Barge To Hell Cruise Recap Part 1

Last week the inaugural BARGE TO HELL cruise set sail from Miami, FL and was lucky enough to be there to take it all in. Here is the first of four installments about what Adrien, Albert and Sean saw both on and off the cruise. Happy reading!

THE DAY BEFORE – Sunday, December 2nd
by Sean Palmerston

There was almost a sense of deja vu that happened last Sunday, with almost being the key word. Again I found myself being picked up way, way too early on a Sunday morning (4:30 AM to be exact) by Mr. Albert Mansour so that we could drive to Buffalo NY for our flights to Miami. We had done this trip one other time before, in late January of 2011 en route to the inaugural 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, but that one was a last minute affair. Last minute meaning that we had booked our flights less than five days before traveling to Florida. This time we had a little more time.

We figured out in late August that we’d be making the voyage run of the Barge To Hell too, so Albert and I booked our flights on September 1st in hopes of getting the best deal possible. It turned out to be a pretty good deal, less than $300 return each from Buffalo to Miami, but with three months waiting the actual trip itself was put on the backburner while regular life resumed. However, with the day finally at hand the two of us made our way to Buffalo, cleared customs in a jiffy at 6 AM and caught our first flight to Charlotte NC with no problems at all.

Although that first flight was completely packed it was relatively painless. It took a little bit longer to get off the plane than usual, but that was okay because we had nearly ninety minutes to wait in Charlotte for our connecting flight. Up until this moment we hadn’t seen any other metal-looking people at all, but as soon as we sat down in the waiting area for our Miami flight up strolled a number of longhairs in hoodies, jean jackets and band shirts – and three of them were a band. NC’s own Corrosion of Conformity were booked on the same flight we did but, not wanting to be pesky fans we just left them to their laptops and lunches while we scarfed down some food of our own.

We also got our first curveball of the week thrown at us while waiting for our second flight. We were supposed to be meeting up with fellow Hellbound scribe Adrien Begrand and his brother in Miami shortly after 3 PM this afternoon, but Adrien texted me to tell me they were still in Saskatoon SK some six hours after they were supposed to fly to Minneapolis. Their first flight was canceled due to mechanical failure – gotta love prairie winters – and at that point they weren’t even sure they’d make it to Miami for Monday morning. News got a little better before we embarked on our second flight: the Begrand boys were departing soon for Minneapolis but it appeared that the soonest we’d meet up with them would be after midnight at our hotel. With that news in hand Albert and I flew the second part of our trip, got to Miami and then took a cab from the airport to our lovely hotel in Miami and checked in.

There was a pre-cruise show happening in Miami being headlined by Municipal Waste and Napalm Death that we originally were thinking of going to, but when we found out our cabin mates wouldn’t even make the hotel till around 1 AM Albert and I decided to just hang out in South Beach instead. Our hotel, the very reasonably-priced Haddon Hall Hotel, is located on Collins Ave just walking distance away from the Lincoln Road Mall pedestrian shopping area. We spent most of the late afternoon and early evening looking in the stores, eating some fantastic pizza at Pizza Rustica and checking out the local flavour. Albert even bought himself a new pair of shoes! We spent the rest of the night watching NFL football and sports shows until our pals finally showed up just after 12:30. Not ready for bed, they were antsy to get out and check out the local area so we headed back down to Lincoln Road Mall so they could grab some grub and a few beers.

FESTIVAL DAY ONE – Monday, December 3rd
By Adrien Begrand, Albert Mansour and Sean Palmerston

Although the guys got in late we were up early again and out of the hotel room well before check out time. One of the problems that arose with the Begrand brothers having their original flight canceled was that Darcy’s baggage didn’t make it to Miami. Instead, the airlines instructed him to buy some new clothes, which they offered to reimburse him for as long as receipts were provided. So first thing on our agenda Monday morning before going to the ship was for Darcy to get some new shorts, shirts and sandals before he hit the cruise. Darcy’s a pretty astute shopper and had his new duds in less than an hour, so we still had time to head down to the beach.

When we were in South Beach in January of 2011 it was early in the morning, the beach was empty and the water was chilly. This time the public beach was pretty darn busy for a Monday morning and the water was pleasant when we got our shoes off and waded through the surf. We also had time to take a nice stroll down Ocean Boulevard, taking in the art deco styles of the 40s and 50s that are still prevalent on the strip. South Beach is another world far away from what we Canadians are used to, but it’s a pleasant place to visit once every few years. However, it was soon time to head over to the port and board the Majesty of the Seas once again, so after a quick cab ride we were indeed on the Barge To Hell.

We took our time getting to the boat this time around, which meant there was no lineup when we boarded and our room was already ready for us. We soon had all our gear loaded into the room, with the exception of Darcy, whose luggage didn’t make it in time for departure like Delta promised, so he had to go explain his situation to the customer service reps on the boat to try and make sure his clothes would get to us in Nassau. With that dealt with, we all went outside and onto the deck to explore for a few hours before the first band was set to begin. It might have been December, but the weather was wonderfully warm. It was close to seventy-five degrees at about 5:00 PM and the view of Miami from the top deck of the Majesty of The Seas is just outstanding. It was soon time for the music to start, so here is what we saw on the first day:

EXODUS, Main stage Indoors, 5:30
Exodus started at 5:50, 20 minutes behind schedule, which was a huge improvement over the previous 70,000 Tons of Metal cruises. The crowd in the theatre was lively, but about two thirds full, indicative of how much smaller Barge’s attendance is compared to the 70k cruises, both of which sold out.

Though a very last minute addition, Exodus were a perfect choice of band to open and close Barge to Hell. They clearly love playing this ship as well. “Bonded By Blood” and “Strike of the Beast” really got things going.

A half hour into the set, the swaying started as the ship pulled out to sea. “I think I’m gonna puke,” said vocalist Rob Dukes. It was fun watching both sides of a wall of death try to keep their balance before they charged.

Too tired to stand and watch a show in the theatre? Just flop on one of the couch-like benches and watch the band’s reflection in the ceiling mirror. (Adrien)

What a way to kick off this cruise, with veteran thrashers Exodus kicking things off. Rob Dukes is one funny guy, first asking fans not to interrupt if he’s seen on the ship talking to a lady, then later threatening to throw up shortly after the boat left. Of course, musically Exodus are always on target and what better Exodus song to hear on a boat than “Piranha” anyway? (Sean)

KAMPFAR, Small stage Indoors, 6:30
A small crowd gathered at the Spectrum Lounge for Finnish pagan black metalers Kampfar, the ship’s bar staff dancing along to the groovy pagan tunes. Really impressive set, featuring corpsepainted singer Dolk and his Kerry King style spikes. (Adrien)



SOILWORK, Main stage Indoors, 7:15
Soilwork’s keyboard-enhanced melodic death metal came off a lot slicker, obviously, and the music felt a bit more antiseptic compared to the thrash of Exodus and Sodom. That said, their strong melodies were a welcome bit of variety amidst all the brutality. It was their first show together in a year, and they still sounded sharp. (Adrien)



HOLY MOSES, Small stage Indoors, 8:15
How awesome is Sabina Classen? That’s a rhetorical question, because the answer is, invariably, “very.” While Soilwork dutifully played to their fans, thrash veterans Holy Moses tore through a raucous set, led by the indomitable and ageless Classen, one of the greatest frontwomen in metal history. (Adrien)

As duly noted to me by Adrien, after seeing Sabina Classen work her stuff on stage it’s easy to see where Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow took her initial influence from. She may not be as well known as Doro is internationally, but Ms. Classen owns whatever stage she is on and does so in convincing fashion. (Sean)

ENSLAVED, Main stage Indoors, 9:00
Enslaved can do no wrong these days, in my books anyway, and on Monday night they played a stirring set that spanned their long career, from early classics, new material, and plenty of progressive-minded selections. Whether it was furious black metal blasting or the portentous doom of art closer “Giants”, it was an outstanding first of two performances.

Those who watched Enslaved’s set made their way to the pool deck to see the last half of Sodom’s set, only to see a stage that was nowhere near being finished. With four popular bands set to play by the pool on this night, including Paradise Lost, Krisiun, and Monstrosity, it looked like there would be at least one cancellation in this night. (Adrien)

Enslaved were the band of the week for me and the first set by them was incredible. This was the biggest stage I have ever seen the Norwegian quintet play on and they filled the room with their swirling psychedelic metal sounds. Grutle Kjellson has one hell of a scream on him too.

Figuring I would see them again, I also left with 15 minutes left in their set to go see Sodom, only to find out the stage wasn’t completely built yet. Instead of going back, I headed down to our cabin to catch the last quarter of Monday Night Football, in which I must say the Washington Redskins did a fine job squeaking by the NY Giants. (Sean)



NOVEMBER’S DOOM, Small stage Indoors, 10:00
We were too busy watching Enslaved to see any of their set, sorry guys, but Albert did make it up to the nightclub to snap a few pictures of them, one if which is included here. (Sean)




BEHEMOTH, Main stage Indoors, 11:00
Behemoth’s “Conquer All” was already a great song, but in the wake of Nergal’s battle with and subsequent defeat of cancer, it’s taken on an entirely new meaning. “It feels good to be alive!” He hollered, the opening bars of the song inciting a euphoric response from the packed theatre. Behemoth was already a hugely imposing presence on record and especially live, but Nergal’s indefatigable persona, along with the hard working band now on the cusp of global metal superstardom, there’s an aura surrounding them, something more than evident during their triumphant hour-long set. (Adrien)

SODOM, Pool Stage, midnight
Although they were originally supposed to play around 10:30, the final touches to the pool stage were still being finished then so it was shortly after midnight before these German thrash legends finally hit the stage. Not that playing any later made a difference for these vets – the band still plowed their way through an excellent set featuring classics like “Outbreak of Evil” and “Surfin Bird/The Saw Is The Law” next to some newer tracks. There was a time when I never thought I’d ever get to see Sodom, but this was my fifth time and they have been spot on killer each and every set. Definitely my second favourite band of the cruise. (Sean)

I have now seen Sodom three times in my life, and twice it’s have been outside on a windswept ship in the middle of the ocean. I can’t have it any other way now. (Adrien)

LOCK UP, Main stage Indoors, 1:15
We didn’t make it into the club to see Lock Up’d first set, but Albert got in there for a few live shots. Here’s a good one. (Sean)




PARADISE LOST, Pool Stage, 2:00 AM
Paradise Lost seemed off: low on energy, vocals not very strong. I was interested in seeing how good they are live, but this wasn’t very impressive at all. For a band so reliant on backing tracks, they might do better in the theatre. I decided to call it a night midway through the set, it was too unbearable. (Adrien)

There was no band I was more excited to see on this whole trip than Paradise Lost. Having never seen them back in the early 90s when they were at their peak, I had avoided their last few Toronto shows since they were onlydoing opening slots. The idea of seeing a European festival headliner do a twenty-five minute opening set just seemed wrong, so I was really psyched to know they would be playing two hour long sets on the cruise.

I was exhausted by the time they got on stage just after 2 AM, and even had a small nap in one of the poolside deck chairs to make sure that I would be there to catch their set, but I must admit this first Paradise Lost performance was very disappointing. The band seemed to have less energy than I did, with only Gregor Mackintosh seeming to be into it. Vocalist Nick Holmes called in his singing for this set – it was a real going-through-the-motions kind of performance and like my friend Adrien, I didn’t make it to the end of the set either. First major bummer of the cruise. (Sean)

That’s it for our first day at sea. Come back and see us later this week, when part two will be unveiled.

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