It’s April 29th 2017, the night of the biggest fight of the century. Expectations are high as to who will deliver the goods on the big stage as the combatants touch gloves and the bell rings. Yeah, it’s time for Dublin to decide what two bands will complete the final line up for this year’s Metal 2 The Masses Ireland. The road to Bloodstock is getting shorter.
Fronted by the enigmatic Prospero, Freemen kick the evening off with a bruising display of musical attacks and ripostes. The tone of Prospero’s voice is so close to that of David Draiman, you would think they share the same DNA. The band were a new addition to M2TM Ireland in 2017 and for a fledging band they have quite a strong fanbase who have turned up to support. Mirek’s guitar work is tight and his solos match perfectly with the songs. Freemen are relishing their semi-final appearance and giving it 100%, so much so that drumsticks are broken during the second song. While Maciek rummages for a replacement, with only a kick and a cymbal keeping the beat, he is given a few sideways glances from his bandmates. To their credit, they do not drop a note and pick the song back up without a note being lost. Professional, tight and a band to watch out for in the future, Freemen are not going to be held back for long.
The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back have returned from their Russian tour with a sense of determination and focused confidence. Drawing the second slot this evening, they proceed to assault each and every earhole in the room. The obvious comparisons to Slipknot will always be there but it’s the sheer energy of their onstage performance that gives TDWHSB an edge over many of their opponents. Relatively new boy Damien has settled well into the ranks and his performance matches the intensity of his metal accomplices. Stephen spends most of the 30 minute slot almost hanging over the crowd from a ceiling bar. He does foray to their ranks at one stage to ram home the message that The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back are here and mean business. Mick Hynes on the right hand side shreds like his life depends on it while the ever-moving Dylan Scully on bass is possibly the beating heart of the band. Life on the road suits bands like TDWHSB, you just don’t learn this level of stage presence in a rehearsal studio. With a massive following, they get the room pumping and will most certainly be in the running to progress tonight.
Xerosun are third up tonight. Hoping to replicate the path of last year’s winners Ten Ton Slug who also were a wildcard choice, they hit the ground running like a freight train with no brakes. Easily the most musically complex outfit in the competition, the level of musicianship is breathtaking. Martyna has truly grown as the leader in Xerosun. The variance in her voice is shockingly beautiful. She was always destined to be in a heavy metal band. On the night, I find their samples to be a little over bearing in the sound mix but it doesn’t seem to faze the audience who are banging their heads in a ballroom blitz of djent destruction. The quality guitar precision of Fiachra and Gareth does not go unnoticed. Xerosun bring pulverising power that is going to leave many a crowd member flagging during the remaining acts. A solid performance from an international class band.
Being one of the bands who qualified from the first heat back in January you could be forgiven for letting Na Cruithne fall off the radar. Thankfully, like a stealth bomber they have swooped in to Fibbers for this semi-final and drop the mother of all bombs on the stage. The crowd has swelled and the floor has become party central. Ciaran on bouzouki and tin whistle with Ana on fiddle form the backbone of their Celtic sound. Add onto this the sonic maelstrom from Lisa, Rónán and Thomas and you get their tour de force of folk metal. Many bands of this ilk fall into the cliché traps but Na Cruithne’s secret weapon is the passionate belief in their music and culture. In a mirroring coincidence; just as Anthony Joshua was finishing off his opponent in the 11th, Maitiú Ó Héanú leads Na Cruithne to deliver a knockout blow for the evening. If they make it to the final, they have to be one of the favourites. I could see them decimate not only the newblood stage, but I reckon they would obliterate the Thursday night crowd on the Sophie stage at Bloodstock.
Aussie/Irish 4 piece Jailbirds close out this semi-final as the midnight hour approaches. With the three string slingers turned to Jay on the drums as the first chords are laid down, they turn in unison and spend most of the set past the monitors as close to the crowd as is possible without it becoming carnal. For a recently birthed band, they have the stagemanship and performance credentials of a band well beyond their years. By all accounts, their recent support slot with The Answer was close to matching the headliners. Frontman Axel is a tornado of hair and guitar licks, never taking a second to stop as he whirls around the stage. Bassist Jamie does his best not to be upstaged and is found standing atop the bass drum mid set. Although they are hampered by technical issues and numerous guitar changes Jailbirds play Rock ‘n’ Roll as it should be; dripping with sweat, tears and joyful abandon. Rhythm guitarist Ed falls to his knees like James Brown as they strum the final notes of their set. Jailbirds cannot be faulted for their commitment and with a French tour just announced this band is just beginning an interesting journey that can only finish at the top.
Jesus H Christ on a fucking Harley Davidson; that was some night for a semi-final. I could literally have picked all of the bands to play the final. On the night the crowd chose The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back and the judges’ choice was Na Cruithne. They join Sectile, Call To Arms, zhOra and Antidotes for what will be another fantastic showcase final for Irish metal on May 13th.
All photos by Steve Dempsey of Down The Barrel Photography
All bands are encouraged to download and use the photos where needed. Full permission is granted from Steve because that’s what this whole M2TM beast is about. Get them here >> Flickr Page.