So it all comes down to this. After six heats, two semi-finals, covers of ‘You Suffer?’, drummers dabbing mid-set and busts of Theresa May being destroyed, there’s one more hurdle for the six bands affectionately dubbed ‘The Best in the South West’. Tonight it’s all about going harder than ever before, giving every ounce of energy possible and then leaving it in the hands of the metal gods themselves that they will progress to Bloodstock Open Air in August. The sun is shining, the cider is flowing and even the lure of Grillstock down the road can’t tempt the punters away from the Exchange. Welcome to Metal 2 the Masses Bristol: The Grand Final. Let’s get it on.
If ever an introduction was needed to sum up the evening ahead, Panic Switch’s foreboding air raid siren coupled with the bemusing cry of ‘I’m too drunk to taste this chicken!’ certainly does the trick. As the competition has progressed the five-piece have gone from strength to strength, especially vocalist Alex Vujakovic who gives his most fearsome performance to date. The dual guitar solo in Wrong Turn is spot on and closing number Lethal Intent has plenty of stomp to it as well; sadly the sound gremlins raise their heads enough to impact on proceedings. Franklin Mint make the brave move of opening with a brand new song, Bullies and Thieves, so for it to be warmly received is probably of great relief to them. Described as ‘a protest song for someone who’d never been on a protest’, it’s this tongue-in-cheek attitude that has given the band such a great edge in this competition and they go all out this evening: Tiny Gyroscopes threatens to blow the roof off the building and the utterly bonkers, System of a Down-esque Animal Balloons gets even more surreal with every rendition. They’re as daft as a brush, Franklin Mint, but utterly capitivating.
With banners displaying their logo and floor lighting projecting up across their frames, Awakening Hyperia are doing everything they can to give the Exchange a full on show. Energetic and interactive throughout, it’s quite incredible that they’ve not even been together a year because they’re as tight as a drum and have the chops with songs like Breathe to really go far. It’s not quite perfect tonight: there are feedback issues and the vocals between James Chakravarty and Barney Forrester are flat at points, but it’s a storming set otherwise and their cover of Pantera’s Walk is absolutely blinding; props as well to guitarist Lewis Blake of Heaven Asunder, standing in for Barney’s brother Morty and not showing in the slightest that he’d only had two rehearsals with them prior to the show. Then, things get a little more, erm, Myst-erious; okay, the pun is terrible, but there’s no doubt that Myst are an uncompromising force, one that will take you on a dark and twisted journey whether you like it or not and leave you utterly breathless. The strobe lighting is very effective and their story of despair and bleakness never fails to take punters out of their comfort zone, but there’s something missing tonight. It seems a much more reserved performance and songs like Revenant Queen don’t hit the heights that they usually would, the band themselves admitting they had tech problems during the set which may well have hindered them. How disappointing that factors out of their own control have managed to compromise them.
As with their semi-final, Kikamora have packed out the Exchange and with every song that finishes the cheers get louder and longer. Like Franklin Mint, they too debut a new song entitles Wrong Place, Right Time which goes down an absolute treat and sees Wilf Kite (who can add Robert Plant, Axl Rose and Sammy Hagar to the vocalists he channels after previous remarks concerning Bon Scott and Brian Johnson) bring out his harmonica to add another layer onto their driving classic rock. Guitarist Jimi Bessant is on absolute fire tonight and a big mention must go to rhythm guitarist Daniel Marshall and bassist Rob Ives, who last time seemed a little reluctant to get forward but tonight are front and centre with everyone else. Saxophonist Frankie Povey is also a delight, giving proceedings an extra dimension that reaffirms just how special Kikamora are as a band. It must be daunting for any band having to perform after that but Embodiment turn up and lay waste to the venue in the most devastating fashion. They also play new material but up the ante and showcase three new tunes in the shape of Passion for Profit, Reality Insanity and Dragged Into Hell, all of which are incite plenty of headbanging and are ridiculously heavy. What’s even more impressive is that they stand up to the likes of live staples Captured Vanity and Infested with ease, thereby adding to Embodiment’s repertoire and allowing their set to crush everything in its way and take no prisoners whatsoever.
Now, drum and bass/rock outfit Pendulum will have you believe that their song Blood Sugar is ‘the sonic recreation of the end of the world’. They’re wrong – it’s Mortishead. Winners of the last M2TM Bristol in 2015 and hosts of the competition this time around, imagine commando crawling across broken glass with the flies undone on your jeans and you’re close to just how abrasive and savage they are in a live setting. Playing a number of tracks off their upcoming EP, Totality, they are nothing less than a twelve-legged juggernaut, giving off Slipknot vibes aplenty with their matching armbands and sampler Nick Luxa-Richards in a mask and prowling the stage a la Sid Wilson. Final song Eat Shit sees a mass stage invasion follow a vicious circle pit and when the dust has settled, it’s clear that Mortishead have taken everyone else to school this evening. All that’s left is for Simon Hall of Bloodstock themselves to announce the winner, and it’s EMBODIMENT who have taken the Bristol crown and will progress to the festival in August, a decision met with cheers and applause from all corners. Yet again, this competition has proved that, as long as there’s air in our lungs and blood in our veins, rock and metal aren’t going away any time soon. See you all in 2018 to do this all again, yeah?
Photos by Becky O’Grady. This was Becky’s last show for PlanetMosh, and I want to personally thank her for all of her work over the past 18 months or so. She’s been a brilliant partner in crime and I will miss her dearly.