70000 TONS OF METAL – Day 2: Metal Triathlon – Suds, Sounds & Sun!
February 8, 2023, 7 months ago
Some have joked that Aussie beer Fosters should sponsor the cruise, as it is (by far!) the brew of choice onboard the ship, so much so that by late on Day 3, most bars were empty of the 25 ounce "oil can". Not that it's probably anyone's "favorite" quaff on land, but it is the "cheapest" (a relative term) option. Considering it counts as two-for-one (at just short of $10 USD, plus the ubiquitous mandatory 18% gratuity, automatically added to the bill), it's just a few dollars more than a regular 12 oz. domestic US/import bottle. Some already had one in hand at 10 AM, when the pool deck kicked off 20 straight hours of action. A wide range of talent, 37 bands were scheduled to perform today, across four stages. With simultaneous overlaps, featuring some of the biggest names in metal, it's nearly impossible to take in more than a few songs of all, if so inclined. Additionally, it was the first interview day with the press, as well as signing sessions/meet & greets for the fans. More metal than most can manage!
First band up, christening the overnight-constructed pool deck, is Germany's Freedom Call: happy metal to start the day. Smiling, Chris Bay (vocals/guitar) played barefoot. "Sail Away" seemed an apt choice, but it was the sing-along "M.E.T.A.L.", where each letter is a different syllable, that struck a chord (pun intended) with the early risers. Those not yet interested in music might run into their favorite musician, elsewhere on the ship. Case in point, in the casino, a Nightwish trio (mainman Tuomas Holopainen, singer Floor Jansen and piper/multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley) were engrossed in a competitive game of blackjack. Topside, Evergrey singer/guitarist Tom Englund was exercising, walking laps (under headphones), when not in the gym, alongside bandmates Jonas Ekdahl (drums) and Rikard Zander (keys). Have to keep your head on a swivel, as musicos are everywhere. Most are amenable to a hello, and maybe a quick conversation, but don't bother them at the buffet and/or in the dining rooms. Please let them eat in peace.
Almost two decades ago, God Dethroned played at the third BraveWords 6-Pack Weekend, in Cleveland, Ohio, and while they've been on the occasional Euro festival I've attended, not spent much time on their music since. While nothing off The Grand Grimoire was aired today, still a powerful set, kicked off by "Illuminati". Towering frontman/guitarist Henri Sattler guttural bellows, atop a surprisingly melodic death metal grind, joking referred to the attendees as "boat people." Little strange, witnessing the aural mayhem in such bright, cheery confines, but the likes of "Poison Fog" and the closing "Nihilism" still satisfy. Need to get reacquainted with their entire catalog.
Was anxious to hear how Ronny Munroe pulled off the classic Vicious Rumors repertoire. Relatively new to the band, and invited to 70k Tons just two weeks before disembarking, didn't leave the ex-Metal Church screamer much time to learn the songs. Vocally, no problem, but he did have a lyrics cheat sheet (at the foot of the wedge monitors) to reference, or provide moral support, if needed. To confound matters even worse, the airlines lost Geoff Thorpe's signature Dean guitars and he was forced to substitute a borrowed Gibson Les Paul. They came roaring out of the gates, the tall singer interacting with the backwards baseball cap, Raiders jersey wearing six-stringer, on "Don't Wait For Me". Behind the kit, Larry Howe added backing vocals, at various points throughout the set. "World Church" is followed by another fist pumping, adrenaline ride: "On The Edge", before "Ship Of Fools" (no relation to the current cruise!) offered a more restrained, brooding vibe. Flashy bits of speed, guitarist Gunnar DuGrey tore through "Abandoned", trading licks with Thorpe's heavy-end crunch (although the Dean was missed there). The final, titular lyric sees Munroe hit the high note, a cappella! "You Only Live Twice" is a rumbling, runaway locomotive, before "Strange Behavior" and "Down To The Temple" finish things off. "Hellraiser" was supposed to close the show, according to the posted setlist, but became the victim of another set-up time overrun. Oh well, there's always the next gig.
Just a few minutes to spare, before heading outside, to see the master of the Sky guitar, Uli Jon Roth, so stuck my head in the ballroom, to catch a few songs from Greek black metallers, Rotting Christ. Founder/guitarist/singer Sakis Tolis was enveloped in darkness and plenty of stage fog as the initially serene tones of "666" began the proceedings. Eventually, the song turns aggressive and things took a sinister tone, including the appropriately red lit "Fire, God & Fear", which got the crowd to clap along to its bouncy, staccato rhythm.
Upstairs, the former ‘70s Scorpions guitarist swapped his trademark bandana, for a sailor's cap. Feathers were attached to the headstock of that fabled, seven string instrument and he wore black moccasin boots. Sure he would say otherwise, but a North pointing pentagram was emblazoned on his black shirt and a tiny, red dream catcher dangled from his right ankle. We were treated to 60 minutes of deep cuts from the early Scorps records. Prior to the show, Roth (perhaps the only TRUE rock star on the cruise) wheeled his guitar case through the waiting crowd, ducked backstage and quickly found his way to the cooler, where he popped open a can of Red Bull and waited. First up, "All Night Long." Fantastic! This was not a solo performance, Roth had a complete backing band and Uli only sang a portion of the set. Next, the rare "Sun In My Hand" jam, with plenty of whammy bar action, from the maestro. Don't believe I've ever heard that one live. Of course there's the masterpiece "Sails Of Charon". Keyboards and cloth mallets on the cymbals accompany "We'll Burn The Sky". Mainstays like "In Trance" and "Pictured Life" (with an ineffective/unnecessary smoke machine, the wisps quickly dissipated in the breeze) were there, but more fascinated by "Fly To The Rainbow". Roth plays down on the lowest frets, delivering piercing high notes, then added his voice to this classic. "Catch A Train" finished early, leaving the man time to honor one of his influences, Jimi Hendrix, soaring through "All Along The Watchtower" (OK, it's a Bob Dylan penned number, but the rock version is synonymous with Jimi). You don't dare stray into this territory (musically, or vocally) unless you're sure you can pull it off, flawlessly. Mission accomplished.
Couple hours later, back on deck, for Destruction. Good thing, as it was widely considered the BEST show, overall. First off, the return of the two guitar line-up has taken the intensity to a new level. The young bucks seem to have infused Schmier with a fountain of youth as well. Then, there was the running order, pretty much all vintage selections (but given a new lease on life, or return to original glory, if you're old enough to recall the band as a quartet, back in the ‘80s). The tall, sneering bassist is rarely mentioned amongst the great frontman, but he knows how to measure the temperature of the room (or in this case, the outdoor crowd) and generate a response. "Curse The Gods" opens, the bassist moving between the trio of mics positioned across the stage. Standing aside Damir Eskic, the hulking Schmier headbangs like a man possessed (and about half his age, how does he do it?).
"Death Trap" gives way to "Nailed To The Cross". the crowd eager to punctuate each titular chorus with a profanity. The twin guitar interplay gives "Mad Butcher" and even greater density than was possible in the era when Mike Sifringer was the lone axe slinger. The swirl of stage fog during "Life Without Sense" doesn't go where it was necessarily intended, but no matter, its dual guitar section segues into "Eternal Ban". Drummer Randy Black hammers home "The Butcher Strikes Back". Like strafing machine gun rounds, "Diabolical" shows how lethal the new material can be. Watch out moving forward! After the only nod to the current line-up, it's back to yesteryear, for "Thrash Til Death", with Schmier (at 56 years of age) unleashing an opening falsetto scream. Adrenaline must have taken them more quickly through the set, than expected, as Schmier announces they'll sneak in an additional old school pair: first "Tormentor", then finishing with "Bestial Invasion". Maniacal!
Keep Of Kalessin offered a 25 year retrospective set (the Norwegians' other set would be an exclusive, live play-through of the forthcoming Katharsis album). Despite the longevity, the band remains relatively unknown in North America. Their Emperor-lite brand of black metal certainly is high class. Personal favorites include Armada and Reptilian, both of which were featured here. If you're not familiar, check out those offerings first.
Melechesh frontman Ashmedi (sort of looks like Austin Powers' Dr. Evil, albeit with lengthy, banded goatee) befriended Bravewords CEO Metal Tim and myself on the '15 excursion, when just a few of us (including Schmier/Mike, from Destruction, Heathen singer Dave White) spent the afternoon on a private beach in Ocho Rios, Jamacia. So a 10 PM gig, in Studio B, was preferable to a 3 AM show, later in the week. From jump, Ashmedi was on fire, flanked by bassist and guitarist, faces covered with a shemagh. Atop the wedge monitors, wielding a flying V, he seemingly flew about the stage: playing, singing and devastating anything in his path, even using a drumstick across the guitar strings. "Ladders To Sumeria", "Grand Gathas Of Baal Sin" and "Triangular Tattvic Fire" tear by. It was destined to be THE set of the week, but then it all went unexpected wrong. Initially, it looked like Ashmedi wanted to stop the song, turning to face the drummer. Nothing happened.
The masked members looked lost, as the drummer launched into an extended solo, the bassist briefly joining in. When Ashmedi left the stage (visible, sitting behind the drummer), the other guitarist unplugged & turned off his amp, as the skinsman kept beating. Eventually he stopped, but the show was prematurely over. No one was sure what had occurred, an ignominious conclusion to what had been a smoking display. Initially, we had planned to hear just a couple of songs, then head for Amorphis, but the start was so mesmerizing, we didn't want to leave. Days later, at the airport, Ashmedi informed me that his left arm went dead/completely numb (the effect of longstanding carpal tunnel diagnosis). He wanted to restart the track, but the drummer couldn't hear him, due to one of his in-ear monitors being detached by a careless stagehand. Ah, what might have been... instead a fabulous disaster, but that first part was still in the Top 3 shows of the cruise.
In the ballroom, Nightwish singer Floor Jansen looked healthy and, dare I say, voluptuous, after her breast cancer scare. She certainly seemed to be having fun onstage (not as much, at the blackjack table). The set began with the newest material (total of three off Human II Nature) and worked backwards, even including a pair from the Anette Olzon era (although "Sahara" was completely unexpected!). Not sure I heard much of "Noise", such was the uproarious crowd response, once the members appeared onstage. The purple lit "Elan" was the first time we heard Donockley's pipes. To that point, he'd served as a second guitar to the dapperly attired, suit jacketed Emppu Vuorinen. The piper, drummer and founder/keyboardist Holopainen are all on a riser, at the back of the stage. Emppu works to the opposite (right) side of the stage during "7 Days Of The Wolves", which sounded a bit like a lounge act.
Tuomas slaps both hands on the keyboard, as if playing bongos. Blue lit "Dark Chest Of Wonder" sees only the boys onstage, initially, Floor off in the wings. She prances, skips and twirls around a pink bathed stage for the lilting "I Want My Tears Back". She interacts with Emppu, with his purple guitar, who eventually rests his foot on the monitor. Under more blue lights, the piper introduces "Nemo". Many cruise ship employees, name tags in place, watch the show and join in the applause. The aforementioned "Sahara" has Emppu and Troy, both with guitars in hand, situated next to Tuomas. To begin "Last Ride Of The Day", Tuomas plays the keys double handed, while Jansen pinwheels her hair. Afterwards, the stage goes black. It's only drummer Kai Hahto and Holopainen to begin "Ghost Love Score", an operatic number from the Tarja Turunen days, which now demonstrates Floor's considerable vocals, as well.
Living after midnight, had been traipsing from stem to stern for over 14 hours, so decided just a few more photos, of Hypocrisy, under a moonlit sky, to cap the night.
More 70000 Tons Of Metal 2023 coverage: