70000 Tons Of Metal 2019 - BraveWords Almost Needed A Coroner… Then Got One!
March 16, 2019, 2 months ago
Have you ever had that lingering feeling the entire world is plotting against you? Everywhere you turn, there is some major Mount Everest to climb and nothing, absolutely nothing is in your favour? Welcome to our distressing journey to make sure we got onboard 70000 Tons Of Metal 2019, the indescribable moment in heavy metal that makes you count your sleeps until you are finally aboard, and at the same time makes you too damn excited to sleep! To quote numerous cruisers, it’s truly the “opportunity of a lifetime.” To hell with the bucket LIST. You don’t require a list - just this unmatched experience of the ultimate flowing (and floating) non-stop festival. Watching your favourite extreme bands under the hot sun in the middle of the Caribbean Sea is indescribable and an experience second-to-none. BraveWords has been fortunate enough to take part in Skipper Andy PIller’s vision for a number of years, and to say we were prepared is the understatement of the century. Months of careful planning and preparation, and we came dangerously close to almost missing it. It was one of those snapshots in time that made us feel like if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all. So why the fuck did we nearly miss it?! Strict boarding rules say that passengers must check in by 3:30 PM at the very latest as the ship sets sail just after 5 PM from the Port Of Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In fact, most fans make their way on just after lunch and start mingling and cocktailing with their extended family members. We had to practically jump from land to ship, hanging by the railings! We arrived by taxi just before 5 PM cruise day (Thursday, February 1st) with sweat bleeding, our hearts pumping, and saved by our cruise partners. Here’s what happened:
Snow-bound in Buffalo!
Responsibly, we had booked our flights months in advance, and planned to depart from Buffalo, New York on Tuesday, January 29th for an early morning flight out of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, direct to Fort Lauderdale. Pearson International Airport in Toronto (yes, Rush’s famed “YYZ” instrumental) is arguably one of the worst airports to travel through - not only is it a security nightmare with multiple checkpoints and endless lineups, but it is vast, so getting around requires marathon walks. Parking costs are atrocious, and baggage delays are common. Somehow it was named North America’s best large airport for customer service in 2017, but anyone who uses it will tell you a different story. According to a 2012 Senate report, taxes and fees make Pearson “the most expensive airport in the world at which to land a plane,” (thanks Financial Post). Hence, our decision to fly out of the U.S. - it’s normally cheaper and relatively hassle-free. Our JetBlue flight was scheduled to leave at 7:48 AM, putting us on Fort Lauderdale Beach just after lunch and a FULL DAY ahead of 70K 19 departure. But Mother Nature had another plan. Our plane eventually left the gate around 8:30 AM, but due to intense snowfall, the ground crew couldn’t de-ice it fast enough. After at least an hour of sitting on the plane waiting, the plane returned to an empty gate and everyone was asked to get off and wait. We waited. And waited. All of us peering out the windows at this brutal snowstorm hovering above us due to a gathering of lake-effect snow from Lake Erie. Yes, this was definitely eerie. By 1 PM they decided to cancel the flight altogether and at that point the entire airport was virtually shut down. JetBlue staff were on-hand to re-book flights, but nothing was leaving until the following day, and landing AFTER the cruise was set to depart! We truly had only one option: head back over the border and fly from the dreaded Pearson the next morning. Our fast-thinking travel agent was able to book us the LAST TWO seats on a WestJet flight departing from Toronto, but because we were booking less than 24 hours in advance at that point, the price was exorbitant. We ate the fees, told Canadian Customs our issue, and headed home to start this process again. Our flight out of YYZ was scheduled to depart at 9:50 AM, which would get us there for that 3:30 PM cut-off without a minute to spare. But of course it had to be the coldest day of the winter, with wind-chills pushing -30 Celsius, so there were issues fuelling up the plane. It took nearly three hours! You can imagine our metal hearts in full attack-mode. We were well past feeling frantic. We weren’t pissed off, but something worse. Like borderline tears. We looked at each other and said “we can’t miss this fucking cruise.” But of course everything - like every step so far - was out of our hands.
We F'N made it!
We had reported to social media to let people know our plight, and also reached out to the organizers by email. Thankfully, with BraveWords being one of the media sponsors, our gracious Skipper responded and told me to send photos of our passports right away so he could inform the port authorities. We got his message literally as we were one minute from take-off and it was now 12:30 PM. We frantically dug out our passports, took pics, and hit send. Seconds later the plane finally took off, making its way into the air above the madness. We landed close to 4PM, and anxiously waited for our luggage. One of our bags took so long to appear that we contemplated leaving it there and coming back for it after the ship returned. It showed up just as we were deciding to leave it. We ran outside, threw ourselves in a cab, and asked the driver to get us to the Port Of Everglades as fast as possible. The cab driver started telling us that we were likely too late to get on board any ship that was leaving today, but we told him we had someone waiting for us. He drove like a bat out of hell, and when we got to the port, the nearest gates were locked - but that didn’t deter the cab driver who went zooming off to the next available gate and got us inside where one of Andy’s trusted staff quickly ushered us through check-in. The entire disembarking process had already been torn down, and we missed the mandatory muster call - but we had arrived. Barely alive, still in shock. But we made it - we were on the fucking ship!
Departing Fort Lauderdale Beach facing north...
Day 1 on 70000 Tons Of Metal is the ultimate family reunion. More family than your blood family and a helluva lot more fun! This year there were 73 countries represented on the cruise which has always been a feather in the cap for the Skipper. The top ten being: USA, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Sweden, Netherlands, UK and Columbia. And with an age range of 1-83 and a female/male split of 40/60, it is the ultimate demographic cross-section of metalheads.
“I’m very very grateful to have such a wide range of people from around the world,” the Skipper stated with glee during the press conference. “People from all continents. Once again we eclipsed the 70 country mark. I'm always saying truly this is the United Nations of heavy metal. But it is truly amazing that you have all these people from around the world, all these different languages, different religions all coming for the same reasons. For the love of the music on this ship and having one big party. Everybody loves each other. So it always makes me very proud that we have a representation of the entire human race on this little big ship.”
The likes of Accept, Bloodbath, Tiamat (Wildhoney anniversary set) and Sodom are just the highlights of Day 1 (check out Mark Gromen’s thorough diary here) while the crew builds the iconic Pool Deck stage, which becomes a major exercise in engineering. This year the high winds in the Caribbean just outside of Florida threw a bit of a wrench in the machinery, but the Skipper’s experienced and able-bodied crew tackled Mother Nature with ease. The stage height had to be reduced to avoid any damage, which meant the backdrop video screen was obscured, and at one point the ship had to steer clear of the path of an oncoming storm. To avert storms however, there is a cost and the ship burned through well over $10,000 worth of fuel to keep the metal party from rocking and rolling in a sea-bearing sense.
Between bands’ sets people peruse the ships vast array of shops, restaurants, and of course the obligatory 70000 Tons swag area and band merch. And many congregate at the Casino bar, which is the standard meeting place for us cruisers. Without witnessing it in person, it would be hard to envision the enormity of this vessel that Royal Caribbean spent millions to refurbish last May. The passenger split this year was as follows: 3061 guests, 1036 musicians/band crew, and 1381 crew members which equates to 5478 on board! Seriously, there have been cruises where we had plans to meet up with people but then you never do! Part of this issue is actually a blessing in disguise. There is wifi on board, but most don’t bother due to cost and speed. So you lack the ability to text or message anybody. Imagine, you actually have to converse and socialize with people! What a lost concept! Overall, it makes the experience that much more memorable and you end up building life-long relationships because of it.
So we finally have overcome our travel woes and with a few cocktails in our belly and some late-night pizza we call it a night and prepare for Day 2.
After a decent night’s sleep (finally), we start the day with the obligatory coffee and Baileys, standing on the Pool Deck stage while the legendary Gallagher blokes serenade fans with Raven classics like “Break The Chain” and “Hung, Drawn And Quartered”.
Keep in mind, the interview schedule also kicks in, so for a more complete diary from Day 2 visit here and watch for BraveWords chats with Accept’s Wolf Hoffman, Coroner, Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett, Tiamat’s Johnny Hedlund and Onslaught! But a couple of major highlights:
Despite the 40 min. delay while the band appeared to have sound issues, the beyond under-rated Coroner startled the packed Pool Deck with their futuristic brand of forward-thinking and brutally honest precise thrash. Truly one of the top two bands witnessed on this year’s cruise as the trio - frontman/bassist Ron Royce, guitar wizard Tommy T. Baron and outstanding drummer Diego Rapacchietti (who is the latest addition to the band) - are an unstoppable force as the crowd soaked in such mind-numbing classics “Masked Jackal”, “Internal Conflicts”, “Die By My Hand" and the ultimate “Serpent Moves”.
So you are asking who was the top-notch act number two? Easily Florida death metal icons Obituary. And truly nothing on the ship - or this planet - sounds like ‘em! And with a career exceeding 35 years, we get non-stop grotesque, guttural greatness with the likes of “Sentence Day”, “Visions In My Head”, “I Don’t Care” and “Straight To Hell”, where singer John Tardy takes suicidal thoughts to the next level filling the shoes of the sick; “Gonna let your head hang down, Put another bullet in.” Eerie stuff. The indoor atmosphere of the Royal Theatre perfectly plays into the band’s horrific hands as they dig six feet under with their fine beginnings of “Find The Arise”, “Body Bag”, “Chopped In Half” and finale “Slowly We Rot”. The crowd left with jaws on the floor, as the Floridians quaff back their beers in celebration.
Hangin' in Haiti!
Destination Day 3! Labadee, Haiti, a port on the northern coast which is a private resort leased to Royal Caribbean Cruises. The location is home to the largest zip-line over water which overlooks the vast beach area complete with a new swim-up bar nestled inside Acul Bay (Baie de l’Acul). Despite the fact that the cruise line has contributed the largest proportion of tourist revenue to Haiti since 1986, employing 300 locals, you truly don’t get a taste of actual Haiti as passengers are not allowed to leave the property. Royal Caribbean also pays the Haitian government $12 USD per tourist according to Wikipedia.
The ice man cometh!
As you can see, it’s hard to fathom thousands of black t-shirts invading a country that has been overwrought with social unrest and terrible luck when it comes to earthquakes (in January 2010, up to 150,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region - the worst in Haiti in 200 years) and hurricanes (Dennis in 2005, Sandy in 2012, Matthew in 2016). There was also the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak which has killed nearly 10,000 people. So maybe it was best that we stayed put and enjoyed the scenery with cocktails in hand, mingling with family on the beach!
Greeted by the "beach boys"!
Bands don’t kick off again until people drag their sun-burned and drunken bodies off the beach, around 5PM. Check out Mark’s Day 3 report here.
Paradise Lost are simply put, one of the classiest entities in heavy metal, and the Brits dominated the aptly-named Royal Theater with a parade of staples “Forever Failure”, “As I Die”, “Say Just Words” and the seething “No Hope in Sight”. Frontman Nick Holmes was in his element, talking to the crowd in between songs and making humourous comments - somehow managing to make it feel like we were in a small, intimate setting with only a handful of people in the room - meanwhile the theatre was packed. The dimness of the stage, impressive backdrop, and monochromatic lights made the whole atmosphere feel dark, saturnine, and personal.
Sticking with the UK, we watched Napalm Death next, also performing in the Royal Theatre. They were a last-minute addition this year, but the seasoned vets led by Barney Greenway’s on-stage “seizures” crushed with “Greed Killing”, “Suffer the Children”, “The Code Is Red... Long Live the Code” and longtime staple, “Scum”. We were honestly struck by the huge number of younger people in the crowd at this show -Barney pointed out, just before launching into “Suffer the Children” that the song was over 25 years old - some of the people in the crowd had to be about that age, or less - but they showed as much thrash-worthy appreciation as anyone else. The power of heavy metal!
Tiamat celebrating the anniversary of Wildhoney may not have been the finest choice on the Pool Deck at that post-midnight hour. Their drug-induced, Pink Floyd-ian sounds and effects were too other-worldly and subdued for a crowd who spent most of their day in the hot sun, drinking on the beach. Leader Johan Edlund managed to seduce the crowd with an enduring and overlooked classic. And what BraveWords expected to be a very intimidating interview with the frontman, turned out to be a joyous moment with a Canadian connection! Stay tuned!
Rounding out the night, pushing 2AM, Coroner played their indoor set to a packed Royal Theatre and with a few changes to the set. The trio, along with keyboardist Daniel Strössel, dazzled once again until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Sadly the beach caught up with us, but we still reminisce fondly about their set under the raging sun.
The winds on Super Bowl Sunday are at our back and the seas guide us north towards mainland while we sit with a hangover helper, the obligatory coffee and Baileys on the patio. This is where you stare out at the vastness of the Caribbean and soak in the rays and the moment at hand. Food throughout the day becomes less of a priority, so breakfast is crucial. And it’s quite remarkable the quality and the selection of cuisine on the ship. No matter what diet, or lack thereof, your palate is appeased.
Bloodbath made their outdoor appearance, and as packed as their indoor show was on Day 1 in the Ice Rink, it was no less crowded on the Pool Deck. Nick Holmes was once again in his element, but this time complete with face paint and a distinctively intense growl in his lyrics. The wind had died down enough to allow the stage to be raised to a taller height, allowing the audience a good view of the video screen backdrop, but winds were still pretty crazy. Hair was flying everywhere!
Next, Obituary continued their dominance with an outright Pool Deck pit party, most remarking that they remain to be the most unique and enthralling entity on the cruise, with singer John Tardy masterful and menacing with his glorious death growls.
So many bands, so little time! In an effort to catch as much as possible we made the rounds to include Pestilence, Max & Iggor Return To Roots, Vomitory, Eluveitie, and finally the big finish of the evening with Accept. Admittedly, when word that bassist Peter Baltes was going to retire, it left only original Wolf Hoffman to take charge with “Restless And Wild”, “Fast As A Shark” and “Metal Heart”, with the encore happily shifting from “Balls To The Wall” to “I’m A Rebel”, as fans threw their horns and cocktails in the triumphant air. But you will be surprised when BraveWords asked him during our chat if he had heard from Baltes and his answer was…. stay tuned again!
It was time for the Skipper to take front stage to offer up his very heartfelt thank you to the crowd. Always a treasured moment to witness as he revels in his creation and appreciates all the love and support from across the globe. Touching as always!
As mentioned, BraveWords was in interview-mode and the key media dinner (see menu in gallery!) while Mark conducted his master reporting and photography (Day 4 found here).
Horns-up celebrations from the Skipper!
So where are we off to next year? And will there be a next year? Of course, as the Skipper explains below. But the ship will change course a bit since Super Bowl LIV - the 54th Super Bowl and the 50th modern-era National Football League championship - is scheduled to be played on February 2, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. 70000 Tons Of Metal does not want their international patrons dealing with travel and accommodation during Super Bowl 50. So pack your bags early, we are departing just after New Years!
“This is number nine and of course they'll be number 10,” Piller explains. After the first cruise people were asking me if this was going to be a one time thing. And I said ‘no I've invested almost 4 years of my life just to make the first one happen with very active help from people that are very close to me.’ So yes there will be number 10 and for that reason and reasons of port availability, we will go back to where it started. So next year we will go back to Cozumel, Mexico. During the first couple of years we always had a Monday to Friday routine, which makes it a lot easier for our international and intercontinental clientele, so they have a weekend to come here and have a weekend to travel home. But it will also so much earlier. You'll be having a very extended Christmas and New Year's vacation. We will sale on January 7th and will be back on January 11th. Sailing out of port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel, Mexico and then back. And we will still be on the independence of the seas. There are a lot of rumours going around last year. Doing something like this takes a lot of planning. We are talking and negotiating many years in advance, so it may not always be like this. There are many ships out there and there are many different seas and oceans out there. However I have no intention to move 70,000 Tons Of Metal to another destination in the world. My plan is to always have this at the beginning of the year, and sailing out of South Florida. I'm trying to keep it interesting with the ports. This year we repeated, and next year is the same. I'm already looking forward to getting all the comments - ’ohhh, 70,000 tons of repeats!’. There's not a lot of variety out there in terms of ports of call that we can actually reach in that timeframe. And I always aim to try and bring the best experience to everybody, but to me there are some places that are just not that interesting to go to. It's been a long time goal of me to build a bridge of heavy metal to Havana, but that one has to wait too. We are a victim of our own success. It's actually not possible to cruise from the United States to Cuba, only with smaller ships. Until there's a big enough pier in Cuba, we will have to go to other destinations that are available to us. I am ports are becoming harder and harder to come by when you want to try to customize your itinerary, like we actually do every year. All these itineraries that we've done over the years are not standard to the cruise lines. And then finding a peir/port that actually has availability is sometimes not so easy.”
Book your cabin now before they’re gone! Tuesday, January 7th until Saturday, January 11th, with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico! One tequila, two tequila, three tequila FLOOR!
Click the gallery above to view more photos from our adventure that finally materialized! Photos by Sephora Henderson, Mark Gromen and "Metal" Tim Henderson.