A brief history of 70,000 Tons Of Metal in five epic performances

70,000 Tons Of Metal
Credit: Pit Art Photography

You might call it the impossible dream: the promise of glorious weather, thunderous metal filling the air, and free ice cream available 24⁄7. Yes, 70,000 Tons Of Metal is still just about the most fun the human metalhead can withstand – just make extra, triple sure you remember to pack your sunscreen.

With the 2020 edition of 70,000 Tons all set to lift the anchor and sail 5,000 metalheads from Miami to Mexico, we look back on five performances that have defined the festival's history.

Arch Enemy

When Arch Enemy took to the Platinum Theater stage in 2015, the place was packed from front to rear. Opening on a blistering War Eternal, the stage was set for the following hour of melodic death metal from one of the biggest bands on the cruise that year. Throwing herself round the stage with electric blue hair whipping back and forth, Alissa White-Gluz lead the charge of the moshing Arch Enemy fans – although, it remains a good lesson that it's hard to mosh properly when every now and then the waves throw you off balance…

As they powered through the big guns of Ravenous, My Apocalypse and As The Pages Burn, it was the moment the metal world realised just how empowering Michael Amott’s brainchild really are. A full-force display of fist pumping and general fuck-the-world attitude took hold of the theatre for No Gods, No Masters and continued through ‘til set closer and fan favourite Nemesis. It was a defining moment not just in 70,000 Tons' history, but in the band's own, too.

Alestorm

One band who this cruise was basically designed for is Alestorm. Where else would you find the originators of True Scottish Pirate Metal? And even though it was 3am when they took to the stage in the Platinum Theater in 2015, it remained full of filthy landlubbers lapping up the shanties from arguably the most fun band on the bill that year. 

Say what you want about ‘gimmick bands’, but if you can’t have a good time watching pirates tell tales of finding magnetic north or travelling through time to start fights with Vikings on a giant fuck-off boat, then you should probably take a trip to the joy doctor. Alestorm acknowledged the inherent silliness in what they do, especially after singing a song that boils down to shouting “I’ve got a wooden leg!”, but with room-filling singalongs in the guise of Nancy The Tavern Wench and Keelhauled, it was everything the festival stands for: pure fun. Now pass the rum…

Swallow The Sun

It’s not all good times and party vibes on 70,000 Tons, of course – there's plenty of serious music to enjoy, too. You may have to be of a certain gloomy disposition to want to witness Swallow The Sun playing all three parts of their epic Songs From The North album, but a few tiny sound niggles aside, the Finns’ trio of performances amounted to the most deeply affecting show on 2018's bill. 

Embellished with a string quartet, everything from With You Came The Whole Of The World’s Tears to a final, pitiless The Clouds Prepare For A Battle felt like a merciful knife through the heart. 

Plainly not everyone was tapping into this rich stream of melancholy, though. One heroically shitfaced man, brandishing a blow-up doll and wearing only one shoe, staggered past the Pool Deck stage while Swallow The Sun were playing the elegant Autumn Fire shouting “Yeah, beautiful!” before reeling off into the bins. Bless.

Cannibal Corpse

Drawing one of the biggest crowds of the 2015 weekender, Cannibal Corpse will go down in 70,000 Tons history. During their set, Corpsegrinder and co. delivered 60 minutes of savagery – entrails and all. 

“The master of disaster is back” grinned the owner of the biggest neck in metal, before launching knife-first into a blood-spattering of then-new cuts and choice favourites, from the pummelling Sadistic Embodiment to the groove-tinged The Retched Spawn

The cartoonish violence depicted in CC’s song titles and lyrics is enough to make any overly sensitive parent vomit with fear, but us metalheads thrive on the gore – especially for the “love song” I Cum Blood – and the juxtaposition of this and 70,000 Tons' idyllic surrounds is a great example of what makes the festival so hilarious and special.

Corrosion Of Conformity

It being 70,000 Tons Of Metal, Corrosion Of Conformity's 2015 appearance was, of course, something a bit special – with the Blind line-up reuniting to slay once more. 

Karl Agell, Reed Mullin and co. should, in general, receive a much bigger ovation for their contributions to metal, but for hundred-or-so-strong crowd in Studio B for this set, we were transformed to riff heaven. “I know everybody out there feels as good as I do” laughed Agell to the drinkers down front, before he rampaged through 60 minutes of headbanging delights. A special time, indeed.

70,000 Tons Of Metal returns in 2020. Keep an eye on their official site for pre-orders and more info.