70000 TONS OF METAL Cruise Recap Part 1

Last week the inaugural 70000 TONS OF METAL tour set sail from Miami, FL and Hellbound.ca was lucky enough to be there to take it all in. Here is the first of four installments about what Adrien, Albert, Kevin and Sean saw both on and off the cruise. Happy reading!

THE DAY BEFORE – Sunday, January 23rd
by Sean Palmerston

The last week had been a furious blur of time since Monday afternoon when we got our invitation to come down to the inaugural 70000 Tons of Metal cruise. We barely had time to get ready to go, let alone wrap up things we had happening in our regular lives, but we made plans for the four of us to make our way down to Miami, FL to get onto this debut voyage.

Three of us (Albert, Kevin and Sean) left Buffalo NY on Sunday morning in the middle of the coldest day of the year. And when I say cold, I mean fucking freezing cold. So cold that if you spit it turns to ice before it hits the ground. So cold that we would have done anything to escape it, even if it meant getting on the same boat Gamma Ray would be on. So cold that no one in their right mind would even think of going from the parking lot to the airport without a winter jacket on for fear of catching hypothermia. Well, except for Kevin and I.

The flight from Buffalo to Atlanta, round one, found us surrounded by members of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills coaching and scouting staff. Now even though their team didn’t even make the playoffs, much to our surprise some of them were still going over all the offensive passing plays that continue to fail them on the plane. Uh guys, getting an early start is good and all, but this current season isn’t even over yet, even if your players have all hit the golf links already. Then again, maybe they were planning on showing all stuff to a quarterback who might understand them.

In Atlanta, we met the fourth and most important part of our posse when we hooked up with Adrien Begrand for our connecting flight from Atlanta to Miami. Adrien had already flown twice that day, starting in Saskatoon at something like four in the morning, switching to a second flight in Minneapolis where it was an ungodly twenty below zero – so cold that you could apparently see your breath in the airport jetways even – so by the time he found us in the airport terminal he had already had a full day with one more flight to go.

We arrived in Miami less than three hours later, to be greeted at their airport by Kevin’s friend Mitchell Luna, who also sings for the great Florida grind band Maruta. Mitchell is a Miami native, born and raised there, and was nice enough to be our guide on Sunday evening. After taking us to our hotel, we went off in search of a taste of Miami’s South Beach. After a walk down one of the main pedestrian strips, Lincoln Mall, we grabbed a quick nibble at what is apparently South Beach’s premier pizza place, Rustica.

Uh, no, this is not Lincoln Mall, smartass

The Lincoln Mall is quite a place, a great place to people watch for sure as it was a weird mixture of locals, tourists, beautiful people and drunken frat boys – with a few metalheads and skaters thrown in for good taste. We also made a stop in a Taschen outlet bookstore, where Kevin and I could have easily spent thousands of dollars we didn’t have on their fantastic art and photo books, before driving over to the mainland for a look at the real city of Miami. Thankfully saner heads prevailed and we saved our money for the actual trip (and avoided carrying around heavy coffee table books too).

Mitchell took us to one of the main indie record stores in Miami, Sweat Records, which seemed to specialize mostly in 80s college rock and whatever is hip with the Pitchfork crowd. Located next door to Churchill’s Pub (where Marilyn Manson supposedly played his first ever gig) they had a great selection of CDs and books, albeit a little bit on the expensive side, but I did manage to score a trio of used cassettes by Brutal Truth and General Surgery for $3 each. We then headed over to Little Havana, where Mitchell promised us a killer traditional Nicaraguan style meal. And oh what a meal it was.

Mitchell led us to a place called Yambo where we each tried a plate called Carne Asada, which was a combination plate containing beans and rice, fried plantain, fried cheese and strips of seasoned and marinated steak that was really unlike any I had ever had before. Totally delicious – and almost way too much food for one meal – although I did my best. Our meal was interrupted by a very drunk Spanish fellow who asked to sing to us for cash. While we declined he decided to serenade us anyway. Truth be told, he was a pretty impressive singer, although I don’t think any of us wanted to admit it. We were pretty wiped by the end of that dinner and Mitchell was interested in going back to Sweat, so our man was nice enough to drop us off back at our hotel and we bid him goodnight. (Make sure to check out the new Maruta album when it comes out this spring on Willowtip too.)

Yambo in all of its glory

FESTIVAL DAY ONE – Monday, January 24th
By Adrien Begrand, Albert Mansour, Kevin Stewart-Panko and Sean Palmerston

Waking up early enough on Monday morning to make sure we made the boat in plenty of time, we were able to take in a walk along the beach on South Miami Beach. At 8 AM there was practically no one else around, spare a few joggers and a nice retired couple from Wisconsin who took some pictures of us in front of the ocean. The water itself was much warmer than you would have expected it to be in late January. It definitely was swimmable.

We went back to the hotel, gathered our things and hailed a cab heading for the Port Of Miami. Due to the recent death of two Miami police officers, our cabbie could not take us on a direct route to the Royal Caribbean docks to board our ship. Instead, we were forced to weave in and out of a number of side streets and directed around the basketball arena to finally get to the port. It added an extra twenty minutes – and about $20 onto our trip, but our cabbie was extremely entertaining with the way he so eloquently used variations on the word “fuck” and would pointlessly lean on his horn, so it was well worth it.

There was no way you could miss that we had in fact arrived in the right place. As soon as we turned the corner towards the docking area, our cabbie (who had been listening to easy breezy music like Jon Secada in his car) gave out a “what the hell” when we saw the throngs of black t-shirts gathering to board the boat. We were unloading at the same time as Exodus was getting their gear out of their van and trailer, and a number of other bands were also unloading. Boarding was a breeze; we were on board before noon and ready to rock.

It would be a few hours before our room was ready, so we had lots of time to look around the ship. We had our first onboard meal when they opened up the lunch buffet and had our first good meal of many to come. When our room was finally ready, we went down to drop off our bags and were surprised at what we found. The cabin was a lot smaller than it looked in the brochures and online pictures. It looked like one of those tiny Japanese hotel rooms you see in films. We were shocked at first when we saw it, but soon realized that there would be more than enough room for the four of us inside.

Packed in like sardines, you think?

We decided to go explore the boat a bit more and found our way to the tail end of the ship. After checking out the climbing wall, we went down a level to find a basketball half-court and a few decent balls. I haven’t really played any hoops since I was in high school more than twenty years ago, but I used to have a pretty decent outside jump shot. Not to brag, but I think even Kevin was taken aback by my three consecutive swishes from three point land. Pretty damn good for a rusty white guy. We then had a surprise guest ask us if he could join us in our shoot-around – none other than EXODUS’s Gary Holt! Turns out Gary used to play some ball back in the day and was asked to take part in a band vs. boat crew game that was scheduled to happen later that week, so he felt like he better get some practice in ahead of time. It turns out Gary Holt has a pretty good inside game – he nailed every layup he went for but was having trouble hitting from outside. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I could keep up with him – that dude is a fucking firecracker of energy both onstage and off – but at least we didn’t embarrass ourselves in front of him on the court. Yeah, truth be told Gary was the best player out there, with our own Kevin Stewart-Panko not far behind.

Sean at the free throw line

And speaking of Gary Holt, the music portion of the cruise was set to kick off at 7 PM with EXODUS playing at the big indoor stage in the A Chorus Line Theater. As they were the first band, sound and set up problems actually ended up delaying them opening the doors to the theater for nearly 40 minutes but they finally opened. In the meantime, ARSIS technically ended up starting first upstairs in the Spectrum Lounge, but the party really kicked off with EXODUS’s frantic first set.

Here is our lowdown on the bands we saw on Day 1:

EXODUS, Mainstage Indoors, 7 PM
If there was one band on this bill that would be able to give a real kickstart to the festivities it was Exodus. The band ripped into their set right away, Gary Holt looking like a man possessed and Rob Dukes getting the crowd riled up. A great start to what would hopefully be a fruitful week ahead. (Sean)

Rob Dukes: “There’s so much semen on this boat you can even see it from space!” (Adrien)

From my notes: “I’m in a theatre but it feels like we’re driving. Very weird.” (Adrien)

DESTRUCTION, Smallstage Indoors, 8:30 PM
I’ve had the chance to see Destruction a number of times over the past decade and they never disappoint. This set featured a whack of their classics and at least one new tune that is set to appear on their upcoming return to Nuclear Blast. Always a blast live, this was a lot of fun. (Sean)

First off, cozy as the Spectrum Lounge is, if you’re not willing to stand at the rail, you’re not going to see much. We didn’t mind, though, and we were willing to sit back and dig Destruction’s set seated further back. The inimitable Schmier and the his boys didn’t disappoint, either, letting loose a scorcher of a forty-five minute set that included “Nailed to the Cross”, “Devilution”, “Thrash ‘Til Death”, new tune “Hate is My Fuel” (the new album is killer, by the way), and a rippingly good rendition of “Mad Butcher”. I did venture up closer to the stage during “Bestial Invasion” – couldn’t resist – and the combination of strobe lights and the side to side rocking of the massive fourteen story ship made it next to impossible to maintain balance. For this landlubber, this was completely foreign to me. (Adrien)

Destruction was awesome; the song selection was killer and whatever they rustled up for a PA on this trip certainly did the trick in bringing the intricacy of cigar-puffing guitarist, Mike Sifringer to the fore. However, some of Schmier’s between-song banter showed that he was a little put off at the intimacy of the small room, the low ceilings and smaller stage. Let me guess, Destruction aren’t big on playing DIY basement shows. (Kevin)

GAMMA RAY, Mainstage Indoors, 9:00 PM

First of all, Central and South Americans are crazy about power metal. Dudes walking around proudly sporting Avantasia shirts. Yes, they go that far. North America, not so much, but I’ve always been sympathetic to that most ridiculous of metal subgenres, which was fine by my Hellbound cohorts, who let me, to paraphrase Mr. Stewart-Panko, “go bask in the musical homosexuality.” However, Kai Hansen’s Gamma Ray cannot even compare with his former band Helloween’s classic output -[you got that right! – Da Ed], and I soon learned that experiencing Gamma Ray live is exactly like experiencing Gamma Ray on record. Two minutes in, I’m thinking, Hey, this is pretty fun. Crowd’s into it, the band is tight. Five minutes later: Oh, this is just the stupidest thing ever. Fuck this. So I did. (Adrien)

SONATA ARCTICA, Pool stage, 10:00 PM

For all the cutting-edge, boundary-pushing metal that I find so exhilarating to discover and listen to, I have a major, major weakness for the power of the pop hook. This goes back to the early ‘80s, when I was offsetting listens to Slayer’s Haunting the Chapel with countless spins of Ratt’s Out of the Cellar. Personally I’ve had no problem balancing metal’s extreme side with its more melodic side over the years, and in the latter category I consider Sonata Arctica to be one of the finest such bands working today. So naturally the choice between the Finns and Swedish corpsepainters Marduk at 10 PM was an easy one. This was my first set at the outdoor venue, which had a floor constructed atop one of the sun deck’s pools, and after three hours at sea the humidity was climbing, making the footing a little slippery, both among the audience and on the stage, singer Tony Kakko facetiously sliding across the stage for the full hour. The dicey conditions didn’t faze the band one bit, as they turned in a predictable yet highly enjoyable set loaded with crowd-pleasers like “8th Commandment”, “Flag in the Ground”, “Paid in Full”, and the always-knockout one-two punch of “FullMoon” and “Don’t Say a Word”. Sure, the requisite sappy songs had to be played for the ladies (“Replica”, “Juliet”), but standing there among a jubilant, largely non-North American crowd reacting to the music with such joy under the stars as we barreled towards Mexico at 20-odd knots, it was impossible to let any cynical thoughts creep in. This was pure fun, devoid of any irony whatsoever. (Adrien)

BLIND GUARDIAN, Mainstage Indoors, 11:00 PM

I had never seen these German power metal legends before and must admit I didn’t totally like what I saw. Blind Gowan is more like it, as this set felt like a long power metal attempt at playing Gowan’s 80s pop hit “Strange Animal”, albeit with double kick drums and the tempos doubled. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t to my liking. (Sean)

I actually liked Blind Guardian’s set a lot more than Gamma Ray’s. Blind Guardian remain the standard bearers of power metal, and the 90 minute set was total professionalism all the way. “Welcome to Dying”, “Nightfall”, “Fly”, “Valhalla”, “Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)”, and “Majesty” made this a very fun show. This despite the fact that singer Hansi Kursch approaches the live aspect of his music a little too seriously. “We’re going to visit [some obscure Tolkien elf]. He’s going to die soon, as you know, but first this song.” Dude, please, lighten up just a little. (Adrien)

I’m kinda in the middle here. I like Blind Guardian as much as I don’t like them and their live show did nothing to sway this opinion either way. The ‘Blind Gowan’ crack is on the nose, I love songs like “Welcome to Dying” and “Fly” but these dudes’ live show is more calculated than a political campaign. They need to let loose, express themselves, exhibit a little raw energy and stop staring at their fingers. (Kevin)

FEAR FACTORY, Pool stage, 12:30 AM

I wasn’t even considering going to check out Fear Factory version 3.0 but when Kevin decided to go I figured I’d tag along and I am glad I did. It was my first time seeing them with Gene Hoglan on drums and they fucking killed it. Sticking wisely to their classic material, it was nice to hear those old classics from Demanufacture and Obsolete live once again. Burton C .Bell’s vocals aren’t exactly what they once were, but musically the band was completely on and tight. Makes me wanna dust off those old albums and give them a run through sometime soon. (Sean)

ULI JON ROTH, Smallstage Indoors, 12:30 AM
The inclusion of Uli Jon Roth was a curious one. First of all, he’s a bit of a square peg on a ship of nothing but round holes, not to mention the fact that he really hasn’t put out anything of note since his Scorpions days [hey, Electric Sun’s Earthquake album is pretty good – Da Ed]. But I was willing to give the old hippie a shot, with one stipulation: give me some Scorps songs. And wow, did we ever get what we wanted. “Sails of Charon”. “I’ve Got to Be Free”. “We’ll Burn the Sky”. It was “In Trance”, though, that gave me the first goosebump moment of the event, a performance that brought the house down. I freaked. When I looked beside me, the members of Exodus were freaking. Look the other way, and Voivod is freaking. Uli’s performance was impeccable, and just as good was his singer/rhythm guitarist, who hit the notes sublimely. By the time Roth and his three-piece band capped it off with an impassioned reading of “All Along the Watchtower”, all of us, fans and musicians alike, were in awe. That was a gig many of us there will never forget. (Adrien)

I noticed after this set that TROUBLE guitarist Bruce Franklin was wiping tears from his eyes while leaving the venue. That’s how good Uli John Roth’s set was. Incredible! (Sean)

I’m not normally for subdued live performances – I’m the sort who still likes to see bands destroy themselves and their instruments in the quest to entertain their audience – but I couldn’t help but be hypnotized by Uli’s eyes-closed-lips-puckered-head-wobbling stage presence as he slowhanded his way into a lot of old dudes’ hearts. (Kevin)

UNLEASHED, Mainstage Indoors, 1:30 AM
I think it`s entirely safe to say that Unleashed was disappointing and that the entire Hellbound crew would agree. Not because they were terrible; in fact, considering the circumstances, the trio was admirably passable and almost intense. Yeah, that`s right – trio. Bassist/vocalist/guiding light/death metal granddaddy, Johnny Hedlund couldn’t make it so the band soldiered on with their rhythm guitarist taking the bass and vocal reins. They did bring out guests, like Alan from Primordial, to fill in the gaps, but it seemed more like growling, leather-panted karaoke night the solid, kick-ass death metal it should have been. (Kevin)

What a disappointment. Unleashed was one of the top five bands I was so excited to see, and all we got was a facsimile. Nice of the other guys to put in the effort, but that didn’t make it sting any less. After that, I’d had enough. Malevolent Creation would not be graced with
the presence of yours truly on this night. Bed was more welcoming than third-rate death metal. (Adrien)

Johnny Hedlund, where were you? Your band just isn’t worth its weight without you. (Sean)

FINNTROLL, Poolstage, 2:15 AM

Intense would be the best word to describe their set. The band is more inclined to the younger festival attendees, who were all drunk and dancing around to the three songs I caught. (Albert)

WITCHBURNER, Smallstage Indoors, 2:15 AM
I wasn’t sure I had ever heard this band before until Albert reminded us that he’d brought one of their CDs into Hellbound Radio a number of times. Then I remembered – decent third division German thrash, and that is pretty much what they delivered in their set. The band didn’t have a whole lot of personality on stage, coming across like a band that doesn’t play live all that much. It could be that they were every bit as tired as we were, I’m not sure, but let’s just say on this evening that Witchburner were solid yet unspectacular. (Sean)

Germany’s Witchburner was alright – passable thrash that reminded me of The Crown. The inside joke of the week came after Albert got his Witchburner CD booklets (and a few promo posters) signed by the band: “To Albert, Thanks for being the fan.” (Kevin)

MALEVOLENT CREATION, Mainstage Indoors,3:15

I only stayed for a few songs and the band was really sloppy. The turnout was less than 100, including the security guards and the band themselves. Not much else to say. (Albert)

That was it for Day 1, thankfully, as there wasn’t much more we could take. Please visit us Wednesday for a recap of all of Day 2’s events. See you then!

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.