And so, after five intense heats spaced out over six weeks, we arrive at the business end of the inaugural Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition here in Northern Ireland, with the first of the semi-finals. Twenty bands had entered the fray back in mid-February, and now we are down to the ten who had successfully battled their way through the opening rounds, with the first five of these promising a contest more tightly fought than that currently being undertaken in the political arena.
With the running order, as ever, having been decided by a draw just an hour or so earlier, the first act into the fray is A Little Bitter. Opener ‘Genghis’ isn’t quite as powerful as it had been during the previous weekend’s heat: but, that is down to the messy sound mix – and it is nevertheless a rousing opening. Added into this week’s set, erstwhile fan favourite ‘Jebus’ has an infuriatingly catchy chorus and harmony, while the trio weave dark melodies drawn from the deepest depths of human experience. Their dense grooves mix with highly technical machinations, which come across with laconic ease, and the band are enjoying themselves much more this time around, seeming much more relaxed and at ease with themselves.
The sound issues continue at the start of Conjuring Fate’s set, as the guitars are muddy and the vocals yelp and squeal. Nevertheless, their bravura and enthusiasm shine through and, following a particularly ferocious performance from drummer Boggy on ‘Trust No One’, the sound seems to have been sorted by the time they fire up ‘Chasing Shadows’ – a song which genuinely changes with every listen. The band seem to have an invisible bond, with each member seeming to know what the others are going to do before they’ve even thought of it themselves; Karl in particular – who until a year past had never set foot on a stage never mind played in a band – has really come out of his shell and, next to vocalist Tommy, is the showman of the group – even following fellow guitarist Phil onto the floor!
A double quick turnaround means that many are still in the loo – or downstairs seeking pints in proper glasses – when Sorrowfall unleash their tight, dense death metal on the tiny venue. Sleeve’s intense vocals contrast beautifully with the huge sweeping guitar melodies and also reflect the impact of the technically excellent material. Whirling like a dervish stage left, Poley is one man who was simply made to play Bloodstock, with his dreads flailing so furiously they threaten to whip the aforementioned pints off the aforesaid bar counter. Although Sleeve’s ramblings somewhat stunt the momentum in the latter half of the set, closer ‘Rise’ is simply Titanic-sinking in its heaviness yet uplifting in the vocalist’s almost darkly angelic delivery.
Donum Dei are just filled to overflowing with youthful anger, aggression and spunk with their classic thrash metal sensibilities combined with intense, unrestrained fury in all departments. The vocals in particular snarl and snap like a wolf and a python doing battle to the death: Thomas has grown so much in confidence over the past two years, and has brought the rest of the band along with him in this regard, as they play with an assurance many veteran acts probably would give their right arms to possess – and it’s surprising that the guys don’t destroy their instruments given the fury with which they pummel them. What is no surprise is that the room is absolutely dripping with sweat by the time the quartet declared that ‘Justice Fails’.
The sound issues which had been evident earlier in the night come to the fore again as the final act, Dead Addiction, kick off their set, with the guitars totally lost in the mix, which is all bass and vocals – although the latter is not a negative, as Niall definitely carries the show, especially with his self-deprecating declaration that “it’s once again a pleasure to be the last, and the shittiest, band on the bill”. He’s partially right, as their brand of glam-meets-NWOBHM probably would see them eaten alive by a Bloodstock audience. But, in any other arena, this is a tight young band with a good, positive attitude and a will to succeed, who play with an enthusiasm and commitment which bodes well for their continued development.
And so, with the room now mysteriously bathed in ambient “dance music”, the task of casting and counting votes proves yet another daunting one for all concerned, and another tighter-than-a-nun’s-crack result sees Conjuring Fate top the poll, with the young Donum Dei beating A Little Bitter by a single point to earn the coveted second place in the final in less than two weeks’ time.
The second semi-final of Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Northern Ireland takes place this coming Saturday (May 2) at Limelight 2. The competing bands are Altus, Overoth, ProXist, Rule Of Six and Sinocence. Doors open at 4pm and admission is £5. Once again, the running order will be decided on the day.
The final takes place at Voodoo on Friday May 8.
Photographs by The Dark Queen.