard, as requested by the band’s vocalist. It was really funny. (Albert)

MOONSPELL, Main stage indoors, 5:15 PM
These Portuguese metal dudes had a lot of technical problems from the get go. They were always complaining. The keyboards didn’t work at all for the five tunes I was there for. The band was really messy and sloppy. I must admit I have seen them four times since 1999 and it has always been that way. (Albert)

OBITUARY, Pool stage, 6:15 PM
Having seen Obituary numerous times over the past three or four years, I only stayed long enough to check out a song and a half. There is very little left to surprise when it comes to their live performances, which have become much better than they were back in the early to mid 1990s, as they very rarely alter their setlist. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it, right? (Sean)

I stayed for one track and took some photos, but I don’t really remember it. (Albert)

VOIVOD, Club stage indoors, 6:15 PM
There were two bands on this cruise that I’d never seen after listening to them for more than 25 years, and quite incredibly, Voivod was one of them. Because they were playing right during dinner hours I had to forgo the buffet and the more formal dining room so I wouldn’t miss this set. It was as exciting as I’d anticipated, too, as the foursome tore through songs including “Voivod”, “Missing Sequences”, “The Prow”, and “Brain Scan” before closing with the requisite “Astronomy Domine”, dedicated to late guitarist Piggy. They ended with a few minutes to spare, so they spontaneously pulled out “Ripping Headaches” as well, ending with bassist Blacky creating total mayhem on the small stage. (Adrien)

It’s almost ironic that I’m witnessing one of the best Voivod gigs I’ve personally ever seen “on a fucking boat!” a few thousand miles away from home. Focusing on their classic first six albums, the cyber-killers hypnotised with their technical acumen and blew all assembled away with their punk rock energy, including Blacky playing most of “Ripping Headaches” while crowd surfing the low ceiling of the Spectrum. Tribute was paid by the guitarists from other bands who had assembled to watch and stare at Dan’s fingers in awe and confusion. (Kevin)

Voivod continue to get better and better since the return of Blacky and the addition of Martyr’s Dan Mongrain on guitar. Of course, no one could ever truly replace Piggy, but close your eyes and Mongrain plays the songs so loyal to Piggy’s original vision that you’d swear it was him still swinging the axe.(Sean)

ICED EARTH, Main stage indoors, 7:00 PM
Iced Earth has been on a good roll ever since welcoming singer Matt Barlow back into the fold, and they put together a very nice greatest hits setlist for the indoor show in the theater. Kicking off with “The Burning Times”, they set about pleasing the fans some of their best-loved songs, including “Pure Evil”, “Melancholy (Holy Martyr)”, “The Dark Saga”, and “A Question of Heaven”. Guitarist/band leader Jon Schaffer was solid, Barlow proved he’s as fine a metal screamer as he’s ever been, the band’s mix was impeccable. It was another good, no-frills, hour-long show by a very steady and reliable band. (Adrien)

It was a full house for Iced Earth, one of the most packed shows. It was a really intense show, very professional. You could tell they were really well rehearsed. All the fans were really losing their minds, especially the Latinos in the audience. (Albert)

EPICA, Pool stage, 8:00 PM
Epica’s one of the most up-and-down bands I know. One minute they’re capable of some first-rate symphonic metal, the next they slip into moments of complete tedium. Their first set of the cruise slipped into the latter category, unfortunately, as instead of starting off with a bang, the Dutch band opened with a series of meandering epics, namely The Divine Conspiracy’s “Chasing the Dragon” and “The Obsessive Devotion”. It didn’t help that the swirling winds clearly distracted singer Simone Simons, who clearly doesn’t like belting arias with a mouthful of hair. Not that anyone in the photo pit cared, however, as all were focused on what the frontwoman was wearing, clicking away like paparazzi at Cannes. (Adrien)

I stayed for four tracks. The first two were okay but it started getting monotonous and boring. I had to leave before I wanted a nap. (Albert)

AMON AMARTH, Main stage indoors, 8:45 PM
As someone posted on the internet a week earlier, if you don’t like Amon Amarth, you don’t like fun. Even if you’re not into their fairly predictable brand of Viking-themed melodic death metal, you can’t deny their power as a live act, and their first show drew the biggest single crowd since Exodus’s opening show. Although their new album has long since been in the can (and it’s a good one, trust me), they chose to stick to a greatest hits set this time around, which suited everyone fine. Opening with “Guardians of Asgard”, they churned out expected tunes like “Death in Fire”, “Cry of the Black Birds”, “Runes to My Memory”, “Twilight of the Thunder God”, and the requisite “Pursuit of Vikings”, the one deviation being Versus the World’s “Where the Silent Gods Stand Guard”. Same old, same old, but nobody was complaining, including yours truly. (Adrien)

Basically, these dudes are Viking crowd pleasers. I loved the symphonic element to their death/thrash almost as much as I loved the synchronised head banging and the way Johan Hegg‘s beard seems to fly in slow motion opposition to his mane. There was no doubt they were one of the main attractions of the cruise as the rest of the ship was a ghost town when they were on. (Kevin)

DEATH ANGEL, Club stage indoors, 10:00 PM
I was floored by just how much energy Death Angel brings to their shows. Though familiar with them since 1987, I had not seem them live, and I left thoroughly impressed. Weirdly, this gig felt like the first half of a monstrous, marathon live set, full of great material (“Mistress of Pain”, “Dethroned”, “Truce”, “Seemingly Endless Time”), and when it ended, you just knew the real favourites would appear during their second show. Which posed a bit of a problem for me, as there was no way I could catch that one, but I left mighty pleased nonetheless, mediocre new album and all. (Adrien)

I have never been disappointed by a Death Angel live performance and the streak continues. Mark Osegueda is just one of the greatest frontmen thrash metal has ever seen. He captivates the crowd like no other. Maybe not as many classics as I would have liked in this set, but very well performed and executed. We’ll see what they do differently on Thursday. (Sean)

SAXON, Main stage indoors, 11:00 PM
I get more than enough Saxon in my life every week at Hellbound Radio (have you not seen our playlists?) and I’ve never really considered myself a massive fan of the band. However, even an ungrateful arse like myself knows how rare and special it is to see them do “Wheels of Steel”. And do it really well, complete with Biff Byford‘s stratospheric pipes and the boundless energy of the bass player. Somewhere, a real Saxon fan is crying blasphemy in his cider. (Kevin)

I was curious as to just how good Saxon sounded these days, but as soon as Biff Byford and the guys launched into “Motorcycle Man”, any skepticism I might have had vanished. Ferocious, tight, extremely catchy, and with Biff in fine vocal form to boot. The Wheels of Steel material went over huge (especially “747 (Strangers in the Night)”), not to mention the closer “Power and the Glory”, which the band played at the request of a fan on the floor. And to think the whole Saxon experience would get even better less than 24 hours later… (Adrien)

This was well worth the 24 year wait I endured to finally get to see Saxon live. It was perfect for me that they did their classic Wheels of Steel album in its entirety to boot, as it’s always been one of my favourites. It brought a tear to my eye when they played “Suzie Hold On” and announced it was originally written for a friend of the band that was dying of cancer, as my mum died of lung cancer six years ago now and one of the few metal bands she didn’t mind me listening to in her presence growing up was Saxon. (Sean)

TESTAMENT, Pool stage, 12:30 AM
Having lobbied for and written the The Legacy Hall of Fame piece for Decibel Magazine a year-plus back. I was really excited to see them do said album in its entirety and wasn’t disappointed in any way, shape or form. Sometimes you forget how brilliant not only some songs are, but also the nuances of those same songs. Tonight, Testament re-jigged all those memories and it was killer, dude. (Kevin)

The idea of hearing The Legacy performed in its entirety wasn’t the most exciting prospect for me, as I already saw Testament do that a year ago opening for Megadeth, but this poolside set out in the muggy midnight weather was the strongest show I’ve seen Testament do in the last few years, inciting the most vicious mosh pit of the entire trip. One poor fella was hurled to the side with such force he whacked his head on the side of the adjacent pool deck, which was a bit scary to witness, and which quickly sobered everyone. The friendly violent fun continued, albeit with a little more emphasis on “friendly”. (Adrien)

KORPIKLAANI, Main stage indoors, 1:30 AM
Seeing Korpiklaani headline a show is fun. Seeing Korpiklaani play right after triumphant sets by Amon Amarth, Saxon, and Testament, however, is not. They exhibited the charisma of a row of garden gnomes, and not even an “Iron Fist” cover, nor the live staple “Happy Little Boozer” couldn’t keep me from nodding off in the balcony of the theatre. (Adrien)

The seven piece band looked really tired onstage but the fans were going crazy anyway. (Albert)

SODOM, Pool stage, 2:30 AM
One of my fondest memories of the trip is half-dozing in a deck chair at three in the morning, Tom Angelripper and Sodom killing it onstage to my left, the lights of Cancun on the Mexican coast glowing to my right. (Adrien)

I was so tired by the time they hit the stage all I remember is taking the pictures and walking down to the cafeteria to get three more slices of pizza. (Albert)

RAVEN, Main stage indoors, 3:15 AM
This was the other huge show for me on this long, long day, and I had to wait until nearly four in the morning to finally see it. For some reason technical snafus delayed Raven’s theater show, but it wasn’t as if people were clamouring to get in. Well before anyone was ready the security dude rolled his eyes and said, “Just go,” to the dozen or so of us at the door, as we walked in and proceeded to witness the quietest line check and concert build-up in history. We were all so tired, and the place was practically a library, the surreality of it all making all twelve of us Raven fans laugh exhaustedly. It made for a strangely intimate show, and one that knocked my socks off, as one of my favourite ‘80s metal bands delivered classic after classic. “Take Control”, “Live at the Inferno”, “All For One”, “Rock Until You Drop”, “Mind Over Metal”, “Break the Chain”. Bassist John Gallagher can still scream like he did 28 years ago, brother Mark might have a bit of a paunch but his guitar work is as frenetic as ever, and drummer Joe Hasselvander now resembles a homeless guy they picked up off the street. They were so clearly happy to be included on the bill that they went out there and had a total blast, sincerely grateful to those present for showing up at such an ungodly hour. Heading down to our cabin after the destructive end of the set, guitars, drums, and mikes flying everywhere, I was so buzzed I thought I’d never get to sleep, but was unconscious as soon as my head hit the pillow as the ship continued its crawl towards Cozumel. (Adrien)

I passed out and missed this and the Sodom and Testament sets earlier in the night. Fuck was I pissed the next day that I didn’t make these! (Sean)

I stayed for four tracks, which were all great, but I couldn’t stand up anymore so I had to go get some rest for the next day. (Albert)

Well, that is it for Day 2. Come back on Friday morning for our coverage of Day 3, which included a day trip to Cozumel, Mexico.

Sean Palmerston

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