70000 Tons Of Metal: Day 4 - Put The Camera Away And Let's Play!
February 10, 2015, 5 years ago
People go on cruises for many reasons. As stated in the Day 1 expose, this was always about the music, reacquainting with band friends and industry types from around the globe. So when people back home: family, co-workers and non-metalheads heard I never went in a pool or hot tub (did keep wetting my whistle though, on land and sea!), didn't pig out on the food, not eating anything but an apple on the last day (preferring the American cafeteria fare in Windjammer and the Asian samples in Jade to big sit down meals), they were a little dismayed. In fact, I didn't sit in the Irish Pub or pizzeria either and in Jamaica, although we paid $5 US apiece for plastic beach chairs, it only served to keep my clothes and camera bag out of the sand: never sat down. Would have liked to join the guys from Pretty Maids at the blackjack table (Ronnie Atkins and Ken Hammer seemed permanently entrenched, when not onstage), but others, playing willy-nilly, unaware of basic strategy, kept the money in my wallet. After more than three decades of reporting on/photographing live events, it's always been about getting the story, first and foremost. After the cruise, someone said, "I never saw you sit down, have a beer and relax." Well my bar tab can prove at least part of that statement false, but don't cry for me Argentina. I had a blast!
Growing up, shooting film, now that I'm digital, never seen the need to shoot hundreds of pictures (can now tell if it's acceptable right away), so seeing many of these bands for the second time, felt even less compelled to chronicle every last visual detail. A cloudless sky greeted all on the Pool deck, the booze already flowing freely (did it ever stop?) by the time Primal Fear's 1pm slot. Just the third show with new drummer, unfortunately it was a carbon copy of Thursday's late night (early morning?) set. No matter, as Ralf Scheepers, in dark black wrap-around shades and Matt Sinner, sporting mirror sunglasses commanded a loose, party atmosphere throughout. All in black, although the singer's cut-off vest seemed most appropriate for the weather. Tom Naumann upped his game, in terms of physical presence onstage: showy histrionics like playing guitar overhead and taking center stage during "When Death Comes Knocking". Don't usually see bikini girls bouncing up & down at a Primal Fear show, especially in January! Sunday appeared to be dress-up day all round, as super heroes Batman and Shazam were joined by a host of Star Wars characters, cartoons (Pikachu) and winged pixies, in and out of the hot tub. Wacken doesn't have a monopoly on zany activities. Can't wait until this Primal line-up has had time to gel (already potent) and add to their repertoire (like this summer, at Bang Your Head), as after just three gigs, speedy metal anthems like "Chainbreaker" and a "Running In The Dust" finale sound as vibrant as when recorded, back in '98. In the meantime, guitarist Alex Beyrodt will continue fleshing out the next Voodoo Circle record, which he promised will be even more bluesy than More Than One Way Home. Looking forward to our next meeting, with a couple of German hefeweizen. Prost!
Speaking of drinks, if ever there was a musical accompaniment to this cruise, certainly it would be the hard partying/drinking Finns in Korpiklaani. Complete with accordion and fiddle, numerous songs revolve around alcohol, a staple of the weekend. As if to obliged, they offered "Happy Little Boozer" and "Vodka" during their hour. Cane, who usually wears a floppy hat similar to the Scarecrow in Wizard Of Oz, found it impossible to keep it on his head, in the stiff sea breeze. After the first track, he also ditched the rose tinted sunglasses. Dreadlocked frontman,Jonne Järvelä looked naked without his usual deer antlers mic stand. Guess that would be a bitch to clear customs. Out of their comfort zone, the Finns were still a blur onstage, moving around (and avoiding collisions with one another) pumping out the infectious, hummpa rhythms. Always a fun live act.
Headed down to Studio B to check out Riot V, whom I'd seen in Europe, last summer. Once again opting for a career retrospective, heavy on the Thundersteel era (five of that album's nine cuts), it was not without the classic tunes. Opening with a blazing run through the instrumental "Narita", onstage a guitar case stenciled with the name "Mark Reale" leaned against the drum riser. The late guitarist was the lone original left in Riot and when the current incarnation decided to carry-on, they added the Roman numeral V, for the fifth line-up. Hitting on all cylinders, there was little break in the delivery, from "Warrior" and Swords & Tequila" ("Road Racin" was on the setlist, but a casualty of time constraints, many bands having to alter choices due to lengthy changeovers and impromptu sound/line checks) to chugging newbie "Metal Warrior". Singer Todd Michael Hall said were showing some love to the Mike DiMeo era, with "Angel Eyes", which alongside "Wings Are For Angels" could have made room for another Speranza-Forrester tune, but I digress. Forced to choose the final trio of songs in the over-way-too-quick 45 minute set, the crowd included "Bloodstreets" and the closing "Thundersteel". Good stuff!
Chris Boltendahl had promised me a little shake-up in the Grave Digger set, once they played outdoors. In a fierce wind that plastered their hair back, the Germans opened once more with "Hell Funeral". However, a more plodding "The Round Table (Forever)", a none too familiar deep cut off 1999's Excalibur (the title track would be aired later, to great fanfare and audience participation) stifled much of the momentum. A gritty, almost punk delivered "Witch Hunter" got things moving once again, the silver haired frontman rampaging from side to side and mugging for the crowd. An even more surprising "Wedding Day", off the 22 year old The Reaper CD (the reformation of Grave Digger, after a seven year hiatus, following War Games), followed. There was a more spirited, thrashy "Ballad Of A Hangman" and "Hammer Of The Scots", as well as another pair off Return Of The Reaper (a mid-tempo "Season Of The Witch" and "Tattooed Rider", although I was hoping for the speedy "Road Rage Killer"), before ultimately rounding out with the aforementioned "Excalibur" (pronounced X-cali-bore), "Highland Farewell", "Rebellion" and the ubiquitous sing-along "Heavy Metal Breakdown". Already can't wait for the next one. Cheers mate!
If there was one set I made sure to see on this cruise, it was the Tales From The Thousand Lakes, in its entirety, by Amorphis. While not only my favorite album by the Finns, twenty years ago, they opened for Paradise Lost, throughout Europe, and I was privy enough to be along for three weeks. So in many ways, that disc is part of my DNA. The inclusion of Tomi Joutsen's roar enabled guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari (who handled the vocals at that point in their career), along with original drummer Jan Rechberger, to even contemplate such an undertaking. Plans call for seven European festival appearances presenting said platter, but here was the first chance for anyone to see/hear it. For this, I actually took a seat in the semi-circle of plush chairs in Platinum. The disc produced a couple of songs that have been synonymous with Amorphis, ever since, notably "Black Winter Day" and Magic And Mayhem". Rather than re-arrange the songs, as some bands do, when playing a particular piece, the record's original running order remained intact, then adding a death metal "Vulgar Necrolatry" (off the Privilege Of Evil Ep) and "My Kantele" to round out the evening. The entire band was re-energized, more lively than the other performance, Holopainen even headbanging. By "The Castaway" Joutsen was shirtless. As the keyboards take over the blue lit "First Doom", Joutsen grabs his self-appointed "Tambourine of doom". "Black Winter Day" offers one of the few clean vocal sections, leading directly into the Holopainen solo for "Drowned Maid". Deep blues were only occasionally pierced by white spotlights of "Forgotten Sunrise". Joutsen was offstage for the instrumental sections in "To Fathers Cabin". He claimed they were going to "keep it old school' for the inclusion of "Vulgar Necrolatry" and, by contrast, the start of "My Kantele" sounded almost acoustic. Afterwards, in discussion at the casino bar, the oft self-deprecating/critical boys were happy with the results. Well done guys.
After yesterday's laugh-filled afternoon on the Jamaican beach with Melechesh founder Ashmedi, felt a sense of duty to witness his band play live. Long a fan of Djinn and Sphinx (both nearly absent from this setlist), our paths never really crossed before this weekend. Behind the bald and bearded frontman/guitaist (Jamacian women wanted to braid his beard, though he refused), his bandmates wore black Islamic masks (niqab) that left only their eyes visible. After the first song, they were discarded. "Ladders To Sumeria" and a sneak peek from the forthcoming Enki album (on Nuclear Blast), "Multiple Truths" showed how tuneful, in an aggressive way, that Melechesh music can be. Then came the hyperkinetic "Grand Gathas of Baal Sin", "Triangular Tattvic Fire" and "Ghouls of Nineveh", before ending with "Rebirth of the Nemesis". If you have the chance to see the band, do it. If you have the chance to hang out with Ashmedi, prepare to have your funny bone tickled, repeatedly.
Apparently Trouble were the musicians' must see band of the evening as Arch Enemy guitar tandem Mike Amott and (ex-Nevermore) Jeff Loomis were spotted standing next to Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster, eyes looked on the stage. During the initial pairing of "R.I.P." and "The Sleeper", singer Kyle Thomas went crazy, headbanging and playing air guitar. Prior to "End Of My Daze" he mistakenly welcomed everyone with "Hello Gulf of Mexico!" Wrong side of Florida, Kyle. That was the lone error of a flawless set with punishing bottom end sound. Rick Wartell was in a sleeveless dress vest, bending notes from his cream colored Flying V. Opposite side was Fu Manchu moustache and headbanded Bruce Franklin, kicking off the groove of "Psalm 9" with old school feedback (no effects rack), sticking the guitar against the Marshall stack. It dovetailed directly into "Memory Garden". Flourescent purple, almost glow-in-the-dark black light, shone from the stage. Following newbie When The Sky Comes Down", 70s Sabbathy sludge introduced "The Tempter", which then suddenly breaks into a speed metal gallop: the MAGIC of Trouble. Ditto "Assassin". Speaking of the Birmingham UK metal pioneers, the Chi-town boys decided to cover "Supernaught", which led into a brief drum spotlight, before the "Revelation (Life Or Death)" finale. Seeing Trouble is always a special experience.
Checked out a bit of Venom, in Platinum, but it soon became evident that Cronos was not going to play anything beyond the new From The Very Depths CD, in its entirety: no classic. So after a few photos, it was time to move on. Had planned on seeing a couple more bands, but that never happened. Perhaps it was all the Finnish acts, especially Wintersun, but a certain, inebriated northern Ontario resident, who wears shorts year-round said there was a "chill" in the air on deck. That's equivalent to one of Uli Roth's "Polar Nights", to you and me, so despite wanting to see Blind Guardian again, opted for the warm confines of the casino, cigarette smoke swirling through the air like it was the late 70s, a cold beer in hand. By that point, many of the people I'd come to see were in relax/party mode, including Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Manni Schmidt (Refuge), the Trouble guys, Esa and Tomi from Amorphis, Ashmedi, Destruction guitarist Mike Sifringer (who still had to play, after 2 AM), amongst others. Forget the camera, l'll have a beer.
The next morning, as we arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale, workers at the port were wearing jackets and ski caps. It WAS cool, but didn't have anything besides shorts. The Northeast was about to get walloped with a major snowfall, stranding me in the sunshine for an extra day. Sometimes life is tough. This wasn't one of those times. Hope to see you onboard 70000 Tons in 2016. Start making plans now.