1 cruise ship, 4 days, 42 bands, 2,000 people. Welcome to my recap of the 70,000 Tons of Metal "vacation event!" Check out the giant photo album, and this week's edition of Diane's Kamikaze Fun Machine with 70,000 Tons of tuneage! When the cabin was booked, about 20 bands were listed for the cruise. The promise was 40; it was so far off that it didn't feel like it was real. At that time, Death Angel (photo at right), Iced Earth, Fear Factory, Agent Steel, Testament, Exodus and Forbidden were some of the already confirmed bands. I don't remember worrying if they would really book a full 40. The lineup was already more than adequate! The crap weather hit the Northeast just in time, and a Miami/Cozumel retreat looked like a pretty damn good idea. I had my misgivings, of course...this whole concept was such foreign territory in terms of how things were going to work in the collision of the cruise and metal worlds-and I thought it might not be pretty. I anticipated fights, things getting broken, people and suitcases going overboard, lots of vomit ... there definitely were things that lent themselves to going wrong.
Before long I found myself in the airport. I literally just giggled on the flight, throwing the metal horns mockingly to Rod Stewart playing in the airplane, and during my movie; my friends and I incredulous to our (well planned) good fortune- it was finally happening! Safe flights, and great weather in Miami were the news of the day. Advice from a friend told me not to use my phone even for the purpose of telling time because of international roaming charges, so I went oldschool with a watch purchased at a gas station that I pretty much risked my life to get to, as it was across a 7 lane Miami street. We already had our Running Order: 70,000 Tons had published that about a week before we set sail, and the nice thing is that the cruise also supplied us with our individual daily running order, along with the other amenities in the cabins! There are always unforseen circumstances, and there have been plenty of shows/fests that I've attended where there has been no running order posted, or the lineup is out and out chaos, so it's nice to at least set your fest up for success; following the plan could prove to be a struggle to start with, but at least there was a plan! The woman who would be taking care of our cabin introduced herself to us, and we thanked her ahead of time for dealing with us; she seemed genuinely cheerful, and on day 2, an elephant made out of towels was waiting for us in the cabin! I was told by the staff that this particular ship- Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, is usually a Bahamas-bound boat, so the staff was excited to go to Cozumel with us! We're getting off on the right foot!
After a bit of time orienting ourselves with where the venues were, watching a game of thrash basketball, checking out the air hockey, ping pong, and the buffet...oh yes, the buffet, it's time to get serious. My cabin mates George and Jim and I found a Heavy Metal Trivia game going on in one of the bars aboard the ship, formed a team called KORGUL, and kicked some serious ass. The prize? A copy of Metal Mental Breakdown, a trivial pursuit-like board game, strictly about metal, and a little Royal Caribbean emblazoned zippered phone pouch, score! After decimating the competition, we checked out Exodus kicking off the performance aspect of the cruise in the Chorus Line Theater. Located at the back of the ship (ahem, stern), it takes up 2 decks vertically, is mostly seats, but has a decent "pit" sized area in front of the stage. The show started an hour or so later than scheduled, and everyone was ready. They blasted through a few newer songs (and the newer Exodus material is vicious, btw in case you've been living in the past), and then settled into a set including old and new material. There were some technical issues which did get resolved, the poor guys were the guinea pigs, and taking that into consideration, it was stellar, and really exciting as the first performance. Vocalist Rob Dukes dubbed us the "Hate Boat" but underestimated the ratio of men to women. Maybe in the pit men were all he could see, but statistically, 40% of the passengers on the ship were women, and also people from 48 different countries were on board. So life on the Hate Boat, went like this...Exodus, Nevermore played poolside, Destruction in the Spectrum Lounge which was certainly the disco on the ship with a silver curtain behind the stage and mirrors on the ceiling. The techs and engineers called it "the cave" because of it's low ceiling and acoustics, the sound in the room was better if you were on the perimeter of the room rather than up front. No matter, Destruction blew out a set of their classic tunes, opening with "Curse the Gods" from their Eternal Devastation record, and ended with "Mad Butcher". Perfect. Thrash mode, if it was not in full swing before, was now! Gamma Ray was up next in the Chorus Line Theater, Marduk, Blind Guardian, Uli Jon Roth and Fear Factory were in the next handful. Unleashed was without their vocalist/bassist Johnny; a last minute situation that couldn't be helped, and they put in a great effort in the big theater. The Swedes were one of my top 5 picks to watch, so I supported them regardless. They pulled in a couple of guest vocalists and made the most of conditions less than optimum. Finntroll played poolside, Witchburner in the Spectrum, and last but by no means least, Malevolent Creation put the stake in the heart of the first night of performances by brutalizing the Chorus Line stage from 4:15-5 AM! They just started a US tour Friday, check 'em out if they're near you, they do not disappoint!
After room service breakfast (horns up!) early the next morning, it's time to go to Deck 11 and see Agent Steel, with vocal duties being shared by James Rivera (Helstar, 7 Witches) and Rick Mythiasin (Steel Prophet). I got my first shot of sunburn soaking in a spectacular set from those fellas, thanks- what a great way to kick off the morning! Glad to go to an inside venue next so I didn't burn to a crisp, the rest of the daytime shows ran as follows: Trouble in the Chorus Line Theater, now with Kory Clarke on vocals. His style is very different from Eric Wagner's, and there's a lot to say about that; I'm glad that Trouble is moving forward, not necessarily because Wagner is out, but if he is, it would be a shame to keep Bruce Franklin, Rick Wartell and the music of Trouble, from their public. They'll be releasing a new record with Clarke, and I'm sure he'll own that material! Next poolside was Tyr, Ensiferum, Forbidden and Obituary in a row- I had gone back to my cabin to apply sublock! I had to bail partially through Obituary because Voivod was playing in the disco! The opened with "Voivod" (of course they did!!) and went from 0 to 95 in a matter of seconds. It's always a thrill to see them and an absolute pleasure to witness each and every one of their performances. With a big grin on my face, I stayed in the room to watch Sanctuary, then popped up to the big theater to see Amon Amarth, where vocalist Johan Hegg proclaimed "welcome to our ship!" There was evidence in a couple of the bars and in particular some sculpture on the main check in deck that had us believe it was actually a viking themed ship, so why not Amon Amarth's? As soon as Amon Amarth finished up their set (closing with the anthem "Pursuit of Vikings"), I ran upstairs for Death Angel back in the disco- hands down one of the best performances on the ship- Bay Area support! Saxon in the theater was killer, as was Testament at the pool (performing all of "The Legacy"), followed by Sodom, and then at 3:15 am, Raven (brothers Gallagher left) turned it up in the theater for the last performance of the night, which they blazed through. John Gallagher's voice is in absolute top shape, and the band was staying on my deck near our cabin, and it was a thrill to greet them in the hallway daily.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the cruise was the access to the bands, and the camaraderie evident all over the ship. Many new friends were made, and the atmosphere itself, was really laid back, although the music was aggressive. Anytime I sat down to eat, a conversation would emerge with people at a table nearby. When watching Uli Jon Roth perform, I looked to my right and Mike from Destruction was watching, and to my left Mark from Raven was mesmerized. Oh, and the fun part-- anytime I'd see Tom Angelripper from Sodom walking around, I'd just yell "Angelripperrrrrrrr" at him, and I was not the only one! The Voivod crew knows this gal fairly well, and itl was gleeful to shout VOIVOD at the top of my lungs anywhere on the boat, which usually started a chain reaction, more shouting and Blacky or Away scampering. I didn't see anyone really hounding the bands personally, or at least not for too long. I didn't try to eat off Biff Byford from Saxon's plate when I saw him loading up at the salad bar, for instance. The food was pretty great, as far as food goes. I never went to the much touted dining room, I took my meals when I had a spare moment between ridiculous band schedules.
The next morning we docked in Cozumel. I went with friends to see the local Mayan ruins at San Gervasio, and to the beach. We all napped for about an hour in hammocks and lounge chairs, each put a toe in the Caribbean, and shopped for trinkets. I bought a mexican wrestling mask (shown here with Dan and Away from Voivod) and a carved dolphin for my niece, and probably should have bought some over-the-counter-in-Mexico-only drugs, but came up empty. It was interesting that they sold Viagra, snacks and souvenirs all together, and more interesting that they advertised that they did in that order. By this time the trip was officially halfway over; I'd gotten about 5 hours of sleep total- the nap on the beach was critical, and we hit the buffet hard. Not long before we set sail again, there was a disturbance on the dock. By this time, there was a large line to get back onto the ship, as there are ID and bag checks, so it's not the quickest process, and there was a long line to re-board another ship using the same dock as our viking vessel. It could be heard far into Cozumel I'm afraid, the chant... "your boat sucks! your boat sucks! your boat sucks!" And so it goes, the Hate Boat reigned supreme and we wanted everyone to know, and there was some adolescent satisfaction in that. In looking back, the event was groundbreaking. I skipped off to the steam room to regroup my brain cells and plan my next attack on the venues, bands, and buffet!
For the trek back to Miami, Epica and Cripper started off on the inside stages, I chose to see Gamma Ray once more, this time on the Pool Deck. They encored with Helloween's "Ride The Sky"! The night continued on with Exodus following on the Pool Stage, Agent Steel and Fear Factory flanking the 2 other venues, then switching off to Rage and Saxon. The seas were especially rough, and Biff from Saxon commented a couple of times about how the rocking of the ship was affecting him onstage...at one point, it was obvious he could see the swaying in the motion of the audience as well--we were really moving several steps from side to side every other beat, and he exclaimed "You all feel it too!" - rather gleefully, another demonstration of the brotherhood aboard the ship. Iced Earth, Unleashed, Ensiferum, Marduk (at left) -who were simply stunning by the pool, Tyr and Destruction "rounded out the evening". OK, so "rounded out" is not the term I'm looking for, but for chrissakes, there's still another full day of music. Insanity. In some ways, they did "round out" the evening- some people were walking in circles and some were seasick. Some got a little too much sun in Mexico, but no one had gotten too much metal! It was one of the best bunch of days of my life, so yeah I'm gonna joke about it.
We're down to the last day; it was Thursday, January 27th. One of the other things that I noticed was that I heard almost no regret/winddown about the vacation. A regular human phenomenon is to start worrying about going home while still on the vacation- dreading returning home, and not being present to the last day of the vacation. Because the last day was perhaps the most intense, I heard a brief mention of it once, which was followed with: "I don't really have time to worry about that though, because Voivod is playing in 10 minutes!" The cruise was so packed with events, that it wasn't obvious that it was over until we finally disembarked. The final day went as follows, starting at 10AM: Swashbuckle, Circle II Circle, Arsis, Sanctuary, Witchburner, Voivod, Uli Jon Roth, The Absence, Obituary, Bellyflop Contest, Twilight of the Gods, Blackguard, Death Angel, Sonata Arctica, Raven, Dark Tranquillity, Testament, Trouble, Sabaton, Malevolent Creation, Korpiklaani, Sodom, Moonspell, Forbidden, Blind Guardian, Nevemore, Amon Amarth, Finntroll and Dusk Machine.
There were workshops held by Uli Jon Roth (the line was enormous), John Gallagher of Raven (bass workshop) and Victor Smolski of Rage (guitar workshop). There was "table hockey with Sabaton" contest, and the Karaoke that night was extremely, uh, creative! I remember dancing to a warped version of "Billie Jean", and members of Exodus and Death Angel gave us a resounding rendition of KC & the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight". I'm sure there will be a video mail order opportunity in that somewhere-kind of like purchasing the video to your high school reunion! The bar was open late, perhaps all night, and everyone was pushing hard to not have the event end.
All in all, it was a pretty orderly (read: hungover) disembarkation process. The Miami police greeted us in the rudest, nastiest possible way, hooray, welcome back to land! There were drug dogs all over the place and the woman in charge was relentless, screaming at her other officers "I want busts, get them NOW, go go go!" Nasty, although maybe she was an NFL coach getting ready for the big game; she was that unrelenting. I saw some resistance, which did not go well, and for the most part, our group was exhausted enough to go through calmly without many incidents. I kept my sea legs for 2-3 days, and was annoyed when I came home to having to dig my car out, but it was a slight annoyance, really, for I had missed 3 snowstorms in 5 days, had the vacation of my life, became an honorary viking and mexican wrestler, and still had my hearing Can't wait 'til next year! Here's the link to my program that features 26 of the 42 bands on the cruise, with photos of each. And the link to the massive photo album is here!