The shenanigans had already started before the boat left Miami for the Caribbean. Exodus, a last-minute addition replacing Hypocrisy, kicked off the festival in the boat's main theatre just prior to launch. Always a frenetic live act, they set the stage for the rest of the week with ferocity even though vocalist Rob Dukes was threatening to throw up shortly after the boat left dock. Like the previous 70,000 Tons cruises, the acts included were a mixture of European festival veterans that rarely tour North America (Artillery, Holy Moses, Sodom); some of the most consistently strong draws in the current scene, including big European names like Behemoth, Enslaved and Mayhem; and more than a few bands doing reunion showcases (the German Necronomicon, Morgoth and At the Gates).
Behemoth frontman Nergal was in top form during both his band's performances. After surviving a recent bout of leukemia, the Polish guitarist looked as evil as ever while leading his band through two sets of blackened death. Sodom were another highlight of the cruise, the German thrash veterans setting the stakes high for all that had to follow. At nearly 50 years old, Tom Angelripper can still keep up with the best of them, and his trio has the ability to make any stage feel like a major festival appearance. It was also a big treat to see the reunited At the Gates one more time. It may be nothing more than a hobby for these Swedes at this point, but singer Tomas Lindberg is still one of the best frontmen in metal and had the audience in the palm of his hands.
There was one band that stood above all others on the Barge to Hell: Norway's Enslaved. After wowing the crowd on the first night with a hypnotically heavy set in the ship's main theatre, the Bergen quintet absolutely owned the ship after their second. Digging deep into their repertoire to play songs from early albums Eld and Maurdrum, the band's final song of the cruise, a cover of the first-ever viking metal song (Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song") was so perfect that a lightning storm actually started behind the band's poolside performance. One can only assume Thor was showing his approval.