Six heats saw nineteen bands become twelve, and this dirty dozen are just one performance away from the Grand Final of Metal 2 the Masses Bristol. But only half of them can make it there, so six are back in the Exchange for the first Semi Final. which tonight is tinged with sadness after the passing of long-time sound engineer Paul Jocelyn. A mainstay of the local scene, he worked tirelessly across many of the venues to give every single band that graced the stages the best that they could muster, and the hole he’s left will never quite be filled. We won’t see his likes again; rest easy, PJ.
But onto more positive things, and it’s Ylem Darkul who open up proceedings tonight, one of the first bands to get through to this stage way back at the beginning of February. Bathed in red and without their corpsepaint of before, their blackened thrash is even more devastating than last time, with vocalist Sam sounding particularly menacing, especially during the sinister Malleus Maleficarum. Special credit as well goes to their drummer, who has learnt their entire set in just two weeks and doesn’t let on at all, providing a strong foundation for everyone else to play off. There isn’t much interaction between members on stage, but they’re at complete ease with one another; just five blokes playing music and to the very best of their abilities. It’s a strong start indeed, but one that Aurealis are very capable of matching with more groove than the combined length of vinyl in Rise Records up the road. Second song The Inner Paradox hits hard and fast, with the Maiden-esque solos of Dan Budsworth and Dan Robins combining brilliantly, but it’s the epic Dirge Through the Darkened Soul that is the absolute highlight tonight, a true journey in every respect. Everyone is enjoying themselves, particularly bassist Jan Pataj who is having a lovely time on stage, and as they close with the thrash of The Thickness of Blood, it’s been a tremendous set from a very competent band.
Franklin Mint, undoubtedly the surprise package of the competition so far, appear to have incorporated elements of their previous band Gargantuan since they played last, because they sound a hell of a lot heavier than their heat and yet have kept the bounce and brilliance of their funk-punk-rock concoction. The result is dynamite. Opening track Balloon Animals, comprising lyrics of health and safety messages, is just as bonkers as it sounds – but at least nobody’s going to think about eating silica gel for the near future. Tiny Gyroscopes is becoming a firm fan favourite and sets the floor alight and a reworking of Mr Jones Loves Skull and Bones goes down a treat too. It’s the panache of Wormhole which tops the lot however, with a superb riff that that gets people stomping and skanking in equal measure. Following this is no easy task but Alatyr, given a second bite of the cherry via a wildcard slot, take it all in their stride and succeed in sending all present punters down the road to darkness. Steph Kiddle has a serious set of pipes on her and leads from the front with a snarl and a roar, the band taking the opportunity to debut a brand new song with the working title Machete and power through a ferocious rendition of Falsified. The crowd are fully behind them every step of the way, and it’s quite clear that they’ve taken their second with both hands and beaten it into submission.
The penultimate semi-finalist is Panic Switch, who open their set with a rousing shout of ‘I’m too drunk to taste this chicken’ and quickly set about annihilating the place. Second song Chugging Noughts lives up to its name with a real Lamb of God/Pantera vibe and inducing mosh pits across the floor, whilst Wrong Turn (played at the second time of asking after being introduced early by accident) is absolutely crushing in every respect and throws a dash of nu-metal into their already impressive sound. The band also take a moment to pay tribute to every act that’s played tonight; it’s certainly been a step up in quality since the heats and Embodiment continue the trend impressively, intent on living up to the age-old phrase ‘saving the best for last’. With huge breakdowns throughout and a number of great songs including Voices and Captured Vanity, they bring the competitive side of the evening to a deafening and brutal close. Guitarist Finn Maxwell is at the top of his game – one guy asks if he’s actually completed the instrument – playing pretty much every single genre besides flamenco and reggae throughout Embodiment’s half hour set, whilst drummer Leslie Preston also puts in a brilliant performance, keep everything tight at the back.
All that’s left is for guest headliners Forgotten Remains (playing their debut Bristol show) to blow away what few cobwebs remain with an onslaught of thrash metal that shakes the room to its very foundations. They’re loud, very loud, and songs like Dominating Aggression and Morbid Reality serve as testament as to why they’ve been setting metal on fire in recent years. Then it’s the moment of truth, and in another incredibly tight contest where the qualifying bands had one vote between them, it’s Franklin Mint, Panic Switch and Embodiment who progress to the Grand Final on July 2nd. It’s getting a little tiresome to say, but yet again the truth is that all six could have made it through, which just goes to show you how talented the underground metal scene is, and why competitions like this are so vital to give bands the platform they need to make it to the big time. Here’s to doing it all again in a week!
Photos by Becky O’Grady