It could only happen in Northern Ireland… yes, only here could we actually have THREE semi-finals for this year’s instalment of the annual Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition, as the battle to earn a place at the UK’s premier heavy metal fest released its intense final stages. But, such was the level of entries, and the relatively compressed timescale open to him (coupled with a dearth of suitable venues) meant that the local franchise-holder had no choice but to hold a three-way tag of bouts in the final knockout stage.
If this had been the forthcoming Euro 2016 championships, pundits would have described the first of the three “play offs” as a “group of death” – and so it proved to be, with counting and recounting, taking the votes down to five decimal places, ultimately resulting in a dead heat: the first time such a scenario has ever arisen in the history of M2TM!
Baleful Creed were the first into battle, with their dense, thick doom groove, menacing undertone and crunching riffs which possess a dark vibrancy. However, despite being as taut as a wound coil there’s something missing – a seeming lack of focus to the task in hand, and they just don’t set the bar high enough for the rest of the contenders.
Selene are a complete contrast, stylistically at least, with their ambitious operatic metal. Shonagh’s voice pierces the room like a laser, and it is clear from the off that the band have grown so much in confidence since their fall at the first hurdle last year; neverthless, Shonagh is still slighty nervous and frail in her between-song interactions, which belies the density of the band’s overall performance, and they do make a few mistakes, especially with their backing tape during ‘Blood’.
The fire brigade are parked outside the venue as the returning Sinocence (playing only their second gig in ten months, the first having been their heat-winning set exactly a week previously) set fire to the place with a positively incendiary set. Revitalized, re-energised and re-focussed, the Sins most definitely mean business. New drummer Ben is precise and vitriolic in his delivery, which seems so easy in its mechanism, and he most definitely has given the three guys standing in front of him a hefty kick in the rear ends, as they rise to the fresh challenge of opening the next chapter in their career.
Cursed Sun close off proceedings with their angry, angst-filled groove. Backed by taut rhythms and tight melodies, it’s an another energetic performance, both vocally and physically, from frontman Jones who, as ever, carries the performance with his charisma, commitment and in-your-face enthusiasm. And it’s an individual performance which is strong enough in its own right to earn the mid-Ulster crew a place in the final, alongside Sinocence, following that above-mentioned inseparable photo finish.
Following the tightness of the previous evening, the next night’s second semi seemed, on paper at least, to be something of a more straightforward affair.
So Long Until The Seance (or S.L.U.T.S) kick the Saturday night off with their ghoulish, gothic punk rock horror show. And they certainly have plenty of substance behind their make up and showmanship, while they’re also as hungry as the blood-crazed vampires about which they sing. They totally nail a cover of Twisted Sister’s ‘Burn In Hell’, right down to Mike’s Snider scowl, while the fireworks spouting from their guitar heads at the end of closer ‘Dead Pretty’ is suitably melodramatic touch.
Drakonis offer us pure, adrenaline-driven black metal of the highest quality, and which is more than capable of gracing any festival stage. Lee’s drums and Stephenie’s bass intertwine like Siamese, with the former’s double kick work simply stunning in both its precision and power, while the songs themselves contain massive melodies intertwined into the underpinning ferocity of their tight set. Cass Cassidy also is a confident and emotive frontman.
Molarbear‘s attitudinal alt-rock starts well, and their triple guitar attack certainly is a somewhat different approach, but it quickly becomes just a bit too dreary. Yes, they’re tight, and there are some deft touches in among their taut rhythms, but there is no focus or concentrated overall dynamic.
Acid Age bring this particular weekend of competition to a close with their brand of hyper-thrash: it’s loud and messy, energetic but discordant, tight but unsophisticated. Frontman Eddie Cross – who struggles to read the set list without his glasses – does manage to achieve something he couldn’t in the heat, and that’s not to fall on his hoop when he takes to the dancefloor, while the band themselves have plenty of energy, enthusiasm and punky spirit, making their set a fun way to round off affairs.
Like the previous evening, this second semi lives up to its expectation, this time of being something of a more straightforward affair, with the SLUTS clear winners over Drakonis in second place.
- The third and concluding semi-final – featuring Erosion, Scimitar, Shrouded and The Crawling – takes place at Limelight 2, Belfast, on Saturday 30 April. The grand final takes place at Voodoo on Friday 6 May.
- Bloodstock takes place at Catton Hall, Derbyshire, from Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 August.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.