As, a few hundred yards away, Belfast joins the rest of the country in marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day, five of Northern Ireland’s finest groups of metallians have come together in a darkened city centre venue to see which of them will secure just as momentous – to them at least – a victory as they gather to do battle in the final of the first ever Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition to be held in this corner of the planet we call Mosh and earn themselves a coveted slot on the festival’s prestigious Hobgoblin New Blood Stage.
It’s also a battle which, in the tradition of many conflicts of yore, also pitches brother against brother – both literally and metaphorically, as not only are Sinocence drummer Davy Cassa and Cursed Sun vocalist Jones siblings, but members of the Sins and Overoth (in the shape of guitarists Anto McCaughley and Andrew Pennington respectively) are usually found standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the Nights Watch (for those of you who don’t know, the TV epic ‘Game Of Thrones’ is filmed here in Northern Ireland).
An appropriately decent crowd has gathered both stagefront and at the bar by the time the first band storm the beachhead. The youngest band on the bill, Donum Dei, as I have said many times before, have battered their way up through the local heavy metal ranks over the past couple of years and now are more than capable of giving many more experienced acts on the NI scene a run for their money – as they have proved consistently throughout this competition. However, tonight, initially at least, they seem a little off: technical problems mean that their set gets off to a false start, and the boys are visibly nervous, not seeming as brash and confident as many of those assembled know they can be. But they very quickly find their feet, especially as frontman Thomas (pictured right) grows in confidence as the set progresses, and by ‘Terrorize’ he is in command of the stage, his troops and the cannon fodder in front of him. By close ‘Justice Fails’ they have refound their passion and inner fury, with a large proportion of the crowd singing along while Thomas, Dean and Stuart dive headlong and onto their knees in the midst of the pit.
The dimming of the stage lights, to be replaced by candles, and the sickly sweet aroma of incense heralds the arrival of Overoth, their faces suitably blackened for the pending onslaught. As a result of this competition, which they have treated with the respect it deserves, they have played more gigs in their hometown than in the preceding two years. With Andy (pictured left) a towering presence front and centre, and guitarists Dan and Andrew threatening to snap their necks with the intensity of their headbanging, the quartet launch a furious death metal assault which saturates every sense with its brutal intensity, dense melodies, nihilistically apocalyptic riffs and superb mix of atmosphere and dark passion that literally tears the breath from your lungs and the ether from your soul, once again proving that here is one band more than able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best on the Scandinavian scene – and most likely beat them to a bloodied and snivelling pulp.
Sinocence are by far the most experienced band on the bill – and it shows… to a degree. Opener ‘Long Way Down’ crunches, growls and grunts with its usual “fuck you” animosity, while the fast and furious “Wake The Fuck Up” call of ‘Making A Monster’ maintains the manic momentum and ‘Ascension Code’ broils and seethes yet spits with volcanic fury… but the mixes on both Moro’s vocals and Cassa’s snare are both far too high end, and the Sins are trying just a little too hard to match the heaviness of the previous bands. Nevertheless, they prove once again that they probably are the bar-setting band of the local metal scene, especially with the brooding, lascivious ‘Perfect Denial’, which is delivered with a particularly dark ferocity.
The odds had seemed stacked against Conjuring Fate, as drummer Bogdan had been forced to fly home to his native Poland just a few days beforehand. But, up to the plate steps one Niall Mgrotti, from north west thrashers Bäkken – and, despite not even having had the chance to soundcheck with the band never mind get a full rehearsal with his temporary colleagues, he proves his utter professionalism as, right from the neatly timed intro to opener ‘House On Haunted Hill’, he completely nails the set, not dropping a beat and even improvising as needed. The other real hero of the show is Karl Gibson, who is getting cheekier with every show and is now definitely vying with frontman Tommy Daly (pictured left) in the charisma stakes – especially during the Dragonforce pisstakes on both ‘House… and closer ‘Backwoods Witch’, while taking his own playing to a whole new level on the latter with his acerbic interjections, counterpointing the fluidity of Phil Horner’s coupling solos. Highlight of the set is most definitely ‘Chasing Shadows’, a song that just gets better with every listen to its hugely anthemic and potentially arena-filling sound.
The rules of the competition state that five bands must compete in the final, so the local organizer – and here we must give a massive shout out to the one and only Mr James Loveday of The Distortion Project, who almost singlehandedly has kept the Norn Irish metal scene on its feet for the guts of the past decade and a half – picked a wildcard from the best performing third placed acts… and not just from the semi-finals (which would have been the easy option), but from the entire competition.
And so it is that Cursed Sun find themselves tasked with bringing the evening to a close. With fellow journalist Johnny Five Shirts still sorting out his wardrobe (and repelling every woman in a 200 mile radius with the sight of his beer belly) to the right of the stage, ‘Unleashed’ proves an appropriate opening battle cry. Frontman Jones is a pent up ball waiting to be, well, unleashed with the power of a Himalayan earthquake: he doesn’t stand still for a single second, going on his trademark walkabouts, climbing on anything on which he can balance and, with his piercing contact lenses staring into the very souls of everyone present, cajoling (and even confronting) everyone to move forward and join the party. Unfortunately, however, the crowd numbers have fallen off considerably, but the quartet’s hardcore-meets-thrash riffs and deep grooving rhythms are taut: yes, the band themselves are somewhat static and get on with the job in hand, but when you’ve a frontman as athletic and febrile as Jones, there’s not much else you really need to do!
The battle had been waged. The warriors had fought with courage and honour, and they were suitably bloodied and exhausted. All that remained was to acclaim and give homage to the victors. Bloodstock head honcho Simon may have needed several stiff brandies to fuel his own courage to make the announcement that darkness will descend upon Catton Hall on the first weekend in August, as Overoth claimed the laurels.
- The discussions which led to the first ever Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses being held in Belfast took place during a music conference hosted by Belfast City Council last October. In recogniton of this, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Guy Spence, will host a reception for Overoth prior to their departure for Bloodstock – the first time that a heavy metal band has been invited into the hallowed surroundings of Belfast City Hall. Needless to say, PlanetMosh will be there to record this historic occasion.
Photographs by The Dark Queen.
The remaining Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses finals take place as follows:
Saturday 16 May – Sandnes (Norway), Club Tribute
Sunday 17 May – Exeter, Cavern
Saturday 23 May – Wolverhampton, Fixxion Warehouse
Sunday 24 May – Brighton, Green Door Store
Friday 29 May – Glasgow, Ivory Blacks
Saturday 30 May – Selby, The Venue
Sunday 31 May – Crewe, The Box
Thursday 4 June – Norwich, The Brickmakers
Friday 5 June – Luton, The Castle
Saturday 6 June – Reading, Facebar
Sunday 7 June – London, Purple Turtle
Saturday 27 June – Cardiff, Fuel Club
Saturday 27 June – Liverpool, Crazyhouse
Sunday 28 June – Manchester, Grand Central
Friday 3 July – Oxford, The Bullingdon
Saturday 4 July – Mansfield, Intake Club
Saturday 4 July – Corby, Zombie Hut
Saturday 11 July – Bristol, The Fleece
Saturday 11 July – Burnley, Sanctuary Rock Bar
Sunday 12 July – Birmingham, Roadhouse
Bloodstock will be held at Catton Park, Derbyshire on 6 -9 August. Tickets for Bloodstock 2015 are available via the 24hr ticketline on 0871 230 5584 or online, priced at the very reasonable £135 (plus booking fee) for a four-day Thursday through Sunday weekend ticket with camping. VIP packages and upgrades are also available, plus pre-booked car parking pitches. Camper van pitches are now all sold out. Keep up to date with the very latest info on Bloodstock’s official Facebook and website.