70000 TONS OF METAL – Day 1: Deutsche Dominance
February 7, 2018, 15 days ago
After boarding the Independence Of The Seas, at the Port Everglades terminal, thousands of metalheads had a couple of hours to kill before our five o'clock departure and the kick-off of live music. After dropping any carry-ons in their cabin (larger luggage is delivered later, by Royal Caribbean staff), most opted for a bite to eat, from the virtually 24-7 buffet, or a drink from any of the numerous bars (the English pub on the main street promenade a popular destination for those seeking anything beyond mass marketed beverages, but bring your wallet. Actually, aboard ship is basically a cash-free society, and purchases, even gambling chips in the casino, are charged against an individual's Sea Pass card, which doubles as an electronic room key.
The initial day's line-up is abbreviated, given our late start. So on paper it might seem strange to have a heavyweight like Primal Fear onstage first, all the more head scratching, putting them in the converted ice rink, called Studio B. Sure the large outdoor facility, on the ship's upper deck, had yet to be constructed, but the plush seated ballroom/Alhambra theater sat dormant. The result, after a protracted technical glitch that kept the doors closed 20 minutes beyond the scheduled 5:15 start (and a line of humanity snaking through the bowels of the ship) virtually everyone looking for something to do, crammed in, standing room-only, people even sitting in the aisles. “Final Embrace” unleashed the pent up energy caused by the delay, for the band too, as Alex Beyrodt attacks the front of the stage, dropping to his knees and wailing away of guitar. It was the first of two nearly identical performances, three days apart. Although a day later he'd issue a denial to my inquiry, saying he doesn't do much lifting anymore, Ralf Scheepers bulging biceps (the left emblazoned with band tattoo) sure looking bigger than before. Maybe it's just being so close, the photo pit actually touching the stage.
“Angel In Black” and “Nuclear Fire” are early favorites, the crowd hitting the “whoa whoa” notes to begin the latter. “Sign Of Fear” sees Mat Sinner on backing vocals, while in front of a sparkling backdrop (previously only available in the larger theater) Tom Naumann (left handed guitar) mugs to the crowd. “Angel Of Mercy” is followed by “The End Is Near”. The two guitarists meet, stage left, during “The End Is Near”. They ended, as usual, with sing-along “Metal Is Forever”. Great start to the cruise!
There are 22 bands scheduled to perform (although Triosphere canceled until the next morning, due to medical issues) on the first day, which actually stretched to 6 AM Friday, the big hitters hailing from Germany, including Primal Fear, Kreator, Evertale, In Extremo and the next band on: Destruction, no strangers to the cruise, having been there in 2015 (as were the Primals). As is now customary, there were a trio of mics across the stage, positions from which Schmier can maneuver and sing, without remaining stationary. Thrashers got to move, man! Members of Exciter and Ventor (from countrymen Kreator) could be seen backstage, beforehand. “Curse The Gods” gets the place hopping, right away. “Nailed To The Cross” sees the crowd sing the titular chorus. Plenty of headbanging from the trio and hair flailing, blown by electric fans. “Mad Butcher” sees Mike Sifringer experience some amp issues, to which Schmier deadpans, “He destroyed it...destruction.” “Dethroned” sees a circle pit form as the hulking bassist works the tri-mics around the stage, as lighting seems restricted to a steady diet of reds and the occasional blitzkrieg of strobes. Scrims, either side the drums, depict the famous exploding skull logo encircled by a pentacle.
An unlit stage and pre-recorded intro roll right into “Release From Agony”, Mike briefly alone onstage, as a killer bottom end emanates from the bass. Schmier, foot up on the wedge monitor, asked, “You guys want some old shit?” Cue the punky staccato, “Antichrist”. The bassist introduced “The Butcher Strikes Back” acknowledging, “Without you (fans) there is no 70,000 Tons”. The barricade is repeated violated during “Thrash Till Death”, a multi-national circle pit (judging from the shirtless, flag waving participants) erupting on the floor. Teutonic thrash, universally appreciated.
Change of venues and musical tastes, it's off to the giant theater, for the Rhapsody reunion. And while Luca Turilli (guitar) and Fabio Lione (vocals) are together once again, it rings somewhat hollow without founder/keyboardist Alex Staropoli. Can't fault the song selection though: everything from speedy, neo-classical hard hitters like the opening “Dawn Of Victory” and “Holy Thunderforce”, to the purple lit, operatic “Lamento Eroico”. The band burst onstage like insects suddenly exposed to sunlight, madly scurrying about. Try containing mercury, pieces headed in every direction. No one will admit it, but there's a definitely a connection between Turilli's rapid fire, albeit quixotic, hurky-jerky playing style (even climbing the drum riser) and that of musically diametrically opposed Dillinger Escape Plan. Staples of the Emerald Sword saga were among the highlights, including the “Power Of The Dragonflame”, “Symphony Of Enchanted Lands” and the namesake finale. Got to believe there will be a DVD retrospective of the current tour, if you don't have the chance to witness it live.
Kreator is making a habit of being the last band of the night, at festivals, if not serving as the parting shot, to cap the entire fest (as will be the case on the boat's deck-side stage, three nights hence). Will be interesting to see how they fare on the North American tour, playing before Sabaton. If you don't know Mille Petrozza's setlist by now, you've not been paying attention (or simply don't care). Have seen the guy close Wacken a couple of times in the last decade, as well as Bang Your Head and Summer Breeze. True, German home field advantage, but do you really think, after all this time (been more than 30 years) that Kreator isn't lethal anywhere?
Sampling new and old selections from the back catalog, most of the title tracks are aired, including an opening “Phantom Antichrist”. Petrozza teased, “Remember the mosh pit the last time?” The Alhambra was densely packed, even more so than last year's culminating set by Anthrax (which was intense) and this is just night one! Plenty of fog, with pink and purple lights as they scorch through “Enemy Of God” and “Satan Is real”, back-to-back. A gritty “People Of The Lie” is always a fan favorite and alongside “Flag Of Hate” are both up in the first half of the set. Mille, standing center stage, screaming into the mic above his head (Lemmy style) and repeatedly calling for a circle pit. Audience participation, in the form of the staccato, call-response oldie, “Phobia”. A piped in, acoustic intro to “Gods Of Violence” followed. The closing duo, of “Pleasure to Kill” and “Violent Revolution” were particularly vicious tonight, with countryman Schmier watching from the balcony.
Have never seen a band at five in the morning, but was already a fan of Colombian speed metallers Revenge, so the opportunity to see them twice, even at an ungodly hour, was worth it. After a post-Kreator nap, woke to a sparsely populated ice rink. Most seemed to be their countrymen, wrapped in the nation's tri-color flag. Bizarre phenomenon at 70K Tons, although there are 61 bands, each nationality tends to see the acts they could just as easily see at home. Great to support the locals, but hopefully they see some other bands too. There seem to be two camps onboard: those that plan to see just their favorite bands and party the rest of the time (typically American plan) and those that will party the whole time, as they endeavor to see as many different bands as possible (known or unknown).
From the beginning of the day, the Studio B stage was running behind schedule (remember the pre-Primal Fear fiasco mentioned earlier?). Somehow they made up the delays and I missed a portion of the first Revenge set. Did see and hear enough to realize they were as much of screaming, whammy bar happy guitar maniacs as they are on disc. It's not just noise, as mainstay/vocalist/guitarist Esteban Mejia has created a deep catalog of infectious razor sharpened, English language anthems, like the “Metal Warriors” closer. “Metal Massacra” features Mejia's yelping, high end vocals as the locked in, rhythmic guitars buzz like a nest of mad hornets. “Heavy Metal Friends” might be the theme for the entire event. Definitely a band I want to see again (and more people should investigate). Luckily I only had to wait three days.
On the way back to bed, for a few more hours of sleep, before doing it all again on Day 2 (report to follow) saw a bunch of people camped out, in the ship's corridor, waiting for the merch area to open, at 7 AM.