2016 was the 6th year of 70,000 Tons Of Metal, The Original, World’s Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise, and my second time being aboard (I also went in 2014). In that time between my two excursions I have come to notice that the idea of combining cruising and metal has been emulated by others, who no doubt have recognized the success of 70,000 Tons. The thing I like about 70,000 Tons is that there are 60 fucking bands playing two sets each during the voyage. That’s 120 sets of metal over the course of 4 days! There are bound to be bands on board that you already know you like, and there are going to be others that you may not be as familiar with who are going to blow you away when you catch their set. Most other cruises of this type are centered around a few main headliners, with the gaps between their sets filled in by lesser knowns. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d go on any of them and have a great fucking time, but there’s something about such a huge selection of bands that makes 70,000 Tons unique. That and its international appeal. This last cruise had people on board from 72 different countries, and that diversity is reflected in the band selection. There is a reason people go on this cruise year after year after year (I met a guy from Australia the first night who had been on every single one of them), and each one of those people will tell you that they look forward to it all year and wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The other thing that’s awesome about this cruise is that there’s literally metal going on everywhere all the time. As you walk around the boat the ship’s public address system is playing metal in all the common areas. It’s not blasting at you, it’s at a conversational level, but it’s there, all the time, even in the elevator. And not soft metal either, like actual good heavy shit. Anyway, below is my day to day breakdown of the 2016 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise.
DAY 1 – I got to the port around 3:30 after battling idiots all the way down I-95 from Orlando. I got on board and into my room around 4:00, went to the media check-in and got my photo pit access wristband, then I kind of meandered around the ship until I felt like I had a fair idea of where everything was (where are the 4 different stages, where can I eat, and where can I get a Crown & Coke) . I found all these things, I ate, and then I headed over to watch my first band of the cruise, DRAGONFORCE, who were scheduled to play in the Alhambra Theater (the Alhambra is a sizeable theater with a balcony, sort of like a Hard Rock Live) at 7:30, but technical difficulties forced them to reschedule for Sunday. Ok, no problem, I just went down a couple of decks and caught AT THE GATES. I didn’t have my camera with me (It was in my room charging), so I just watched their set for the pure enjoyment of it. I didn’t start “working” until I went to see BELPHEGOR.
70,000 Tons doesn’t announce all 60 bands for each cruise all at once. They let that information trickle out slowly over the months leading up to the cruise. As bands are announced you start to make a mental note of which bands you DEFINITELY want to see no matter what. Playing late, playing early, playing on the pool deck in the wind, or playing on the tiny Pyramid Lounge stage, it doesn’t matter because you are determined to catch their set. There are even some bands that you plan on catching twice (Each band plays two times during the cruise, so that if two bands you want to see are playing at the same time on different stages, you can always catch one of them later). Last time, for me, that was OVERKILL, DEATH (DTA), OBITUARY, CARCASS, D.R.I. and SATYRICON. This year it was BELPHEGOR.
It is impossible for me to talk or even think about BELPHEGOR without also talking or thinking about BEHEMOTH. Both bands play Satanic death metal with elements of black metal thrown in, sure, but more importantly they are close to each other alphabetically. See, last year I had to review BEHEMOTH’s The Satanist. I don’t know if you recall, but people who write about metal for a living were falling all over themselves praising this album. BEHEMOTH is one of those bands that never connected with me, and whenever I tell somebody that they say something like “Oh you should check out their earlier, more black metal stuff, you’d dig that,” or “You should listen to Demigod that’s their best shit,” or “Dude, if you like death metal, how can you not like this?” Look, I’ve listened to more BEHEMOTH than most BEHEMOTH fans and it just never grabbed me. I’m not saying they’re terrible, but I am saying that there is a possibility that they may be overrated. Anyway, I loaded up The Satanist into iTunes and listened through it a couple of times. During the third listen I began to write my review. As the album came to an end I was still writing, and iTunes automatically went to the next song in alphabetical order, which was In Blood – Devour This Sanctity, the first song off BELPHEGOR’s Blood Magick Necromance album. As soon as I heard the familiar opening riff I thought, now THIS is badass, THIS is catchy and brutal all at once, THIS is the album that the metal music press should have been all giddy about when it came out.
I did indeed catch both of BELPHEGOR’s sets. Their first set was on the very first night on the Pyramid Lounge stage (the Pyramid Lounge is like a small club. Small stage, low ceiling, you really have to get up close to see anything, but sometimes this can add to the intensity of the set, having all those people packed in so close) and the second set was Saturday in Studio B (Studio B is like a big club, much bigger than the Pyramid, but not quite as big as Alhambra). Both sets were really intense, they played a good mix of new and old material, and they use the same samples in between songs that are on the albums, which I like because it introduces each song without the singer having to scream “How the fuck is everybody doing tonight?” or “70,000 Tons let me hear you make some fucking noise” like 10 times during the set. Anyhow, BELPHEGOR was badass, just like I knew they’d be. Really glad I got to catch them twice.
DAY 2 – This was the first full day on the cruise. Nothing to do today but watch metal.
DISTILLATOR is a band from The Netherlands that plays old school thrash metal, which is one of my favorite types of metal. If you’ve never heard them before, which I hadn’t, they sound kinda like early EXODUS, which is pretty high praise as far as thrash metal goes. I caught their set at 10:45 AM. There is a weird internal disconnect that comes from knowing that outside the sun is up, and the part of the world that you’re from is going about normal daytime activities. Meanwhile, below decks, in the dark, a band is getting after it as if they were headlining a sold out show. The best part about it is: they are. The Alhambra wasn’t full to capacity, but it wasn’t empty either. Plenty of fellow travelers getting an early start.
When it comes to modern thrash metal, there is something we as a community should discuss: The shoes. The big, white high tops that have somehow become part of the standard thrash metal uniform. Look, we wore them shits back in the day because we had to. Those were just the shoes that shoe companies made, and if you wanted to wear high tops (which, in retrospect, I’m not really sure why we did) you had a choice between Chucks and huge, white, puffy high tops. We chose poorly. I think this is a thing that should be abandoned immediately. Trust me, the thrash metal will still be authentic without the goofy shoes. NOTE: I saw the guys from DISTILLATOR later on at the Pyramid Lounge waiting for DEAD CROSS to start……regular shoes.
I caught both sets from these guys. True Norwegian black metal. Grim and kvlt and all that. I’m pretty sure the temperature dropped like 30 degrees as soon as they started playing. In all seriousness, these guys play good, catchy old school black metal just the way I like it. Not a ton of blast beats, mostly that mid tempo, open chord black metal sound. No huge, orchestral parts in their songs. No complicated stage presentation, just solid black metal. A very nice alternative to the symphonic metal or folk metal going on in other venues at the same time. Not that those other bands are bad, but I’d rather watch TSJUDER.
Female thrash band from Brazil. Never heard of them before, but I had a little time between TSJUDER and KRISIUN, so I stopped by Studio B to catch their set. Ok I’m going to be honest, when it comes to metal I’m always a bit skeptical of bands with women in them. Only because it is usually an indication of a few possible scenarios. The first is a female fronted, symphonic metal band and that shit just ain’t my bag. Too slow, too many keyboards. The second is the all too familiar, adequately competent female bass player (often another band members girlfriend). The third is bands who make a gimmick out of the fact that they’re women in a male dominated scene. It’s almost as if they’re saying “We’re pretty good for being girls.” And before you can even say “What about Arch Enemy?” or “What about Lacuna Coil?” just know that I understand that there are exceptions to these scenarios. They are just impressions that I get (cue horn section) from having watched literally thousands of bands, some of which had women in them.
NERVOSA totally destroyed those impressions. This band was there to thrash, and thrash they did. With 60 bands playing staggered set times at four different venues, it’s sometimes difficult to catch all the bands you plan to see, let alone ones you may not be familiar with. I had to sneak out of TSJUDER’s set a couple songs early, but I’m glad I made time to catch NERVOSA. They’re a good band.
So on the last day we had some strong winds that forced the remainder of the shows on the Pool Deck stage to be rescheduled. This ended up working out well for NERVOSA, who were playing their second set in the Pyramid Lounge. Since the pool deck shows were not going on, they found themselves playing to a packed house, and once again they delivered a strong performance. During the show Fernanda Lira, the singer / bass player for NERVOSA said (and I’m paraphrasing) “Being thousands of kilometers away from Brazil, out in the middle of the ocean, you guys make us feel as if we were at home.” I think that perfectly describes a 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise.
Anyone familiar with death metal has at least heard of KRISIUN. They’ve been around forever. To me they’ve always been a band that I thought was pretty good, but at the same time I’ve never been super into them. But watching their set I was impressed at the sound they get with just one guitar player. It’s because of Alex Camargo and his bass sound / technique. His sound fills up all the frequency space left empty by the guitar, and he has just enough distortion in his sound to really thicken up the mix. In essence he is a second guitar and bass guitar at the same time. Also, I noticed that he knows when to play with the guitar to thicken up the rhythm sound, and when to play with the drums to give the guitar some space to breathe. Lots of bass players do one or the other. He wasn’t a super technical player, but KRISIUN isn’t a super technical band. He did, however, understand what the specific section of the song called for, and he didn’t under / over play. They played a good set. Nice mix of older and new material. That’s two good Brazilian bands in a row.
If you’ve ever caught yourself wondering “I wonder what Dave Lombardo has been doing since Slayer?” This band is the answer. It probably isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but it is the answer. For some reason I caught both of their sets (the first time I was genuinely curious, the second time there was nothing else interesting going on, and I wasn’t hungry) and both times I got to the venue a little early, in time for soundcheck. Dave was behind the kit checking the toms. I’ve never seen somebody do such a meticulous soundcheck. He tuned each drum until it sounded perfect to him. He tuned the beater heads, he messed around with the resonant heads, he switched out cymbals, he switched out floor toms. After 20 minutes or so he had the drums just the way he wanted them, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t sound great. I’ve never been impressed by a soundcheck before.
Almost as soon as they started playing their first set Dave stood up and started waiving his arms until the rest of the band noticed and stopped playing too. Apparently he wasn’t happy with his monitor mix. Too much lead vocal. Can I ask a question to all of the audio engineers, from the sound guy at the smallest club to the monitor engineers on major tours, why is there always so much vocal in the monitors? As a musician in a band that plays shows I know what I need to hear in my monitor mix – DRUMS (especially kick and snare), the other guitar, bass, and a little bit of vocal. A little bit. Not so much vocal that it sounds like the singer is yelling through a bullhorn right into my face. But every time, there it is, VOCALS THIS GOD DAMN LOUD IN THE MONITOR. So loud that you wish there were no monitors. So I sympathise with Dave’s plight. After catching them the second time I came to realize that the entirety of their soundcheck is to make sure Dave’s monitor mix is just right.
As far as their music goes, to me it sounded like a poor man’s Dillinger Escape Plan – and by that I mean a bunch of screaming and noise masquerading as techy, sophisticated music. They also like to throw themselves around on stage the way Dillinger does. They seemed very concerned with knocking over monitors and mic stands, climbing on top of their amps, climbing on the drums. The vocalist was also super concerned with being snarky in between songs. During the different sets there is usually an equal number of people trickling in and out. The trickle of people leaving the venue was significantly heavier during this set. At the end of their set they went into the intro to South Of Heaven and abruptly stopped and left the stage as soon as the drums came in. Too bad, those 20 seconds were the best part of their set.
ROTTING CHRIST is another band that’s been around for years, but for some reason I just never took the time to become familiar with them. So as their set began I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I really liked what they were playing. I was picking up what they were putting down. I was even more surprised because I generally don’t like “slow” metal. Don’t get me wrong, these guys aren’t some doom / stoner rock band that plays slow and sludgy, but the tempo to most of the songs I heard them play was slower than what I’m generally used to. I really dug those guys. When I get back home I might have to look into them further.
KOYI K UTHO
Another Latin American band. This time from Colombia. I had literally never heard of these guys before getting on board and reading the program booklet that has a brief description of each band and lists the set times. I found myself with some time to kill between ROTTING CHRIST and CRADLE OF FILTH, and these guys sounded interesting so I decided to check them out. I am fucking glad I did. Their music is sort of a mix of MINISTRY, SEPULTURA and SLIPKNOT, and the only reason I say SLIPKNOT is because they have a secondary percussionist to augment the drummer, and they wear masks / body paint / uniforms. But in reality they sound a lot more like MINISTRY, but with a Latin flavor. This is another band that I had no idea about until now and will definitely look into when I get back home.
CRADLE OF FILTH
Lots of people have an unfavorable opinion about this band, which is fine, I’m not going to try to change that, but they have been around forever, and they were the stepping stone into black metal for a lot of people. I know that many people who are into “true” black metal claim that DARKTHRONE’s A Blaze In The Northern Sky was the first album they ever heard as a child and not one note of “false” metal has ever violated the sanctity of their ear canals, but in truth we all know they probably started out with COF. On the last night of the cruise some people like to dress up in funny or bizarre costumes. I saw a guy dressed as Jesus – he had the beard, the robe, the crown of thorns, the whole bit – and on his robe, in the COF font it said “Dani Filth Is A Cunt.” Now that’s funny. Anyway, I’ve never had a strong opinion about them one way or another, so I watched about three quarters of their set, got my pictures and then headed over to catch the mighty GHOUL.
FUCKING GHOUL!!!!! These stunning bastards from Creepsylvania just delivered the best set I’ve seen on this cruise so far. If you aren’t familiar with these guys (you should be) they play straight up, easy to follow thrash metal, and despite the story that they are human flesh and cabbage eating weirdos, they are actually funny and well spoken in their between song banter. Similar to GWAR (but not nearly on the same scale) they have characters that come out during their set, and these characters subsequently get killed and blood sprays all over the first few rows of people. The crowd energy and the pit for these guys was amazing, even though they were playing this set on the small stage. They ended their first set with a cliffhanger. One of the characters came out and offered them $10,000 to stop playing music. Will GHOUL take the money? Find out at their next set Saturday night in Studio B. Pretty clever way to make sure people catch your next set, which I had planned to do anyway.
So, 3:00 AM on Saturday night comes and I’m down in the photo pit (between the stage and the guard railing) and GHOUL comes out and informs everybody that they WILL NOT be taking the money, but will instead disembowel this character. I could only stand there and shield my camera as “blood” poured all over me and the first several rows of people. I was bloody the whole rest of the night. It was awesome. Another killer set by these guys and another super energetic crowd (again this is between 3 and 4 AM). If these guys come to your town, or a town nearby, or they’re playing a festival with a bunch of other bands, MAKE SURE you catch them, you won’t regret it. Unless they decide to drag you back to Creepsylvania!!!
DAY 3 – Docked in Jamaica and got off the boat early. Did the normal tourist shore excursion stuff. Took a bus up into the mountains and took a series of ziplines back down. It was fun as shit, but I didn’t take my camera, so no pictures.
Back on the boat after spending the afternoon in Jamaica. The first set I wanted to catch was DIAMOND HEAD. I’ll be totally honest, I only caught their set because I wanted to hear them play the original versions of the songs METALLICA covered. Holy fuck I’m so glad I did. The first couple of songs in their set were straight up 70’s rock (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and I was starting to wonder why I was watching this band. Then as their set progressed I started to pick up on the thrash metal influences. Short bursts of intensity started to emerge during their songs, and it was like watching them make a blueprint for the thrash bands that would come later. Now I’m not saying that they transformed into SLAYER mid set, but I am saying that I could definitely hear the things that METALLICA later used to build their sound. The particular way that they harmonized the guitars, the vocal sound is total early Hetfield (not the original singer, but whatever), there was even a point in one song where the drummer did the snare-kick-kick-kick-snare-kick-snare-kick fill that Lars later used in the beginning of Orion. They finished their set with The Prince and Am I Evil? (both of which are DIAMOND HEAD originals) and by the time they were done, not only had they totally won over the crowd, but they were a different band than the one that started the set. The 70’s rock was gone and had been replaced by an intensity that would later be adopted by the bands that invented thrash metal. This band was certainly ahead of their time.
The way most band’s sets go on this cruise is there is a small number of people that show up before soundcheck and wait, just like a regular show. Then when the band starts to play there is a rush of people coming in, and during the first few songs people continue to make their way in until the venue is full, or at least as full as it’s going to get for that particular set. However, there are a few bands that pretty much everybody wants to see, and those venues are full well before the band starts. VADER’s set tonight was one of those. They came out to a packed house and proceeded to lay waste for a solid 45 minutes. Great set, super energetic crowd. Huge pit that lasted the entire set.
CHILDREN OF BODOM
This was another set that pretty much everybody decided beforehand that they were going to catch. Most of the boat just migrated from VADER up onto the pool deck to catch COB. So, this is another band that I’ve never had a really strong opinion about. Obviously their level of musicianship is amazing and has to be respected, and as I watched their set I started to notice that they sort of reminded me of EDGE OF SANITY a little bit, which is definitely a compliment. It’s the way the guitar and the keyboards mix to make a giant sound. Speaking of keyboards, when I’ve listened to this band’s albums in the past I never had any idea that they were so keyboard heavy, perhaps it’s low in the mix or I just wasn’t paying attention, but Janne Wirman (the keyboard player) was playing almost the entire time. Sometimes it was obvious and the keyboards were supposed to be prominent in that section of the song. Other times you might not know he was playing if you weren’t watching him, but he was thickening up the rhythm or ghosting Alexi’s notes over the rhythm. Pretty interesting to watch. Also, as far as talent goes he is every bit as talented as Alexi. This dude would play his parts without looking down at his fingers. He was just up there smiling, looking at people off to the side of the stage, and totally nailing his parts. Reminded me of Chris Broderick who used to just kill those MEGADETH leads without ever looking at his fretboard.
This cruise has a lot of European and Latin American bands on it, which is cool because it exposed me to some good music that I may not have heard otherwise, but it was nice to catch a set from a band playing some good, old school, American death metal. The style of death metal that these guys play comes from a time before every death metal band started trying to out-tech each other. I’m not saying these guys are simple, but the songs are songs, not 10 minute music lessons. No pig squeals, no robot voices, no clean vocals. Very refreshing. Glad I caught these guys.
This type of metal is generally not my thing, but I had some time to kill between INCANTATION and AT THE GATES, so I went to check them out. If you aren’t familiar they’re sort of like IRON MAIDEN, but a little less thrashy. All of these guys are very accomplished musicians though, and watching them play was impressive.
AT THE GATES
Catching their second set. First set was on the very first night, and I was still settling in and getting the lay of the land, so I didn’t take any pictures or make any mental notes about their set, other than it was good, and it was the first heavily anticipated, full venue set of the cruise.
I remember listening to the The Red In The Sky Is Ours album many years ago and really digging it. Although as I listen back to it now it seems kinda primitive, and it definitely isn’t the same AT THE GATES that exists today. I didn’t really follow them after that album, but it’s good to see them back together, releasing albums, and touring again. It’s 2:00 AM and most of the CHILDREN OF BODOM crowd has returned to the pool deck stage for this set. ATG delivered another fine set, and people are still moshing and crowd surfing this late into the night (or early into the morning). Pretty awesome. Off to catch GHOUL’s second set.
It’s almost 4:00 AM and I’m covered in “blood” from GHOUL, most of me just wants to wash up and go to sleep, but another part of me wants to Hold The Heathen Hammer High, so I’m going to catch TYR and do just that.
They are playing on the pool deck stage. This is an open air stage on the very top deck of the boat. If you’ve ever been to an outdoor show you know that the sound is different than it is at an indoor show. The sound outdoors does not resonate or reverberate because there is no building or structure containing the sound, it is just pushed out from the speakers and into the open air (hence the name). Now imagine that you are constantly moving, and that sound becomes even less resonant and more transient. I’m not complaining about the sound. The sound on this cruise is, despite some technical difficulties early on, top notch. However, an outdoor stage in high winds that is constantly moving does present some sonic challenges. I say all of that in order to say this: The first thing I noticed as I approached the stage to see TYR is that there were no huge amps with mic’s in front of them on the stage. Look at the pictures, no wall of amps, just a drum riser with a drum kit, which was mic’d up, and vocal mic’s. Insted of guitar and bass amps there were Kemper Profiler pre-amps. Little green boxes about the size of a small cooler. These pre-amps simulate guitar heads, cabinets, effects – all the shit you could ever want to have in your guitar or bass rig can be simulated with a Kemper (or a Fractal Audio Axe FX, but they were using Kemper, so lets keep it at that). The output of these pre-amps goes directly into the mixing console. No huge amps, no mic’s, just straight guitar or bass tone that you’ve programmed. Your sound isn’t changed by the elements (wind on an open air stage) or mic selection or any number of factors that might change how you sound. I’ve written about this several times in reviews of concerts , and I will again repeat that every band who can afford to do so should be doing this.
DAY 4 – Last day of the cruise. I spent most of this day catching repeat sets from a few bands, and ended the night catching SODOM and DRAGONFORCE
JAM IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS
This is a thing they do every year where they get members from different bands together and they play cover songs. I didn’t take pictures, and I’m not going to list off every combination of people and what band they are from and what song they played (you can find that information here), but I will tell you that I watched Stu Block (Vocals – Iced Earth), Jeff Waters (Guitar – Annihilator), Aaron Homma (Guitar – Annihilator), Tomasz Halicki (Bass – Vader), and Dave Lombardo on the drums play a cover of JUDAS PRIEST’s Painkiller that was about as badass as you could ask for.
Awesome set of old school thrash metal from a legendary band. Even though it’s the last night, and everybody knows we have to wake up and get off the boat super early, this venue is still packed and people are still raging. At the end of their impressive set SODOM did a cover of MOTORHEAD’s Ace Of Spades that sounded so much like the original, I would have thought it was MOTORHEAD if I only heard the audio recording.
Last set of the cruise for me. The guitar wizardry on display here is astonishing. It’s one thing to hear it in a song, but to watch them do it live almost beyond comprehension. There were a few more sets still to be played after this one, but I just didn’t have the energy to catch them, so I headed back to my room, content that I had sqeezed every drop of awesome from my time on board.
As I was drifting off to sleep that last night, I couldn’t help but think back on the fucking incredible time I had on this cruise. It was a vacation that was designed specifically for me and people like me, and it’s fully engaging the entire time. Also, the selection of bands is so plentiful and varied that you could have been on this same boat and had a completely different, but equally awesome experience. I caught 20 of the 60 bands, and I was busy the entire time. Someone else could have seen just as many bands, and neither of us caught the same set.
If you’ve read this whole thing I’m going to make two assumptions about you. The first is that you like metal. The second is that at some point in your life you will go on vacation. I cannot suggest strongly enough that you get yourself on board a 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise. In fact, I implore you to do so. I would go every year if I could, no question about it.
Article by Eric Spessard, guitarist for the undeniably badass DESTRUCTONOMICON