70000 Tons Of Metal – Day 2: Floating Festival!
February 10, 2018, a month ago
Had so much fun, let's do it again. Actually, Friday is the only day completely committed to the music. First day out, gets a late start, leaving port. Day 3 begins with the ship docked at a foreign destination and once everything's activated onboard again, roughly the same early evening kick-off as Day 1. And speaking of kick-offs, the final day competes for attention with the Super Bowl, annual belly flop contest and the All-Star showcase, aka Jamming With Jeff Waters (Annihilator) In International Waters. Day 2 begins at 10 AM and doesn't wrap up until 5:30, the next morning, with 40 bands scheduled, across four stages, including a whopping dozen on the outdoor, pool deck stage!
Great to arrive in the sunshine and discover the deck stage will be ready in time (weather & delays have, in the past, not always made that a reality). Masterplan, the outfit with ex-Helloween guitarist Roland Grapow and well-traveled singer Rick Altzi, was an energetic way to begin the day. “Enlighten Me”, “Spirit Never Die” were up early, juxtaposed with a slower, ballady, “Back For My Life” and bouncing “Kind Hearted Light”. From there, it was eight floors down, to Studio B for something a lot heavier: Necrophobic.
Long been a fan of the Swedes' music, melody (and blazing guitar interplay/solos) infused blackened death metal, old school style. Actually was able to sneak in (via the balcony entrance) to witness soundcheck. "Spawned By Evil", now that's what black metal is supposed to look/sound like: studs & spikes, leather jackets/vests and armbands, with Celtic Frost inspired eye liner, especially singer, Anders Strokirk, who bears a passing resemblance to old Skyclad frontman, Martin Walkyier. Headbanging and fist thrusting as the guitars blaze away, solos and vertical playing, Necrophobic have energy, in spades. "The Crossing" possessed (pun intended) a Slayer-ish quality, including heavy whammy bar soloing. Bass begun newbie "Pesta" (from the as yet unreleased Mark Of The Necrogram album) offered a slowed down, grinding bass mid-section, plus twin leads. To quote another band on the cruise: violence & force! Shame more people didn't witness the spectacle (however, I believe word of mouth circulated through the ship, over the course of the next few days, as more were interested in their second performance, albeit in the tiny, vision obscured, Pyramid club).
Benediction frontman Dave Hunt is a bit of a nutter, an unsteady glint in his eye, blackened front tooth and repeatedly circling the stage, counterclockwise throughout the show. He seemed amazed at the prospect of playing on a boat, and said so, a couple of times. He introduced the band, saying "We're from Birmingham and this ain't Birmingham!" Gave them a couple of songs, before heading to the Pyramid stage, to see Norwegian band Triosphere, who had postponed their opening night performance, due to illness. After the first song, bassist Ida Haukland apologized to the crowd ("Sorry you had to listen to that"), comparing her voice to comedian Bob(cat) Goldthwait and said if it didn't improve, after one more track, they'd quit. While still struggling, the band opted to go instrumental for a few more. Not exactly what fans came to see/hear, but at least they didn't go home empty handed.
Ran back up to the pool deck, to witness Alestorm. I was not alone, as a huge crowd, packing inflatable swords, tri-corner pirate hats and a few eye patches (even one character with a fake parrot sitting atop the shoulder of his frilly shirt) filled the arena. "Keelhauled" gets everyone bouncing off the walls, both sides of the barricade. A brief sprinkle wet the deck, but not spirits, as they sang along, from word one, to the likes of "Drink" and their signature tune, as a giant rubber duck bopped atop the rabid crowd. After a bit of silliness, headed back downstairs, to check out Sirenia, the female-fronted Norwegian act founded by guitarist Morten Veland (ex-Tristania), who adds gruff vocals to Emmanuelle “Ema” Zoldan's trilling. Much of the set saw the stage tinged in purple, apart from the green lit “Goddess Of The Sea”.
Back topside, Swallow The Sun decided to delve into their Songs From The North, part 2, which is acoustic. The Finns brought along a multi-sexed classical string section (violins, cello, etc.), as the two guitarists and bass player were seated. Singer Mikko Kotamäki, he of the GG Allin t-shirt, promptly told those gathered, “Don't expect any heavy metal.” Wasn't too long until it was time for church, Metal Church, in the ballroom, front of the ship. Mike Howe was literally bouncing around the stage, during the opening “Fake Healer”. The staccato riffing “Needle And Suture” leads right into the stomp of “Start The Fire”, Steve Unger (bass) adding backing vocals. Howe jumped into the photo pit, twice, to have fun with fans, singing along to the chorus. Mainstay Kurdt Vanderhoof and more recent recruit Rick Van Zant laid down a wicked guitar pattern for “Gods Of A Second Chance”. During its exaggerated false ending, a “Metal Church” chant broke out. Then the song was finished properly, into “Date With Poverty”. Kurt added his voice, as the singer made another foray to the photographers' barricade, to slap hands with fans. A slower, purple lit “Watch The Children Play” saw Howe leave the stage once more, for interaction, but while onstage, got the audience to sing an entire verse, prompting them, line by line. Good to see “No Friend Of Mine” still included, given the drubbing the Hanging In The Balance disc received on its release (many due to changing musical tastes in '93 and its cartoon cover art). “Badlands” began with a clap-along and “Beyond The Black” sees Unger on his knees, at the edge of the stage. Finished impressive set with “The Human Factor”, but unfortunately the second show was virtually a carbon copy of the first. If you need some new additions, there's still a few gems from the debut we'd love to hear: “Hitman”, “Gods Of Wrath” or your signature tune. Think about it.
Hummpa masters Korpiklaani are the right band to have at an outdoor drink-athon and the Finns obliged, with a set of their polka-infused beer hall anthems, opening with “Happy Little Boozer”. Cane lost his floppy cowboy hat by the time “Wooden Pints” was aired. Speaking of missing pieces, barefoot, bearded mountain man of a bassist Jarkko (who looks like he belongs in the Oak Ridge Boys) had been replaced by a youngster. Rounding off the alcoholic trifecta, “Tequila” also made an appearance in the first half of the running order. Those with the fiddle, accordion and/or guitar charge all over the stage in what looks like an unscripted free-for-all, the bouncy rhythms inducing smiles to anyone within earshot.
Dinner time and already seen nine bands! Props for the best intro tape of the weekend goes to Exodus, with Hues Corporation 1974 hit, “Don't Rock The Boat”, although it would be more prophetic on Day 4, when the vessel rolled noticeably side-to-side. As good as their initial set was, the latter, old-school performance was better. Opening with a pair of newer Exodus songs: the Rob Dukes era “The Ballad Of Leonard & Charles”, plus “Blood In, Blood Out” was a bit perplexing, but guess the long-running San Fran thrashers were attempting to keep the big guns for later in the cruise. Still, odd not hearing “Piranha”. Upon stepping onstage, Steve “Zetro” Souza's first words were, “Get that pit going! This is a 70,000 tons of an insane asylum.” In line, awaiting the chance to enter the pit, a group of young photogs discussed how (in their opinion) it was unnecessary to cover Sepultura, without either of the Cavalera brothers, yet somehow didn't realize the original singer and guitarists were absent from Exodus, as well. Not even mentioning Kirk Hammett, just Rick Hunolt and Gary “'I'm in Slayer, At Least As Long As They Continue” Holt. Even with the surprising announcement of Slayer retirement, still no Holt. Wonder what the future holds. A trio of oldies followed, including “And Then There Were None”, the two guitarists headbanging either side of drummer Tom Hunting and a circle pit erupted in the crowd, “Deranged” and “A Lesson In Violence”. Zetro's right, never would have imagined (back in the day) they'd let us (metalheads) rage on a cruise ship for four days!
There's just something about Evergrey being lit in blue hues. However, on this night, from the opening notes, they seemed on a mission, concentrating to heavy things up for the cruise, rather than the moody content. Forgot how much the Swedes can rock (be metal). Maybe they'd forgotten too, as this was easily the heaviest Evergrey show I've seen. Under strobes, red/blue lights Henrik Danhage aggressively shredded his way to the edge of the stage and pulling on the tremolo/whammy bar like it was a slot machine handle, in search of a big jackpot. “Blinded” sounded rejuvenated. Tom Englund stood with left foot on the wedge monitor, as he sang, but the guitar god moments belonged to Danhage, who often soloed under strobe lit skies, although the opening to “Nosferatu” did allow the frontman to show his stuff, with flashy hammer ons. Englund commented how many bands from his hometown (Gothenburg) were on the cruise and how they only met here, never talking to one another back in Sweden. “The Masterplan” saw the two guitarists side-by-side, ultimately trading twin leads. Just as I mentioned to a late arriving friend how heavy they'd been, Evergrey pulled out “Fallen”. Can't win 'em all.
Couldn't see the whole set, as needed to get to the Alhambra Theater for the start of Sonata Arctica. After “Closer To an Animal, the voiceover of a sinister caller, greets “The End Of This Chapter”, alongside “FullMoon” the lone choices from my favorite era by the Finns. It kind of went over everyone's head, singer Tony Kakko on his knees, at stage edge, as a lone keyboard ends the tune. “Don't Say A Word” sees Tony pogoing, the crowd following suit. Guess they didn't bring a lighting director, as the entire set was almost exclusively monochromatic blues, with occasional accents. Before they ended, headed to the ice rink to photograph the mechanized death metal of Greek exports SepticFlesh, who offer great visuals, from the snake/human embryo hybrid scrims, to the unique stage outfits, part Star Trek Borg, part rubberized super hero body armor.
Sabaton are undoubtedly one of only a couple of “new” global headliners. As such, they decided to offer two completely different sets, not a single repeated song. What a bonus for fans! Opening, as always, with “Ghost Division”, to a flurry of activity, camo garb musicians crisscrossing the stage, led by the wisecracking, mirror sunglasses, Mohawk sporting frontman Joakim Brodén, in steel plated flak jacket. Almost immediately the crowd called for “Swedish Pagans”, an older track for which Brodén feigns disdain. “Art Of War”, minus the female recited, Sun Tzu quotation, is up next, right before the popular “40:1”, Joakim making sure to visit the fans, behind Plexiglas, in the stageside Jacuzzi. Tonight turned into a more European running order, including “Into The Fire” (drummer Hannes van Dahl informing me they've not played it in five years), Savatage sounding “Cliffs Of Galliopli”, courtesy of piped in keyboards, “Saboteurs” and slower, fist thrusting “Uprising”. Not directly supporting any release, they emptied the vaults, rare songs, heard on live albums, but almost never played on these shores. Even when a steady rain began to fall, the crowd remained in place. Tolling bells introduce the aforementioned speedster, “Into The Fire”. New guitarist Tommy Johansson whips his blond mane side-to-side. “Carolus Rex” gets one of the biggest ovations. Eventually, the fans get to hear “Swedish Pagans”, but not until the final number. Big time, but have not lost that small, club stage mentality: enjoying themselves, providing fun for others, all within a strong musical context and a bit of a history lesson (in the lyrics) for those who are interested, in even more.
Since the lights in the ice rink pale next to the natural lighting outdoors (not to mention being tired of schlepping my camera equipment up and down stairs twelve hours), decided to relax, grab a 25 oz. Fosters “oil can” (still the cheapest deal onboard @ less than $9 USD, for the equivalent of two beers) and just enjoy the initial set from Exciter. Both Mike and Schmier from Destruction were also in the crowd, watching the Canuck trio. After the opening “I Am The Beast” drifted out of full journalist mode, so highlights included the buzz saw guitar of John Ricci on “Heavy Metal Maniac”, “Iron Dogs”, the less heard “Beyond The Gates Of Doom” and “Long Live The Loud”. Ricci, decked in leather and studs, is afforded almost the entire stage, to go off, on his wild whammy bar diving solos and guitar histrionics. Drummer/singer Dan Beehler might have a different vocal presentation of the songs these days, but they lose none of the punch. Have to wonder about the inner workings of his brain, keeping four appendages going in different directions and singing, yet somehow finding the time, mid-flight, to adjust his over-the-head mic stand. Wow! Talk about multitasking.
Speaking of which, some time to socialize, in the casino bar (where most congregate, being central to three of the indoor rooms and the only place, legally, people can smoke inside), before sleep and arrival in Turks & Caicos.