United Nations of Heavy Metal

Here’s my first hand account of the world’s biggest heavy metal cruise:

It didn’t matter if I was squinting up at blinding stage lights or recovering in corridor hallways, dewy and breathless, from the fresh mayhem of a twenty-man pit: I could always hear metal.

It droned overhead through speakers in the dining area, the passageways to my room, inside restrooms – even the elevator. The only time I wasn’t listening to metal music was when I was sleeping off a beer-induced coma.

It was total metal immersion.

70,000 Tons of Metal is the biggest music cruise in the world, completely dedicated to all genres and subgenres of metal. In four days, 61 bands perform two sets each. That comes out to 122 opportunities to catch as many shows as possible while allotting for potential time conflicts amongst non-negotiable must-sees like Marduk or Trollfest.

I only made it to 32.

Nearly doubling the number of artists booked for last year’s Ozzfest meets Knotfest, the sheer volume of bands alone is enough to pique any metallers attention. And if you can afford the eye-twitching cost of even the lowest entry-level ticket (a whopping $700, which buys you a random bunk bed with strangers in a cabin the size of a shoebox), you’ll essentially be admitted to an offshore asylum for headbangers. I’m already saving for next year.

This may go without saying, but you’re on a ship. A really, really big ship. A twelve-level, multi-pool, gym, free-buffet, arcade, casino, cocktail-lounge, glass-atrium, chandelier-adorned, velvet-carpet, built-in-promenade ship. It’s a luxurious, floating behemoth with almost 24 hours of live metal music every day. It’s kind of hard to get over.

It begins with a laborious 10 minutes making the tough calls in crafting the day’s agenda. Time on the cruise is like an hourglass–each band falling like a grain of sand against the glassy bottom. This line-up is a crazed concert fanatic’s Everest. But between melodramatic (and thankfully internal) FOMO bouts, it’s clear to see that Andy Piller, the Swiss festival creator, did not leave the cruise lineup for want of variety.

Love death metal but hate the lack of clean vocals? Meet the triple-lead Swedes of Amaranthe.

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Elize Ryd of Amaranthe

Can’t stand sissy opera metal that’s just a little too Lord of the Rings? Pick your poison (not a Bret Michaels reference, I swear) between heavy-handed thrashers Overkill, Annihilator, or Dying Fetus.

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Jeff Waters of Annihilator

Fancy face paint as essential as shredded solos? Engage in Marduk’s black-metal blasphemy. Looking for a female frontwoman whose growl puts most men’s to shame? There’s a spot front and center at Arch Enemy. Only like listening to bands with decades-old skin in the game? Allow Anthrax and Testament to brief you on exactly how they melded the scene.

 

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Scream queen Alissa White-Gluz

Camping-out was never a necessity, though. I could be crammed tight against the rails in the egyptian-themed Pyramid Lounge, waiting for the Coloradans in Allegaeon to roar me to attention, and not have to think twice when abandoning my post to join the precarious bodies surfing outstretched hands. I could easily find a new spot to spy the action–perhaps atop the wooden back of a tattered, beer-stained couch. Perfect.

From one of the five jacuzzi’s outlying the massive open-air stage on the pool deck, I sipped on a peach daiquiri and shielded my drink from cannon-ball tsunamis. Then, Devildriver came down on a raspy cover of AWOLNATION’s “Sail,” and I reached for my towel. The two dudes stripping off their swim trunks didn’t help, but at least the girls crowd surfing in the 10-man whirlpools were digging it.

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Bassist Mike Spreitzer of Devildriver

Even if it wasn’t free, booze flowed generously from the seemingly ubiquitous bars and emergency alcohol pop-ups. There were no vomit puddles to step over and no drunken brawls to break up–only the occasional droopy-eyed sleepers slumped across plushy seats or catnapping on lounge chairs.

Unlike the debased culture of many a mainstream festival, slowly infesting FYF Fest and the hopelessly corrupted Coachella, everyone aboard 70k was there for the music. Skipper said it best in his conclusive farewell speech, dubbing the four-day getaway as the “united nations of heavy metal.” With 74 nations in tow, the shared, double-stroke kick drumming vacuum coated all things in like-minded vibes making for a kick-ass time all around. The voyage was electric, quirky, absurdly friendly, and oddly intimate.

I must’ve been turned around about 15 or so different times, either lost, looking for the Alhambra Theatre or aimlessly wandering about fiending for a room to smoke in. Even so, I could walk up to anyone in the sea of band T’s and they’d pantomime instruction or even walk with me if our paths crossed. The comradery of the crowds in and out of the pit was astonishing–unbeknownst to many quick to judge from outside the scene.

When bodies flailed and six-foot men were knocked to the floor, numerous hands shot out to haul his grinning face back up and into the chaos. Strangers would push me up or move aside to squeeze me in just so I could capture a few close-up shots of Marduk’s smeared makeup. When I lost my phone (like a total n00b) on a crowd-surfing escapade, five sweaty friends with wispy strands of hair matted to their faces stopped everything to help in its reacquisition–only to find someone in the front row was holding onto it for me.

Goddamn heartwarming is what it is.

I was high-fived by a banana man;

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Saw a little more ballsack than I would have cared for;

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And saw some pretty hilarious,

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and impressive costumes.

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I didn’t get the memo to bring one.

As psychotic as it might sound to have 3,000 (mostly drunk) metalheads going H.A.M. in unison on a cruise, I made some new friends and met a horde more–including many of the musicians. Apparently they have to eat, drink, and use the elevators, too.

But if you will allow me a moment, it was just really, REALLY, really cool hugging and then “fangirling” (after she left) the goddess that is Elize Ryd and toasting to a shudder-worthy-sized shot of Smirnoff alongside Devildriver’s bassist Mike Spreitzer.

It doesn’t get more VIP in the metal scene as that.

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Caitlin Lucia/ NightAir/ Big Monsta @ The Observatory Santa Ana, CA 8/13/16

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a small, rather intimate show in the Constellation Room at the Observatory OC in Santa Ana, CA Saturday August 13, 2016. Utilizing The Observatory’s far superior production facility, friends, family, and fans alike enjoyed the sound of OC based bands Big Monsta, Nightair, and Caitlin Lucia & The Daisy Train.

BIG MONSTA

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Brought back to the Constellation Room after a 3 year hiatus, a more mature Big Monsta took the stage. Having only heard these guys in small venues, where more-often-than-not the sound quality is compromised, it was quite an interesting experience to really hear this blues-rock band. Frontman Jimmy Hua’s strong vocals sounded crisp and clear. Adrian Sanchez’s bass lines were almost palpable, and combined with Mike Willson’s energy, the rhythm section sounded stronger, tighter even. Of course, it probably helped that these guys were opening…less opportunity for Mike and Adrian “drinky time.”

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NIGHTAIR

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Rambunctious and rather adorable, Nightair is an indie rock band that is definitely popular with the ladies. Wonder why? Well, imagine a group of attractive young men throwing roses at you. Yup, that’s right, for their opening song “The Roses,” these boys tossed elegant, long-stemmed red roses into the audience. Swoon much? At their heaviest sounding Nightair’s tunes have surf/garage-like rock elements that, combined with some soft, sweet melodies and frontman Tony Davia’s  Waaves reminiscent vocals,  usher them into an indie pop-rock genre. Having nailed their stage presence the audience couldn’t help but sway-along, smile, and playfully sword-fight with their new rose weapons as Nightair jammed.

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CAITLIN LUCIA AND THE DAISY TRAIN

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If I had to try and describe Caitlin Lucia in one word, I choose darling. Her countenance, genuine and kind, certainly embodies itself in her solid tone, and dynamic vocal expression. Iconic with her acoustic guitar in hand, her folk-roots music is amplified by the strong guitar and rhythm sections that encompass “The Daisy Train.” Combining her set with some original and cover songs, Caitlin captivated the audience with some serious tambourine skills, contagious energy, and an impressive wardrobe change mid-performance. This girl is working towards her dreams and when you listen to her perform, you have that feeling she’s going to make it.

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The Wild Reeds/ The Diamond Light/ Significant Others @ Wayfarer Costa Mesa, CA 8/10/16

Back yet again (surprise, surprise) at the Wayfarer in Costa Mesa, CA this time to find the causal, yet swanky venue busier than usual on a Wednesday evening. Taking the stage this time were some out-of-town visitors: Significant Others from Pomona, CA, as well as The Diamond Light and The Wild Reeds from Los Angeles, CA.

 

Significant Others

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I’m a little disappointed that I missed practically all of this five-piece band’s set whose sound, upon first impression, might not seem very out of the ordinary. But if you listen just a little longer you’ll see that they’re  worth paying attention to. They combine smooth, mellow guitar riffs with a slew of other sounds provided by their keyboard and electronic dynamics. Factor in their slightly more prominent rhythm section (they use a floor tom at some shows), their variety of tempo transitions, their occasional harmonies and…BAM!, You have Significant Others. Funniest part of their night? Catching some of the band mates carry their very drunk (and rather heavy looking friend) out of the bar and to their car. What good friends.

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The Diamond Light

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This band has gone through some hefty changes since their last visit to The Wayfarer in the beginning of January. Besides changing their bassist they also added another guitarist and well… they sounded better than ever. Staying true to their blues-rock sound they command the stage with their solid bass riffs, twangy guitar solos, and some pretty strong vocals. While the band as a whole is very energetic on stage, it’s rather hard not to be focused on the frontman Griffin Young because this guy puts on a performance, I mean, it’s almost theatrical. His facial expressions are so intense, that at his most extreme make him appear like he’s in actual physical pain; to some silly ones that might look like he was mimicking Popeye’s “Gya kya kya kya” laugh. Regardless, you can tell this guy is in love with the music and those expressions are just as natural and innate as his voice.

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The Wild Reeds

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By the time The Wild Reeds came on, the Wayfarer was packed, and after hearing their set, oh man do I understand why. Although they are a five-piece band, The Wild Reeds are fronted by three ladies (Sharon Silva, Mackenzie Howe & Kinsey Lee), and they are truly captivating.  Their music has strong country and folk roots with harmonies that, for a minute, had me spellbound. There are few occasions where I can manage to drag my twin sister to shows, and while she usually tolerates most of the bands she sees when The Wild Reeds started, she flipped. When I found her in the crowd she stopped me and screamed in my ear, “Oh my God I LOVE them!” and then took both of her hands and mimicked CPR gestures to her heart. She never does that. On their newest EP “Best Wishes” the first track on the album “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)” is one of the most beautifully written stories of heartache and loss I’ve heard in a long time; I’ve been playing it on repeat for over a week. Keep a lookout for The Wild Reeds: they’ll ensnare your heart, just like mine and my twinsie’s.

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Big Monsta Crooked Vol. II Release Show Costa Mesa, CA 7/16/16

 

Hello my little blog, it’s been a while. Although I haven’t been writing, I’ve still been photographing and this last show I went to has brought me back to the keys (the typing kind, anyway).

The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa, California is a shining beacon in the scattered OC music scene that offers quality production shows with booze that isn’t too expensive. Last Saturday evening on July 16, 2016 they hosted a massive show of bands (most of whom are local) to celebrate a community favorite, Big Monsta, and their release of their newest EP Crooked Vol. II.
Also with us that evening were The Sugar, Nahneen Kula, Gardeners Logic, Professor Colombo, and Them Evils.

THE SUGAR

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The Sugar, a band so new you can’t be sure they exist (on the internet anyways), are a vivacious group with music that has enough grit to make you feel like jumping around, all the while being soothed with some throaty vocals from their singer and guitarist Cole Blackamore. And you know what? Even if their sound isn’t your thing, you can happily view the spectacle that is Blackamore’s wardrobe (bitchin’ coats and sweet makeup). I hear they have a new album coming out soon? *WINK WINK* *FAKE COUGH* *WINK*

 

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Nahneen Kula

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Nahneen Kula took a little road trip down south from their hub of Los Angeles to perform a show that people might find either awe inspiring or incredibly off-putting. I found it to be the former.  Their sound, at first, had that soft and familiar indie-like quality with an added electric dynamic that then decided to say “fuck-off” to all the structure that encompasses popular music today. Their songs had a tremendous amount of transition that, if put into words might go something like, “Oh yeah, I’m gunna play that part you think I’m going to play…here it comes…yeah it’s coming… here comes the chorus…” then, “PSYCH WE GOT YOU, YA IDIOT!  THERE IS NO CHORUS.” Yup, definitely like nothing I’ve ever heard. Come back to OC soon Kula~

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Gardeners Logic

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Gardeners Logic, a band that is no stranger to the OC music scene, sounded better than I’ve heard in a while. Not sure if it was the lineup, the crowd, or the fact that Ian Bailey was actually smiling, but it worked. They’ve got that comforting country twang topped with some fantastic harmonies that kept me swaying back-and-forth with my camera (not helpful for photos indeed). And lastly, I noticed that during their set these guys also brought back the people who wandered away from the “Kula Experience,” as I’m calling it. Reeled em’ in like little fishies.

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Professor Colombo

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Professor Colombo fit in quite snuggly as the next band to perform with their sultry southern sound. Their inclusion of the saxophone with their music creates this fun, sassy, and extremely enigmatic jazzy sound that they have managed to combine effortlessly with their country rock. I’m surprised these guys haven’t had panties flung at them on stage. Unless they have…

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Them Evils

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By the time Them Evils came on, the crowd was getting a little restless, “When’s Big Monsta coming on again?” “How many more bands?” “Holy fuck it’s hot in here…,” you get the idea. But, everyone pretty much shut up and began to convulse profusely when they started. Okay, okay people didn’t start having seizures, but these guys could cause some seizures with their energy, which is evident in both their music and stage presence. Shit, I wanted to go run and stop taking pictures around after I saw Jacob Massanari, Them Evil’s bassist, booking it back and forth on stage. These guys play hard and fast, and were by far the heaviest sounding band of the evening. Also, congrats to these guys for getting the opportunity to play at the Lost Highway Festival in San Bernadino, California this coming Saturday July 22, 2016. So cool!

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Big Monsta

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The eager, baited, and panting crowd was finally released of its immense teasing as soon as Big Monsta stepped on stage.  They seamlessly swooped up the energy that Them Evils left behind and fucking ran with it. Big Monsta is the band to catch live. Think you like them enough just from listening to their EP’s or singles online? WRONG. Whatever you’ve heard doesn’t compare to the fantastic energy and tight delivery these guys bring to their shows.  Jimmy Hua reels em’ in with his surprising vocals while Mike Willson and Adrian Sanchez keep fans rooted with their solid delivery that showcases their cohesive sound. First time audiences have no idea what to expect when they walk on stage and when they leave people are amazed. Every time. From beginning to end the crowd was tirelessly groovin’ and everyone in the venue had their eyes on that stage. Naturally, because this was the release show of Big Monsta’s newest EP Crooked Vol. II, we all got to hear a new part of Big Monsta—a more refined Monsta. Their new EP is certainly quieter than its original counterpart (Crooked Vol. I), but with it comes more introspective lyricism and slightly more risk-taking style choices. This wasn’t an EP designed to please, it’s an album to keep you around.

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Earthless / Graveyard @ The Fonda Hollywood, CA 12/16/15

This past Wednesday December 16, 2015 was the first time I had the opportunity to see Earthless, the instrumental psychedelic rock band from San Diego, California, and I have to say– they vastly exceeded my expectations. For those who may have already heard this band in the past, and found that they just didn’t care for them, I argue that it’s because they haven’t heard them live: this band is meant to be heard live.

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The time range for just about any Earthless song ranges from about 10-20 minutes, so for those listening on youtube or whatever, it can be somewhat tough to stay interested– especially if you don’t like psychedelic rock, or you prefer bands that have lyrics with their music, OR you just don’t have the attention span to listen to a 15 minute song. Opening for the for the hard-rock band Graveyard,  Earthless’ set was shy of an hour, and in that time span they played 3  songs. Albeit these guys only played 3 songs,  I don’t think anyone would really complain because every song is loaded with heaps of progression, constant guitar solos, and insane bass: never dull, constantly changing.

Another cool thing about this band? These guys are super nice and genuinely appreciate their fans. I briefly got to meet Isiah Mitchell (guitarist) when he accidentally bumped into me whilst trying to maneuver through the crowd. He turned around to apologize and when I recognized it was him, I quickly told him how awesome the show was, and he gave me a little hug. So nice! And luckily both Mario (drums) and Mike (bass) were at one point by their merch stand and were more than happy to talk to their fans.

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While for me the show was over after Earthless, I am pleased to say that Graveyard was rad as well. I liked their distinctly heavy rock sound, intertwined with that bluesy-rock “twang,” and combined with the raspy vocals of Joakim Nilsson, they created an extremely enigmatic show.

20151216_223518My one reservation about the band? Probably their lyrics. While their sound certainly leaves an impression, their lyrics  don’t. Their lyrics encompass all the typical subjects a heavy rock or metal band might discuss (i.e. chaos, revenge, death, intense drinking, war, satanic dark themes, political reform), but lack some of the emotional depth their soulful, bluesy sound connotates. Now, I’m not saying their lyrics are terrible, because that’s certainly not the case, but Graveyard isn’t really a band you’ll catch me singing the lyrics to– you’d probably catch me humming their guitar solos.

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Video collection of Outpost Fest in Santa Ana, CA 11/14/15

Last month downtown Santa Ana hosted a small-scale indie music festival that began with The Mynabirds and ended with Cold War Kids. Filling in between were Guards, Tijuana Panthers, Beach Fossils, Blonde Redhead, and Delta Spirit. While it was Blonde Redhead that attracted me to this show, both Tijuana Panthers and Beach Fossils equally captured my attention.  I managed record quite a bit of the whole festival, and so I thought that for those who also went to the show and would like to easily find some of the performances I captured, I would make a post doing just that.

GUARDS-

Resolution of One

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Creature

Bainbridge

Torpedo

Set Forth

Red Headed Girl

Boardwalk

BEACH FOSSILS-

Youth

Careless

Birthday

BLONDE REDHEAD-

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Barragan

Bipolar

Doll is Mine

DELTA SPIRIT-

People C’mon

Bushwick Blues

Trash Can

COLD WAR KIDS-

Hang Me Up To Dry

One Song at A Time

Hot Coals

Aaaaand, here are a couple pics I managed to snap.

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Tijuana Panthers
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Beach Fossils
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Beach Fossils

 

Opeth @ Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles, CA 10/25/15

There’s something about this Swedish metal band that I really can’t get enough of; and seeing them for the first time, just days before Halloween was incredible– I “fan girl” hard for these guys, they just nail progressive death metal.  And as if I wasn’t excited enough, the first song they played was “Ghost of Perdition,” which is one of their songs that would have left me feeling slightly disappointed after the show, had I left the venue unheard. I’d say they aimed to please this performance with songs from Blackwater Park, Orchid, and Ghost of Reveries, all of which WERE FUCKING SPECTACULAR. Ahem, sorry, got a little excited. Moving along…

At one point they took audience requests, which was pretty cool, and so they spent about 20 minutes or so playing bits and pieces from various songs. How they actually decided what they would play amid all the screaming, evades me.   Regrettably I was only able to capture one video of their performance Beneath the Mire, pretty much because I was just enjoying myself too damn much to film or even really photograph the whole time. The beer helped too. So I’ll leave this post with two things: a couple grainy photos from my shitty cell phone camera and an earnest wish that, if you are a metal fan who hasn’t heard of these guys, you will go listen to them. Right now. Go. Now.

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Ugh…the resolution…it hurts.