70000 TONS OF METAL – Day 1: Back, Back In The New Ship Groove
February 7, 2023, a year ago
Energy was high, coming out of the pandemic. January 2020 was the last cruise, snuck in, under the wire, before Covid closed the world, a few weeks later. A couple of new wrinkles, this year: the excursion departed from Miami (instead of Fort Lauderdale), aboard a new/larger ship, Freedom Of The Seas. Must say, the check-in process was a breeze, provided you'd done some groundwork at home, either downloading the Royal Caribbean app, or printing a hard copy of the pre-registration ticket. Passport in hand, it took less than 40 minutes to snake through the short lines, have the BraveWords team check-in at the press area and be in the rooms, where the all-important Sea Pass (aka room key and credit card, all-in-one) was already waiting. A smoothly run operation, nice!
A couple hours to kill (everyone needs to be on the ship by 3:30 PM and we sail/first band performs at five), most peruse the vast array of amenities. Regardless if one has been here before, they reacquaint themselves with the lay-of-the-land (so to speak, oxymoronically): where are the stages, how do I get from one to the next, where's the bar/casino hang, what about the dining options/buffet? Some even indulge right away. Otherwise, meet up with friends/roommates and probably see a few rock stars outside their natural element. Many are topside, as the ship leaves the port, others are already well on their own journey, including a bunch in the casino lounge, stacking a wall of empty 25 ounce Foster's "oil cans," Oktoberfest style, from the bar surface, to the ceiling! And they've only been allowed onboard for less than two hours!
While the exclusive, pool deck stage is being constructed on Day 1 (it's only a feature of this cruise, not the ship itself), the trio of other venues, that will be open throughout the cruise, are active. The Star Lounge (while at least double the size of year's past) is a glorified club stage. Plush seating, but crowd surfers literally touch the low ceiling. Usually reserved for the smaller (yet, often the most brutal) bands, the dark, cave-like atmosphere offers a comfortable sit-down, if needed. Unfortunately, I tend to bypass most acts therein, as it affords less than desirable photographic conditions. So I try to catch those bands on another day. Throughout the cruise, each of the 60 bands gets to perform twice, in different venues, depending upon their stature.
On non-musical cruises, Studio B is utilized as an ice-rink, surrounded on three sides, by stadium seating. On 70k Tons, it's a medium size venue, with standing-room on the floor. The Royal Theater is where Broadway style shows are performed for "normal" cruise patrons. Three stories tall, it houses nearly 3000. On this trip, the expensive seats, in the first few rows, have been removed, for standing, moshing, and crowd surfing to metal music. In addition to just live performances, there are also opportunities for scheduled meet & greets/signing sessions, the odd listening session, clinics, late night karaoke and for the few hours we are actually docked in Bimini (Bahamas), excursions (snorkeling, kayaking, wild life tours) which require an additional charge, although many are content to just drink on the beach and dip in the crystal clear aqua shade ocean.
So after getting all onboard and settled, Day 1 only has about half the scheduled live program as the others (Day 3 is also an exception, since we're in Bimini). First band up: Iron Savior. Bald-headed frontman/guitarist Piet Sielck might have to be careful out in the tropic sun, but that was for another day. While he remains the focal point, the guys often congregated in groups of two or three, stage left. "Souleater" gets fists in the crowd thrusting skyward, to start. At one point, Piet asks, "Who is new, like we are, and who has been here before?" The latter elicited the louder response. A spectacular "Kill Or Get Killed" was the highlight of their first set.
Covering many bands, located on diverse parts of the ship (up/down eight floors, forward and aft), it's a rarity to witness a full set. It's often necessary to leave one show, before its conclusion, to catch another as it begins. Or, you can wait until a band is done, but probably miss the start of the next, on a different stage. Typically, on any given stage, there is 45 minutes, to an hour of intermission, to set-up the gear for the upcoming group. Amberian Dawn's thin, blonde singer Capri Virkkunen has expressive eyes and physically recalls ‘60s supermodel Twiggy. A bouncy, green lit "Looking For You" had a nod to ABBA in its construct and ironically, the next track was a song from the Seventies Swedes, "Super Trouper" (supposedly a live debut). The band just issued an ABBA covers album (Take A Chance, on Napalm). About half the set was culled from the same.
Time for a heavier dose, so off to The Crown, in the ice hall. Under predominately pink/purple lights, bearded frontman Johan Lindstrand, in cut-off band tee, leads the Swedes through a ripping set that, following a short intro, kicked into "Crowned In Terror". It was aggressive, start to finish, the bass thrust over our heads, in the photo pit. A pounding "Iron Crown" was among "Executioner", "At The End" (introduced by a flourish from their new drummer) and set closing "Killing Star". Wow! Again switching sonic channels, it was time for the glorious/emotive Evergrey. What's with all the Swedish music, so early? Maybe they want to get their work done, then have playtime (in the bars)? Anyway, Tom Englund and troop played the massive ballroom. The lighting was dark as the band poured their souls into the opening "Distance". Rare moment of crowd sing-along was provided with the "over and over" refrain in "Weightless". Never had any musician head-butt me in the photo pit, but apparently guitarist Henrik Danhage felt it was time to public acknowledge me as a longtime supporter of the band, in a most unique way! Schmier (Destruction) and Ronny Munroe (Vicious Rumors) watched from the crowd, as the depressive groove of "Eternal Nocturnal (which worked quite well) gave way to the more triumphant/defiant "King Of Errors". The single from the recent A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), "Save Us" ends their evening on an upswing. As close to the Monday Morning Apocalypse sound as they've come in the intervening decade and a half.
A brief visit to Cynic, who had the first of what seemed to be the cruise’s too frequent protracted delays, caused by technical issues, and leading to most bands deleting some planned songs on the fly. Paul Masvidal looked like a shaman, feather in his hair, as he played a 7-string guitar (no headstock) in Teva sandals and commented about his lack of rest over the next four days. My time short, ran back to the ballroom, for Kamelot. Stopping in the lavatory, just outside the venue, was surprised to see bassist Sean Tibbetts, who was due onstage, in a mere matter of minutes. Another delay bought him some time, but once on, the stage was also populated by a couple of guest: Swiss born Melissa Bonny (Ad Infinitum) and Clementine Delauney (Visions Of Atlantis). Bonny, in black dress, joined Tommy Karevik for the opening "Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)". She would reappear in the culminating "March Of Mephisto", as well. Guitarist/founder Thom Youngblood is content to stand stage right, play guitar and leave the show in Karevik's hands. The singer has hit the gym and bulked up. Under the blue/green lights, his body hugging, zip-up hoodie looked like a super hero outfit (but the 4th day is reserved for Cosplay/dress-up, onboard). Nice to see "Karma" re-enter the running order, backing "When The Lights Are Down": a cool double shot for the older fans.
Kreator let the cat out of the bag, via an Internet tease, before most had arrived in the Sunshine State: an old school set on the opening night. A few days later, it would be a point of contention, which was their better retrospective: the initial Blast from the Past, or the follow-up, dotted with classics, as well as the strongest material from the Violent Revolution reunion, onward. Both were great, but most had a definitive opinion as to a favorite, BraveWords firmly in the earlier setlist camp, as some of the cuts had not been aired live in ten or 15 years.
Opening with "Ripping Corpse" set the mood, an evil buzz emanating from the stage. "Extreme Aggression" is a useful motto for the evening, as a whole. Much more interaction onstage than even the US tour a few months back, frequently breaking off into groups of two or three. "Riot Of Violence" sees drummer Ventor pull double duty, also handling lead vocals! Plenty of smoke/fog swirls. Speaking of whipping around, during the red/green lit "Endless Pain" guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza calls for a circle pit, in the ship's ballroom. Later he requests the Wall Of Death. Some things never change. Green tinted "People Of The Lie" has plenty of headbanging. All reds for "Under The Guillotine". The rest of the guys are at the back of the stage, atop short risers, either side of Ventor's kit, as the lone Petrozza strolls about. A crimson illuminated "Terror Zone" leads to the "Tormentor" finale, the lights flash repeatedly, but fail to keep pace with the blazing speed of the music. What a night!
Even though it was after midnight, there were still almost six hours of music available. Some I'd seen before (on previous cruises or elsewhere), others were of no interest (at any hour), thus we headed to the casino bar, typically the hub of late night gossip and get-togethers. Tuesday (Day 2) is always the longest day, with the most bands, so at some point, one needs to rest & recharge.
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