With Storm Doris battering the country and Leicester City sacking title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the UK was descending into madness. Luckily, there’s none of that in Bristol tonight – or at least, not at the Exchange. Instead, it’s time for the second heat of Metal 2 the Masses and another four bands vying to join Awakening Hyperia and Ylem Darkul in the Semi Finals, taking a big step forward in their quest to play Bloodstock Open Air in August.
Opening a bill is never easy even at the best of times, so it’s a good job Chronos are on hand to set the bar so high there might as well be birds sitting on it. A gorgeous blend of Trivium, Metallica and Sabbath, the quartet are incredibly talented and take no prisoners in their approach to metal – that said, you wouldn’t expect anything less from a band whose Facebook ‘Band Interests’ simply states ‘Being metal’. It also doesn’t take much for people to warm to them; as early as the second song, people are headbanging and getting fully into what’s being dished out to them from the stage. Josh Bonafice’s guitar work is nothing short of exquisite and bassist Tom Chapman simply oozes charisma, whilst Jack Camp’s drumming is tight and thunderous. Front and centre is James Rideout, with a voice appropriately pitched between Matt Heafy and James Hetfield but boasting the extra edge of a guttural roar that would have no trouble in clearing the aformentioned birds from their roost; a strong start all round.
“Auraelis should go through because they’ve got great hair”, one punter is overhead saying to her friend. Sadly, the condition and shine of the five-piece’s flowing locks won’t get them through to the semi-finals but their technical thrash tells a different story, brutal and abrasive yet skillful and incorporating some quite brilliant duel guitar works reminiscent of Maiden, especially during Inner Paradox with Dan Robins and Dan Budsworth trading off licks and solos effortlessly. Elsewhere, the twists and turns in Dirge From the Darkened Soul keeps the audience hanging on every note (allowing frontman Jamie Moran to take a break and watch his bandmates from the floor) whilst finishing number The Thickness of Blood has a bounce and crunch that is rarely seen anywhere else. Oh, and they cover Napalm Death’s You Suffer as well, which is the best one-second blast of fury ever given to music.
Then, things take a bit of a sinister turn – Myst have arrived and waste little time in stamping their authority all over the heat. Bathed in minimal lighting, their brand of prog/blues/metal is incredibly unique and at times quite uncomfortable, but they never stop short of being utterly enthralling. From the moody and sprawling Ouroboros to the bite of Keep Eyes Sharp and the emphatic closer of The Noise, this is just as much performance art as it is a concert, pushing boundaries and continuing to bring everyone out of their comfort zone. This is down in part to frontman Andy Squibbs, who has the energy of a young Robert Plant but the spontaneity of Kate Bush in her prime. One minute he’s twisting and turning on stage, the next he’s in the audience singing every word directly into individual faces, grabbing their features and at one point dragging a girl down to the floor and nearly screaming every lyric from about three inches away. It’s hard to watch at times but utterly compelling.
Following something like that would unnerve a lot of bands, but Alatyr aren’t a lot of bands. Taking everything in their stride, they are incredibly professional in their approach to tonight and give everything they’ve got for the half hour they have to play with. Frontwoman Steph Kiddle is a ferocious entity, cutting an imposing figure and armed with a scream to rival the likes of Angela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz any day of the week, yet changing to clean singing in the blink of an eye and proving that there’s more to her pipes than just a snarl. Songs like Soul’s Bitter Cry and Falsified go down brilliantly as well, with some very meaty riffs and punishing drums on show throughout thanks to the superb musicianship of AJ Simsek and Aaron Brain. Make no mistake, Alatyr do nothing less than tear the Exchange a new one tonight and end proceedings on the best note possible.
As with Heat 1, it’s another blistering show and a real shame that all four bands can’t progress tonight, such is the talent on display. But that wouldn’t make it a competition, so when all the votes are tallied and the judges have reached their verdict, it’s the duo of Myst and Auraelis who progress to the semi-finals and take a big leap forward in their hopes of stepping onto the New Blood Stage at Catton Hall in the summer. Dilly ding, dilly dong indeed.