Holy Ship! “Metal” Tim’s 70000 Tons 2017 Diary
February 22, 2017, a month ago
I kept describing it like this during my interviews...
Remember when you were a single-digit kid and it was the night before Christmas, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse? Laying there, you were hit with that overwhelming feeling of what would hopefully greet you the next morning. Yes, this is xmas morning, yet amplified (literally) by a hundred times. Nope. I stand corrected - this beast is xmas morning x1000! It's that overwhelming feeling of ecstasy and excitement - childlike curiosity - for every waking, coherent moment. As I have described it many times before, the urge to sleep disappears. It's like your body understands the need to live every moment and alters its chemistry in accordance. This aging mutherfucker right here - who just turned 50 - stuck it out until the wee, wee hours every single night. My body doesn’t normally run on two to four hours of sleep. Quite the opposite. It's the rush of adrenaline and the ocean-prescribed second-wind that puts the wind under these tired, old sails… this floating beast called 70000 Tons Of Metal lives and breathes.
So,where did it all begin? 2 AM (Wednesday, February 1st) pick-up by the airport shuttle from Barrie, Ontario to Pearson Airport (you know, the one made ‘famous’ by Rush’s “YYZ”). What is usually an hour trek in good traffic was pushing two on the terribly snow-covered Highway 400. Messy and totally unsafe. But soon I was sitting on my early flight to Fort Lauderdale, with my very near future filled with beaches and brews! It’s wise to arrive at least a day early to the port city given air travel issues these days. Even more so, with this dude Trump in charge of the United States now, pulling the red carpet for all of us visitors. Yeah, this is heavy metal, not politics. But his recent travel ban actually affected a few sailors who had to yank the trip, so indeed heartbreaking to see someone spoiling the party.
“We are one world without borders,” Skipper (promoter/organizer) Andy Piller said pointedly at the press conference. “We are a heavy metal family bigger and stronger than that."
Speaking of visitors, the cruise hit another record. 74 countries in fact. Piller is most proud of that statistic and he could barely contain himself. That’s his crowning achievement. Understanding the time and cost for all of us headbanging sailors to actually take part in this event, he has built a monument of massive proportions that people want to experience and witness. They must witness. 74 countries coming together in heavy metal unison. Beyond just the waves, this spectacle digs even deeper into the human psyche, when the skipper reminds us all that some patrons are physically warring each other in the confines of their homeland, yet, we can all stand and party together by the pool while a band like Anthrax is moshing the hell out of all of us! This is the incredible power of this music we all share an undying love for. This is the power of heavy metal.
On with my journey. So, after dealing with the usual Pearson line-ups, security debacles, I get some much-needed shut-eye after 30 minutes of deicing the wings of the Air Canada bird. As we touched down in Fort Lauderdale, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen in Southern Ontario for about a month; blue sky and sunshine! SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) certainly sets in at the first of the year and I was happy my non-stop grey, miserable fucking days (I call them Stephen King days) were behind me for a bit. Soon it was time for my annual jog for a few supplies (read bourbon!), and gear up for the pre-cruise festivities. Sadly, most of the pre-parties occur in Miami where most fans gather due to it being the bigger hub for international visitors. The night in Fort Lauderdale was still full of shenanigans courtesy of our Evenko friends!
Thursday, February 2nd
After a decent rest, it was time to gather up our belongings and my travel partner and beloved scribe/photographer, Mark Gromen, and I grab an Uber (totally recommended!) to the Port Of Everglades. Suddenly, a punk-metal coincidence greets us as original Misfits drummer Joey Image has his hands on the wheel! “I got something to say, I just killed your baby today!”
The embarkation process has become a breeze now. Within the hour we are on the deck greeting the familiar faces of our heavy metal family, peppered with rock stars! I check into the press area where I am immediately thrown into the mosh pit as I’m told Anthrax want to get all their interviews done tonight. So, stay tuned for an “uncomfortable” chat with Scott Ian, but a totally invigorating session with Joey Belladonna as we proceeded to dissect how a thrash band would enlist a classic rock vocal fanatic.
Unlike previous years, the stage building was bang on, helped along by a new 240 tonne crane that elevated the pool stage from the pier. Keep in mind all this stuff has to be built on the first day every year as Royal Caribbean’s mission is business as usual whether it’s a rock cruise or a cotton-top one! Skipper said that the crew/staff was bumped up from last year so customer service was at an all-time high!
Organizers wasted no time in delivering the goods with the likes of Testament, Arch Enemy, Grave Digger and Marduk assaulting the pool deck, whilst Death Angel, Pain, Unleashed, Moonsorrow and Devildriver were the in-door highlights. Check out Mark Gromen’s thorough Day 1 report here, but the wailing guitars of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick echoed madly as Chuck Billy was the menacing ringleader with a parade of pit-friendly anthems old and new. Add to that the genius backbone of Gene Hoglan and Steve DiGiorgio, which completes what is easily Testament’s most vicious line-up ever! With Unleashed’s rare appearance on North American shores, the echoes of “Winterland” from the Ice Rink Stage was storming with menace as Johnny Hedlund marched around on a Swedish death metal mission. Stay tuned for a highly inciteful chat with the man soon!
Friday, February 3rd
Day Two was the proper interview day with metalhead-to-head sessions with Angra, Grave, Uli Jon Roth and a brilliant video chat idea with Hypocisy/Pain legend Peter Tägtgren that didn’t materialize as the Long Island Ice Teas took over the moment. That being said, we chatted about his studio, The Abyss, currently recording the new Immortal album and dealing with the constant barrage of Hypocrisy questions. Peter and I have known each other from way back in the early ‘90s, even still, he would not divulge even the littlest secret about the possibility of new Hyprocrisy material. But my gut says never say never! And yes, he IS one of the bands that built BraveWords, so I was honoured to hand him one of our new personalized jerseys courtesy of BraveWords’ new deal with (Puck Hockey). He was over-the-top to say the least, doing his best Gene Simmons pose!
Sadly, I would miss Grave’s first set, but had the privilege of chatting with leader Ola Lindgren who I was told is not fond of interviews, yet we had a riveting chat session around the divine art of Swedish death metal and their glorious latest album, Out Of Respect For The Dead, that I still play constantly. Stay tuned!
The final chin-wag of the day featured legendary Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who easily ranks as arguably the top axeman to play the cruise. His first set was poolside and his riffs weaved loudly throughout the deck as he graced us with ’70s Scorpions classics and a mesmerizing tribute to his god, Jimi Hendrix. And trust me, when the chords of “All Along The Watchtower” were flowing, thoughts of my best friend and BraveWords’ mascot Hendrix danced around my head. Despite the fact that we had jersey “issues” (stay tuned for that moment in the coming weeks), it was invigorating to hear his tales of growing up with Jimi Hendrix and the impact of his death. And, of course, plenty of tales from the Scorpions years and how he has no regrets leaving the band prior to them becoming international superstars!
With our sea legs of the new day strapped on and primed, we never thought that the previous day's rousing, headbanging successes could ever be matched. Well, we were sorely mistaken. With the sunrising over the vast expanses of sea, we were graced with legends as diverse and incredible as Overkill, Amorphis, Carcass, Anthrax, Kamelot and Annihilator - in that order! What a flurry of metal madness. And I must lean to Anthrax as the spectacle, as I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would witness a Big 4 band by a pool! Now the set could’ve been deeper (what, nothing from Fistful Of Metal?!), but it was a parade of their sing-along hits as everybody’s voice the next day would reveal! Check out a complete Friday report here.
Saturday, February 4th
After burning the candle at both ends until 5/6 AM, we awoke to the large sign of Labadee! Yes, we’ve made it to Hate-ee, I mean Haiti! The disembarkation process was a breeze, and within minutes we are blazing in the hot sun. Mr. Gromen and myself, along with our new accomplice Lina Blaakyum (who manages the Lebanese band of the same name here), saunter down the beach and take our position in the sand just a few feet away from the annual 70000 Tons Pool Girls photo-shoot. Meanwhile one of the excursions is going on over 500 feet above our head; at over 2,600 feet long, we are witnessing the longest zip-line in the world over water, so you hear the sounds of people screaming throughout the day - which did not include me (sorry, I can barely go up a ladder).
This plot of land is actually leased by Royal Caribbean. “Our island, our facilities,” Croatian-born Captain Iv Vidos stated during the press conference. It’s fenced and guarded, so getting an actual taste of the location was a bit difficult. Keeping in mind the devastation this country has faced both with hurricanes (most recently 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which was the country’s worst in over 50 years) and Haiti’s most severe earthquake in over 200 years (in 2010 which was reported to have left up to 316,000 people dead and 1.6 million homeless, according to Wikipedia).
The night began with arguably my favourite musical moment on the cruise, as Swedish death metal legends Grave destroyed the Pyramid stage with material from the first three albums (Into The Grave, You’ll Never See… and the untouched Soulless). During soundcheck, Ola Lindgren grabbed the bourbon in my hand for some pre-show escape and soon enough the small theater was jam-packed for a lesson in Swedish death metal violence. After the show I told guitarist Mika Lagrén that they literally had me in tears with the likes of “You’ll Never See” and the deep Soulless tracks like “Bullets Are Mine” and he gave me giant bear hug!
The night rounded out with Overkill’s foggy-yet-punishing set inside, and Testament’s brutal greatest hits parade by the pool - which included “The New Order”, ”Raging Waters" and highlight “Alone In The Dark”, the last of which saw the crowd erupt!
As a side note, I couldn’t help but notice one of the crew just outside of the pit. Staff are allowed to mingle and enjoy in the moment according to the Captain. As stated many times, many of the crew see this as an opportunity of a lifetime and love playing host to the heavy metal community. Cheers to us!
Check out a complete Saturday report here.
Sunday, February 5th
The grand finale and, sadly, the final day of this incredible journey. The weather continues to cooperate (unlike past years when wind, waves and rain greeted us on the way back to mainland Florida and all outdoor shows had to be scrapped). It was all smooth sailing as today’s unique highlights included the annual Belly Flop Contest and Canuck guitar legend Jeff Waters’ ultimate heavy metal community love-in, Jamming With Waters In International Waters! Musical highlights included searing sets by the pool with Unleashed (all old school), Carcass, Arch Enemy, and Devildriver. Indoors played witness to the majesty that is Death Angel and, of course, Anthrax. Mark Osegueda may be the most colourful frontman on the cruise as the Bay Area veterans did battle with more current material like “The Moth” and “Thrown To The Wolves”, yet “Mistress Of Pain” tore the Theater Stage apart! Meanwhile, Anthrax’ moshing session included more Among The Living and Spreading The Disease gems. The Stormtroopers Of Death classic “March Of The S.O.D.” increased the intensity, while “I’m The Man” did as it always does! You must catch these Big 4 moshing maniacs on the road this spring on the KillThrax jaunt with Killswitch Engage.
Check out the Super Metal Sunday here.
Interview-wise, today was a Can-con (Canadian content) moment with Striker, certainly one of the buzz bands on the cruise as they gear up for the release of their fifth self-titled studio album, due out on February 24th. Stay tuned for a chat with guitarist Tim Brown… kinda rare that I chat with another Tim! Also on the docket was an invigorating conversation with Unleashed icon Johnny Hedlund, the duration of which went from the standard 15/20 minutes to over an hour - and we could’ve kept going as there was such a connection, including plenty of ice hockey chatter! It’s musical moments like these which makes 70000 Tons Of Metal so attractive as it’s truly a family affair as you can see!
The one formality, but certainly a highlight, was the press conference which featured Skipper Andy Piller, Wolfgang Rott (CMM CEO & Founder) and a speech from Captain Iv Vidos. As fascinating as always are the stats from the cruise. As Piller says it’s less of a sausage party, with females making up 37% of the passengers. Add to that the 65% repeat customer rate, which speaks volumes to the fan reaction to this spectacle on water! A funny side note, 30 people have done all eight of these cruises (including Barge To Hell)!
Check out more of the numbers below. There is one other notable crowning achievement the Captain mentioned; this is the ONLY cruise where they CAN’T keep up with all the bottle and can crushing! Cheers again to us!
As for the future of the cruise Piller says, “I will go until I drop dead! There is no reason to stop.” From there he proceeded to announce next year’s journey on the same vessel (Independence Of The Seas) from February 1st - February 5th (and yes, another Heavy Metal Super Bowl Sunday) to Turks and Caicos!!!
Book your ticket to a floating heavy metal paradise here!
Click the View Gallery button above for a "ton" more photos!
(Top photo of Skipper Andy Piller on stage courtesy of 70000 Tons Of Metal photo crew)