Day Two renewed in earnest at 1000, and I made my way to the pool deck stage on nothing more than a few hours of sleep. When I saw what seemed to be a unicorn throwing itself into a mosh pit filled with hammer-wielding warriors, I thought that perhaps I was still dreaming. But the battle cries of Thomas Winkler calling on his instrument-wielding cast threw me back into reality; Gloryhammer had taken the stage, and had brought with them the might of Dundee’s most talented. Decked out in detailed costumes with accents on stage to match, their performance spoke not just of their own talents, but that of a crew that battled strong storm winds throughout the night to keep the party rolling without interruption.
The crowd seemed to bask in the glory of the costumed performers with extra glee, anticipating the recently announced album “Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex” which Gloryhammer had revealed shortly before the cruise. Though there was a considerable deal of excitement regarding this promised release, Gloryhammer relied on a set of their crowdpleasers, making it easy for the already weary masses to welcome in the new day on the back of Winkler’s soaring voice.
It became apparent that after the set, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day without some considerable fuel. A quick breakfast at the Windjammer was just what I needed before running down to a band that I had always considered a perfect fit to come on board. Canadian death metal group Unleash the Archers stood on the theater’s stage to deliver live renditions from their latest studio release, “Apex.” Though I’d listened to the album many times up until the show, seeing the songs performed live transformed them entirely. The vibrant tastes of power metal that accent the raw aggression of death seemed to shine particularly brightly when played live, helped in part by a stage that allowed each musician to be illuminated larger-than-life.
Power metal seemed to be a theme of my morning, as I ventured to Studio B to catch the dueling vocals that dominate the bright melodies of Visions of Atlantis. The new vocal duo of Clémentine Delauney and Michele Guaitoli (also from the Italian melodic metal band Temperance) was truly entertaining, and the two had a chemistry on stage that was nearly flawless in its dynamic. A delicate dance of vocal passages and instrumental ferocity caused the theme of their set to be one of balance, particularly between the technically nuanced and the grandeur.
The pool deck was where I found myself drawn next, making my way to the eleventh deck to catch Arkona. Rather than sunny skies to celebrate their brilliance, we were met with a grey veil of rain soaking all deck still exposed to the open air. To their credit, the band persevered with more strength than I could muster, for I only tolerated ten minutes of the downpour. They were still booked to perform another set later in the weekend, which was one factor in my decision to cut my time at the pool deck short. Now, I regret not having stuck out the suffering, for all accounts of their stormy show sing high praises to their abilities as musicians in all states of weather.
As the outdoors were battered by yet another storm, I entered into the warm embrace of the Royal Theater, where Pestilence was busy peeling paint off the wall with the sheer force of stunning progressive death. Waves may have been all but imperceptible on the ship, but Pestilence were making waves with the minute details woven throughout their inexplicably talented riffs, keeping up with time changes and speed that seemed almost inhuman at times. The grit was of an entirely separate taste from the power metal that had filled my morning with more lighthearted quests, but it was one that the crowd palated eagerly with an ever-changing series of lights to set the mood.
Around 1400, I finally gathered my wife and friends together for yet another quick break, this time at the lunch buffet. It seemed that no matter how desperately I needed food, I was always itching to get to another set. As I’d learned in prior years, however, there was no way to do everything under the sun. For this brief window of time, I would take the opportunity to fuel myself into the long evening and gush with friends about the incredible performances we had thus far been treated to.
This small break behind me, I walked across to the pool deck, where Subway to Sally brought German folk to a stage that was still damp from the earlier weather. They too were 70000 Tons of Metal veterans, having last performed in 2016, where I had the privilege of catching their first set onboard. My memories of the set were incredibly fond, and their second appearance certainly did not disappoint. While their fare may have been somewhat slower and more plodding in nature than the other sets that I had attended since the festival began, it was the passion of the folk artists that truly allowed their set to ascend. Deep, rasping male vocals brought depth to a wide cast of instruments weaving a tale of both musical talent and culture. Each song on the set seemed to come from the musician’s very hearts, a music that was as much a part of them as breathing, though somewhat unsurprising from a band that has origins spanning back to 1994.
With a strong tie to all things gothic, Tristania’s first set on the boat occurred in the welcoming embrace of the theater, and marked their live return to performances after nearly three years of silence. This was one band that I never imagined I would see live, and by the crowd that was pressing in on every side, I suspected that I was not the only one. Returns as vibrant as Tristania’s are just one of the many features that makes this festival so incredibly special, and more unique than a stationary stage somewhere on land.
The next few hours are nothing more than a blurred memory, sets formed from a rapid-fire succession of death metal bands, each hinted with their own unique touches of folkish melody. First were the Finnish masters Kalmah, leaning into melodic death with an icy Finnish twist. This show drew much of their setlist from their eighth studio album, released less than a year prior, titled “Palo.” Though the material they drew from was relatively new, band members settled into their strides with unspeakable ease. Lead guitarist Antti Kokko had fingers that seemed to dance across his strings, pulling listeners expertly from the crushing jaws of brutality into the fleeting whispers of a more melodic tune.
Technicality defined the performances of American death metal band Nile, though they were not without the Egyptian flavor that gave them their name. Unlike the folk that had been explored by other groups earlier in the day, Nile’s folk influences were merely touching accents to a performance driven by a band seeking to play music that is complex as it is a pleasure to listen to. At times, their performance felt nearly academic, eyes fixated on highly concentrated work on the guitars, particularly from Brian Kingsland. This was yet another act which had a transformative nature, where the venue all but melted away, and the artists commanded attention to their talent with a particularly aggressive temptation.
Their folk infusion a touch heavier than their American counterparts, Ensiferum brought yet more inspiration from the North. What stood out most from their set was the pure accessibility that their music provided to listeners familiar or unfamiliar with their offerings. Anyone that stepped in front of that stage with even a slight hint of curiosity was certainly captured by the magnetic draw of spirited epic written with crushing drums and galloping guitars. I am certain that any skeptics became devouts, and that the army of Ensiferum fans had grown in the face of their engaging delivery.
70000 Tons of Metal is stuffed to the brim with born performers, but there are few artists that seem to have been destined for the stage as much as Tommy Karevik. With credits also to the progressive metal act Seventh Wonder, this time Karevik brought his ceaseless smile and passionate on-stage presence with the heat of Kamelot’s majesty. Though his interactions with the audience drew chuckles amidst the cheerful banter, his presence was only amplified by the powerful guest vocals of Lauren Hart. Just as they always managed on land, the Kamelot experience was filled with both an overwhelming amount of talent, and bright lights that melted away any reminders of the night. Amidst the musician’s engagement with the audience, a set full of fan-favorites flew by in absolute record time.
After a brief and much needed dinner break, we made our way back to the still-crowded pool to catch Eluveitie’s first show. I first saw them perform onboard in 2016, but since then, they had undergone a considerable lineup change. With this in mind, I was both excited and curious to see the new dynamics on stage as they ran through their first performance of the weekend. The seasoned musicians didn’t disappoint; they were just as strong, if not stronger, than the first time they had taken to the stage on the seas. Even if the lineup was new relative to the band’s lifespan, the experts on stage worked with one another as though they had been doing so for a lifetime. As though catching the new lineup wasn’t a treat enough, Chrigel Glanzmann announced that they were going to premiere a brand new song from their upcoming album, “Ategnatos.” The only word that I can use to capture the excitement from the crowd in the moment of that announcement is ecstatic.
A new song debut may have been special in its own right, but the next act of the night is one group that has been on my personal bucket list as long as I could remember. Making my way down to the Royal Theater on Deck 3, I prepared myself to be blown away by German power metal legends Rage. I may have already seen my fair share of power metal throughout the long adventures of Day 2, but Rage was an entirely separate beast. With the backing of the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, Rage performed the entirety of the classic album “XIII,” which was released more than 20 years ago. It felt as though I were watching a living, breathing piece of history, and absorbing its pure sublimity into my senses. This set was as memorable as it was heavy, augmented by the incredible orchestra, which was conducted by the talented hands of the multi-talented Maestro Pepe Herrero.
Even though this performance was nothing less than monumental, the night still held much in store for myself and my ever-enthused group of friends. Riding the elevator up to Deck 11 was only a brief respite from the madness, a chance to do little more than catch our breaths before we were treated to the crushing weight of Paradise Lost. The crowd when we arrived was already huge, and swelling larger by the second. At moments such as this one, with metal echoing out across the sea in the middle of the night, filled with the sound of hundreds of cheering voices, that I was reminded just how unique the 70000 Tons of Metal experience truly is. Still in a daze from the spell that Rage had put on us, we moved from the deck to grab some water before throwing ourselves headfirst into the never-ending chaos.
Nightmares themselves manifested in the face-melting brutality of grindcore act Napalm Death, which reached so far into the realm of chaos that one could distill from it an unspeakable peace. The orchestration required to achieve such a feat came from a band that could feed into their audience’s desires, and stir them into a state of near euphoria. Under their manic glee, wave after wave of mosh pits swelled, until they reached back from the stage to the hot tubs in a storm of exhilarated brutality.
Though the party would go long through the night, it was already well into the morning hours, and the group that I had at my side decided to end the night in the theater. There, Dutch folk metallers Heidevolk awaited us, a set that balanced somewhere between a lullaby and a soundtrack. Their traditionally-derived chants and lyrical themes surrounding German mythology had a crowd, surely weary at such early hours of the morning, enthused enough to dance and sing along. Even as the clock hit 0300, they brought enough spirit to encourage the crowd to sing along to a cover of “Vulgaris Magistralis” from Dutch rock group Normaal.
It was only at this time it was right to remember that the cruise was not just one of music; we were thoroughly looking forward to visiting Labadee, Haiti in the morning. Though it was already the morning, it was then that we decided to retire for the night, and catch a few fleeting moments of rest before resuming an adventure more grand than our wildest dreams.