70000 TONS OF METAL – Day 4: Last Call With Friends, Old & New

February 14, 2023, a year ago

By Mark Gromen

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Sort of feel like Bill Murray, in Groundhog Day. Get up, eat breakfast in the Windjammer cafeteria, go topside, to see the first band (by 10:30 AM) and spend the day scouring the ship for something to see/hear, until well past midnight. Day 4 is no different, but find myself taking a couple of chances with "new" material, as well as revisiting previous acts one last time. As mentioned in an earlier recap, rarely stick my head into the club-size Star Lounge, as it's not very conducive to photography. However, during the course of the cruise, met the Chilean dudes in Nuclear. They were hanging around the bar and got to talking. That's how it's supposed to work onboard, promoting your band to others and they were smart enough to get the attention of one of the biggest metal media outlets on the planet. So a promise is a promise and early Thursday, split time between Iron Savior, on the 11th floor/deck stage and Nuclear, in the club (4th floor). Thankfully, the Germans soundchecked and went right into their set (ahead of the allotted time!). Not sure why more bands don't do that (if ready), as it affords them a couple of extra songs.

Anyway, so after Piet Sielck and Co. got rolling, snapped a couple of pix and was still able to catch Nuclear, from the beginning of "Confront". The band has five full-length studio albums in a recording career that spans 17+ years. Heads down, gravel throated thrash is the name of their game. As the singer and guitarist headbang, start to finish, the blue/red lights pulsate rapidly, almost in a strobe effect. By "Violence That Burns", the floor has been occupied by scores of their countrymen, some draped in the national flag. Others are crowd surfing, threatening to scrape/kick, the low ceiling. After a couple of tracks, vocalist Matías Leonicio jokingly asks, "You tired? No! You thirsty? Yeah!" Talk about knowing the crowd. The boys rip through a set that features a trio (including the title track) from the first side of their 2020 Murder Of Crows, before finishing with a cover of Death's "Evil Dead". Pleasure to see/hear you guys and hope we meet again.

Meanwhile, simultaneously, upstairs and outside, Iron Savior are roasting in the early morning sun. Sure Piet rues the decision to wear all black stage attire, but he persists anyway. For "Gunsmoke", with a conclusion punctuated by an Eastwood spaghetti Western whistle and a couple of gunshots, he stands, center stage. Described as an oldie, thunderous "Last Hero" sees Sielck really work the whammy bar during the guitar breaks. The singer/guitarist/founder announces that "the next song is about everything I hate." Cue "Stand Up And Fight". Classic slice of Teutonic metal, "Heavy Metal Never Dies" gets a few of the early risers to add their voices, come the titular chorus. 

Finnish Beauty & the Beast outfit Amberian Dawn offered an exact replay of the set from the first day of the cruise, although this one was outside, on the deck. Thin, blonde singer Capri Virkkunen dressed for the occasion, shame the rest of the band seemingly strolled onstage in whatever they were wearing the night before. Expressive face/eyes about her, Capri's stage presence is playful, with a voice more akin to Annete Olzon than Tarja Turunen, although there are trilling moments. Poppy "Looking For You" gets the fans clapping along. ABBA's "Super Trouper" (one of a trio from the ‘70s Swedes, lifted off the Dawn's covers album, Take A Chance, on Napalm Records) is none too far afield to the original material.

Next up, Batushka, the masked/hooded Polish black metal sextet performing music/rituals in Old Church Slavonic language. Lots of Eastern Orthodox religious icons litter the stage, but truthful, the impact was greatly reduced in the Caribbean sunshine. Just one guitar, but a pair of human skulls prominently displayed on gold platters, either side of main "priest", albeit they are only utilized in the ceremony, once. Vocals are echoing chant amongst a throbbing rhythm and the occasional hand bells as the headman raises an old framed, gold leaf painting aloft.

Speaking of languages that North Americans can't understand (which is admittedly, few), Korpiklaani, from Finland, were next on the ship's deck. Unlike the predecessors, these guys came to rock, move about the stage endlessly and yes, drink! If there's a party band, built for this environment, then one would be hard pressed to find anyone more suited than the fun-loving, high energy humppa of Korpiklaani. Almost a master class in cruise-ship revelry. The perfect accompaniment to splashing around in a hot tub, or bouncing around in the crowd. Who hasn't danced the "Chicken Dance" at a wedding/family gathering? 

Some of the lyrics are in English, but most are not. The infectious accordion and fiddle, polka-inspired backbone to songs like "Wooden Pints", “Jagermeister" and the concluding shouts from "Tequila" and "Beer Beer" (notice a theme here?) exude audience participation of the physical and/or liquid variety. A lyric in the opening "Man With A Plan" demonstrates the mindset, "The plan is to booze as much as I can!" Dreadlock and tattooed frontman Jonne Järvelä, a smile seemingly always plastered on his face, is a cartoon character, incarnate. Cowboy hat wearing guitarist Cain is not far behind, in the animation stakes. Nearly impossible to stand still once "Journey Man" starts. Inflatable sharks fly atop the crowd as the Day 4 Cosplay crowd laps it up. At the end, virtually EVERY member of the band walked off the stage with the remnants of their 5 beers for $25 bucket in hand! Life imitates art.

Know the bigger bands want to go out with a bang, but if you're not playing towards the end of Day 4, might want to be seen interacting with the audience, rather than locked in the seclusion of your cabin.

Kamelot singer Tommy Karevik takes the stage with his head partially covered by his zip-up hoodie, belting out "Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)", once again accompanied by recurrent guest, Melissa Bonny. The band were off to Brazil, following the cruise, so they used the second night onboard to try out a few different choices. Piped in child choir to accent "Veil Of Elysium". Crowd sings along to "Karma", from the opening melodies. When bassist Sean Tibbetts twirls and headbangs, his stringy dreads whip around like an asymmetric cat-o-nine-tails. Drums and keyboards herald "Forever" (Tom Youngblood grabs the mic from Karevik and thanks fans, cruise and his singer), but the real military cadence is reserved for follow-up "March Of Mephisto", with Bonny's reappearance. "Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)" closes the night. In fact, it was also on the pre-printed running order the first night, but time overruns (in setting up) cost the band this track (and another appearance by Bonny). 

For set #2 Hypocrisy reverted to much of what was their Euro festival set, last year. A few rearrangements from earlier in the cruise, but the deep cuts/medley was absent this time around and Peter Tagtgren & Co. offered a trio off Worship, including the barked title track, to start the show. Under red lights, the Swedes filled the ballroom with theatrical fog by "Fire In The Sky". More crimson skies for the hypnotic grind of "Until The End", complete with synchronized headbang. The lights varied, one song blue, the next red. To call it lighting is a bit of a misnomer, as it was just an accent to the aural presentation, the band never truly "visible" at any point other than a barrage of strobes and then mostly as silhouettes. 

The blue tinged drone of "Chemical Whore" was followed by "Children Of The Grey". An endless parade of surfers crash over the barrier. Classics to finish: first "Fractured Millennium" and finally, "Roswell 47", which began in darkness, as dual searchlights swept the stage. For the first time tonight, Peter, Mikael Hedlund and the rest are actual visible, as white lights pulsate in time to the riveting music. Tagtgren even ventures beyond the wedge monitors, to the lip of the stage. 

Is there a lesser "known/respected" big band than Dark Tranquillity? Been recording for more than 30 years and are acknowledged as one of the founders of the Gothenburg sound (with a history of interchangeable members with bigger contemporaries). Regardless, Mikael Stanne soldiers on, but in a just world, they'd be huge. Shame. 90 minutes before he was due onstage, the singer was still seated with folks at the Irish pub, on the ship's (commercial) promenade. Onstage, recent recruit, the spiky haired Chris (brother of Michael) Amott, ex-Arch Enemy/Armageddon, is on rhythm guitar. 

They valiantly attempted to fill the airspace with fog/mist. Under blue lights, the Swedes offer a career retrospective (although several of the old chestnuts were aired previously). Nevertheless, staccato "Terminus" was included, Stanne, his usual frenetic self, moving in spasmodic/arrhythmic motions, remains one of the hardest guys to photograph, as he rarely stands still. Red/blue lit "Atoma" is a rare slowdown (there's even a clap-along section), Stanne employing both a normal and gruffer vocal. "How about we play one more song and then get fucking drunk," offers the usually reserved frontman, only to be told they have more time. "OK, let's do two then." The closing arc was a triumphant send off, including both "Final Resistance" and the omnipresent "Misery's Crown", which saw Stanne climb into the photo pit, and while dodging barrier breaching crowd surfers, deliver the final words. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, camera issues caused me to miss a portion of the second Destruction set. Was present to hear Schmier's stinging diatribe against the Catholic Church, prior to "Repent Your Sins", a number not aired the first time around. Ouch! Only a couple of different tracks, especially after sneaking in an unscheduled pair, the initial show, but they did juggle the running order, beginning with "Diabolical". No less vicious in the lead position. The ballroom provided decent lighting. With Schmier off stage, the two guitarists are afforded a short twin lead spotlight, leading into "Eternal Ban". Heard they played "The Antichrist", but was able to return in time to hear the closing old-school tandem of "Bestial Invasion" and "Total Desaster". The four piece/twin guitar assault is back. Long may it reign!

The final slot outdoors was reserved for one of the biggest metal acts on the planet, Nightwish. The initial three songs matched the Finns' first set, but "Ever Dream" was greeted like the old (often) lost friend that it is, introduced by the tell-tale tinkling of keys. No elaborate costuming for Floor Jansen tonight, adopting more of a gym workout attire, with mainman Tuomas Holopainen in sleeveless t-shirt and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, nattily dressed in traditional suit coat, hair pulled back in a ponytail. Apart from their own headlining concerts (not a festival/cruise audience, comprised on casual fans, if not outright newbies), not many bands can get away with playing a non-album track, especially an emotive Tarja Turunen era ballad like "Sleeping Sun", yet Nightwish’s did so. Even more impressive is Jansen's ability to deftly move between the material originally composed for other vocalists. 

The mid-section of the set is strong, with fan favorite "Nemo" eliciting crowd participation and more inflatable, plus "Sahara" and stirring "Dark Chest Of Wonders", which gives Jansen's range a workout. Troy Donockley's Celtic influence is retained on "7 Days Of The Wolves" and his backing vocals on "How's The Heart?" "Last Ride Of The Day" is anything but, as there's still two songs left. With plenty of music, not as much vocals, the boys are given a chance to showcase their musical abilities, as well. Nightwish is special. 

People came from around the globe. It happened and after a couple of years of uncertainty, that's a great thing. On to bigger and better adventures, next year. Will you be part of the fun?

More 70000 Tons Of Metal 2023 coverage:

Overview / photo montage
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Featured Video

KELEVRA - "The Distance"

KELEVRA - "The Distance"

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