An early wake to an absolutely delightful breakfast buffet was just what was needed to get the day started. Fresh eggs, pancakes, fruit, toast, everything you could imagine. Yeah, be jealous. Did I mention how awesome the food is on these things? One can literally get something tasty just about whenever. Yeah, yeah, stop rubbing it in. [I don't appreciate how smug you are - ed.]
After the early AM gorge, it was time to catch New Jersey thrashers Whiplash outside in the sun. These guys are one of the more underrated thrash bands, and it is a certain rare treat to catch them live at all. Having seen them once previously at Wacken – and not getting the best of views for said show – it was a set goal to get a better sightline this time around. This was done with relative ease, and these guys put on a very sharp show. More people definitely need to check out these guys, as they’re a band that really should be heard. Any fan of old school thrash will find something to like with Whiplash. Never has a name of a band been a better descriptor of their music – fast and chaotic, making the listener headbang until they get, uh, Whiplash. Cheesy, yes, but it needed to be said. Good times.
After a short recess, it was time for one of the most enticing bands of the entire cruise – God Dethroned. Unfortunately, these guys had announced their plans to disband in 2011, due to the band losing their desire to tour. It was thought that their last show was a big European sendoff in their home country in late 2011; however, their very last two shows ended up being on this boat. This fact made this extra special for a few of my cruise mates and myself, as they’re a huge favorite for us. The band has never disappointed live, and that consistency continued here. What energy, what focus – so many bands should take notes. God Dethroned put on a clinic on how to get a crowd going, with everybody in frenzy, enjoying the freight train of awesome that the band brought to the table. Easily one of the best sets of the cruise.
Late additions Diamond Plate were up immediately after God Dethroned’s set. The band stated during their set that they got the call with the offer to be on the cruise mere days before the trip was set to get going. So they hauled ass from Chicago to Miami in order to get on the fest. That’s some dedication. And good thing they did, as they certainly gained a lot of new fans with their potent attack of razor sharp thrash metal. A lot of younger bands have taken up thrash in the last few years, to varying degrees of musical merit. Diamond Plate definitely displayed both the chops and the songwriting to prove that they’re for real. A very pleasant surprise.
Canadian traditional legends Exciter followed, and it was yet another rare treat. Never before has the opportunity to see them presented itself, so they were a band not to be missed. These guys have been around for a long time, but they sure do bring it live. Decked in leather, black shirts and leather – see a common theme – Exciter played a, well, exciting set! Oh, the liquefied cheese is a flowing. Anyways, the Canadians were razor sharp in their delivery, and playing some classic and influential tunes. Another band that doesn’t get to tour the US often, and it’s a damn dirty shame. But, as obvious as it is, this cruise loves to bring the special treats. Exciter was definitely one of them.
Late addition Sapiency was up in the small club, and from hearing a small snippet of their music before leaving for the trip, it was enough to entice one to check out a set. There is really nothing more frustrating than a band that is so very close to being good, but have something holding them back. These guys have great riffs, solid arrangements, and can have a well-presented live show. However, one thing is holding them back – their clean singer. Just to avoid cosmetic confusion, the short-haired guy. His vocals simply just stick out like a sore thumb. Think of having something epic like Mercenary, but with a clean singer that sounds like they should be in a mainstream alternative rock band. That is Sapiency’s unfortunate downfall. More frustrating still is that the other vocalist is more than capable of taking the helm on his own. Alas, it is not to be, and Sapiency remains as a disappointment. Hopefully things can change for them in the future, as they do have potential.
The mighty Orphaned Land followed, and they easily made up for the disappointment in the previous band. It’s almost impossible to describe Orphaned Land’s music, but here goes. An eclectic mix of progressive, traditional, and even some hints of death metal, with a ton of Middle Eastern influences. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The best thing about Orphaned Land, however, is how uniting their music is. A band that transcends religious, cultural and political differences, they’ve managed to unite people of just about every persuasion with their beautiful music. Their performance was as powerful as any on the boat, as well as heartwarming. The band was all smiles and energy throughout their show. Their show certainly left everybody there with a warm feeling. And yeah, they rocked really hard, too.
Next up was to catch a partial set of Pretty Maids, a very accomplished melodic heavy metal band from Denmark. They put on a fun and varied set, and were another pleasant surprise. A just plain fun band to watch, they played a good mix of their newer and older material. There’s something to enjoy for everybody with this band, so if unfamiliar, be sure to give them a listen. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did.
After the all too brief Pretty Maids show, it was on to technical death/thrash pioneers Atheist. These guys pretty much invented said genre, and are absolute legends. And their latest album, Jupiter, is an outright classic that holds up to their other albums without a problem – a big accomplishment indeed, considering the 17-year gap between albums. Having seen them several times in the last couple of years, this writer knew what to expect from Kelly Shaefer and crew. They’re certainly one of the most precise bands going, and they have to be – their material can’t be played accurately very easily. They pull off their songs in a live setting without a hitch, and managed to exude a ton of energy while doing so. More people need to listen to Atheist. Their performance was just plain ridiculous in the best way possible.
A couple of Kamelot songs were caught next, and they sounded just as well as the last time. Still with Fabio Lione of Rhapsody of Fire fame manning the mic, he further proved that he still would be a phenomenal choice for a permanent singer for the band. Will it happen? Who knows, but if the stars would align to make it happen, it would be huge.
A partial set of Amorphis was next. Their first show was placed in the small club, and immediately there was worry if that would have enough room. Alas, the worry was well founded, and it was a sardine can. The band sounded fantastic, however, for the few songs that were caught. This is one of those moments where one is glad that each band plays two sets, and their second would be in the much more spacious theater setting.
It was time for a much-needed break, for at this time, it had been close to eight straight hours of bands with little stoppage. After a bite to eat and a bit of a rest, it was time to go up to the pool deck for another rarity (at least for North American fans) – Therion.
Therion have always had an eye for the majestic and over the top theatrical, and this show was no different. An intricate spectacle is the norm for this band, and that’s exactly what we got. The costumes, the insane amount of layers to the music – there is no music or stage performance like Therion. Having not exactly enjoyed the last two albums, even material from those discs came out very well, which came as a surprise. Is a re-visit to those albums in order, perhaps? We shall see. However, Therion’s live show is one that has to be seen to be believed. The best word for it would be unique, and that is probably a tad bit of an understatement. They were definitely better than this writer initially thought they’d be, so big ups to Therion for putting on a grandiose show. And, yet again, another band that won’t be touring in these parts – ever. This cruise is really good for those rarities. And next up would be the rarity of rarities.
How many people who don’t live in Europe or Asia have seen Annihilator in the last 20+ years? Yeah, not too many. Easily one of the best thrash metal bands to ever exist, and they simply don’t play shows in North America. This was by far the most celebrated announcement for me, and it surely was the same for many others. This is friggin’ Annihilator!
We made sure to grab a good front row spot for this one, and boy was it ever worth it. Annihilator put on a performance for the ages. They played many of the songs that everybody would want to hear – “Alice in Hell,” “King of the Kill,” “Fun Palace,” “Phantasmagoria” – and played them with gusto. Jeff Waters is also beyond silly and energetic on stage, and his in between song banter was even on stand-up comedy level. Who knew he was this funny? Well, not those stuck on this side of the Atlantic, other than the lucky few that got to partake in this event. By far one of the best performances I will ever see, anywhere. I beg of you, Mr. Waters – please bring your band to these parts once again. The demand is there – even without a record label’s backing (which is becoming more irrelevant by the day). It’ll be worth it, and people will come out.
Another hour or so down time after being “Annihilated” – I know, the bad puns just don’t stop – it was time for the inventors of black metal. Yup, the mighty Venom. The legends got a healthy 1-1/2 hour set, and they used it to play a bountiful set. Never the most technically proficient, but man do they have a presence on stage. That, to me, is what gives Venom their charm. Their music is fast and in your face, and their songs are very much made to be heard live. Seeing them – finally – gives one even more of an appreciation of the band and what they have done and continue to do for metal music. And an extra special comedic bonus during their set – Edguy watched some of their set, and when they left, they proceeded to conga line out of the theater. Simply can’t make these sorts of things up. Awesome.
After that, it was time for a quick pizza run to keep the body moving, and acquire a spot for yet another of the rare gems on the cruise – My Dying Bride. This rare band performance theme is sure nice!
For those fans of the doom from the Western side of the Atlantic, the fact that My Dying Bride doesn’t exactly come around these parts is a painful reality. So, another massive opportunity that this event provides that must be relished. Verdict? Lets say it like this – they came in as this guy’s favorite doom metal band, and they came out as such to a much higher degree. As singer Aaron Stainthorpe stated, “Everybody can be happy on this cruise – after our set is done.” It was dreary, haunting, powerful, and any other clichéd descriptors that can be used. My Dying Bride was beyond impressive, to the point where the listener can really feel the music. That’s a certain sign of greatness, and there is no dispute that My Dying Bride is a band that fits the bill. The focus for this set was also on the slower side of things, with something different planned for their second show. Stay tuned – same bat-time, same bat-channel.
After that heavy dose of doom and gloom, it was time to crash. Yeah, Dark Funeral and Crowbar had yet to play, but this guy was spent. And that’s why they play two sets, folks.
Part II of Barkasi's sun-bathed voyage will run Tuesday, April 24.