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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