70000 Tons Of Metal 2015 Part I - Bloodlust, Bongs And Birthdays On The Caribbean Sea!
February 20, 2015, 5 years ago
Cruise number three for me. And the best way to describe it is they are like your children; all very special in their own unique way. And 70000 Tons Of Metal 2015 was once again this surreal heavy metal experience. But as you keep cruising, it becomes a surreal family experience. People that you’d want to spend more time with than your own blood in some cases!
My adventure began in my hometown north of Toronto (Barrie). 3 AM shuttle pick-up on the 400 Highway milk-run down to Ontario’s capital and one of the most insane airports (and poorly run) on the planet. Trust me, it’s an annoying killer of time and red tape bullshit (Buffalo is a much better option!). Certainly magnified after 9/11. Finally board my Westjet flight to find out that there’s a water-pressure issue. First time in my flying history that I had to DISEMBARK my plane before the bloody thing even left! But safety comes first and only a few hours later we were on ANOTHER plane … thank Satan there WAS another plane. See, that’s why you need a little padding in your schedule. Almost guaranteed delays. And anybody knows flying from Canada from October through May, anything is possible from the skies! Maybe not to the magnitude of Planes, Trains And Automobiles, but close!
So the cruise began on Thursday, January 22nd, and I left on Tuesday for obvious seasonal reasons! But there’s also plenty of pre-parties, beach parties and other “family” reunions! And of course - flying from the Great White North in January - there’s something called a beach! And all I require is a towel, chair, refreshments and my iPhone. Done deal. The Fort Lauderdale A1 strip of bars (the Elbo Room in particular; check out their live online cameras too!), restaurants (Coconuts and Casablanca are a must!) and beaches may not match Miami, but it’s still a pretty big sand box to play in. A side note; Royal Caribbean seems to bounce from the Port Of Miami to Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, this year a first for 70000 Tons Of Metal.
We purposely stayed at the south end of the A1A beach area so we’d be closer to Port Everglades and upon arriving to board this ship, you could tell that security had been tightened tremendously due to various terrorist attacks across the globe. The port is a massive storage area full of containers, used for countless amounts of goods coming to and from the United States and to monitor such traffic is an immense undertaking in terms of sleuthing!
On cruise day, they want you to arrive a bit early due to the length of time it takes to deal with the process, but this year it was a crazy long cattle-call of lines and customs etc, etc… This year it’s a bigger cruise (3,000 passengers), hence the added time. But since you know you are entering a metal mecca on the water, you just pass the time (and it really is only about 90 minutes or so!) by mingling with fellow passengers and “family” members.
Once on board, you’ve never seen anything this expansive in your life. I was on 70K 2014 and Barge To Hell (2013), so I thought I had a bit of an idea to find my way around a ship. But my usual travel accomplice and photo-guy Mr. Mark Gromen was a cruise virgin of this magnitude. So let’s just say it took us a bit to get settled while we waited to get our luggage, which takes a few hours, as crew cart it up to our cabins.
But aside from the usual cruise requirements such as restaurants, bars and casino, there was a central shopping area, a Vintages wine tasting bar, a pub featuring a deep selection of brews, other specialty diners, a steakhouse, an Italian eatery and more! If you are athletically-inclined, you’ve got a a full-sized volleyball / basketball court, an ice skating rink, a boxing ring, and a large fitness center where I’d be found the next day jogging on a treadmill beside Apocalyptica drummer Mikko Sirén!
The rink was converted to a stage, but there was a plan to feature a three-on-three international shinny tournament that yours truly signed up for! Sadly, due to stage delays, the ice-building was cancelled, as the area was needed for bands that were bumped from the Pool Deck (more on that later). And aside from the live attractions on 70K, there’s a soundtrack that runs 24/7 in the background through the ships vast audio systems. You name the band, odds are it was played on board and I was pleasantly surprised to hear a classic Doors track blaring by the buffet area. Respect our elders!
After a bit of mingling on deck, truly the only formality - the standard Mustard Station drill - is up next as we will wait in lines and make sure that there’s an actual game plan and a vessel, if a Titanic disaster appears! Not likely of course, but water is something to be respected. People are just bodies, life-boat positions in this regard, so you may be sitting beside some rock star! Anvil legend Lips told me a funny story that he was in the line with guitar icon Michael Schenker, but the man who created the ‘metal on metal’ motto was recognized by everyone! I guess that’s what Hollywood will do to you!
We finally get back into Wacken On Water mode, as Mark puts it so eloquently (check out his thorough 70000 Tons Of Metal reviews and photos here). So the bands commence around dinner time and highlights from Day 1 (Thursday, January 22nd) - after a few sound issues were sorted - included our other Canadian kingpins Annihilator and Kataklysm. Waters is a guitar god and probably the greatest to hail from Canada. The Ice Rink was packed with fans and then the icing appeared, Cobourn Pharr, singer on Never, Neverland, who surprised the crowd with three songs from their classic send album from 1990: "Reduced To Ash", "The Fun Palace" and "I Am In Command”. Pharr, complete with sunglasses and cap looked a bit reserved and in a position and spotlight that he hadn’t seen in years at this level, however the crowd embraced him like an old uncle!
Kataklysm frontman Maurizio Iacono destroyed the crowd and I was wary to get too close or I’d get eaten! Undoubtably Canada’s longest running and most powerful extreme entity, this trip was a bit of a recording break. The new album, being created at Florida’s Audio Hammer Studios, is virtually complete and world domination continues. Stay tuned for much more on Canada’s death metal heroes in the coming weeks!
Threshold was a rare treat, sadly one of those bands that don’t visit us overseas very often and keep in mind, the band’s 2007 album, Dead Reckoning, was one of my faves for that year, so hearing the raucous “Slipstream” was a bonus! One of many examples to sign up for a cruise like 70000 Tons Of Metal!
Although I may have been a bit harsh with Arch Enemy during the BravePicks, I gotta say singer Alissa White-Gluz is a fire-cracker that fits the part admirably. What a talent! I just believe it’s a bit of a credibility hit when you change singers, no matter how good they are! And the icing is Jeff Loomis; not too many have this kind of a twin-axe attack and alongside Amott, Arch Enemy are unstoppable. And it appears Loomis may be in for the long haul, so that long-rumored Nevermore reunion is still on the back burner!
Despite sound issues, Apocalyptica are such a class act as they break new ground in the hard rock and classical arenas! They delivered their breed of majestic music with recently recruited vocalist, Franky Perez, who was part of Scars On Broadway, Pusher Jones and appeared on Slash’s first solo record.
The focal point at the end of and during each evening seemed to be the Casino bar and 70000 Tons Of Karaoke, which ran from 3AM until sunset. Yes, this cruise 24/7, so if you feel this is something you could endure, start practicing drinking and sleep deprivation! But as I’ve mentioned in previous reports, you DON’T want to sleep. There is such an adrenalin rush and electricity flowing, that for some reason your body just doesn’t get tired. It’s very bizarre.
Friday, January 23rd
Today we awoke to a bit more frustration when it came to building the stage on the pool deck. The winds were borderline fierce, which - along with all the technical learning curve of dealing with a new ship - hampered construction. The issue was speed, as we were racing to our destination which was a wee bit farther than past cruises, hence the “pedal to the metal” mentality of Norwegian Captain Kjetil Gjerstad, who has been with Royal Caribbean since 1977! So obviously we were in good hands!
Melechesh meeting of the minds! Ah, the people you run into on a cruise. It was my first personal encounter with Ashmedi Melechesh, the brainchild of the the first ever metal band out of Jerusalem with a record deal. We totally hit it off, speaking about any number of topics including his worldly upbringing, and of course their latest episode of “Sumerian thrashing black metal” called Enki. Ashmedi is truly a man without borders as we sat and quoffed Gin and Tonics on the pool deck with our good Nuclear Blast bud Jaap. Melechesh have reached the boiling point with deeply spiritual sonics as was witnessed only a few hours before on the Ice Rink stage.
Keep in mind, as Mark was bouncing from stage-to-stage, I had plenty of interview commitments to continue to wave the BraveWords flag high n’ mighty. Today included Therion and Arch Enemy, until we got word that Century Media had yanked all press opportunities on the cruise as they hadn’t been formally approved. I would end up meeting Michael Amott a number of times as we’d reminisce about his treasured history as BraveWords was a support system from the beginning, particularly those early Arch Enemy monsters!
Soulfly was the first to grace the pool, and I gotta say, just witnessing Max cover Sepultura’s “Arise”, there was one gaping hole; Andreas guitar sound. And that’s no slight to to the able-bodied Marco Rizzo. I’m just not a fly-fan. Max did get the crowd jumping with his raucous style of beat-ridden borderline metalcore, but give me classic Sepultura any day!
Let’s talk real metal. Venom. A MASSIVE influence on me and BW&BK;/BraveWords. Nothing touches the first three albums in metal history, for me, particularly At War With Satan, which is a constant on my various listening pleasures to this day. Cronos looked and sounded like it was 1985 and delivered a devilishly-tasty greatest hits set featuring the lead-off anthem “Black Metal”! Venom’s poolside extreme exploits also featured “Witching Hour”, “Countess Bathory”, “In League With Satan” and the ever-punishing “Warhead”. Cronos - joined by towering guitarist Stuart "La Rage" Dixon and high-hat pugilist drummer Danny "Dante" Needham - was in jovial form. Think about it, Venom by the pool! The area was packed with fans as the Satanic singalong pushed midnight. It was even a bit more surreal for me as we were borderline on Jamaica time, which meant it was January 24th and the day I turn 48! So this was the ultimate gift, with Cronos only a few feet away! Watch for an extensive interview with Venom in the coming days as we talked about the new album, From the Very Depths, and dig very deep into the catalog and hearty dose of history as Cronos explains how/why they were so intent on giving the middle finger to the church!
The Polish majesty that is Behemoth was next, so it was shaping up to be an old-school meets new school black metal evening of sorts. But there is much more variety on this cruise, as Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock, Blind Guardian and the late addition fan-favorite Wintersun which were more of the highlights during the floating adventure.