70000 TONS OF METAL 2024 – Over The Sea: Somewhere Far Beyond, Enchanted Land

February 11, 2024, 5 months ago

By Mark Gromen

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Until 70K, never had an inkling of going on a cruise. The music made it happen. How does one describe one of the wonderfully wacky events in adult life? The premise is somewhat preposterous: a four day cruise, with 60 heavy metal bands (each playing twice) that basically travels across the water, for a mere 6 hours or so, at some port (often not more than a cruise line constructed slab of concrete, with pre-fab shops, restaurants and bars.) and then returns. There's virtually music around-the-clock! As the adage goes: life is a journey, not a destination. Never truer than aboard the Freedom Of The Seas, enjoy the ride and the entertainment. Typically, when you go on a cruise, people will ask, "What was it like? Where did you go? What was the weather like?" 

On this trip, only the first can be answered. Responses to the other inquiries are a little strange (but then, aren't we all?). It doesn't really "go" anywhere. Not in the sense of most cruise lines. By the time we docked at Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic, some hadn't even seen daylight, ensconced in the bowels of the ship, taking in three stages and the pool deck stage, which also plays at night. 

Almost immediately after the hawsers are cast off and the great vessel has left the Port of Miami, the bands start. One of the first onstage was Kataklysm, in the massive, three tiered theater, complete with plush chairs. The first few rows of seats, which on another cruise, would typically be occupied by patrons watching a Broadway-style production, have been removed, so as the metalheads can stand in front of the stage, as they are want to do. Like your average rock club, each venue has a photo pit/barricade, which allows the fans to get close to the bands, but not too close. The Canucks were billed as playing a Serenity In Fire set. "The Resurrected” saw frontman Maurizio Iacono drop to his knees, arms outstretched. The slower grind of blue lit "As I Slither" followed. The packed house proves there's something to going on early, the first day, as there are less diversions and more attention focused on the music. The singer stalks both sides of the stage, under chartreuse lights, occasionally venturing out front, and foot atop the wedge monitor. "For All Our Sins", features the pre-recorded, voice-over from album producer/Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren. JF Dagenais (guitar) and bassist Stephane Barbe thrash about, pin wheeling their hair. As the stage goes red, the title track brings an old school pummeling. Iacono tells the enthusiastic throng, "We love crowd surfers. I want to see an avalanche of bodies." Challenge accepted! 

While not all shows overlap, sometimes 15 minutes isn't enough to get from, let's say, the 11th floor pool deck stage (at the back of the boat) to the ball room, on deck 3, in the nose of the vessel. That's especially true when trying to line-up for the photo pit, to get first crack at the "next" act. Thus, it was time to bail out and see some of Einherjer's so-called "Epic Deep Cuts" outing, something different for the Norwegian outfit's fourth time on the cruise. Opening "The Blood And The Iron" has an almost Celtic vibe, as it's three across the front of the Studio B (converted ice rink) stage, bassist/singer Frode Glesnes flanked by guitars. Purple lit "Atter På Malmtings Blodige Voll" is sung in their native tongue, as are a few others this evening. Drums introduce the slow, stomping grind of "Stars", while Glesnes prefaced "Ingen Grid" by saying, "We're digging deep, for a song we rarely do." Cue the jazzy, progressive folk/Viking number, featuring a trio of vocals.

Back in the theater, Halo Effect, aka former In Flames members (minus drummer Daniel Svensson, who had announced a personal leave of absence, last November) had a more immediate impact. Opening with "Days Of Lost" under piercing green lights, hulking bassist Peter Iwers and perpetually in-motion frontman Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity) paraded in front of a loving crowd. Before the foggy, mist shrouded "Feel What I Believe", the curly haired vocalist recounted his days, growing up, with death metal, in Sweden, saying, "We tried to reconnect with that (feeling) in this band." Donning a leather jacket throughout, Stanne, his mouth agape at the crowd reaction, wandered to all parts of the stage, as did most of his cohorts. "Gateways" was announced as "the first song we wrote as a new band" and the initial single, "Shadowminds" closed the evening. With just one album to their name, they'd reprise the exact same set, a coupe nights hence.

Had seen Warkings at a German festival, pre-pandemic, and enjoyed their take on power metal. Each masked "character" adopts a different personality: Greek warrior (in Sparta helmet) on drums, guitarist looking like a knight of the cross (crusader), a Viking on bass and the singer: a Roman warrior. The songs all related to events from ancient history, typically battles. "Last Battle" opener is bathed in green, while "Maximus" receives a good sing-along response, from the crowd. 

Blind Guardian were afforded 75 minutes, the biggest time slot of the day. Was excited at the premise of hearing The God Machine material live, for the first time, as well as the classics we've loved for decades. The album seems to have revived the boys love of metal, as both onstage and off, the music is presented with renewed vigor. Silver haired guitarist Marcus Siepen almost looks like a Tolkien elf, shouting backing vocals. Opposite side of the stage, six-string partner (the usually reserved) André Olbrich thrashes about. In the middle of them (actually, there's a second tier of musicians, drums, bass & keyboards, outfitting the Guardians to a sextet), is Hansi Kürsch, the jovial singer, and conductor, orchestrating crowd responses with the mere flick of his fingers.

For the first of two stunning performances, the Germans mixed a trio of newbies into what was planned to be a dozen tunes, total, although "Lord Of The Rings" (while printed on setlists at the foot of the stage) was scrapped. "Imaginations From The Other Side" sets the mood, fans going wild for an old school classic. Personally, it's great to have songs I've loved for 30+ years to be accepted by a mass audience! It's backed with "Blood Of The Elves" from the newest platter. The aggressive, but friendly "Nightfall" lets the audience voice be heard. Rest assured, they've been singing virtually non-stop, but the tempo and pacing now allows the collective voice to be heard atop the musical onslaught. In good spirits, Kürsch acknowledges the crowd's response, but is also aware of the time limitations and playfully moves the show along.

"The Script For My Requiem" sees the singer, legs splayed, arms outstretched. He grips the mic with both bands for "Violent Shadows" as they deliver a fleet-fingered, but heavy handed beatdown. "Bright Eyes" might not be quintessential Blind Guardian, but it's certainly rare, outside of Germany, so welcome. By contrast, the acoustic delivered (and at times nearly a cappella sing-along) "The Bard's Song - In The Forest" is a highlight of every show: hair on the arms standing at attention. Red lit "Secrets Of The American Gods" begins with synthesizer. The closing trio is all long established hits, kicking off with rose colored "Lost In The Twilight Hall". It's almost as if the gates to Valhalla itself have opened, the barrage of crowd surfing bodies launching an assault on the barricade. The twin guitars meet center stage. The seemingly never ending a cappella end to "Valhalla", curtailed by Kürsch, with one eye seemingly always on the clock, bleeds into "Mirror, Mirror", Siepen and Olbrich on backing duties. Glorious, if all too short. Can't wait for the next one, two days from now. North American audiences, get ready for the headlining tour, in April/May.

First, breakfast at the Windjammer buffet (cruise employees greet entrants with an original or adapted ditty, imploring folks to wash their hands before entering: "washy, washy"). You'd think it a no brainer, after a couple years of Covid and all the past horror stories about widespread flu or intestinal infections (same week, over 150 befell with gastrointestinal virus aboard the Queen Victoria), but sadly, no. Although there are now designated service areas for Vegan and Non-gluten offerings, there's still some who are clueless. Know different cultures approach dining from other angles, but the tongs are there to pick up slices of bread, individual biscuits/muffins/rolls and sliced fruits, not your fingers! Get a clue. Not easy to see many bands, seated on the toilet in your stateroom.

Speaking of hand-picked selections, the music kicks off at 10 AM, on the newly constructed pool deck stage and runs until nearly 6 AM, the next morning (and that's if everything runs on time)! There's a "chill" in the air, as we sail into the wind, so much so that the lifeguards are decked out in sweat pants, hoodies and the odd toque, as temperatures struggle to hit 70. Lots of hopscotching in store, which means witnessing few full sets. 

Initially decided to stay "indoors," opting for Tygers Of Pan Tang, in the ballroom. Have seen the band a few ties overseas, always presenting a mix of classic ‘80s and newer material, as was the occasion today. The volume was way up, especially Jacopo Meille's piercing high vocals, as they opened with "Euthanasia". Original guitarist Robb Weir bent down, at the front of the stage and sucked on the plastic tubing to his squawk box. "Destiny" and "Gangland" followed. Great to hear those vintage guitar tones and amazing, sustained yelp as Jacopo delivers the line, "You're gonna get yourself burnt." The red/orange lit, Middle Eastern flavored lead-off, from Bloodlines, aka "Edge Of The World" blunted the momentum established by the ‘80s cut. 

The restructured boogie of "Slave To Freedom" lets Robb's squawk box really come into play, as well as being a showcase for his guitar. It's four across the stage, machine gunning the audience. Jacopo is "armed" with a mic stand, squarely pointed at the crowd. Purple lit "Suzie Smiled" was a nice surprise, the two guitarists meet center stage and sway, in unison, until the singer "strangles" Weir, from behind. Song ends with Robb jumping in a circular pattern. Time constraints force a last minute running order shuffle. Thankfully, none of the oldies are ditched, although their rendition of "Love Potion No. 9" is certainly not the way to end a set.

Victory features ex-Accept guitarist Herman Frank, who modeled the dichotomy of the day: dark sunglasses, but also the trademark knit ski hat. Their first show was dedicated to the Culture Killed The Native album. A crowd filled with battle jackets, adorned with hard heavy band patches, swayed in time (often with drink in hand) to the ‘80s bump 'n grind of "Don't Tell No Lies": Sunset Strip, via the Reeperbahn! Frank removed his shades, come "Never Satisfied". Although following the tracklisting, singer Jioti Parcharidis announced "Power Strikes The Earth" a song early.

Later, ventured to Studio B, to checkout some Nervosa. A different line-up, when they played the same stage, in 2016. Initially hampered by faulty intro tape and then a guitar issue for Prika Amaral, at the end of opening "Seeds Of Death". Power restored they'd tear through a set of heads down, hair shaking (especially other axe slinger Helena Kotina) guttural thrash, including the whammy bar attack of "Jailbreak". The "Endless Ambition" finale sees the two guitars and bass, with instruments raised, with backs to the crowd, facing the drummer.

Next up, first chance (outside Europe) to see new Grave Digger guitarist Tobias Kersting (ex-Orden Ogan). Chris Boltendahl's clan offered many deep cuts, rarely aired. "Headbanging Man" is a high energy start, with the newboy right at the edge of the ballroom stage sporting a matching the singer's patched/battle jacket. Boltendahl plays a mean air guitar, as bassist Jens Becker patrol his side of the stage and adds the odd backing vocal. Purple lit "Back To The Roots" is followed by the herky-jerk, start/stop opening of blue/green illuminated "The Grave Dancer". Nearly forgot about the energetic "Fight The Fight", which sees Chris and "Tobi" center stage. Grave Digger needs more tunes like this guitar histrionic anthem.

Internet released, new single "The Grave Is Yours" made its live debut tonight, aboard the ship. A locomotive chug and that trademark Grave Digger bounce, punctuated by a Boltendahl laugh and a fretboard tapping showcase for Kersting. "The Reaper" was supposed to be up next (according to the pre-printed list at the foot of the stage), but, as Chris explained to me a couple of days later, the lack of practice made for a last minute substitution (although it will be played at Keep It True), opting for "Highland Farewell", instead. Cue the recorded bagpipes Prefacing "Witch Hunter", the singer said, "Back to the second album, where we played some punk rock." A
lthough a bit of moshing transpired, "Lionheart" got the heads banging. "Wedding Day" is a slower, plodding, fist thruster, in the same vein as "The Last Supper". The closing trio (which would be repeated, a little more than 24 hence) featured "Excalibur", "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)" and always closing "Heavy Metal Breakdown". Certainly one for the record books, probably never to be repeated.

Unleashed have been part of the scene for more than two and half decades. Hulking bassist Johnny Hedlund is the lone consistent and has managed to infuse his Viking death metal with an undeniably infectious beat, that separates the Swedes from most of their contemporaries. "To Asgard We Fly" opens. Feel that thumping in the chest. A red stage and swirl of guitars greets "Lead Us To War". Legs splayed, a windswept Hedlund bellows into the mic, occasionally moving forward, bending at the waist and headbanging, hair draped across his face. "The Longships Are Coming" comes before the title track of their most recent album (2021's) "No Sign Of Life". Inadvertently funny moment, when the Viking mentions, "This is our third time on the cruise. Are you going to come back and see us tomorrow (referencing their second scheduled appearance)? No? We'll be here!" Slower, blue tinted "Midvinterblot" follows and then the galloping "Hammer Battalion" Can feel the blood coursing through your veins.

Angra were scheduled to film a DVD, on the deck, on the final night of the cruise. So I guess this was something of a warm up? Many of the same songs would reappear later. The first notable aspect was a second percussionist, behind a bank of Conga drums, but he also added maracas/shakers and tambourine. Orange bathed "Nothing To Say" was followed by "Final Light"/ Great to hear a couple of Andre Matos-era cuts in the mix, like "Angels Cry" and 'Carry On". They fulfilled the "metal" quotient of the set, while the remainder was more "prog" oriented. "Tide Of Changes" began with some fretboard tapping, courtesy of Felipe Andreoli, alone, center stage.

Upstairs, on the outdoor stage, My Dying Bride were encountering technical issues that delayed the start of their set and ultimately canceled two tracks set to air. Looking like a pensive headmaster, nattily attired in pin-stripe trousers, a stiff collared button-down dress shirt, complete with cuffs & links, Aaron Stainthorpe, always the British gentleman, apologized, in advance. Anguished by the decision to axe a few songs (including "Forever People"), for the remainder of the set, the singer didn't need to feign the anger and agony portrayed by the lyrics. He was living it! Opened with blue/green "Thrash Of Naked Limbs", Aaron genuflects and fights the demons in his head. Violin has long been part of the MDB sound and it came out during "The Songless Bird" (ironic title tonight!) and the massive length closer, "Turn Loose The Swans". 

Lots of dark reds & blue colors as the wind whipped into their faces during the more lively "Like Gods Of The Sun". In quieter moments, could hear it on the mic. It's all about emotions, as there's little motion onstage, apart from the vocalist. Aaron recreates the song onstage: at various points he pulls faces, scratches at his head, pounds his noggin, or drops to his knees and implores the Heavens. His Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde vocals alternates between serene lullabies and demented barrage. Quite a performance. Watch Brave Words for Metal Tim's interview with Aaron.

In a similar vein, Katatonia played in the ballroom, preferring to keep the stage so dark, that identifying WHO was onstage was next to impossible (let alone photographs). Jonas Renkse still possesses an evil streak, triple inverted crucifixes and a pentagram are outlines in white tape, at the foot of his mic stand. The music, however, is less devilish, preferring the dark prog of "Forsaker", accompanied by flashing strobes (the only time the singer was illuminated). Metal Tim will get more in-depth with mastermind Renkse, in a forthcoming interview, online.

Unlike most North American onboard, had seen Sodom, more than once (even a couple of Onkel Tom shows) at Wacken, Bang Your Head and other German appearances. Although billed as an "Old school Best Of," tonight's setlist was a real treat, steeped in rarities. In fact, there were few well known tracks, Tom Angelripper diving deep, but essentially the same batch of songs, played on tour, in their homeland, to end 2023. Only the biggest, lifelong Sodom fans would be able to tell you precisely from which release, each of the tracks were culled. Guitarist Frank Blackfire has been back in the band since '18 (originally on Persecution Mania and Agent Orange), with an increased role, onstage and off. 

A fierce wind continued on the pool deck, as Sodom introduced "An Eye For An Eye", Angelripper sort of tethered to the mic, while (stage right) Blackfire thrashes about. "Electrocution" and "The Crippler" follow, Angelripper occasionally able to step out from behind the mic, to hang with the guitarists. Chants of "Sodom" erupt every time there's a little lull, but Tom's been adamant, from the start, they need to power through the set, due to limited time. Wind billowing his silver mane, at times, Blackfire looks like a guitar toting Harry Potter villain. Can't remember ever hearing "Jabba The Hut" live, but now I have! As the set progressed, the familiarity grew. "Proselytism Real", off the debut, is more audible than those rough ‘80s productions would allow. The longtime bassist/singer sported an old Iron Fist tee, beneath a denim vest, introducing Deutsche lyric "Wachturm" in his native tongue. Afterwards, he'll punctuates original Ep track, "Blasphemer" with a demonic laugh.

The guitarist starts "Sodomy & Lust", which offers more groove than was readily apparent on the original recording. Tom does a good Cronos impression, judging from the cover of Venom's "Leave Me In Hell". Stage lights are almost an afterthought, the constant barrage of strobes makes it look like they're playing in daylight, even though it's after midnight. Despite the "late" hour (relative, on this ship), there’s a robust pit, situated between the centrally located hot tub and the stage. Venturing back to Obsessed By Cruelty, there "Equinox". Green lit demo cut (re-recorded for the latest Ep) "Let's Fight In The Darkness Of Hell" receives a good reaction, despite being "new," relative to the rest of the material. An extended (jam?) version of "Bombenhagel" closes things out.

Between the throwbacks from Grave Digger and Sodom, it's a special night. And both will play again!  

Awoke, docked in the Dominican Republic. In all honesty, the view lacked the clear blue water and white sandy beaches of previous cruises. A strip reserved for tourist, boasted shops, bars/restaurants and a couple of pools (with swim-up bar), even a lazy river, to float around, in an inner tube. Good for a couple hour respite, but not the reason anyone came on the cruise. So eventually, everyone's back onboard and the music returns at 5PM. The first band on, after a day in the sun, can be a daunting task, as many sailors are licking their wounds (sunburn/exposure), shower/cleaning up after a day in the water/sand, napping or getting something to eat.

Nothing says, "day at the beach," like guys dressed in fur lined hats and clothes, yet that's precisely how Skyforger are attired. They're from Latvia and play a blend of pagan/folk speed metal that relates moments throughout the country's history. All the titles (and lyrics) are in the native tongue. After opening with "Akmenī Iekaltās Zīmes" (Marks Carved In Stone), guitarist/singer Pēteris explained "Lepnums Un Spīts" (Pride & Defiance) was about when the Germans attempted to overthrow his land, as well as something to do with the Solstice. Although entitled "Uz Ziemeļu Krastu", the song was introduced in English, as "To The Northern Shores", beginning with the sound effects of lapping waves and seagulls. The usual live bagpipe type instrumentation was only provided by pre-recorded tapes. Enjoyable in small doses, but it was back to the upper deck, for another round, with the masked men of Warkings.

Against the prevailing winds, the smoke machine was mostly ineffective. During "Fight", Georg Neuhauser, who also fronts Serenity, but here, is under the guise (literally) of a Roman centurion, procured a replica of Mjölnir (Thor's hammer), from a fan, in the crowd. Later, the bare legged, breast plated singer took a trip into the crowd and photo pit. "Sparta" adds a growling vocal to the repertoire, complete with guest, female accompaniment. Ancient characters can be fun, but moved on, to grab a few more photos of Kataklysm, who were doing another album show, this one around In The Arms of Devastation, in the fresh air. 

For their encore (show #2) Grave Digger again reached into their bag of tricks, but concentrated on the Nineties, hitting most of the themed albums, from that era. Beefy "Law Breaker" began the return engagement. As the fog machine's efforts are quickly whisked across the stage, "Hell Is My Purgatory" sees Chris Boltendahl, with right foot perched atop the wedge monitor. When he's not stationary, he moves about the stage, open mouthed and playing air guitar. "The Round Table" slows the proceedings, as Jens Becker (bass) and Tobi Kersting trade sides of the stage. A chugging "Ballad Of A Hangman" allows the audience to sing along ("whoa whoa"). "Dia De Los Muertos", aka Day Of The Dead leads into the more dynamic "Circle Of Witches". 

Boltendahl truly looked to be having a great time onstage, and it clearly radiated, even when a giant beach ball bounded onstage. Green lit "The House" utilized piped in keyboards. A slow mover, it allowed more crowd sing-alongs. "Dark Of The Sun" even sees the stoic Becker mouthing the titular chorus. "Morgane Le Fay" closes the proper set. True, there are no encores at 70,000 Tons, but Grave Digger conclude with the same trio of classics, as the first night: rousing "Excalibur", bagpipe accented "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)" and simply one of the all-time classic metal songs: "Heavy Metal Breakdown", easy to sing, even upon first listen. Can't wait to see/hear what they'll do next, with Tobi in the fold.

Quickly discovered much of Unleashed was a reprise of the previous set. A slower grind, mixed with intense riffing, "They Came To Die" offered a storm of strobes, between the purple/magenta lights. Green illuminated "The Longships Are Coming" sees Johnny Hedlund surrounding the mic, as he yells, "Let's see some headbanging." When time allows, he ventures forward, hair draped over his face and the bass headstock forward. "No Sign Of Life", "Midvinterblot" and "Hammer Battalion" stream by, in succession. Good as it was, after about 25 minutes, set out, in search of something new, but quickly discovered it was time to get ready for Blind Guardian, Round 2.

The Germans did not disappoint, choosing many different tunes, beginning with "Into The Storm", somewhat appropriate for the topside venue, wind still blowing intensely. Hansi joked this would be, "Another Best Of set, as well as some instant classics. Have to cut my part short. No need for mumbling words. Let the music do the talking." His droll sense of humor is understood in many languages. "Blood Of The Elves" storms by, then "Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)". The crowd claps along, as "The Quest For Tanelorn" commences, then fists thrust overhead, in unison. The singer stands with a foot on the stagefront monitor, arms outstretched and occasionally leaning forward, towards the photo pit/fans pressed against the rail. Simple waggle of his fingers send the fans into action. During the show, cruise wait staff walk around the pool area, offering free hors d'oeuvres. Surreal scene: catering at a metal show, on the deck of a cruise ship!

Marcus Siepen forcefully shouts the lyrics, the wind blowing his silver mane from his face. Initially, André Olbrich appeared unhappy with the stage volume/mix (although inaudible to the crowd). The snafu energized him even further, stomping around the stage, like never before. For "Deliver Us From Evil", Hansi headbangs, back by the drum riser, as the two guitars square off, center stage. A storming "Born In A Mourning Hall" showcases a powerful, sustained shriek, as Kürsch delivers the line, "Never reach, the other side." Hansi asks fans to, "Shout lyrics for the dolphins, sharks and mermaids. Let's sing the 'Bard Song'." Marcus and André are seated, with acoustic guitars, for what must be the most cell phone filmed song of the evening. Overall, there weren't that many. Nice to see people enjoying a concert, not worried about creating a social media post. "Think it can't get better," asks the singer, "but it can...'Majesty'!" A calliope introduces the speed metal intensity, with Hansi pogoing around the stage and Marcus ventures stage right, for the first time. 

"Sacred Worlds" contains lengthy instrumental passages. Impressive, Nightwish styled orchestration. During the "lull" a steady stream of crowd surfers rode overhead the fans. No such distractions for "Valhalla". More crowd participation and Hansi even jumps into the vacant photo pit, to get closer to the fans. After the song is "over" the crowd continues the chorus, initially with only accompaniment from Marcus, then just drums. It would have lasted longer, but the guys shut it down, so as to keep on schedule. "Mirror Mirror" brings a magic night to a close.

Is it FOMO (fear of missing out) or just curiosity, looking for something new, but the last day seems to cover the most ground, in terms of number of bands witnessed. That said, few, if any, full sets, lasting just a couple of tunes, before moving on. Bright & early, it was Lords Of The Lost. Haven't seen them before, nor would I consider myself a fan, but knew they'd provide good photos. So an early breakfast and outside for a 10AM start.

Overnight, the fierce wind made the organization cut down the decorative scrims that flank the stage, lest they threaten to pull down the entire structure/lighting rig. The glammy, ponytail, eyeliner, Eurovision darlings served as something of an aerobics instructor, bringing the pumping bass and enthusiasm, to get people moving. "The Curtain Falls" is a vibrant opener that gets the juices flowing. Sadly, it is the only such number. Early on, Chris Harms admitted there were, "two vocalists, me and the wind. I can't get used to that," apparently hearing the rush of air in his in-ear monitors. Didn't ruin his mood though. Later, he teased, "Did you wash your hands, for breakfast?" 

Pi Stoffers (guitar) is a glam/hardcore persona, throwing himself around the stage during the industrial stomp. There's more than a nod to countrymen Rammstein, minus the incendiaries. "The Gospel Of Judas" is sure is win them fans in some corners of the USA. Overall, the live performances exudes fun. During "Blood For Blood", Harms has the fans pogo in place, then do a "one man circle pit". The crowd willingly obliges. Just wish there was more music like the first one.

Briefly stopped by the theater, to get some visuals on Fleshcrawl, to augment Metal Tim's interview. Lots of deep red lighting. It is essentially a post-pandemic line-up, with only drummer Bastian Herzog, an original member of the German death metal outfit. Borisz Sarafutgyinov said, "Didn't expect this many people to be awake at this hour." Out of the cellar and into the light, on the pool deck, Einherjer unveiled a completely new setlist. "Ready for Viking metal, under the Caribbean sun," proposed bassist Frode Glesnes, while sporting shades, to block the intense rays. "Odin Owns Ye All" was sung by guitarist Ole Sønstabø. By now, the final day ritual of cosplay is in full swing. Cheeky thongs and strategically placed athletic/support tape intermingles with superheroes and the inexplicable: pickles? pineapple? Whatever, not that any of it has to do with the bands. The Norwegians end with "Far, Far North".

No interest in the belly flop contest, nor the artist jam (ad hoc line-up of musicians/singers, playing well known cover tunes). Some sit in the hot tub or lay on a chaise lounge, others remain in their cabin, waiting the "Must See" acts, later in the day. I pass the idle time looking for more bands. Actually sneaked off, mid-set, to check out Victory, in the Star Lounge, a tiny club set-up (at the front of the ship) that features plush seats (like your recliner, at home) and even a few love seat/couches, along with tables. It is not the best room to "see" a band, and certainly next to impossible to photograph (cruise tells their staff photographers to not even bother going in there, for coverage). After "Feel The Fire", the singer said, "Thank you for joining us this morning. Time to put the coffee away and start drinking beer."

Multi-dimensional Finns, Waltari, were on the main deck. The bright sun surely an anomaly this time of the year. It was almost as fiery as frontman Kärtsy Hatakka's red hair. Maybe the he had something to do with the sudden appearance of a cosplay troupe (at least a half dozen): black & red attired circus clowns, with bunches of balloons. Don't want to say the Finns weren't prepared, but their setlist was handwritten on the back of flattened, paper French fry baskets. They opened with "Boots", Kärtsy, in paint splattered pants, is all over and crouching at the lip of the stage. "Atmosfear" and "Far Away" were also aired. Party central, for their time onstage. 

Swedish power metallers Dynazty were also on the big stage. At times, it was four part vocals for their thumping music, like "Firesign" and "Natural Born Killer". For those getting hungry, awaiting the Windjammer buffet to reopen, on the main deck,there's impromptu Mexican food: make-your-own chicken/beef soft tortillas, nachos, choice of pre-made burritos, etc. Just a holdover, but oh so good. Meanwhile, down in the theater, fur lined dwarves overtook the stage: Wind Rose. In the crowd, several look-alikes, including Snow White's roommates (hi ho, hi ho), complete with inflatable pick axes and miming digging holes. So maybe some of the cosplay DOES pertain to the bands. One of the more boisterous crowd, playing along with the band, crowd surfing, moshing, singing, full tilt. Helps having intros like, "An elf? No. An orc? No. A drunken dwarf'!" Cue "Drunken Dwarves". Also witnessed "The Battle Of The Five Armies", with singer Francesco Cavalieri awed by the response. While I probably won't put the CD on, at home/in the car, but live, the music/experience is loads of fun!

Little strange, seeing Fleshgod Apocalypse outdoors, even as the sun begins to wane. Before they took the stage, Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" pipes through the speakers. Once the cadavers appear (How does singer Francesco Paoli play guitar with leather gloves on?), things get wild, with a dose of guttural polka. "Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)" begins on piano, courtesy of  Francesco Ferrini, situated at the back of the stage, next to the drum riser. Occasional ring leader, Ferrini will leave his perch and venture to the lip of the stage, stoking the fires of the fans. There's also operatic female vocals (soprano), courtesy of Veronica Bordacchini. The Halo Effect also performed under the star, although a repeat running order (What do you expect, the band has just one album, to date.) Caught "Feel What I Believe", Mikael Stanne again reiterating the impetus of the track, "growing up a metalhead in ‘90s Gothenburg" as well as an icy blue hued "In Broken Truth". 

One of the most anticipated events of the cruise was Sodom, playing Agent Orange, in its entirety. Not typically a fan of full album run-throughs (preferring an unconnected string of strongest songs, as almost every album has some level of filler), but understand the historical significance of the disc (especially in the career of Tom Angelripper) and don't know if we'll see the exclusivity again (which I guess is the draw, for most). The title track starts, with strobes, red lights and plenty of smoke. What else would you expect from Sodom? "Tired & Red" see guitarist Frank Blackfire jump from the wedge monitor. Red & blue lights pulsate for "Incest", as its three across the front of the stage. Before "Remember The Fallen", Tom pleads, "To all the fuckers, please stop the fucking war." The mainstay bassist stands tall at the mic, occasionally stepping back to headbang. 

It's not exclusively the Angelripper show, as Blackfire intros a number, here and there. A circle pit erupts, as fans sing the titular chorus. A thick layer of fog (mist) envelops the theater and nearly obscures the band from view. When Tom asks what's next (in the album running order) most are at a loss. Cue 'Exhibition Bout". A trip around the drum kit introduces the infectious "Ausgebombt". For "Baptism Of Fire", Blackfire is topless and he moves to the left side of the stage. Album over, a few select cuts are offered, beginning with purple lit "Sodom & Gomorrah", which is almost punk. "Outbreak Of Evil", sees Blackfire begin, before moving to the opposite side of the stage, when not providing backing vocals. Tom & Frank look at the onstage clock and announce there's just eight minutes left. "Conqueror" features an actual white spotlight trained on Frank's solo. Wishing everyone safe travels, Tom and Sodom sign off with blue/white tinted "Nuclear Winter" (although they were ubiquitous in the casino bar, for most of the night, an hour or two afterwards).

Night is winding down, so the BraveWords team takes in Inhuman Condition, the lineage of classic Death/Massacre, featuring well-traveled bassist Terry Butler (currently w/ Obituary).To start the show, vocalist Jeramie Kling unfurls the Florida state flag. The slower grind of "Panic Prayer", the recent single, is up early, Kling practically running from one end of the small Studio B stage, to the other. "Euphoriphobia "demands a circle pit, but the surprise is a cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" (although included on the recent Ep) as well as Death classic "Pull The Plug". Band is on tour, in North America now. Check 'em out.

Having seen Epica at two European festivals last summer, still wanted to check out their second show, in the theater, as the cruise neared its conclusion. Simone Simons has let her hair grow out a bit, in the last year and wore a one-piece black pants/body suit, with plenty of cut-outs. She sidles up to ex-beau/guitarist/founder Mark Jansen during blue lit "Abyss Of Time – Countdown To Singularity".  Throughout, the crowd comes alive, even some circle pitting action. For the operatic "Cry For The Moon", Simone is initially alone, center stage, under a canopy of bright, intersecting white lights. Eventually, all turns red, plus strobes, with Jansen stage left (his opposite locale). 

Hard to believe it's all over so quickly. 2025 the cruise returns to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, January 30 to February 3, will we see you onboard? Make your plans now.

Additional photos:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

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