Words by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
It’s hard to believe that another year has already passed, and the outcome of tonight’s momentous music contest could shape the future career of the victorious act. Yes, it’s Eurovision night in the Ukraine. Of course, we don’t give a fuck about that, because we’re in Fibber Magee’s in Dublin for the far-more-important final bout of the Bloodstock Ireland: Metal 2 The Masses competition.
The first gigs were held in January, and of the initial 35 Irish hopeful bands, just 6 remain standing after a round of 7 heats and 3 semi-finals. At each level, one band were chosen by the judges to progress, and another chosen by popular crowd vote, meaning that tonight, three of the bands qualified thanks to the judges and three thanks to fans and friends. For this crucial final, however, no expense has been spared and Bloodstock Festival patriarch Simon Hall has once again crossed the Irish Sea to adjudicate over the Dublin and Belfast finals. We do not envy him.
What better way to introduce each of the bands than to ask their fellow semi-final qualifiers?
Drummer Ronan Murphy of Call To Arms tells us about Sectile:
“Sectile were a band that we had not heard a lot about before the competition. From what I understand their first heat was one of their very first gigs! After watching their performance in the semi-final I was very impressed. The tightness of the performance and quality of songwriting would lead anyone to believe that they had been a band for a long period of time. We look forward seeing them perform again in the final.”
Sectile tell us about Call To Arms:
“These guys are absolutely brutal and their show made Fibbers seem like half the size that it is. An incredibly professional band, and their front man Dean has all the command of a drill sergeant (making their name pretty spot on)! They really deserved the judges’ vote and we hope to catch them again as soon as possible on or off stage.”
Colin Bolger of zhOra tells us about Antidotes:
“We know Stephen well as he has played in a few bands on the Dublin scene. We played with them for the first time in our semi-final heat and they were on top form. Well crafted songs, good stage presence and all round banter. I can’t fault them.”
Antidotes tell us about zhOra:
“Where do you start with zhOra? The guys are just insane. Some of the grooviest, heaviest tunes we had seen in Fibbers in a long time. They’re absolute legends in the Irish Metal Scene, and it’s easy to see why. Then you talk to them, and they’re just a sound bunch of lads ready for the sesh!”
Na Crúithne tell us about The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back (TDWHSB):
“Most of us hadn’t seen them live before the gig and we were really impressed. They put on a great show, and they’re a bit mad like us so we got along with them. Not surprised that they got through, looking forward to seeing them again in the final.”
Bassist Dylan Scully of TDWHSB tells us about Na Crúithne:
“We were absolutely blown away by Na Crúithne, we had never seen them before so we didn’t know what to expect, but they put on an amazing show and they’re an absolute spectacle to watch, and we’re really looking forward to seeing and playing with them again in the finals.”
We asked each of the bands to tell us about their most memorable or significant gig to date and why:
Call To Arms: I’ll cheat here and pick 2 gigs. One was supporting Avatar when they came to Dublin in 2014. This was significant in that it was the band’s 8th ever show and at the time the band was only 16/17 (previous drummer Ben was 14!). The reaction we received was incredible and we gained a lot of supporters that day. The other gig we played that was incredibly memorable was a BYOB gig in a run down block of flats/offices up in Belfast. We played with 6/7 other bands that night (including fellow finalists Antidotes). People were so drunk that they were just passing out and getting sick everywhere. Five minutes after we played we were advised to leave as the police were on their way to shut it down!
Sectile: We’ve only played three gigs so far! Out of those, we would have to say the most memorable would be our second one, Heat 5 of M2TM. This show was our first in front of a decent crowd and we really gave it our best shot. Once initial nerves had calmed down and we all felt we were really about to cut loose, we just let the set list pour of right out of us and it was an enormously fun show to play. The M2TM shows just have such an ecstatic atmosphere around them as well with so many talented acts playing and so many people enjoying the show. This was the first time we stepped into that and we were overwhelmed by it!
zhOra: It has to be Wacken Open Air. We played last year and it was truly amazing. Walking out on the stage in front of thousands of people and playing a blinder showed us that we are ready for the next step on this ladder. It was somewhat bittersweet as we know now we will never have a “normal” life. We are hooked!
Antidotes: The semi-final from a few weeks ago is definitely up there, but getting the opportunity to support Red Enemy, one of the biggest bands in Irish metal, was a dream come true, especially since it happened so early on. And if playing with Red Enemy wasn’t enough, the other bands on the bill that night were Bitch Falcon and Dead Label! It was a pretty insane experience for us, especially since we weren’t even going a year.
Na Crúithne: We played on the 2nd stage of Metaldays last year and it definitely stands out as one of our most memorable. We had plenty of support and we just did our thing. I think it gave us a bit more confidence when it comes to playing on a bigger stage.
TDWHSB: We played in a city in Russia called Samara, and actually managed to make history by being the heaviest band to be played on their radio station, as well as being the first Irish band to play in one of the biggest Irish pubs in Russia called Harat’s Pub, so that was pretty insane! The people were so good to us as well, even the people that didn’t like metal were so supportive of us.
Of course, the only gig that matters at this very moment is the one about to unfold. Sectile are first drawn out of the hat, and the venue is already bustling with fans and friends when they take to the stage at 8pm sharp. The band are an ideal gentle intro into the night with a genre rooted in progressive metal and deliver a set laden with catchy riffs and quite frankly one of the best vocalists we have witnessed at Metal 2 The Masses, period. Gabriel Gaba has a fantastic range and steals the show. It’s hard to believe that this is just their fourth ever live performance. They get a great reaction from the crowd, and really set the bar high for the other five bands to come.
Taking their second stab at the M2TM final, the next band always cause a stir in the audience. Call To Arms may be young but they’ve been playing on the Dublin metal scene since long before they could even legally get a pint (that’s 18 for our stateside readers), and they have deservedly built up a loyal fanbase. Tonight is no surprise then. Their set opens with the topless and tattooed frontman, Dean Donnelly, inciting the crowd to form a wall of death in the limited floor space available. And the chaos that ensues doesn’t let up until the end of their thirty-minute set. This is a band that is pure energy, channeled through their instruments and microphones and they have far to go. Once the crowd chants of “Call To Arms” have abated, Simon Hall puts it best when he describes their performance as the equivalent of being fist-fucked in the ear.
As usual, Simon doesn’t come to Dublin empty-handed. He has brought a weekend camping ticket to Bloodstock and a bottle of Kraken rum to the raffle, and lots of Kraken caps and T-shirts to give away. Throughout the night, he and the Dublin M2TM organizer Oran O’Beirne of Overdrive regularly remind the punters how important this event is and how crucial it is to support the scene by attending shows and buying merch from struggling bands.
The third band of the night has a distinctive Irish theme – Na Crúithne is based in Galway and plays folk metal with flavors of groove and black metal. Named after the first race of people in Ireland, the six-piece are tipped by many to win tonight’s competition thanks to their novelty (in a positive sense) and popular performances in the M2TM heats and semi-final. Frontman Maitiú Ó Héanú instructs everyone to move forward four-tenths of an inch (squared), in a light-hearted but successful attempt to lure the thirsty patrons away from the bar. The kilted and barefoot members belt out their trad-metal with the help of a mandolin, tin whistle, violin and probably some other quirky instruments we missed whilst participating in the medieval mosh pit. A great mix of craic agus ceol as Gaeilge, and we look forward to seeing them again soon.
Now past the half way point, the enthusiasm and camaraderie between bands and spectators alike is growing stronger as the drinks continue to flow. A well-oiled crowd prepare themselves for another assault of the senses from Tipperary-based zhOra, and while it may be a long way to their hometown, it’s an even longer way to Bloodstock, and this is their second chance to impress Simon, having also reached the final last year. Hesitant to categorize their own genre, progressive sludge is a term that has been bandied around. Their determination and enthusiasm are evident as they tear through thirty minutes of unmistakably original tracks, egged on by an equally excited audience.
The penultimate band of the night is Antidotes and despite head-banging and moshing for over three hours, the crowd are still hungry for more. The band are from all over the country, but met through BIMM music college in Dublin, and their straight-up metalcore style gets a serious moshpit going within seconds of coming on stage and even prompts a wave of reckless crowd-surfing. Citing influences like While She Sleeps, Parkway Drive, Lamb of God and Bring me the Horizon, the guys try hard not to write the same song twice and do their best to shake off the stigma associated with the metalcore and nu-metal genres in a scene where heaviness and brutality are often pressured. And looking around Fibber Magees tonight, it is clear they are doing something right. A slot at Download festival could easily be within their reach.
The last band to play at this competition is usually thought to have the best slot. The crowd are suitable warmed up and tanked up, the other bands have already played their sets and are typically now in the pit with the rest of the audience and any technical issues or glitches have been ironed out. But, in their second appearance at the M2TM final, The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back know that it doesn’t make it any easier to wow Mr. Hall. Having toured Russia earlier this year, the five-piece have really made a huge effort to promote themselves, and have been one of the most proactive bands in terms of self-promotion this year. Tonight they have brought along a girl dressed as the devil herself with red painted skin and horns, undoubtedly looking for her swagger. Those sober enough will have noticed that frontman Stephen Cannon is still sweaty from his duties as a vocalist in the preceding band Antidotes. An impressive feat to make it to the final in not one, but two bands. TDWHSB put on an absolutely blistering set. The moshing is relentless, and I should know because it was hard to resist the gravitational pull of the adrenalin fuelled appreciation and enjoyment of their face-melting performance.
With all six finalists having delivered their best, it’s up to Simon to make the agonizing decision which band to bring to Bloodstock. After taking what feels like an eternity to deliberate, he takes to the stage to announce the winner. To prolong the suspense, he first pulls the winners of the weekend festival ticket and rum from the bucket and presents the prizes. But there’s no putting it off any longer, and he gives zhOra the incredible news that they will be playing “alongside” Megadeth, Amon Amarth, and Ghost in Derbyshire this August. The crowd vote goes to Call To Arms for the second year in a row, and they receive a full press kit from Overdrive as well as a paid headline show in Dublin.
Before tonight’s event, we asked zhOra what they learned from their previous appearance at the M2TM final and what their secret weapon is this time around:
“We learned that it’s not nice to loose. I suppose nobody wants to loose really. This year we decided to try our best to put all thought of competition out of our minds and just approach these shows as normal gigs. It really frees thongs up mentally. I’ll admit we don’t want to loose this time around but if we do we know we enjoyed our time in the competition and gave it all we had. Our secret weapon is our collective heart. We feel every shred of music we play with every fibre in our being. We exist right in the middle of our own storm. This storm has no end.”
We also asked them which of their own original songs is their favorite to perform and why, and what song do they wish they had written:
“We have a new album coming out this Summer and recently we started playing new songs from it. It’s hard to pick one, but I reckon it’s between ‘Riverchrist’ and ‘Server, Seer, Soothsayer’. They are both belters and contain some of the most fun and weird riffing we have ever written. As for which song we wish we wrote? So many songs are rushing through my head. I think I speak for everyone when I say it would have to be a Pantera song. Choosing just one is really tough. I’m going to go with ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’. Maybe we will do a cover one day!”
Colin Bolger – Guitar / Vocals
Pancho O Meara – Guitar / Vocals
Tom Woodlock – Drums
Alan Hanlon – Bass