You might call it the impossible dream: the weather is glorious, thunderous metal fills the air, tickets for Snorkelling With Aborted are very much available and free ice cream is available 24⁄7. Yes, 70,000 Tons Of Metal is still just about the most fun the human metalhead can withstand, albeit only if you’re confident you can afford your exorbitant bar tab after the event. This year’s cruise is the event’s eighth trundle through the Caribbean and boasts 61 bands spanning several generations of metal excellence performing in front of punters from more than 70 different nations. If you need to see the unifying power of heavy music in action, look no further.
Although there are no official headliners on this trip, few would complain if ALESTORM  cheekily waltzed off with the honours. Bearing in mind that practically all their songs are about getting pissed on a massive boat, the pirate metal pillocks can hardly fail in this context, but it’s always good to be reminded that they have become one of metal’s most loved party bands for a reason: they’re actually really fucking good at this nonsense.
Among the legendary names bringing either the house down or the stars out are KREATOR  and MESHUGGAH . Every band plays twice on 70,000 Tons, which means that both bands delve into their catalogues, serving up plenty of classics and old-school curveballs. Kreator are on incredible form at this point, and when they conclude their second set with Riot Of Violence, it’s as if the years have been stripped away and Mille Petrozza is a snotty teenager again. The polyrhythmic Swedes are even more devastating, and the one band on the ship that seem to make time hold its breath as that sonic cyclone spins.
At the other end of the atmospheric spectrum, SABATON  are a rowdy, preposterous blast, their anthems blending into one rampaging but eminently cheerful Panzer swarm. BATTLE BEAST  once again confirm that they are an obscenely entertaining live act and that Noora louhimo is quite possibly the finest (and most ferocious) vocalist in metal today. Whether playing on the Pool Deck at 5am or in the indoor Alhambra Theatre a mere 12 hours later, they’re a sugary but scorching shot in the arm.
You could permanently break yourself trying to catch every great band on this cruise, but it’s certainly worth a try. Thrash fans are well catered for with blistering sets from EXODUS , WITCHERY , DESTRUCTION  and VOIVOD , not to mention a bravura display of old-school spite from speed metal gods EXCITER . SEPULTURA  are on monstrous form too; Andreas Kisser notes that Derrick Green has now been the band’s frontman for 20 years and a roar of approval erupts. he bursts into a huge grin, his comrades launch into Choke and moshpits break out in the hot tubs. Moments later, Roots Bloody Roots nearly causes the ship to capsize. Or at least it feels like it.
It’s not all good times and party vibes on 70,000 Tons, of course. 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 amount to the most deeply affecting show of the lot. 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 feels like a merciful knife through the heart. Plainly not everyone is tapping into this rich stream of melancholy. One heroically shitfaced man, brandishing a blow-up doll and wearing only one shoe, staggers past the Pool Deck stage while Swallow The Sun are playing the elegant Autumn Fire and shouts “Yeah, beautiful!” before reeling off into the bins. Bless.
Metal’s esoteric shadows are nobly represented here by ENSLAVED , who sound more overpowering than ever when playing material from last year’s exceptional E album. Sacred Horse, in particular, is absolutely mesmerising. IN MOURNING  are revelatory too, their despairing, slow-mo melodeath filling the indoor theatre with palpable disquiet, their riffs shaking the chandeliers.
Elsewhere, EVERGREY  once again confirm that they should be vastly more successful than they are by playing two totally different sets, both full of songs that are equal parts brutish heaviness and soul-wrenching beauty. INSOMNIUM  go down a storm too, much to their surprise. Their second set is an immaculate rumble through the 40-minute, one-song Winter’s Gate that could hardly be more perfect under the midnight sky.
In contrast, SONATA ARCTICA  are a disappointment. They’re neither as bombastic nor as exciting as they once were, and their new material tends to drag rather than sparkle. DARK TRANQUILLITY  have no such problems, shrewdly blending old(ish) and new and sounding as vital and relevant as they ever did. Prog metal icons THRESHOLD  make plenty of new fans with two punchy but immersive sets that lean heavily on last year’s stunning Legends Of The Shires, while death metal legends BENEDICTION  are England’s only other representatives and are every bit as unstoppable and gnarly as Neptune demands. Meanwhile, ABORTED , BELPHEGOR  and CANNIBAL CORPSE  tear the ship several new portholes each, SEPTICFLESH  very nearly make the inside of a cruise liner feel like an ancient temple and INTERNAL BLEEDING  deliver the heaviest riffs of the entire festival, serving up brutal slam anthems like Falling Down and Fatal Injustice with levels of venom that point to, at the very least, a nasty shared case of sunburn.
After four nights at sea and more refreshing beverages than any bladder should have to negotiate, it all ends with another admirably silly Alestorm set, another bellow through Fucked With An Anchor and an unmistakable sense that everyone on board really, really wants to do this again next year. Did we mention the free ice cream?