By “Metal” Tim Henderson
Take my word, this is one helluva adventure that can’t be described. On night number four I conducted a formal interview with Wolfgang Rott (Managing Director of CMM and Head Of Press, European Marketing for the cruise), and asked him how he tells the tale and he says he can’t. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s the truth. You gotta be here to believe it. And it really is unbelievable. Imagine dining with Nergal from BEHEMOTH, hanging with Tomas Linderg from AT THE GATES by the hot tub on the pool deck or witnessing POSSESSED standing beside Attila from MAYHEM and Nick Holmes from PARADISE LOST, who are in awe at the presence of the hugely influential, wheelchair-bound Jeff Beccerra. Trust me, I’m not purposely name-dropping. This is Barge To Hell, billed as “the world’s most extreme metal cruise.” And this is just some of the dream-state events that transpired.
But let’s be honest here, on paper, this cruise appears to be a disaster waiting to happen. I mean, mixing a bunch of metalheads with an endless (not free, but 24/7) supply of cocktails, all you can eat food and water around the ship and on board... But it can’t be further from the truth. In fact the staff on board remarked numerous times on how much they enjoyed this type of guest. Sure, the music may grate on some people’s ears, but those of us who have cruised know that they are staffed by crew from around the globe and usually very few North Americans. And many of these non-stop workers are big fans and totally in awe (like we are) that these bands are playing in front of their very own eyes—and on a ship! So you would see staff with cameras trying to get a permanent memory.
And why, you ask, do they prefer this type of clientele that has such a nasty reputation? It’s about family and respect. The fact that we are all on board for one reason: we live our life for metal, plain and simple. There’s nothing to prove. Even when alcohol is added to the mix. It’s a community revelling in a surreal metal moment. This, compared to some of the snobbish, overbearing groups that the staff tell us they are forced to deal with on board regular cruises. I will say no more on that. And the artists don’t shy away from the interaction. Back to that respect thing. Most people know where to draw the line. So the party was ten-fold; fans, bands mixing with the crew. All 2520 of us!
Some fan stats for you:
Top Ten Countries:
10) The Netherlands
Age Range: 3 to 69
Gender: Female = 32% / Male = 68%
Day 1 - Monday, December 3rd: The Arrival
The ship officially set sail on Monday, December 3rd. Most arrived during the weekend to avoid the usual airport traffic drama/delays and of course take advantage of the gorgeous and animalistic South Beach which is only minutes from the Port Of Miami. Once you arrive at the port, the metalheads in their official attire are lined up for boarding which is quite organized and pro as these ships have such excursions down to a fine science. So immediately the family atmosphere sets in while you’re in line staring at the various tattoos, patches or other artwork that graces most of those in this scene. People begin mingling and chatting about this inaugural voyage and, ‘Is this really happening?’ It’s not like this is a new phenomenon, but certainly it is with this type of extremity on board! 40 bands were originally scheduled with only two cancellations, HYPOCRISY and SIX FEET UNDER (who are currently finishing their new album—Chris Barnes couldn’t escape the studio). Back to check-in, the process took no more than about an hour as documents are examined and carry-on luggage is x-rayed for weapons and booze for the most part. Yes, ALL these cruise lines have very strict rules regarding bringing any type of alcohol on board. Once the formalities are complete, including getting your picture taken and obtaining the vital Seapass Card card, you step through the gangway and you are on board, although it just feels like you are walking into a floating hotel. This was officially my fourth cruise so I’ve had a taste of this life which is certainly not for all, but a valued vacation for people yearning to discover more exotic places on this Earth. And I must say the food is quite exceptional given the vast amounts they are churning out!
The first thing you encounter is the music being piped throughout the entire ship, a non-stop lesson in violence with no repeats! To hell with muzak, this is 24/7 metal indeed! While the crew were setting up the pool stage for all the bands that would grace that stage, we patiently waited for our rooms, mingled, ate and drank. I met one of our photographers, the legendary Håkon Grav, a longtime friend and genius artist who has a resume as long as your arm, on deck and we soaked in the Miami sun, waiting for our ship to transform into black/death metal mode! Soon enough, everyone on board went to their obligatory muster stations, which prepared us passengers for safe evacuation in the event of an emergency and to familiarize crew and passengers with proper escape routes. I was surrounded by members of Moonspell and Sodom, so this cozy atmosphere with the bands begins immediately.
Photo credit: Håkon Grav
Photo credit: Håkon Grav
Musically Day 1 kicked off at the Chorus Line Theater (main indoor stage) where EXODUS commenced their ‘toxic waltz,’ singer Rob Dukes saying that he felt like puking on stage as the ship cradled back and forth. But the ship is so big, unless it’s a major storm (which the captains seem to easily navigate around, not to interrupt the festivities on board; it’s really quite remarkable when you can easily see how vast a front is and the ship quietly moving away from the potential stormy seas), it’s not an issue. The Bay Area thrashers were followed by SOILWORK, ENSLAVED and BEHEMOTH. Keep in mind, these comfy theatres weren’t built for moshing, but for Broadway-like performances and movies. But organizers had removed seats from in front of the stage to allow for any pit action and the cascading theatrical seating meant for a perfect view of the stage in a king’s throne. And the sound… kudos to the Barge To Hell sound team who went above and beyond the call of duty to provide us with shocking clarity and perfect acoustics. Our first taste of the (needed to be seen to be believed) Pool Deck stage was German thrash legends SODOM and PARADISE LOST, the bands pretty much playing in the round as people are able to stand about ten feet behind the drum riser. The stages (three in total, not including karaoke, where many bands and fans stumbled throughout the evenings) would be filled until four/five AM in the morning, mimicking the beloved European festivals. And there’s no curfew restrictions on the high seas ‘cuz you’re only disturbing the fishes! Any other travelling close is in for a spectacle that has never been witnessed! Now off to the all-night pizza bar for some post-boozing snacks!
Photo credit: Håkon Grav
Photo credit: Charlene Tupper
Barge To Hell Day 2 coming up! Check out more photos here