When the first semi-final of Bristol’s Metal 2 the Masses took place the city was in the throes of a festival weekend, with both Dot to Dot and Love Saves the Day going on at the time; the same holds true for the second, with Let’s Rock Bristol going on across the centre at Ashton Court Estate. But whilst the punters up there are dancing to the likes of Gloria Gaynor and the Village People, down at the Exchange six more bands that qualified from their heats are looking to join Franklin Mint, Panic Switch and Embodiment in the Grand Final and get another step closer to that coveted spot at Bloodstock Open Air 2017 in August.

It’s Awakening Hyperia who kick us off tonight, and the young guns have come on in leaps and bounds since they last played. Having appeared in the very first heat, they’ve had to wait the longest to take to the stage again and they make up for lost time, with a stellar half hour set that opens with Breathe and contains a solid cover of Pantera’s Walk. As with the last semi-final, tributes to the late Paul Jocelyn are made with Perception and the quartet use the stage to great effect. The dynamic between frontman James Chakraverty and guitarist Morty Forrester is superb: the pair have a brilliant understanding on stage and show great presence and charisma together; special mention as well to Rich Earle, their stand-in bassist who plays as if he’s been in the band for years. True, the circle pit they tried to start falls on deaf ears, but they make every attempt to put on a show and for that, they have to be applauded. The same holds true for Black Wasp, who also do their best to put on a performance and for the majority of their set, all is good. They’ve taken on board feedback from last time and look more of a unit onstage, which results in a more engaging presence and gives their punk rock an extra edge that’s well received. Maverick frontman Gacy Zodiac has also brought his antics down half a notch – there’s no microphone bashing this time around – and for a 17 year-old he cuts a rather imposing figure. Just like their heat Passion Operatics is the absolute highlight and there’s even a political statement made when mannequin heads of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are brought out and the former is destroyed to massive cheers. However, things get edgy when Zodiac’s stage banter strikes a nerve and the atmosphere deflates rapidly, the final song paling in the wake of what’s come before. It’s a real shame because it’s been a huge effort from the guys tonight and a stumble at the end may have cost them dearly.

The halfway point of the evening is brought up by Mutant Thoughts, who swap the schizophrenia of Black Wasp for something much more ethereal and reflective. It’s a true sonic experience and songs like The Dream sound far bigger than the venue they’re being played in; you could definitely see them drifting across an open air stage at a festival somewhere. They also manage to tap into a dynamic of being incredibly groovy without ever being metal, which allows for their music to take on a whole different meaning of the word ‘heavy’ and presents a psychedelic, other worldy feel that wastes little time in transporting your mind away from the room you’re stood in. The trio finish off with a brand new song from their upcoming EP that’s greeted warmly, and whilst they’re happy to mention they’re not a metal band, they’ve certainly made a few friends tonight. Voluntas, on the other, are most definitely in the metal version of ‘groovy’. There appears to be a slight stumble in opening song The Price Is Blood but it’s quickly recovered and from then on it’s a storming set with a quite brilliant rendition of Machine Head’s Aesthetics of Hate thrown in for good measure. Another band that have improved as time has gone on, they look much more assured of themselves and frontman Mark Watkins freely admits they’re having too much fun on stage, a point proved by drummer Alex Bennett who manages to fit a dab behind his kit in second number War Torn and not miss a beat in the process. It’s a confident, classy performance from a group of guys only on their fifth performance ever, and the pits that ensure are flying at breakneck speed; definitely one to watch for the future.

And then, there’s Kikamora. There are a few punters floating around showing their support via t-shirts which hasn’t occurred up until now, and the cavernous space between the stage and the front row of the audience has been completely swallowed by people wanting to get as close as possible – and with good reason. Kikamora are on fire, their sublime classic rock coming straight out of the 1970’s and sending one of the largest crowds on this Metal 2 the Masses run into raptures. The rumbling, powerful Set About makes way into a brilliant song around Old Rosie cider and onto to the groovy, suave tones of the closer Half Rats which sees the band unleash their secret weapon – saxophonist Frankie Povey. Lead guitarist Jimi Bessant oozes charisma and his playing is as silky as they come, but the star is frontman Wilf Kite who has rolled both well-known AC/DC frontman into one, moving like Brian but sounding like Bon. It’s a complete triumph tonight and leaves the rest of the competition on note. Following that would be too much for most bands, but MYST aren’t most bands. Converting the energy from high octane partying into a dark ball of antimatter, they’re completely mesmerising and opening track Ouroboros sees heads banging and frontman Andy Squibbs cut a very imposing figure onstage, helped out by some truly eerie backing vocals from Lewis Tunstall and Stuart Boyde. The hypnotic Revenant Queen and The Noise follow, the latter featuring a great guitar solo, and Squibbs ventures out into the audience for Keep Eyes Sharp onto a smaller side stage set up previously. It’s a great use of venue space and the band bring the competition element to an excellent close with the ever-brilliant WURM.

Once guest headliners Triaxis have reminded everyone why they’ll be sorely missed when they split up in the first half of next year, it’s down to the results and it’s another incredibly close finish, but it’s announced that Kikamora, Awkening Hyperia and MYST are the chosen trinity to make up what is a very strong Grand Final lineup for Metal 2 the Masses this year. The 2nd July is going to be something special…

Photos by Becky O’Grady