It’s funny how little phrases stick with you… I remember spending many early Saturday evenings in my youth sat in front of my grandmother’s television, watching a bunch of grown men and women, who really should have known better, running round huge inflatable obstacle courses while other, invariably bigger, grown men and women tried to stop them from achieving their end goal of success. Winding the clock forward a couple of decades to another early Saturday evening, and this time it’s a darkened nightclub in which I am sat – but, it’s still very much a case of “Contestants Ready!” as the first set of contenders take to the stage for the opening heat of this year’s Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition here in li’l old Northern Ireland.
The spirit of competition is evoked right from the off by Cursed Sun’s charismatic frontman Jones, as he snarls “It’s time to play the game” before the mid-Ulster groovers kick off proceedings with ‘Primordial Chaos’. Jones is certainly an energetic frontman, leaping on and off the stagefront barriers and in and out of the crowd with the dexterity of an Olympic gymnast, while the four, somewhat more stoical, musicians behind and beside him deliver their deeply complex and dense melodies in a way which lies between Pantera, Lamb Of God and Megadeth. It’s a great start and certainly raises the bar for the younger bands tasked with following them into the arena.
The remaining three bands have travelled the short distance up the motorway from Lisburn, and it’s obvious that they’ve also brought a heavy contingent of supporters with them. The first of this triumvirate of metallians to enter the fray are Wardomized, who start off in classic thrash style but quickly take on an altogether darker hue with their dense new single, ‘Strained‘. Their style is somewhat confusing, as they switch sub-genres quicker than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks, even throwing in elements of grind on the likes of ‘Suicide Death Rock’. But, frontman Stephen McKeown has a decent enough stage presence, and the sound is tight.
Shrouded‘s technical death metal gets the heads assembled on the barrier banging right from the off. The youngsters display a very hungry attitude and a hugely confident demeanour, showing that they are definitely up for the challenge this night brings them. There is plenty of movement – Dani even strikes the classic “foot on monitor” pose during his solos – and interaction with the crowd, showing that they have matured immensely since their somewhat shy appearance in this same competition this time last year.
Deathbus seem to have shipped in the most fans, as they immediately open up the first proper pit of the evening. But, almost as immediately, their set threatens to become more of a car crash, as they suffer the first of many technical problems with Ale’s guitar, which plague their foreshortened set. Like Wardomized before them, they can’t quite make up what style they want to be, lurching from thrash to punk to crust and even goth. Having said that, they certainly possess plenty of vim and energetic zest – and the biggest kudos of the night must go to their drummer, John, for battling through with a broken hand before finally being forced to curtail their set after 20 of their allotted 30 minutes.
And, so it came to the judging… For those unfamiliar with the Metal 2 The Masses concept, this is done by voting, with the audience accounting for 50 per cent of the vote, with the rest being decided by a panel of judges. And, boy it was a close call, with promoter James Loveday’s trusty abacus revealing only four points separating all four acts – but, at the end of the day, Cursed Sun and Shrouded emerge the victors and deservedly progress to the next stage.
- The second Metal 2 The Masses Northern Ireland heat takes place at Voodoo, Belfast, on Thursday 18 February, when Baleful Creed, Erosion, Skypilot and So Long Until The Seance will be competing for a place in the semi-finals, which take place at the same venue over the weekend of 15/16 April. Voodoo will also host the final on Friday 6 May.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
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