70000 Tons Of Metal 2017 - Day One: Here We Go Again
It was the end of January, and per usual, I made my way down to sunny Florida to soak up the sun before my annual 70000 Tons Of Metal adventure. At this point I would say 'same procedure as every year' but this year I finally made true on my promise and attended the cruise as a fan instead of "working". So, instead of shooting tons and tons of pictures, this year I drank tons and tons of adult beverages… yap - priorities ya'll.
I was pretty stoked since this year's pre-cruise activities were once again back on South Beach. Long story short, due to the cruise now leaving out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL the pre-parties over the last three years took place closer to the port. Good, bad or indifferent, a lot of people missed the laid back atmosphere on South Beach and a couple of long time cruisers took it upon themselves to strike a deal with the infamous Clevelander hotel right in the middle of all things SoBe is famous for.
The festivities started the Monday before the Thursday departure and included everything from around the clock metal music at the hotel bars, special drink prices, live band karaoke and of course the annual beach party. I honestly don't know if the hotel knew what they signed up for, but judging from the amount of metal heads who patronized the establishment during those 3 days, they surely made a substantial profit. We took the place over and it was AWESOME !!!
At the Clevelander and the metal heads on South Beach during the Beach Party. Pictures by Foto Jagla
Here are some stats of the 2017 edition of 70000 Tons Of Metal:
There were 74 countries represented and the Top Ten Countries were: USA, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Norway.
Number of guests: 3022 (age range from 5 to 78)
Musicians and crew: 981
Ship crew: 1445
Total number of people on board: 5448
During the press briefing, cruise organizer Andy Piller stated that about 65% of cruisers sailed more than once and he also mentioned that about 150 metalheads have done ALL of the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruises and 30 die-hards had done all plus the off-brand Barge To Hell in 2012.
Unfortunately the Captain of the Independence Of The Seas couldn't give us any numbers about beer or alcohol consumption, but he said that their on-board recycling facility couldn't keep up with crushing cans and bottles.
As I was saying, I wasn't necessarily 'working' on the cruise, but instead was the Metal Storm coordinator for two kick ass photographers for this year's cruise coverage; Justin Williams (8bitglitch) and Carl Frederick (of Blazing Metal Photography), with the latter also being the author of all the following cruise report. So, sit back and enjoy Carl's experience through his eyes and some random, clearly marked, notes by yours truly.
Written by CROMCarl
As a veteran of ProgPower USA, we have a saying: "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
As a veteran of 70000 Tons Of Metal Tons Of Metal, we chuckle with the response "We have a marathon and it is ALL a sprint."
When the calendar turns into February, it signals the annual sojourn that for many in the world is the only festival that comes close to feeling like Wacken, but where both bands AND a tropical destination are brought to you. Each year, the challenge for your author is to top the amount of shows and bands seen in previous years, something that is easier said than done.
In 2017, the festival lineup was as strong as it has ever been, leaning a bit thrash heavy (as if this is a bad thing). In fact, it's as if everything in the Bay Area not named Metallica and Megadeth was on board, with Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel representing west coast. Overkill - a late addition - were there to represent the east coast and Annihilator represented the Northern Territories of the United States, er….Canada. Though each year might lean a bit towards one subgenre (last year was a little folk heavy), the one constant with 70000 Tons Of Metal is that you will find all subgenres from hard rock to black metal well represented, making the entire event one of the most balanced in the world.
Each year, part of the preparation work leading up to "BOAT" is the pecking order of bands to see, which usually goes hand and hand with the "bucket list" of bands. Your author is no different - with Avatarium (or anything Leif Edling created), Pain, Draconian, Mors Principium Est, Axxis, Grave and Unleashed the most important, followed by bands seen (but adored), such as Orden Ogan, Orphaned Land, Therion and Haggard (just to name a few).
However, in 2017 there was a real sense of mission: how many bands can I actually see? Given the schedule of 122 shows in less than 4 days (keep in mind there are no bands playing from 6:30am to 5:00pm on Saturday or "port day"), it is a daunting task indeed. It usually involves less sleeping, less eating and…GASP…less alcohol.
After taking the risk of flying the morning of the cruise, especially in light of the typically snowy February months in the Northeast quadrant that left me stranded the previous two years in Ft. Lauderdale, I successfully arrived at port at 11:30am. Saddened by missing any of the pre-cruise bashes on the beach this year, I took that short cab ride to Port 18 and the grand Independence Of The Seas to check in. Something was so different about 2017, since I was able to breeze through check in. I realized there were wasn't just one line in, but multiple - and authorities were seemingly and shockingly prepared for 3,000+ metalheads to go through the various detectors and check points. After obtaining the glorious sea pass card, the entirety of the temporary residents of the Caribbean ocean were also temporarily blocked from entering the boat awaiting the arrival of our beloved security team. After a brief delay, we poured on to the vessel, but unlike every year past - yours truly did not partake in the ceremonial adult beverage upon first entry. Like I said, this was all business.
After setting up in my room and meeting my roommate on Deck 6, I waddled my way to the lunch buffet since food somehow avoided me the entire day (some would argue how). I had a pleasant meal with the entirety of Germany's Grave Digger, of which both Jens and Chris remembered me from the eight times I've seen them in the past three years. I made it a point to joke around about how it took them 20 years to get here and now they won't leave.
It was then the agonizing, but necessary, muster drill and then it was show time. Realizing that this year was about seeing more than ever, long time cruise friends literally passed like "two ships in the night." I didn't leave much time for more than a four sentence conversation with anyone other than my stellar roommate for the entirety of the cruise. Usually at the end, I'm filled with regret for the bands I hadn't seen - but at the conclusion of the 2017 installment, I was regretting that one night of drunken debauchery. Like I said, this was a different year - and I was on a mission.
Day 1 of 70000 Tons Of Metal usually is the least impacted day in terms of delays for various reasons and wind and weather cause delays nearly every other day for the largest stage at sea - the pool deck. Unlike years past on the Majesty Of The Seas, the hardest working crew at sea builds out the pool deck overnight with the 50/50 shot at having the 10am band on Day two actually start on time, or at all. In 2016, the pool deck was shut down on Day 4 after one of the most memorable performances I've ever witnessed - the infamous Rhapsody Of Fire set now dubbed the "Rain Of A Thousand Flames" show (where wind and rain did not deter both band and fan). In 2017, weather and wind cooperated and the schedule overall had the fewest delays I've ever witnessed, so kudos to both the crew and the earth gods.
The cruise started with a bang - Scar Symmetry kicked usual ass at the ice rink at Studio B, something this particular version of the lineup has been doing now for a while. It was a blistering set of nearly every opening track from every album, sans Holographic Universe (which was not represented in this set), which left the crowd - and in particular myself - begging for The Singularity, Phase II. In deference to the purists, the twin vocal team of Lars Palmqvist and Roberth Karlsson are the perfect complement to the backbone of the band, Per Nilsson.
I ran over to check out Amaranthe's set at the Alhambra Theater to pay homage to one of my favorite people Olof Morck (Dragonland). A few years back, I made it a point to support whatever band I was able to see him perform, even if it means watching a band I'm really not into (and its gaggle of screaming woman and creepy dudes men drooling over vocalist Elize Ryd). I will give Amaranthe credit for both creating a niche that allows them to successfully tour the globe and bringing boat loads of energy to each and every show regardless of my personal opinion on musical style.
Next was heading back to the bowls of the vessel to check out Death Angel at the ice rink at Studio B. The San Francisco thrash act has this uncanny knack of sounding timeless and perfect, defying age. This is a constant in the metal world - in many cases, especially with thrash, age only serves as a challenge to intensity, one that is toppled with ease. Nearly all the guys are pushing 50 (the new 20) with exception to the baby Damien Sisson and they just level every venue they play. Opening with "The Ultra-Violence" and "Evil Priest," the band never forgets the classics before mixing in newer ones like "Father Of Lies" and "The Moth."
The marathon sprint continued with a band I hadn't seen, but was pretty stoked to - Moonsorrow. The Finnish blackened pagan act issued one of its best releases Jumalten Aika in 2016 and I was anxious to check out how some of that material would translate live. In this first set, the band kept the setlist relatively old, concentrating mostly on the 2001 release Voimasta Ja Kunniasta. The band saved the pool deck set later in the weekend for newer material.
Another giant in thrash was next up at the Alhambra Theater: Testament. If there was ever a band that has gotten better with age, it is these guys. Brotherhood Of The Snake was one of the best of 2016, and, for all intents and purposes, it featured the best back-to-back-to-back songs since The New Order ("The Pale King", "Stronghold" and "Seven Seals") and I have been most anxious to hear the new material live.
Rewarded, the band opened with "The Pale King" before performing the perfectly made for live track "Rise Up." The crowd was hot, offering wave after wave of crowd surfers to keep security on its toes. Classic staples "Into The Pit" and "Over The Wall" kept the sweat pouring. Every thrash band on the boat provided the energy and Testament was the generator.
Drained, but not deterred, I had to keep the energy high to make it through a long first night on a travel day and Arch Enemy over at the Alhambra Theater was the perfect antidote. Not sure whether Alissa White-Gluz was directly responsible for the band's meteorological rise of the band to the biggest stages or not since War Eternal, but it's the safe bet. I felt like I was watching a daughter go from playing for 13 people in Hartford, Connecticut with The Agonist to playing to astronomic fame playing for crowds of tens of thousands. It's that combination of fitness, beauty, confidence, humility, activist and demon vocals that provides the well-deserved roadmap for success after having to follow in the shoes of the beloved Angela Gossow. It felt like White-Gluz was pretty much on every stage - guesting with Kamelot along with Amaranthe's Ryd.
Both Arch Enemy sets ranked as some of the best performances on the boat in 2017. Classics had the crowd at a burning pitch - "Ravenous", "As The Pages Burn", "Nemesis" and "Dead Bury Their Dead" all played with fervor and grace. By the end, it nearly had me back in bed in exhaustion, something set two on Sunday actually did.
A death metal bucket list band was next up and I couldn't miss it - Sweden's Unleashed. Having been a fan since first hearing "If They Had Eyes" on local college radio in 1991, I've been a diehard fan for nearly the entire existence of the Viking horde. It was 1993 and Across The Open Sea that really started a streak of ten releases that rank among the best in death metal history, culminating with the brilliance of Dawn Of The Nine. I was excited to finally see Johnny Hedlund and the boys destroy the stage, so I headed over to the ice rink at Studio B.
There is just something about the purity of old school Swedish death metal that refreshes me. No glitz, no stage props - Unleashed just go forth and crush, letting the music do all the talking. On top of a couple of the newest songs ("Where Is Your God Now?" and "Defenders Of Midgard"), the band destroyed the crowd with "The Avenger", "To Asgaard We Fly" and the blistering "Hammer Battalion." Just about midway through the set, it was as if the band heard my prayer to Odin when they broke out "If They Had Eyes" - with that low end riff and Tom Warrior-esque grunt that was emblazoned in my soul 26 years ago. It was an honor to check them off the list of never seen.
Another band I was curious and excited to witness was the "swamp metal" lords Kalmah. They were in full swing when I made it to the Alhambra Theater after stopping for two quick slices of subpar (but serviceable) pizza at Sorrentos just outside the staircase to the venue. Admittedly a late bloomer to the band, having really taken to the sound with 2013's (and latest) Seventh Swamphony, I managed to retrieve the back catalogue shortly after and was prepared for my virgin live show.
They presented a healthy 11 song set - with a sampling from all seven full length studio albums - most notably "Evil In You", "Hollow Heart", "Heroes To Us", "The Black Waltz", "For The Revolution" and "12 Gauge" along with mixing some "newer" material. An understated and straightforward stage presence, Kalmah was another great act that let the music speak for itself.
Joakim Brodén doing "guest vocals" during Pain's set
Seesawing between the Alhambra Theater and the ice rink at Studio B, I quickly made my way back to the latter for the start of Pain, a band I have been dying to see. Peter Tägtgren is not only a musician hero of mine for work in both Pain and Hypocrisy, but a producer hero that has engineered and/or produced some of the best albums in the history of metal. Pain's material is up and down for me over the years, but Coming Home was one of the best in 2016 and conversely on of the best in the band's catalog.
This set was especially heavy in new material with "Pain In The Ass", "Call Me" (complete with an appearance by the Joakim Brodén puppet), "A Wannabe" and "Coming Home" all performed. Ever the amazing frontman, Tägtgren was adorned with an unraveled straight jacket which ebbed and flowed in both air and on the stage in rhythm with each song's energy level. With classics like "Dirty Woman", "The Great Pretender", "Same Old Song" and closer "Shut Your Mouth" - Pain delivered one of the most stunning sets of the cruise.
Editor notes: Pain was rad as hell, and at the end of their set the bassist laid down his axe, climbed on top of the (rather high) speakers to the side of the stage, motioned the crowd to get closer together...and fucking dove right on down. Kudos to the fans for not letting him hit the floor. Awesome !! I managed to snag a pictures... check here
Nearly spent, I made my way back to the Alhambra Theater for Marduk. Honestly, this was mostly out of curiosity, having never seen the band live. Having been a black metal fan at the subgenre's inception, I was familiar with the band's early to mid-90's material before losing interest in the straight forward haze and screams of black metal in favor of more melodic, atmospheric, industrial and symphonic maturations of the subgenre. With that said, I did enjoy 2015's Frontschwein and hadn't had the opportunity to shoot pictures of the band before. As expected, Marduk blasted forth through alternating blackness amid white strobe light hell. Mortuus made his grim presence known and it was enjoyable until fatigue really set in.
Editor notes: While Carl went to bed, I soldiered on and saw a great set by Demolition Hammer and an even better set by Psycroptic. Now mind you, the Aussies went on a little after 5am, but this didn't mean the room was empty. Tons of cruisers either stayed up or set their alarm clock so they wouldn't miss the set.
Just as in prior years, the Pyramid Lounge was one of my least favorite venues. I was gonna check out Cattle Decapitation, but since they played at the same time as Death Angel, I opted to get my thrash on instead. Sucks, since apparently I missed a great set. Due to a family emergency, their vocalist couldn't make it to the cruise and the band employed several members from other bands to fill in; and a fan also got his 5 minutes of fame fronting Cattle Decapitation.
I did stay for most of Serenity's set in the lounge though and was pleasantly surprised by them, especially after the two first songs. The soundguy apparently forgot to mix in the guitar during the beginning of the set. The singer was full of piss and vinegar and stood several times on the barrier to be closer with his fans.
My Top 3 bands on the first day: Pain,Moonsorrow, and Kalmah
Feeling my age and pain combined with the daunting challenge of Day 2 - it was time to turn in. It was yet another amazing start to an amazing weekend, as I checked off those bucket list bands and saw some brilliant live sets. It's mindboggling to look back at the list of bands and think there is no other place in the North American quadrant where I could dream up mashing the bands and styles of Day 1.
But this was just the beginning….
Stay tuned for Day 2 and make sure you check out the Photo galleries of Day One right HERE (scroll to the bottom of the page).
Watch the official Day One video recap; courtesy of http://70000tons.tv
Written on 27.02.2017 by
Professional concertgoer ... dangerously armed with a camera!
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