700000 Tons Of Metal - Long Live The Loud!
April 13, 2018, a month ago
It must be one helluva moment when everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY says that it’s been the experience of a lifetime. But it’s quite the conundrum. You get back on land and try to explain what just happened to “common folk” and you can’t. 70000 Tons Of Metal is beyond words. And as I sit here a few weeks later recalling the dream (nightmare) that just occurred, it’s still numbing. Absolutely mind-blowing. And if you haven’t dove in at this opportunity, you are truly running out of excuses. Just book the fucker and you will never regret it. In fact, it will be life-altering. BraveWords has made the excursion more than a half dozen times and each metal moment builds on the last. And it’s not just the bands. It’s the people. The floating community where life-long relationships are built and to be honest, for some, this bond is thicker than blood. Blood relatives that is. You just want to take some people back home with you and replace some of the miserable sods in your family! And it’s the energy and non-stop exhilaration, which has you exclaim, ‘I can sleep when I’m dead!’
So two days prior to setting sail, the BraveWords team travelled from Toronto to Buffalo to avoid the usual YYZ (Pearson Airport) ugliness and to get our sea legs ready. Landing in Fort Lauderdale on the Wednesday morning allowed for some much-needed beach time and putting together the necessary supplies for the trip. We were greeted by the the latest batch of BraveWords jerseys for the Bands And VIPs That Built BraveWords campaign, which are becoming quite the hit with anybody honoured to receive one. This year the chosen ones were members of Kreator, Cannibal Corpse, Exciter, Voivod, Witchery and Evergrey. No question, the bands that were vital to the growth of yours truly, BW&BK Magazine and Bravewords.com.
We were thrown into the fire so-to-speak that evening, joining a small group of Canadian metal elite - Annihilator’s Jeff Waters and Exciter’s Dan Beehler, along with Alex Beyrodt from Primal Fear, at the prestigious and massive Hard Rock Cafe And Casino in Seminole. Certainly a bit strange to be reminiscing with two of Canada’s elite musicians in Florida! So after numerous cocktails and enlightening conversation, we headed back to our “Melrose Place” beside the Atlantic to continue the party with longtime scribe and photo guru Mark Gromen. An engaging moment to say the least!
The ultimate feather in Skipper Andy Piller’s cap is the number of countries that 70000 Tons Of Metal attracts, with this year hitting a record 75 (top three countries being: United States, Germany and Canada). Think about it. A genre of music that sees no borders, and attracts metalheads from across the globe unlike any other event on the planet. Having said, the party is split between the major flight hub of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where the cruise departs from at the Port Of Everglades. So the majority of pre-parties are held on the famed Miami beach waterfront which seemingly never sleeps.
Piller talked about his “United Nations of Metal” at sea during a press conference onboard the cruise: “Year after year, I’m always asking people how it is possible that we have so many nations on board? We started with 44 in 2011 and it increased yearly. We were 74 different nations last year, and I said it many times before that is is impossible to top that - but we did, once again. It’s incredible you know - it’s been several years since I coined that expression, and it truly is that feeling of us being a ‘United Nations of Heavy Metal’ at sea. It is so beautiful to see all of these nations from across the globe coming for one and one purpose only, here on this ship, and being one family. There’s no trouble, no fights, no arguments, we’re all here for the love of the music, which is something so beautiful. I really wish the whole world would be like that. We actually bring the whole world together, and realize we are one humanity, and that is really something to look forward to”.
“And once again we have a huge age range,” Piller added about the demographics. “The youngest passenger is one year old and the oldest is 79, so wow! I don't really get those statistics from other metal festivals. And I don't know if there is another metal festival in this world that has 37.8 percent female attendance. I mean, we hear this all of the time, and on social media, that this must be a ‘sausage fest’ or this and that. And yeah according to the numbers there are still more men than women - but it doesn't look like this when I go to shows ashore, you know? So girls, keep on coming!”
After the obligatory coffee, Baileys and cigarettes, the BraveWords trio starts packing for the adventure. The port is a mere 15 minutes from the Fort Lauderdale A1A beach area, which is tourist central and the ultimate playground for adults built like kids. After the passport check, we drop our bags off and commence the cattle call to get on the ship, a little more painstaking in terms of swiftness this year. But after an hour-plus we venture to the top deck where fans and bands gather to cheers and hug. This is where the family reunion begins, right beside the construction of the pool stage which takes a number of hours. It’s now that your appreciate the blood, sweat and beers it takes to organize such a massive undertaking, so kudos to the 70000 Tons team, your efforts certainly don’t go unappreciated.
Following the obligatory Muster Station round-up of all the passengers (a formality these cruise lines do not take lightly), showtime begins just after 5PM local time as the Independence Of The Seas departs Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. As we we wave goodbye to the East Coast of North America, four stages kick into gear: the Alhambra Theater (main indoor stage), Studio B - Ice Rink (de-iced for this cruise only) and the two smaller stages, Pyramid Lounge and the Labyrinth.
Highlights of the evening included Destruction, Enslaved, Kreator, Kataklysm, Primal Fear and and devastatingly brutal set by Witchery.
Check out Mark Gromen’s very thorough synopsis of Day 1 here.
Roland Grapow’s Masterplan is the first band that graces the Pool Deck stage at 10AM, followed by Destruction and the first of many in-door highlights, Metal Church.
About heavy metal cruising and mingling with fans, the former Helloweenie Grapow tells Bravewords: “I love the fans the most to be honest.”
This is where the BraveWords team divides and conquers, with Mark Gromen shooting and reporting on as many shows as humanly possible, while “Metal” Tim and fly-on-the-wall photographer Sephora Hosein conduct chin-wags with Exciter, Evergrey, Voivod, Masterplan and Metal Church.
The return of the vibrant and smartly-poised Mike Howe with Metal Church has breathed new life into Kurdt Vanderhoof’s pride and joy, and it is certainly a bonus when the XI material is just so damn strong, so it fits well with the David Wayne classics (“Start The Fire”, ‘Ton Of Bricks, “Gods Of Wrath”) and the Howe era (“Fake Healer”, “Badlands”).
“You gotta love it,” Howe says about the flowing heavy metal festival. “It’s totally cool.”
“The only weird thing about this is when the boat starts rocking, you feel like you are going overboard!” Vanderhoof exclaims. “It’s really odd, especially on stage as you get focused on what you are doing and all of a sudden you feel like you are falling over. Other than that it’s awesome.”
“I’m used to it,” Howe continues. “I’m always used to falling over, so I don’t really notice it.”
Stay tuned for a BraveWords chat with these Metal Church legends in the coming days.
It was time for a “double-shot” of Canadian icons, namely Exciter and Voivod. The latter graced the indoor rink stage and pounded through their staples like “Violence & Force”, “Pounding Metal”, “Metal Maniac”, Stand Up And Fight”, and a wee bit of a hiccup during “Beyond The Gates Of Doom”, which resulted in the wrong song intro. And how does Dan Beehler pull off this double-duty which such clarity and power? BraveWords caught up with the drummer/singer along with guitarist John Ricci and bassist Allan Johnson, so watch for the chat soon!
It’s a shame Voivod continues to float above the metal world’s head, as the attendance waned a bit due to overlapping with Dark Tranquillity and Samael. But no matter, many purists have enjoyed the Quebecois icons in their own little world, so “Killing Technology”, “Voivod” and the brilliant “Tribal Convictions” most certainly appeased.
About the cruise, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin stated: “We were part of the first edition of this one in 2011. But I love it. The first one was really strange, because I was watching TV in the cabin and it was surreal in 2011 to be on board the ship while watching television coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings happening in the Middle East at the same time.
Most nights end in either two places; the British pub or the casino bar which is a few steps away from the major in-door (Alhambra) theater. The final nightcap is had on our patio, staring at the shimmering stars and the reflection of the moon bouncing on the Caribbean Sea, affecting both the tides and our dreams coming true.
Mark Gromen’s Day 2 can be read here.
Back to Vanderhoof’s point about the boat rocking, and not just musically. The chosen destination this year was the gorgeous Caribbean islands of Turks & Caicos, and more specifically, Grand Turk Island, just over 1,000 kilometres east-southeast of Miami. The name actually comes from the species of cactus on the island, called the Turk's Cap Cactus. In terms of distance, Grand Turk was a bit longer than the standard day stop from previous cruises, hence the speed being upped a few knots (21.6 to be exact!). So when the vessel had ceased teeter-tottering, we knew when we opened up our curtains that paradise would appear and we were correct. From our balcony, we enjoyed our obligatory Baileys and coffee staring at the turquoise surf, pillow-like beaches and luscious vegetation. After a quick bite to eat, we exit the ship and in mere minutes we have a “drink in our hand and our toes in the sand,” to quote the famous Van Halen line.
While most of the Independence Of The Seas empties out onto the pier, many with heads in hand, our beach day is spent carousing up and down the shoreline, mingling with cruisers, seeking out sea gems that have washed ashore and cocktailing it up with beers, rum punch and margaritas, not necessarily in that order.
One historical lesson that we (close) encountered, was the fact that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) marks Grand Turk as an important piece of our space exploration puzzle. On October 7, 1958 NASA announced Project Mercury, its first major undertaking and United States’ first man-in-space program. Seven astronauts were chosen and after his three earth orbits in 1962, John Glenn (a former Marine Corps pilot) successfully landed in the nearby ocean after being the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth. After four hours and 56 minutes in flight, Glenn’s spacecraft re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, splashed down in the North Atlantic Ocean and he was brought back ashore to Grand Turk island.
Lunch consisted of a vast array of creatures from the sea including conch, shrimps, mahi mahi and other delectables, that was washed down by more alcohol-injected liquids. Suffice to say, everybody was feeling no pain as we approached the gangway on the ship and passed through security.
And take note of the palm trees recuperating following the Hurricane Irma, which weakened to a Category 4 hurricane as it passed south of the Turks and Caicos Islands early on September 8. There were no fatalities, but Mother Nature caused over a half billion dollars worth of damage.
Heading back to the Independence Of The Seas to meet the 4PM departure, it was time to crank the Marshall amps again as the bands commence at 5 PM with a three-pronged attack of Exodus (featuring a guest appearance from Sepultura's Andres Kisser), Sepultura and Meshuggah all gracing the Pool Deck stage.
Mark Gromen Day 3 here.
With heads in hand, it was of utmost importance to have our coffee and Baileys on the pool deck with an Exciter soundtrack at 10AM. And how cool was it to see the Voivod dudes front n’ centre witnessing history!
A devastating set by Kataklysm followed, along with more poolside moshing courtesy of Enslaved and Metal Church. But the grand finale was Kreator, the German thrash masters closing 70000 Tons 2018 in style, with a crushing set. This is another indication why such a an experience is purely unexplainable. Growing up with Pleasure To Kill, Extreme Aggression and Endless Pain, imagine being told that you’d be witnessing this glory over 30 years later by a pool in the middle of the sea. Try to process this; from being only in some high school hallway with your cassette Sony Walkman blaring, to being beside a bloody pool! We can die and go to hell.
Mark Gromen’s Day 4 review can be read here.
The cruise is relatively short, as once you awaken on the Monday morning, you are back in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and the day features three zombies with their heads in the sand recuperating!
But preparations for round nine are already underway. Next year, 70000 Tons Of Metal will sail from Miami / Ft. Lauderdale to Labadee and back on January 31st - February 4th, 2019.
Piller talked about choosing the destination for next year’s adventure: “I really had to make a hard choice for next year, because availability for the dates was just sparse. So it’s going to be Haiti one more time next year. I know, I realize that people wonder how can we go on such a luxury cruise liner and travel to such a poor country. Still, we bring some business there, and it is a private destination of Royal Caribbean. It does bring some employment for people there. I don't know how much it helps, but its at least some contribution and there was just no other choice. It’s a great place and I think most people really enjoyed it in 2017.”
70000 Tons Of Metal 2018 Stats
Age Range: 1-79
Total Number On Board:
Number Of Guests: 3,087
Musicians & Crew: 1,032
Ship Crew Members: 1448
Total Number On Board; 5,567
Click the gallery above to see a "ton" of photos courtesy of Mark Gromen, Sephora Hosein and ZarTh Vader!