70,000 Tons of Metal: Heavy metal mayhem on the high seas
Thousands of metalheads, and 42 metal bands, make their way through the Bermuda Triangle on an unforgettable cruise
By Adrien Begrand
Special to MSN Music
Two years ago, the thought of piling 2,000 metalheads and 42 metal bands on a cruise ship for four days and four nights of music, booze and who knows what else sounded sketchy at best. Although metal cruises had been done before – they’re a regular thing in Scandinavia – nothing on this scale had ever been attempted before, and when the inaugural 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise set off in January 2011, no one -- not the organizers, the passengers, the bands, nor the ship’s crew -- knew what to expect. Invited to tag along and cover that first trip, it was fascinating for yours truly to see just how quickly everything fell into place, how the camaraderie of metal fans and musicians instantly made it an overwhelmingly positive experience. When the cruise was over, everyone was wishing they could return to the next one, many already making plans to do so, and word of mouth about the event’s success quickly spread.
70,000 Tons of Metal is like no other music festival; the recent indie-centric S.S. Coachella cruise was lightweight in comparison. Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, 42 bands play two live sets each over the course of four days, shows going around the clock, from 10 in the morning to 5 the next morning. Three special venues are set up on the 14-floor ship: in a plush, 1,000-capacity theater, a smaller, more informal nightclub, and the main draw, a special stage set up on the outdoor pool deck, a spectacular setting. Best of all, though, there’s no division between artist and audience. Bands are passengers just like the fans, and the fact that everyone is mingling creates a much more casual atmosphere than a music festival held on land. And best of all, instead of trudging long distances to a tent in a filthy field in Germany, your cabin is a minute’s walk away from the three stages.
Now with three sold-out cruises under its belt, 70,000 Tons of Metal is a legitimate success story, one of the best metal festivals in the world, and the latest, which left the Port of Miami on Jan. 28 en route to Grand Turk, was arguably the best-run yet. People flew in from 55 countries to attend this year’s event – the youngest passenger 1 year old, the oldest 71 – which was headlined by such popular bands as In Flames, Lacuna Coil and Sabaton.
Although there are a good number of people from the U.S. and Canada, the country most represented was Germany, where heavy metal music and culture is mainstream, so it was not surprising to see a German-speaking slant to the bill, with such acts as Helloween, Kreator, Doro, Rage and Gotthard brought in to appeal to the Teutonic set. No matter the nationality, though, the best thing about this cruise was exploring the wide variety of music being performed. The bill was crazily eclectic, and as a result never dull. American veterans Metal Church, reuniting after four years apart, played a pair of triumphant sets that looked back on their 1980s legacy. Led by fox pelt-clad singer Masha Arkhipova, Russian band Arkona performed extreme metal laced with mournful Slavic melodies. Finnish bands Ensiferum and Turisas brought their fun brands of Viking-themed metal, and many fans dressed accordingly. Canada’s 3 Inches of Blood played an exuberant set of old-school heavy metal to a raucous crowd of die-hards outside at 4:30 in the morning, the ship rocking in the tumultuous Caribbean wind. American bands Nile and Immolation brought their stone-faced, ultra-serious, punishing death metal; Dutch act Delain played their polished, pop-infused tunes, while England’s Anaal Nathrakh, one of the more misanthropic bands in the genre, showed a tremendous, dry sense of humor, poking fun at the absurdity of playing on the pool deck in the middle of a glorious afternoon.
Like any other festival, the momentum ebbed and flowed, as the combination of sea legs, alcohol, the port stop and no sleep can render an audience exhausted by the third night, but things picked up the following night as the cruise careened to an exhilarating climax somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. After a gorgeous sunset performance by Swedish goths Tiamat, England’s DragonForce kicked things into high gear with their hyper-energetic, riotously catchy songs, capped off with three members playing signature song “Through the Fire and the Flames” from the hot tubs.
After veteran bands In Flames and Kreator dug deep into their back catalogs to please their fans – metal fans adore bands’ older material – Sweden’s Sabaton brought the house down with a raucous poolside performance that saw singer Joakim Broden crowd-surfing all the way to the pool at the other end of the deck, where he was tossed into the water. Although debarking would start at 7:30 the next morning, the partying continued well into the night. Approximately 30,000 cans and bottles of beer were consumed over the four days, and we all groggily staggered off the ship in the cool morning air – the Miami airport was littered with sleeping headbangers clad in black – and immediately started thinking about making the return trip to the fourth annual cruise in 2014.
For more information about 70,000 Tons of Metal, visit www.70000tons.com.
* Photos by Marc Hansen, Michael Jagla and Adrien Begrand