It’s Dublin on a Saturday night in May. There’s more than 350 people rammed into Fibber Magees and that can only mean one thing. It’s time for the Metal 2 The Masses Ireland Final 2017. Throughout the first half of this year thirty five bands have been whittled down to the last six as they go head to head for a place on the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock Open Air.
This is the fourth consecutive final that I’ve been involved with and I honestly cannot get over how every year my nerves are shot for those performing. The worst part about a final is that there can be only one and as the six immortals unsheath their blades to prepare for the onslaught you can sense that it’s going to be a special night. Overdrive and Jetrocker.com have done another stellar job with the organisation and promotion for 2017 and as the proverbial curtain is raised, Oran O’Beirne welcomes one and all to the Irish Metal showcase event of the year.
Opening the evening are debutantes, Sectile. Only an outfit since November they are one of the “finds” of the competition. If every new band was as tight as this, the record companies would have their work cut out for them. Sectile are an extremely talented group of musicians bolstered by their exceptional lead singer Gabriel Gaba. Frontmen cannot be apologetic for being the centre of attention. He plays to the punters, plays to the camera, is lost in the music from start to finish. This is how it should be done. When he unleashes his voice on the higher end of his spectrum it turns heads. I can hear hints of Jon Oliva when he lets himself go. At times the verse passages feel vocally safe but I think as Sectile grow, so will their songs. On a massive positive, there’s virtuoso level guitar solos from Mark O’Reilly (the last song has me rooted to the spot with hairs standing on the back of my neck) and the drumming from Zachary is technical wizardry. They’ve kicked the final in the arse in the opening slot and let the remaining acts see that sometimes the new guys are a big deal. Impressive.
Returning for their second consecutive final are Dublin upstarts… No!! I take that back. Call To Arms have grown up over the last few years and deserve respect. The days of youthful bravado have been replaced with a belief and confidence that has come from listening to advice and developing as a band. The venue is packed as the opening note rings out. Dean Donnelly stands with his back to the crowd and his arms in cruciform. When he turns, the crowd roars. The pits have officially opened this evening and by the looks of the crowd, they’ve been itching to beat the living shit out of each other like best friends on a dance floor. Daniel Tyrrell spills every ounce of passion into his guitar. Himself, Niall and Alex are more performance driven than I have ever seen them. Compared to last year’s show, this is bestial. Ronan is locking the whole set together at the back and they afford Dean the luxury to concentrate on working the crowd into a frenzy. I love seeing bands return to M2TM and tonight I’m glad CTA have because make no mistake, they left nothing in the locker room tonight. Well done lads.
9.30pm approaches and the painted tribesmen and women of Na Cruithne have assembled to catapult Dublin into party mayhem. Their fans have flocked to the front of the stage and I notice some of Rónán’s Slug brothers in slime in close proximity. I’ve not hidden my love of Na Cruithne in my previous reviews and once again this evening they do not disappoint. Yes , people can get caught up with the traditional instruments but tonight for me it is the bass of Thomas and the guitar of Rónán matched atop the percussive flavourings of Lisa Howe that gives the band true power. Ana and Ciaran weave their sounds from bygone times through a crushing soundscape that brings Celtic music into the modern era with professionalism and cultural respect. Matthew’s in between song banter is hilarious and there is no denying that Na Cruithne have to be one of the favourites tonight. The crowd reciprocates the enthusiasm. Reckless abandon abounds; hair flies throughout the room like a sea of joyous movement. If this band was to play at Bloodstock, they could rival some of the most memorable performances on the New Blood Stage. Búltúr Marú is a giant tonight and when Na Cruithne close their evening’s work, the crowd bay for more. A unique band in a saturated genre.
The second of our returnees tonight is zhOra. The Tipperary natives have been through a line-up change since last year’s final and they’ve also performed at WOA. The best bands grow and mature from such experiences and tonight is a masterclass of progressive heavy fucking metal. Colin talked to me during the evening about their sound growing and how initially they wanted to sound like certain bands but when they found their vision that was when it clicked. With Alan firmly settled into his role on bass, he delivers as much passion as his fellow sludgelords. Vocal duties are divvied between Colin, Panch and Tom which serves to create a futher sense of wonder with the aural manifestations they create. If I am to be critical, I need to see Colin at stage centre as his pained expressions are the visual interpretation of their sound. Imagine standing at the end of a valley and hearing the rumble of a herd of woolly mammoths approaching at speed. That’s how ominous zhOra are tonight. Mesmerising and menacing yet emotional and elegant. With a crowd member raising one of their deer skull mascots aloft as the set finishes, the venue is brought to its knees. In a worrying trend for tonight’s Judge Simon Hall from Bloodstock, this is the best I’ve seen zhOra and the blue and yellow flags could fly high at BOA should his vote be in their favour.
Our last debutante tonight is Antidotes. This band has come from off the radar as a true contender this year. The addition of Leigh Walsh on bass has given them the oomph they needed on stage. With the venue at breaking point, they dish out slabs of modern metal with riffs meatier than a bloody abattoir. Stephen, who is double jobbing tonight, takes his role as the frontman in his stride and spends almost all of his time leaning his guitar over the edge of the stage to the flailing arms of the fans. The semi final was the most impressive that I had seen them play and tonight they have matched the impact of that special night. Rob Gaffney’s guitar gives power to the song structures. The crowd is still going for it with circle pits and walls of death the order of the day. When heavy metal is delivered with such passion it is hard not to get caught up in the maelstrom. Retreating to the back of the venue to take in some water (it’s fucking cauldron level intensity tonight), the carnage is unforgettable. Crowdsurfing and stagediving proves that tonight, Antidotes have grabbed the crowd by the gizzards and are not letting them go. Killer.
Just when most of us are ready for the scrap heap The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back take to the stage to finish the audience off with a pummeling grandstand climax. How the hell Stephen Cannon is able to ditch the guitar and continue, nay increase, his intensity is an enigma. But he does and the Fibbers faithful do not let him down. He calls for action, he calls for blood and they duly deliver. Every single member of this band is relentless for thirty minutes of carnage. Damien Reagan was meant to be in this band, his showmanship is outstanding and he stands tall alongside Dylan and Mick. Riffs, breakdowns, scream along choruses and driving rhythms serve to make TDWHSB one of the hottest bands in Ireland. This is not music for the studio, it is not music to listen to on a fucking laptop. This is music written for the front row of a sweaty club. The Devil makes an appearance onstage towards the end as the band leave many with bruises and shit eating grins. The closing band have literally brought the house down and ended the most amazing showcase of Irish metal.
After what seems like an eternal deliberation in the M2TM towers, Simon Hall descends to deliver his decision. This year round he is collecting bands who impressed into a “bag of holding” and once he has an idea of slot availability extra M2TM bands may get the call. Fingers crossed for at least one more Irish band eh? Thanks are given to the organisers for their hard work that begins almost immediately after the previous years final and to the venue staff. The audience and all the band members are crammed so tight into the room for the verdict that some are inching up onto the stage. The winners of the M2TM Ireland 2017 title and going to Bloodstock are zhOra!! Congratulations.
In the aftermath, I’ve had time to reflect on what was yet another special night in Dublin. Being involved with Metal 2 The Masses is the single most rewarding experience that every photographer should embrace. I look forward to many more years of metal from the most talented set of musicians in Ireland. We should be proud of our scene and the friendships it cements. Our own support will keep our scene strong while mainstream media and record labels continually ignore the wealth of Irish creativity on their doorstep. Thanks to every single musician who has flipped me off, smiled or grimaced when I pointed the lens in their direction.
All bands are welcome to download full resolution versions of the photos here to use where they need.
Thanks to Overdrive, Jetrocker and EHT Promotions for their continued support.