Awakening Hyperia. Ylem Darkul. MYST. Auraelis. Embodiment. Kikamora. Franklin Mint. Black Wasp.
Above are the names of the eight bands who have successfully made the semi-finals of Bristol’s Metal 2 the Masses, the eventual winner going on to appear at Bloodstock Open Air Festival in August. Tonight sees the heats come to a close; five bands, three slots at stake to bring the number of semi-finalists up to eleven, with a twelfth ‘Wild Card’ band being picked at a later date. Let’s do this.
Given that Iron Maiden began their latest tour the previous night in Belgium, it’s rather fitting that Minus Inferno open proceedings with the same twin-axe attack, trad metal sound of a band that clearly have had a huge influence on them. But what makes them even more impressive is that they sound like Maiden should have done when Blaze Bayley was fronting them. Energised, skilful and boasting huge tunes like ‘Sons of Odin’ with its catchy chorus and the stompfest of ‘Out of Ammo’, they might come across a little nervous in body language but they’re as tight as a drum and kick things off in impressive fashion. It’s something that could threaten lesser bands following them, but Voluntas take it all in their stride and crank things up a gear. A completely different beast to Minus Inferno, there’s more thrash and groove involved akin to bands like Machine Head and Lamb of God, but it’s no less impressive, especially when you consider they’re delayed slightly due to guitar issues. Songs like ‘Wolves’ and ‘Overdose’ have massive hooks and it doesn’t take long for heads to be banging and pits opening up across the Exchange floor. There’s also a great vocal trade off between frontman Mark Watkins and bassist Joe Barton throughout, showcasing different screams and tones but both complementing each other perfectly.
In an interesting twist, the next two bands do not feature a traditional guitarist in their ranks at all, and both are just as different from not only each other, but the other bands on the bill as well. Heirarchy are a two-piece that do brilliantly to avoid the ‘let’s compare every band with just a bassist and drummer to Royal Blood’ pitfall with their self-proclaimed ‘Chain Gang Punk’. It’s a really interesting cocktail – gritty and fuzzy but easy to listen to, the bouncy ‘Blind Man’s Soul’ going down particularly well along with ‘No Consequence’ (a little ‘fuck you’ song, according to bassist Scott Hegarty). Speaking of Hegarty, he and drummer Matthew Henkes are extremely talented musicians, locked in better than your favourite pub on a Saturday night and enjoying their set thoroughly. All of a sudden, the Exchange is a skank-fest with two-stepping the name of the game and it’s a buoyant mood that greets next act Mutant Thoughts, who proceed to space the entire venue out with a mixture of experimental and avant-garde rock that lends as much as it does to Pink Floyd as it does to Faith No More and Caspian. Metal it might not be, but a slot on the Valley stage at Hellfest or even the upcoming Desertfest in London would suit them perfectly, and as such they are a true part of our world. A brilliant rhythm section – bassist Joshua Lennox-Hilton especially – is married perfectly with the atmospheric synths and keys of frontman Han Luis Cera, and it makes for a compelling and intriguing set indeed.
Rounding things off on a contestant front are Panic Switch, who pack more groove than a pair of corduroy trousers during a bombastic set that rounds off a fine evening of talent. Again, the drumming is excellent – shout out to DDD – but it’s another all-round feast of metal for the ears, heavier than a heavy thing and showcasing some huge Pantera vibes especially during the crushing ‘Lethal Intent’ and the awesome ‘Mindless Overdose’. It’s a raucous conclusion to the main contest and then headliners We Come From Ashes give us a huge slab of brutality to bring the music to a wonderful close. As we’ve seen before, these Metal 2 the Masses heats are not clear-cut and it proves again tonight with the judges and audience votes coming down to the wire. But only three bands can go through, and so it’s Panic Switch, Voluntas and Mutant Thoughts who make the grade and will go on to the semi-finals on either May 28th or June 3rd. The road to Bloodstock grows ever closer…
Photo gallery by Becky O’Grady