The freight train that is Bloodstock’s annual ‘Metal 2 The Masses’ battle of the bands rolled into Northern Ireland for the first time this past weekend, with four bands with distinctly differing styles engaged in mortal combat for a place in the semi-finals later in the Spring.
With the running order decided by ballot earlier in the after, newcomers Paradigm were the first to enter the arena, with their alt-rock vibe reminiscent of a nascent Soundgarden. Caolan Derby’s rich bass sound slightly overwhelms Robbie O’Neill’s guitar in what is not the first unhelpful mix of the evening, but when the latter cuts through it does with a safisfying crunch and clatter, underpinned by Joshua Magee’s precise and technically excellent drumming and overtopped by Jason Kerr’s deep and confident vocals (albeit accompanied by a modicum of apparent stage fright…).
Next up, Altus are a band who, over the past two years or so, have changed their musical style more often than most people have rashers of bacon on their Ulster fry (and personally I like about ten of them!), but the current incarnation , with their heavily-grooved death metal approach, is by far the strongest. Bassist Terry McHugh, in particular, has come on leaps and bounds and integrates well with drummer Kieran Fitzsimons, while Dara Monaghan adds a whole new dimension to their melodic twin guitar harmonies, which perhaps they previously had struggled to attain. Tech problems again plague their set, but frontman Sleeve handles the situation very professionally, by attempting to conjure up a “We’re Having Technical Difficulties” singalong with the surprisingly unresponsive crowd.
Having stepped up to the plate at just a few days’ notice, following the withdrawal of fellow north-western crew Bäkken, Selene suffer the extreme misfortune of seeing their first ever live set all but decimated by the aforementioned technical issues. Any initial impact they may have had is totally destroyed by the inaudibility of both Shonagh Lyons’ vocals and John Connor’s guitars. With the singer clinging on to her mic stand as if her life depended upon its succour, the volume slowly rises – but, for an operatic band, the momentum already has been lost, especially as the mix continues to be patchy and incoherent at important times. Nevertheless, the band battle on and by their third track things have improved dramatically, at least on the aural front, with their huge, crunching, melodic riffs and dense, rich bass lines shining through. With bassist Thomas Alford by far the most animated, Shonagh sadly displays very little interaction with the crowd, at least until she introduces set closer ‘Blood’, with the result being a set that is, at the end, technically stunning but visually soul less. But, still, they’re a relatively young band (as mentioned above, this was their first time performing on stage together, making them very much the “new blood” in tonight’s pack) and time no doubt will tell if they can transfer the excitement of their recorded output to the live stage.
By complete contrast, the sheer experience of Sorrowfall – the most seasoned of the outfits tonight – shines through right from the off. Having recently emerged from a lengthy hiatus, and with the original line-up back together, the quartet take the seemingly brave step of presenting a set of all-new material – which, in turn, sees the band very much picking up where they left several years ago… guitarists Chris Polin and Chris Collins produced dark, densely layered melodies underpinned by the solid rhythm work of Sleeve – yes, the same guy who had earlier ripped up the same stage with Altus – and drummer Conor Edgar. As hinted, this is not a safe set, especially when Sleeve forsakes his normal death growls for clean vocals during the second half of closer ‘Rise’: but, it’s a move which is done to dramatic and superb effect and highlights the deeply complex yet massively melodic nature of Sorrowfall’s sound.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sorrowfall won both the judges’ and the audience votes on the night, with Altus nabbing the runners’up slot, with both bands accounting for 70 per cent of the overall vote to progress to the semi-final stage.
The second heat of Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Northern Ireland – featuring Cavehill, Donum Dei, Rule Of Six and Zombified – takes place at Limelight 2 on Saturday March 7.
Altus play Carnage Metal Club, Dublin, with For Ruin and Corr Mona on Friday March 27.
Selene play the PlanetMosh sponsored Blazefest V – with Conjuring Fate, Donum Day, Maverick, Screaming Eagles, Sinocence, The Irontown Diehards and Xerosun – at the Empire Music Hall, Belfast, on Saturday March 21. All proceeds are in aid of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Photograph of Selene courtesy of the band’s Facebook page.