Review by Adrien Begrand; Live photos by Marc Hansen, Michael Jagla, Ag Babin, and Adrien Begrand.
Day Two, 285 nautical miles southwest of Miami:
Unexpect, Pool stage, 10:00 a.m.
Up at the ungodly hour of 9:30 for a groggy breakfast, followed by a quick dash outside to the pool stage to see Unexpect. Not unexpected was the music, which for all the band’s often impressive skill, severely lacks cohesion and comes off as pretentious and impenetrable. Not the best music to hear when you’re trying to wake up.
Arkona, Pool stage, 11:30 a.m.
Even on a 30 degree day in the blazing sun on a boat in the Caribbean, black-clad Masha still wore a fox pelt for the entire set. Even more impressive was the diminutive Russian frontwoman’s presence, as she commanded a big morning crowd while performing such tunes as “Goi, Rode, Goi!” And the polka-style “Stenka Na Stenku”. Arkona’s one of the better pagan metal bands out there, and it was no surprise that it was all Masha’s doing. Also, her request for “a Vall off Death” was adorable.
Onslaught, Pool stage, 1:00
After a quick lunch and getting my copy of Warlock‘s Triumph and Agony signed by Doro herself – she couldn’t have been any sweeter – I zipped by the pool again to catch the last bit of UK thrashers Onslaught, who were mighty impressive. Note to self: go to their second show!
Anaal Nathrakh, Pool stage, 2:30
After a press conference that featured little hard answers and too many dumb questions by my supposed colleagues (biggest news revealed: for the first time Germany is the number one country represented, followed by USA, Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands), it was time to see easily the weirdest set of the cruise thus far. And the surreal nature of their situation was not lost on Anaal Nathrakh either, who were greeted by either apathy or confused expressions, and hammered out a barrage of hate-fuelled black metal (in the glorious sun, on a lavish boat) underscored with a terrific helping of wry humour. Singer Dave Hunt paced the stage like Barney Greenway’s tetchy younger brother, continually spouting about the bleakness of life, which hilariously, and which he very well knew, fell on deaf ears.
Ensiferum, Pool stage, 4:00
This was it, the absolute prime slot on the entire cruise: the sun’s out, nobody’s tired yet. Ensiferum played at a similar time in 2011, and were a great choice for this year. Their simple brand of Viking metal is catchy and very likeable, and although their shtick can wear thin over the course of an hour, the people love them, many of whom were decked out in unabashedly nerdy Viking costumes. The band looked good too – leather kilts? They’ve hit the big time! – as they played a set devoted to several newer songs including “Burning Leaves”, “Retribution Shall Be Mine”, and “Twilight Tavern”. The highlight, though, was the goofy “da dada da!” sing-along of “Iron”, which never seems to really work, but the band is convinced does. It was a very big, lively crowd, a fitting celebration on this afternoon.
My intention was to walk across the ship to catch the last half hour of Cryptopsy‘s first set, but cutting through the Boleros Lounge on the 7th deck, the all-star jam led by Jeff Waters was in full gear, and I arrived just in time to see Doro and Cristina Scabbia duet on “Killed By Death” and “Highway to Hell”. It was as fun as it sounds, proof that the personable Ms. Scabbia is far too cool for Lacuna Coil.
Cryptopsy, Spectrum Lounge, 4:45
There are not a lot of death metal fans on this cruise, but those who are showed up for an intimate little gig by the Canadian favourites, the sun not far from setting in the windows of the club. They played “Phobophile”, so I was happy.
Angra, Chorus Line Theater, 5:00
Viking metal, death metal, power metal. This is the kind of variety I love. I’m not a fan of Angra, but when Cryptopsy finished I dashed a floor below to catch the last half of their set. Typically big and gaudy and overblown, but very well performed, with Rhapsody of Fire’s Fabio Lione filling in as lead singer. “Millennium Sun” was especially impressive.
Why do bands on these cruises always as us if we want to hear more? “Um, you have 25 minutes left, so play something or I’m going to go see another band.”
Evergrey, Pool stage, 6:00
I only saw this set because the dinner buffet didn’t open until 6:30 – it can be a challenge finding the right window of time to actually sit down and eat – but I’m glad I did, because I’d forgotten how good Sweden’s Evergrey can be. Overall it’s fairly inoffensive (read: safe) pagan metal, but highly melodic, with good hooks. It was a good 30 minutes spent.
Doro, Chorus Line Theater, 7:00
With the ship going top speed at 19 knots, with very strong winds, there was some serious motion on the ship, the toughest test of my sea legs I’ve ever experienced. But would measly turbulence faze the metal goddess? Hell, no. Opening with “Earthshaker Rock”, “I Rule the Ruins”, “Burning the Witches”, and “True as Steel”, she looked and sounded fantastic, backed up well by her four-piece backing band. Deeper Warlock cut “Metal Racer” was dusted off, the requisite “Für Immer” was played, but the nicest moment was the touching “Hero”, dedicated to Ronnie James Dio. Gregarious and gracious, Doro is pure class, and she delivered a great show as always.
Lacuna Coil, Pool stage, 8:00
The best part of any Lacuna Coil show are the songs played from prior to 2007, when they still had a gothic element rather than their clumsy attempts at active rock success in recent years. Consequently, songs like “Sad Deception” and “Heaven’s a Lie” sounded great, while “I Won’t Tell You” and “My Spirit” felt too forced. Nevertheless, Cristina Scabbia was in fine form all the while, dominating songs like “Our Truth” and “Survive”.
Rage, Chorus Line Theater, 10:00
I was blown away by just how popular Rage is among the German crowd, and with the country being the best represented here, you knew Rage’s two sets in 2013 would be biggies. To celebrate the occasion they brought along 15 members of the Lingua Mortis Orchestra to perform alongside them. Frankly, I wanted to see Rage the power trio rather than Symphonic Rage, but as it turned out both sides complemented each other very well on “Turn the Page” and an outstanding rendition of “Alive But Dead”.
I also have to mention the mulleted marvel that is guitarist Victor Smolski‘s hair. Even more incredible than two years ago, it truly is an entity of its own.
Okay, this is a first. I fell asleep during Rage’s set, during one of the mellower orchestral pieces, and I dreamed I was in Grand Turk, where I asked a guy if his place of business had wifi, and he looked at me like I was an idiot. Then I woke up. Nothing against Rage’s set; it was excellent. It was a very long day. But I had to wake up fast, because the mighty Kreator beckoned at the Pool stage.
Kreator, Pool Stage, 10:15
When Kreator’s set started, something felt amiss. I could barely hear the guitars when palm-muted riffs were played, and the overall mix felt very weak. High winds can wreak havoc on the pool deck as far as sound is concerned, and that was the case, as I moved to 30 feet directly under the PA, and it sounded like it should. A huge crowd had gathered again – German band, no surprise – and they went nuts for every song, new and old. Mille Petrozza was in fine form, snarling in that inimitable way of his, a solid hour of world class thrash.
In Flames, Chorus Line Theater, 11:15
I’ve never complained about In Flames’ musical direction over the last ten years or so as bitterly as others. If they played the same old melodic death metal we’d be bored of them. They’re making music they’re passionate about, it’s garnered them a much broader audience, so more power to them. Anyway, those hoping to hear Colony played in its entirety were plum out of luck. Though to their credit they did play “Embody the Invisible”. However, he rest of the set was devoted to their more recent material, from “Reroute to Remain”, to “Only For the Weak” (shut it, I love that song), to “Sounds of a Playground Fading”, to “Deliver Us”, and it worked well. Of course this is coming from a guy who thinks “Cloud Connected” is their best song, so take from that what you will. That said, they should stop playing “Delight and Angers”. That stuff is just weak, yet why on earth do I keep seeing people crowdsurf to it?
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Spectrum Lounge, 12:15 a.m.
These Germans seem to be pretty decent when it comes to pagan metal, but why is their keyboard player dressed as The Gimp from Pulp Fiction?
Gotthard, Pool stage, 12:30 a.m.
At their best, these pleasantly bland and inexplicably popular Swiss dudes sound alternately like second-album Bang Tango or second-album Slaughter. Does anyone remember either of those records? Exactly. They did play a good cover of “Hush”, though. And “Fist in Your Face” is a kickin’ little tune.
Holy Grail, Spectrum Lounge, 1:45 a.m.
It’s always great to see these guys play, and as I staggered into the club it was very nice to see they’d attracted a good-sized crowd. The mix wasn’t great, as James Luna‘s vocals were buried, but it was energetic enough as they played past faves like “Crisis in Utopia” and new material like “Crosswinds”.
Having no interest in seeing neither Sinister nor Ektomorf, I had two hours until Tyr, a band I greatly admire, came on. I told myself I’d sleep until four in the morning and get back up, but it’s funny how those plans at metal festivals work in theory, but never, ever pan out. When my alarm went off, I looked at the time, thought, “No way,” and crashed.