70000 Tons Of Metal Day 2: 5:30 AM Concert At Daybreak!
February 7, 2019, a year ago
Thought Wacken's middle of the night (morning?) scheduling was insane, but a show set to begin at 4:45 AM is unheard of (then brief rain and delays pushed the actual start back an additional 45 minutes!). Yet myself, and around a hundred insomniacs/drunks/Night Demon fans, traipsed to the topside deck. Something of a coup, as can't remember on any previous cruise where an act played both the poolside and smallest stage. Most in the Lounge also hit the Ice Rink, but given their rising status as tour openers for Accept and at European festivals, Night Demon warranted the honor. However, there was 20 hours of music, across four stages, before they closed Friday (or was it an early kick-off to Day 3?)
The day began with lunchtime, with Raven, on the deck: sunshine, but a 37 knot (42 mph) wind not only kept things cool, but prevented the organization from erecting the decorative side-fills, either side of the stage, and kept the lighting rig a half mast, lest the stiff wind tear it down. Overnight, sailing into a storm, the ship made a 90 degrees course change, an evasive maneuver (to calmer seas) which supposed spent $16,000 in fuel. At least the Pool stage was ready on time! Under these circumstances, “Take Control” seemed an apt start for the former UK trio. The Gallagher brother still mugging, yelping, squealing and bashing out old school metal gems. “Destroy All Monsters” see bassist John jumping around like a man half his age, to say nothing of his frenetic brother Mark, on guitar (long ago worn-out catcher shin protectors duct taped to his legs). John caterwauls his unique vocal stylings throughout “Hell Patrol”. “All For One” and “Hung, Drawn And Quartered” were my final cuts, before making the nearly boat length decent to the ballroom, to catch a few songs from Unleash The Archers. While I missed out on Raven unveiling a new tune,” Top Of The Mountain”, they'll reprise it for the Ice Rink show (where I was again in attendance), two days later.
Some find the elevators, traveling between the venues on decks three and four and the buffet (also exit for the pool deck, on the 11th floor) a necessity. However, the BraveWords team can't stand the wait, nor the start-stop, floor-by-floor tedium. Thus we typically use the stairs, sometimes faster (certainly more healthy, given the copious food/drink intake), less crowded to navigate from point A to point B, seeking to see/report on the most, in the least amount of time. Like earlier gigs by Gloryhammer and Twilight Force, there was a large representation of under 30 aged metalheads in the crowd, several in costume. As the Canucks kicked into “Awakening”, it's the four guys onstage, caped singer Brittney Slayes being the last to appear. Blue/purple lit “Shadow Guide”, punctuated by blitz of strobes, saw the guitarist add evil screams, in counterpoint to Hayes' (her given surname) ceiling scraping vocals. Pre-recorded intro and slower paced “Time Stands Still” (audience thrusting fists overhead, in unison) gave way to a green hued, fan favorite “Test Your Metal”.
Quick check-in with Visions Of Atlantis, a 70k veteran. Playing in the Ice Rink, a detour through the casino (located mid-ship) proves quickest, if one can avoid the pop-up beer kiosks that seemingly line the way, every 100 feet or so. Whenever anyone has some downtime, especially late in the night (when most bands have finished), the casino bar (as the only place to legally smoke indoors) gathers quite an assortment of individuals. Unlike past cruises, there was a noticeable absence of big name musicians hanging out (until the last day). The dual sex fronted Austrians feature ex-Serenity singer Clémentine Delauney and are set to issue The Deep & The Dark, their first album in five, on February 16th. Sort of surprising then, that they chose perform the as yet unreleased disc, in its entirety! Following the short, poppy Euro fem-metal of “New Dawn”, “Book Of Nature” had a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor.
Left mid-set, headed back to the ballroom, for a rare opportunity to see Pestilence, in a decently lit room. Mastermind Patrik Mameli looked tanned, head shaven except for a distinctive golden braided queue “ponytail”. Adding to his stage presence was a headstock-less guitar. Opening with “Non Physical Existent” off last year's Hadeon, most had come to hear the larynx shredding oldies, thankfully grouped together mid-set, nuggets from Consuming Impulse and Testimony Of the Ancients (although “commandments”, from the '88 debut, was also aired), namely “Chronic Infection”, “Secrecies Of Horror”, “Twisted Truth”, “Land Of Tears” and the evening closing “Out Of Body”. Not surprised Mameli didn't try any of the complexity from the jazzy prog of Spheres, although one of the instrumental interludes, even as a bridge between songs, could have worked.
Two summer's ago, at Bang Your Head, was lucky enough to witness Steve Grimmett's first concert back, after losing his leg. It was an emotional experience, both sides of the barricade, as the grim reaper frontman came on in a wheelchair and even managed to sing a song or two, standing on his new prosthesis. The ship pitched and rolled slightly, yet the walking cane wielding Brit was sure footed, didn't miss any vocal steps either. He laughed and in the best Monty Python gallows humor, made light of his situation, all the while wearing a Cheshire grin: glad to be back! Sure, the lyrics are on a small tablet/Kindle affixed to the mic stand, but those standing beyond the barricade couldn't even see Grimmett's titanium limb. Opening with “Wings Of Angels”, there were chants of “leg, leg, leg” between songs. “You fuckers know this one,” greeted “Rock You To Hell”, which segued into “Night Of The Vampire”, the crowd providing the titular chorus. “Dead On Arrival” saw a sea of fist thrusting, then “Liar”. Honestly, given his recent history, “Walking In The Shadows” felt a little uncomfortable, but Dio's “Don't Talk To Strangers” is always welcome. The triumphant set concludes with the ubiquitous “See You In Hell”, sending the crowd to a fever pitch. Great victory over adversity.
Tristania were playing their first show since 2016. The dark and moody Norwegian male/female vocal sextet includes the bearded, well-traveled Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation/Trail Of Tears). Before their set, there was a marriage proposal in the crowd (she said yes). Sadly, nothing off the stellar Beyond The Veil, but at least a pair from the 2001 follow-up, World Of Glass: “The Shining Path” and “Tender Trip On Earth”. Guitarist Anders Høyvik Hidle takes over gruff vocals for “Exile”. There's an interesting male/female, petite/behemoth dichotomy on display, particularly during “The Wretched”. Personal side note: odd how deeply I was into Wildhoney (Tiamat), the aforementioned by these Norge and like-minded atmospheric doom, yet only 2+ decades later does it appear to be happening.
From the dark, to the light (or at least back outside), for Coroner on the pool deck. Two-thirds of the original Swiss trio: Ron Royce (aka Broder) on bass/vocals and guitarist Tommy T. Baron (aka Vetterli), although the most ardent fan would be hard-pressed to pick out the once long haired musicos. A full career retrospective, including “Reborn Through Hate” from the '87 debut, R.I.P., although half of the eleven choices were lifted from either Mental Vortex (2) or Grin (3). Metal Tim claims it was his favorite/best show of the cruise, so I'll defer any review to him.
Riot, downstairs in the Ice Rink, wore matching black pants, with lace-up burgundy panels on the side of the leg. Singer Todd Michael Hall had a similarly styled shirt, as well. Coming onstage to fast-paced “Victory”, the band never really let up. Billing themselves as a continuation of the Thundersteel line-up (even though current bassist Don Van Stavern is the lone member involved in said platter's creation), those seeking to hear Guy Speranza or Rhett Forrester material (at least on this cruise) would be sadly disappointed. Maybe they perceived 70K to be a younger, American-centric crowd (some were yelling for the title track, from the intro on), but overseas, especially in Germany, have heard those golden ‘70s chestnuts aired, more than once. “Flight Of The Warrior” comes next. Both Van Stavern and guitarist Mike Flyntz look to really be enjoying the time onstage. Mid-tempo “Sign Of The Crimson Storm” and then “Bloodstreets”, with a guest spot by Mindmaze vocalist Sarah Teets, on flute. “Shine On” ultimately gives way to what most have been waiting for, a ripping rendition of “Thundersteel”. Guys, if you're going to keep the name, remember to embrace the (entire) musical legacy too.
On the still breezy Pool deck, Kamelot brought their pumping life set to life, complete with female guest Lauren Hart (Once Human). Plenty of pressurized carbon dioxide jets erupting throughout (wisps quickly dispelled by winds), as Tommy Karevik kneels near the fans at the barricade, during the opening “Shadow Divine”. Back near the wall of Marshall amps, Hart looks like a superhero in her shiny spandex one piece. Stage right, founder Tom Youngblood squeezes out the likes of “The Great Pandemonium” and “When the lights Go Down”, while braided Medusa tentacled bassist Sean Tibbetts is the energetic counterpoint, whirling around the stage, a jack-in-the-box freed.
Another journey from deck to bowels, back in the Ice Rink, for Vicious Rumors. The San Fran metallers just completed a headlining US run, so this would be more of a greatest hits package aboard the Independence Of The Seas, opening with “Digital Dictator”. The intricate opening of “Lady Took A Chance” sees mainstay/founding guitarist Geoff Thorpe and his six-string partner, center stage. The vocal gymnastics are handled by new vocalist Nick Courtney. Thorpe is content to churn out the notes from his asymmetrical Dean/Dime guitar. Propped vertical on his right thigh, he frequents the lowest end of the fretboard. Throughout the set (featuring “Abandoned”, heavy, albeit mid-tempo “Down To The Temple” and a short Thorpe solo preceded a speedy “Hellraiser”) backing vocals are provided by Thorpe and drummer Larry Howe. At one point the guitarist notes the band's longevity, saying, “40 years, us and the Stones.” Wow! The self-professed “old timers” end with chugging “Don't Wait For Me”. Strong performance, top-to-bottom
Have seen enough “Band w/ Orchestra” specials that it, well, isn't that “special” anymore. Still, I like some of the Germans' music, so stuck my head in the ballroom long enough to see the introduction of Rage, with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra. The conductor was introduced and a speech made about first time playing album in its entirety. Barrel-chested bassist Peavy Wagner has been on the cruise with his Refuge alter-ego, now with symphony in-tow. The trio of metal musicians were near the front of the stage, the classical players towards the back and they added accompaniment to what have become some hits in the Rage canon, including “From The Cradle To The Grave” and “Days of December”.
When the schedule was originally announced, had some thoughts about seeing old buddies Paradise Lost and maybe Onslaught, before taking a nap, prior to Night Demon's planned 4:45 AM showtime. But circumstances, natural and man-made, conspired to send the Pool stage out-of-whack, by at least 30 minutes. Judgment being the better part of valor, decided to postpone a date with both UK acts (till later in the cruise), heading off for a few hours’ sleep, before rising, to see one more show, “today.”
Loud, fast and brash, the initial foray from the Ventura, Californian trio: Night Demon. Almost comical, at this hour, an opener, entitled “Welcome To The Night”. It was 5:30 AM, as they began! “Full Speed Ahead” might have been their psychological perspective, undaunted by the lack of crowd, plowing through a set of familiar favorites. During “Ritual” bassist Jarvis Leatherby switched sides with guitarist Armand John Anthony, singing from the stage right mic. Prerecorded intro and mid-tempo “Howling Man” gave everyone a chance to catch their breath. Commercial touch of “Black Widow” may have won converts, if we weren't already loyal subjects (had to be, to still be here, right?) Some picked up on Motorhead's “Overkill” right way, but after a few bars, it seamlessly segued into “Dawn Rider”, complete with headbanging and hair shaking. The band locks into the rollicking Scorpions vibe of “Mastermind” before Dusty Squires kicks off a pummeling double bass attack for “Screams In The Night”. Never knew “The Chalice” brandishing mascot Rocky was bald, but the perpetual gusts removed his cowl as he slunk across the stage, with namesake vessel. Daybreak beckons, as the sun threatens the horizon. Have never witnessed sunrise, while watching a live show. “In Trance”, the vintage Scorps tune sees heads bobbing in the crowd, before Night Demon send us all to bed, with a blistering rendition of their signature tune, creating a spontaneous morning exercise mosh pit.
Boy, what a day! Glad there's some time to recuperate, on the beach “tomorrow” (i.e., in a few short hours).