Words/photos: Bonnie Archer

Needless to say, we were all excited when Bay Area thrashers Exodus was announced as a late addition to the lineup just a few days before we set sail.  But as we assembled in the Alhambra Theater at 5 p.m. and they burst into the title track off their latest album, Blood In, Blood Out, it was impossible to ignore the fact that one pretty prominent band member was not on stage with them – Gary Holt, the main guitarist, songwriter, and senior member of the band.  And, no disrespect to the other members, the one everyone really wants to see on stage shredding.  No explanation was given for his disappearance, either – the Slayer “retirement” tour had not yet started, so that couldn’t have been a reason.  So with that mystery unsolved, the band proceeded satisfy the crowd by playing several songs off their unrivaled debut Bonded by Blood such as the title track,  “A Lesson in Violence”, “And Then There Were None”, and “Strike of the Beast.”  “War Is My Shepherd” was dedicated to Lemmy, and the crowd happily complied with “Toxic Waltz.”

Another band that needs no introduction is Cannibal Corpse.  Quick note – there is one band member on every cruise that is seen everywhere, all the time, by everyone, and is generally gracious with his time and willingness to give autographs and selfies.  Last year it was Uli Jon Roth.  This year it was George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher.  Seriously, he was simply impossible to miss.  The man was everywhere, all the time, happy to talk to anyone about everything. This was the band’s third time on the cruise and they knew the deal.  And they were happy to deliver the goods on the Pool Deck at 7:45 p.m., with George shouting, “Let’s get this show started!”,  breaking intoCode of the Slashers” off their 2017 offering Red Before Black, followed by the title track.  To say the pool deck was packed is an understatement, and there seemed to be almost as many women headbanging alongside the men.  “Corpsegrinder” teased the audience by saying that “Stripped, Raped and Strangled” would be the last song…and then George said, “I hope you know what’s next…because we do have one more last song…” ending with a rousing rendition of “Hammer Smashed Face.”  The crowd could not be happier.

So Sepultura had some tough acts to follow.  In the Alhambra Theater at 8:45 with a crowd that had already seen some pretty amazing shows during the day, they proceeded to put on one of the best shows of the voyage with vocalist Derrick Green opening the set with “Phantom Self” from the band’s 2017 album, Machine Messiah.  Breaking into the pulsing “Kairos”, it was clear that not only did the band have a huge following on the ship, but also that this was very much Green’s band, in case there was any lingering doubt.  To emphasize that point, legendary guitarist Andreas Kisser pointed out that Green was celebrating his 20th year with the band.  Speaking of Kisser, he was in full thrash mode, bouncing all over the stage.  The entire band looked like they were having so much FUN.  Green pounded on Conga drums, and frequently addressed the crowd, stating that it was an honor for them to be there tonight, it was their first time on the cruise, and thanked the crowd for having them.  And the crowd enjoyed every second of their set, breaking out into massive pits as the band played “Inner Self”, “Refuse/Resist”, “Biotech is Godzilla” and of course, “Roots Bloody Roots.”  

A band like Sabaton will always be given a hero’s welcome on a cruise like this.  Their music is made to be enjoyed in this environment, and they didn’t disappoint. Performing “In the Army Now”, “Carolus Rex”, and “The Art of War”, vocalist Joakim Broadén knew how to get the crowd’s attention and keep it throughout their set on the Pool Deck. Shouting, “From ‘Coat of Arms’…for our Polish brothers…’Uprising!’ he let it be known that his respect for military men and operations extended beyond those of his countrymen.  

The grand finale for the evening (for me, anyway) was Meshuggah in the Alhambra Theater.  Of course it was packed.  Going on promptly at 11:02, the lights dimmed and the thundering opening chords of “Clockworks” filled the air.  Yes, people got excited, quickly.  The guy to my left (pretty sure he was a blogger for a U.S. metal website) would not stop grabbing his friend sitting in front of us and making the “metal orb” symbol with his hand.  OK, OK, yes, they are on stage, can we please enjoy them now?!  Plunging into “Born in Dissonance” and the highly recognizable “Do Not Look Down”, vocalist Jens Kidman paused and said, “You guys doing all right?  I can’t hear you.  This one’s called, ‘The Hurt That Finds You First.’”  Those who have seen this band before knew what to expect.  For those who hadn’t, it was a complete sensory experience – there was the sound that completely envelopes you, the pulsing of their complex, fast tempo beats with their mesmerizing effect, the light show orchestrated to sync perfectly with the music…needless to say, they were very well received.  Continuing with “Rational Gaze”, “Violent Sleep of Reason” and “Bleed”, Kidman asked the crowd, “Are you guys having a good time tonight?  This is f*cking paradise.”  Indeed it was to Meshuggah fans from all over the world, many of whom were seeing their favorite band for the very first time at that moment.  Some of us were even going to meet at least one band member the next day during an offshore adventure, too.  But more about that in Day 3 ~