Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Semi-Final 1 – Belfast, Voodoo – 7 April 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Sunday, 16 April 2017 04:00

The annual competition that is Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses has now reached the semi-final stage in many regions: indeed, in some – Coventry and Brighton, for example – the finals are almost upon us. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with M2TM, it’s premise is simple: independent, DIY and unsigned bands up and down the country (and slightly further afield, as it has now grown into such metallic hotbeds such as Ireland and Norway) basically do battle to earn a slot on the ‘New Blood’ stage of the festival which gives the competition its name. Now, you can argue back and forth about the merits of these “battle of the bands” contests, but at the end of the day, they do help to garner exposure for those taking part, and have helped to propel quite a few bands to the next level of their careers as a result of their involvement…


Now, Über Rock had made a deliberate decision not to cover the Belfast heats, and for a simple reason. With yours truly being one of the judges over here in this particular part of the Überverse, I didn’t want to be seen to be possibly biased when it came to this vital penultimate stage of the competition: after all, words can be twisted and misinterpreted… but, with this the final stage where a panel of judges is involved (the decision in the final rests solely on the head of Bloodstock’s very own Simon Hall), I feel I can now justify commenting on the entrants who have made it thus far. I hope that reasoning makes sense…


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Now normally, in the interests of being as fair as possible, the running order is selected at random draw when the bands arrive for soundcheck: however, tonight, A Little Bitter had requested to go on first, as they had another gig later in the evening… the trio certainly take the early comers by surprise with a barrage of rapid fire drums from Darren Pilkington, followed by a pummelling six-string bass line from Seamy Donnelly. It’s a tight and taut performance from a band – completed by vocalist/guitarist Jonny Armstrong – who know how to build layers of melody and combine them with seismic riffs, progressive musicianship and classic rock sensibilities. It does take them a while to find their stride, probably because people are still filing into the venue, but when they do the likes of ‘Nothing’, the slow building broil of ‘Genghis’ and the frenetic close ‘The Further I Crawl’ get a good few heads nodding.


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Rosco’s Riot are definitely out to make an impression, with towering frontman Tim Knox entering through the crowd – and it’s not long before he’s back in the thick of it, headbanging with the best of them in the front row. Musically, the band deliver whiskey-soaked suvern hard rock with a huge bottom end, plenty of grunt and potato-growing dirt in its grooves. It’s a strong, confident performance, backed up with beefy, vibrant riffs and some neat guitar harmonies and solos and a deep, rich sound. However, it all sounds a little samey after the first couple of songs, which nevertheless are delivered with laconic ease.


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There’s a total change of mood, atmosphere and direction with the arrival of goth rockers So Long Until The Séance (or the SLUTS to you and me): but that’s part of the beauty of competitions such as this – they throw up contrasts. They get off to a slightly shaky start, as the Misfits-meets-Murderdolls opener ‘Dead Boys’ doesn’t exude the band’s usual in-your-face cocksureness… and it soon becomes obvious that the band are having problems, as just two songs in Tommy D Bauchery’s guitar simply dies: it takes almost five minutes for them to fix the problem – and they don’t handle the break well. It’s probably a portent, as they were intending to ‘Burn The Witch’, and she’s probably just launched a pre-emptive strike. It’s a setback which probably would be a hammer blow to many bands, especially in such circumstances, but the lads recover quickly and re-establish their early momentum in a totally professional response. Despite the relative youth of this line up (it’s only new bassist Tom… sorry, Baron Buckfast’s second gig with the band), they’re tight and precise, with a huge drum sound, thick bass and well-worked guitar harmonies, while Mike Van D’s impressive vocal range brings out the density of the songs while also emphasizing the levity of their dark humour, and by the time they close out with the anthemic ‘Dead Pretty’ both they and the room are as close to spontaneous combustion as it is possible to get.


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In another complete contrast of mood, Lock Horns deliver a fierce, Fear Factory-esque industrial nu-mathcore beatdown. Right from the off, they are vicious and acerbic, delivering violent, driving riffs which show no mercy or remorse as they grab you by the balls and shake you violently. Vocalist Alex Da Costa shows his years of experience in the pits, with his charismatic rallying calls to “rip this the fuck up”, while the huge presence of Junior Afrifa adds to the sense of friendly but nevertheless intimidating coercion to lay it down. Corey Hodges’ percussive work is precise and tightly fills the very few gaps in the soundscape, and Rhys Fraser’s guitar work is exemplary on every level. Intense and vibrant, this is one band who have “Bloodstock” written all over them…


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The task of going on last falls to Shrouded, a young band who have come on gigantic leaps and bounds since I first came across in yet another now sadly defunct venue a little more than two years or so ago (when guitarist Dani Kansanaho’s dad was helping the start-ups out by playing bass). In last year’s competition, they were somewhat nervous as they tried to battle their way through: this evening, as frontman Shane Hughes sorts out some last minute technical issues, a hooded Dani looks calm and confident. The resultant set is equally defiant and strong; the twin guitar harmonics between Kansanaho and Hughes are tight as fuck, and the bass and drum lines – from Jordan Thompson and Scott Neill respectively – are taut and precise. Bringing that underlying sense of the dramatic, combined with their youthful enthusiasm (which is, of course, what any metal scene needs to stay alive) this definitely is a young band with very big future ahead of them, especially if they maintain their parabolic curve of improvement.


And so we come to the results… and it’s the youngsters in Shrouded who deservedly top the poll with more than 27 per cent of the vote. They’re closely followed by Lock Horns, while their excellent recovery from their technical problems probably helps SLUTS to grab the coveted third place. Well done to all three bands.


The second Belfast semi-final – featuring Bakken, Beyond The Beneath, Elder Druid, Neamhní and Oracle – takes place at Voodoo on Friday 5 May. The final takes place on Friday 12 May.


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