Review by Adrien Begrand; Live photos by Marc Hansen, Michael Jagla, Ag Babin, and Adrien Begrand.
Day Three: Grand Turk, British West Indies
Decompression day, at the very tiny, windswept island of Grand Turk, less than 200 km north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Total number of bands seen after two days: 30. Considering my previous four-day record on the past two cruises is 31, I’m well on my way to topping it. But on this day, nothing but some well-earned R & R. Which for yours truly, meant beach barhopping up and down the west coast of Grand Turk. Because we were the only cruise ship there, it wasn’t teeming with people, which was delightful. I grabbed some cracked conch and Turk’s Head beer at one spot, walked some 500 metres up the beach to a brilliant place called Jack’s Shack (who knew we were coming because they were cranking the metal outside all afternoon), and set up camp there for a good couple hours, contentedly sipping fruity cocktails in the shade with a small handful of other cruisers. Regretfully walking back along the beach towards the pier, I capped off the day with a gigantic signature drink – less a margarita than a wildly potent Slurpee – at the unbelievably tacky Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, where James Luna of Holy Grail walked by and said hi…the last time we chatted we were both shivering on 2nd Avenue in Saskatoon in late November, neither of us knowing we’d wind up on this island two months later, so we had a big laugh about where we both were. Who knew?
Also, kudos to the hilarious group of Germans who wrote “70,000 TONS OF FUCKIN’ METAL” in big letters across the beach. Temporary as it was, it was great to see this cruise leave its mark on Grand Turk.
As the 3:30 deadline to board neared, I joined the rest of the joyously drunk metalheads in the lineup to get on the boat. Once I got settled on the ship – so that’s what the rails in the hallways are for! – I stumbled across the astonishingly talented Vika Yermonyeva performing her grand piano interpretations of metal songs in the atrium. Unlike so many classical musicians who post covers of extreme metal songs, Vika does do with incredible nuance (her rendition of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” was spellbinding), and I sat there entranced. A young fella approached Vika as soon as she finished. “WILL YOU SIGN MY SWORD?” he asked, brandishing a plastic toy sword. Metal fans are the best.
Fatal Smile, Spectrum Lounge, 5:00
As the ship gained speed back on the northwesterly route back to Miami, Subway to Sally continued with their tacky display, Fatal Smile churned out some safe, mainstream-ish heavy metal that alternated from overtly hooky American sludge ’n’ groove (“My Private Hell”) to unironic German power balladry. They sold it well.
Turisas, Chorus Line Theater, 5:30
I headed to the theatre to see how much better Turisas would do, and although they sounded so much better in the theatre – no surprise – they played nearly the exact same set list as the other night, which is a cardinal sin at 70,000 Tons. Even though “Take the Day” is kind of awesome in a Queen-scoring-Flash Gordon kind of way, and “Holmgård and Beyond” will always take me back to touring with them, Ensiferum, Tyr, and Eluveitie five years ago. So this was half disappointing, half fun.
Mathias Nygård: “This next song is a drinking song! Do you like Corona?”
You rule, Finnish and German metalheads.
Metal Church, Chorus Line Theater, 7:30
Bands have only just started playing their second sets, but we already have the runaway winner of Best Band at 70,000 Tons of Metal. Following up their apocalyptic “greatest hits” set in the driving rain on Day One, Metal Church set up in the more comfortable confines of the main theatre, and delivered an absolutely triumphant performance of their 1984 self-titled album. One of the greatest metal debuts of the 1980s, and arguably of all time, Metal Church bridged the NWOBHM and thrash better than anyone, and the performance of that first side – “Beyond the Black”, “Metal Church”, “Merciless Onslaght”, and “Gods of Wrath” – still packs one hell of a wallop, driven home by the band’s spot-on rendition, singer Ronny Munroe nailing those screams by the late David Wayne perfectly. The band had no big, lavish backdrop to set up behind them, so they did the next best thing, hanging a Metal Church t-shirt behind the drum kit. In addition to playing their well-known cover of “Highway Star”, they rounded out the hour with B-side “Big Guns” and the title track from 1991’s The Human Factor. Who needs a big budget when the music is this great?
Tyr, Spectrum Lounge, 8:00
I had just enough time to zip upstairs to catch a tiny bit of Tyr’s second show, so it was up those damned stairs for the bazillionth time. While the band sounded a little weak overall in the smaller room, it was nice to hear the Faroese oldie “Ramund Hin Unge” as well as “Shadow of the Swastika”. I was very sad to miss the rest of their set, but Doro was about to hit the Pool stage, and I wasn’t missing that one.
Doro, Pool stage, 8:30
Ms. Pesch is so awesome it’s easy to let a little repetition slide, and she did play a lot of the same songs as on Day One, but she did mix it up a little, playing “East Meets West”, the corny but kind of likeable “We Are the Metalheads”, and even took a request for “Fight For Rock”, which made yours truly very happy. Doro and her band benefitted hugely from the calmer weather outside; with no rain nor high winds, it was a perfect setting, and everything sounded as great as it should have.
Onslaught, Spectrum Lounge, 9:30
Thrash fans, and there were more than a few in attendance, were in for a real treat at Onslaught’s second show, as the band performed their 1986 album The Force in its entirety. Typical of so many great thrash singers, Sy Keeler was in excellent form even after all these years, still plenty capable of top quality screams on such songs as “Let There Be Death” and “Demoniac”.
Ensiferum, Chorus Line Theater, 9:30
I arrived to find a very full theatre going nuts for their Finnish heroes. I don’t know why so many of their fans find “Stone Cold Metal” to be such a great song – sorry, mixing Viking metal with spaghetti Western music spells failure in my opinion – but there were a lot of happy faces when the epic song was played. Favourite “Lai Lai Hei” was indeed carted out, as well as “Battle Song”, concluding a suitably rousing set.
Helloween, Pool stage, 10:30
For a band with as many albums as Helloween has, you’d think they’d have no trouble creating a completely different setlist for their second show, but nope, the only changes from Day One were minimal at best. By this point the only thing that would impress me would be if they played the all-time classic “Halloween”. They didn’t, of course, but they closed with the requisite trifecta of “Future World”, “I Want Out”, and “Dr. Stein”, which was nice. Add the fact that they sounded a LOT better than two nights ago, and it was a good improvement by a band that seemed bent on reminding every metal writer prior to the cruise that they were the co-headliners. That may have been true, but they were far from the best band.
Lacuna Coil, Chorus Line Theater, 11:45
This is a tough time slot for a headliner. Everyone was out all day on the island, they’ve returned completely hammered, and have to muster up the energy for 12 straight hours of metal. By midnight the weaker souls have called it a night, while most of the die-hards at the shows are decidedly droopy. Lacuna Coil’s easily digestible music went down nicely, though, because if there’s one thing that can pick up an exhausted concertgoer, it’s a good pop hook. Cristina Scabbia sounded particularly great on “My Spirit” and the gorgeous, gothy “Senzafine”, probably the best song in the entire Lacuna Coil discography.
Nile, Pool stage, 12:45 a.m.
Another very impressive display of musicianship by Karl Sanders and his crew, highlighted by “Hittite Dung Incantation”, “Permitting The Noble Dead To Descend To The Underworld”, and “Sarcophagus”. It was especially fun to see George Kollias, one of the best drummers in death metal, put on a stupefying display of precision and power.
Heidevolk, Spectrum Lounge, 1:45 a.m.
Can I call them the Dutch Ensiferum? Pub style sing-alongs, galloping rhythms, absolutely nothing new brought to the table. Still, it’s simple and catchy, and went over very well with the lively Pagan metal crowd, who ate it all up.
Holy Grail, Spectrum Lounge, 3:15 a.m.
Wow, did a lot of people stay up to see Holy Grail this late. I was determined to make it through the set this time instead of bailing yesterday. Thankfully the tunes were good, like “Valhalla” and “Dark Passenger”. And FINALLY, the return of the lounge chair mosh pit pioneered at that great Municipal Waste gig on Barge to Hell. Even better, though, several lounge chair Walls of Death were staged, with hilarious results, and which confused the band, who couldn’t see what was going on.
Immolation, Pool stage, 4:00 a.m.
Led by bassist/vocalist Ross Dolan, Immolation looks as formidable as they sound, seeming to pulverize their instruments as they play. It’s a marvel to watch, and I would have done so longer, but with the fourth and last day of the cruise about to begin, it was time to turn in. This was a very good day.