Words: Alan Daly
Photos: Olga Kuzmenko \ Olga Kuzmenko Photography
Recently Ireland tried once again to add to their impressive tally of wins at the Eurovision Song Contest. Given Johnny Logan wasn’t representing us once more, we decided not to watch and instead we attended a far more relevant music competition – The Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Ireland final. Year on year, the organisation, support and most importantly, the calibre of bands reaching the semi- and final rounds have gone from strength to strength in this Irish chapter of the contest. Each year, festival booker Simon Hall flies over to Dublin to hand-pick an act to represent the Republic of Ireland on the New Blood stage in Catton Park in August. From the outside, this might seem like the ultimate endgame of the past six months of near-weekly gigs in Fibber Magee’s. But those “in the know” realise that a slot at Bloodstock is in fact just the start of a long hard slog for one lucky band who will be handed to opportunity to kick-start their fledgling music careers on an international platform. Simon’s task is not enviable, but he’s in jolly form as always.
The six finalists have reached this point by qualifying through heats and a semi-final thanks to judges’ decisions, crowd votes or a combination of both. Two of them are returning for a second chance; Sectileand This Place Hell (the artists formerly known as The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back). The other four are M2TM final virgins; Black Dawn Rising, Creep, Element X and Rouen. Instead of me telling you about them, I thought I’d let their peers do the talking:
Element X on Black Dawn Rising: The semi-final was the first time we’ve seen Black Dawn Rising. We were quite impressed with the army they had behind them, most of them even wearing their merchandise making it even more eye catching, and then, they got to the stage, full of power and a big bag of killer riffs that nearly took Fibbers apart.
Rouen on Creep: Tight. As. Hell. Creep were the first band on stage at our semi-final and already had the front packed with fans chanting their name! They’re a refreshing amalgamation of hard rock, grunge and some classic rock vibes thrown in too. There’s definitely a tasty melting pot of influences there. Their performance was super professional too. Unluckily, they had two power cuts during their final song, but they weren’t shook in the slightest, it stands to them as a mature and as said already, tight as hell band.
Black Dawn Rising on Element X: Nice guys and good music! The semi-final was our first time hearing Element X and we enjoyed the set. We’re looking forward to sharing the stage with them again in the final.
Creep on Rouen: From the brief interactions we’ve had with the lads, we can see they’re great craic and fantastic musicians on top of it. We really look forward to seeing Rouen again at the final.
This Place Hell on Sectile: Sectile are deadly! Gabriel has probably some of the best pipes going in Ireland right now. They kind of came out of nowhere in last year’s competition and made it to the final and here we are, a year later, and they’re in the final again, so they definitely have to be doing something right!!
Sectile on This Place Hell: These guys are amazing. We caught them at Siege of Limerick and they killed it. Their vocalist Stephen Cannon has a great voice with some super impressive screams. Really looking forward to hearing the songs they recorded with Justin Hill recently.
We asked each of the bands to tell us about their experience(s) of the Metal 2 The Masses competition, what worked well, and what (if anything) could be improved.
Black Dawn Rising: The Metal 2 The Masses competition has been really good. The first Heat was actually our first gig in about 7 years! And it was our first gig ever in Fibbers. Being honest, we were blown away by the reaction we got. The semi-final was even better. A huge crowd turned up to watch us, mosh, and cheer for us. It was a little overwhelming actually. So many people asking us for our CD, but all we could say is we are working on it! So that’s the next step after the final, get ourselves properly recorded in a nice fancy studio… and not in our parents’ attics!
Creep: We’ve participated in the competition the last two years and we find that it’s a great platform to show yourself off and make new fans and contacts. It’s a show that always draws a crowd which is always a confidence booster! The one thing that could make it better would be if there was more outside publicity. The lads in Overdrive and Jetrocker do an amazing job of promoting everything, but it’s just a shame metal and rock music don’t get the recognition they deserve from most mainstream media in Ireland.
Element X: There are great vibes from all the bands. We’ve made many friends from different bands from various cities that hopefully we will play with in the future, making you feel you are not in a competition, but having great craic with other music lovers. Also the organization has been really professional but keeping it fun and laid back. The crowd has been awesome. We cannot think of any way to improve Bloodstock M2TM as it stands now.
Rouen: Honestly, as first timers, we’ve experienced nothing but positives as a whole. Our first heat, we were met with such enthusiasm by both the crowd and judges alike, it helped ease the nerves we felt about not being your typical metal band and as a result we felt like we put on a great performance! Well, it seemed it was great enough to land us the wildcard semi-final slot. For real, that blew us away. We have to shout out to Oran and Kev of Overdrive and Jetrocker for choosing us. Our performance at the semi-final was easily our best performance yet. The crowd were electric and we threw our all into the performance! M2TM has really begun to bring back such a strong gathering of Irish Metal lovers, which really pleases us and says a lot about the hard work that’s put into it. At the rate it’s growing each year, we don’t think we have anything negative to say at all!
Sectile: Playing M2TM has been a wonderful opportunity for us. Last year it was our first time and we made it to the final which was quite unexpected. It helped to bring some attention to our band. Now this year, our first heat was almost stopped by the Beast from the East. Luckily the snow managed to clear just enough by the Saturday for us to play. In the end, we did well in the competition and here we are playing the final again.
This Place Hell: Our M2TM experience has always been great, win or lose. Oran and Kev always manage to put on great gigs with great bands and there’s no crowd like a M2TM crowd! If we could make anything better, it would be ourselves. We’re always striving to be the best sounding and most exciting band to see live and although we’ve progressed this far into the competition we don’t feel like we have reached our peak yet this year! So the run up to the final will see us working relentlessly to make sure we’re sounding our biggest and best.
From the 8pm kick-off there is an electric atmosphere in the venue, and a genuine sense of camaraderie and mutual support amongst band members and fans alike. Sharing MC duties with Simon is event organiser Oran O’Beirne, who regularly reminds punters to support their favourite bands and the Dublin metal scene in general by forking over a few Euro at the merch tables for CDs or T-Shirts. Another way to part with a few Euro is to purchase raffle tickets, with prizes of Bloodstock, Tremonti and Volbeat tickets up for grabs amongst others.
The following five hours are a blur of jaw-droppingly amazing performances from the six hopefuls and a special guest performance from former M2TM winners Animator. Each band has just 30 minutes to impress Mr. Hall, and with 15 minute changeovers, there’s barely time to enjoy a pint between acts. Sectile were first out of the hat, giving them the undeniably least coveted slot of the night, playing to a smaller, less inebriated audience. However, their tight performance and incredible vocals by Gabriel Gaba, get heads bobbing and knowing nods of approval from Simon. As the night progresses, some of the bands try to up their game with on- (and off-) stage antics; Rouen explode with energy, bouncing around the modest podium while vocalist Andy FItzpatrick spends much of his time in the midst of the moshing crowd, stirring up a frenzy. Black Dawn Rising bring a horde of supporters kitted out in their eye-catching T-shirts to give them the motivation and encouragement they deserve. Creep, too, have plenty of branded fans in the front rows, but more memorable is their bassist James Kearney stripping down to an elephant posing pouch (following in the footsteps of fellow bassists Nick Oliveri and Flea and their penchants to get naked onstage). This Place Hell deliver probably the best performance that I have witnessed to date, pulling out all the stops with a thundering thirty minutes, and it’s clear these guys mean business. Element X have the honour of playing the final M2TM set of 2018 (out of well over 50!), and the crowd are super enthusiastic by now, prompting plenty of moshing and even crowd-surfing. Antics aside, every band is on top form tonight in terms of performance, and while almost all six represent different genres on the metal spectrum, each deliver sets of record-label-worthy material. We asked them, of their own original songs, which is their favourite to perform live, and if there is any particular significance or meaning in the song, lyrically or otherwise?
Black Dawn Rising: I guess we all have different answers here! Rossie [Colin Rossiter] writes the lyrics for the songs so most of the songs have a personal meaning to him, but he likes that people can find their own interpretation from them and give them their own meaning. At the moment his favourite to play is one of our newer songs since we got back playing together as a band, ‘The Beast in I’. It’s groovy, it’s bouncy, it’s heavy, it’s like the perfect pair of boobs! You’ll hear him humming it even when we’re not playing.
Creep: One of our favourite originals to play live is a song called ‘Bliss’. It’s a song that always seems to get the crowd going when we play it and it’s also just a really fun song to play live, we can have a bit of a laugh with it! Lyrically, it’s about “recreational” activities of our drummer and lead guitarist and we never fail to mention this before playing the song.
Element X: You can’t ask a mother who her favourite child is! Well, she’s going to lie and tell you she doesn’t have a favourite. We can honestly say that all our songs are our favourites… but at the moment, one of our newest songs, ‘Temptations’, is definitely a highlight in our setlist, as it has a bit of everything. Also it was the first song that Franco [Buonocore, guitar] wrote a solo for, giving it an extra meaning to us as we felt the connection immediately.
Rouen: Currently, and probably contrary to our current live sound which can be very chaotic, it’s got to be ‘Wander’. It’s our most recently released song, very anthemic sounding, but it’s simple and fun to play and we love the chorus. It brings back those big metalcore anthem vibes in our opinion. Lyrically, it deals with feelings of dependency and that conditioned feeling we all sometimes get when we’re relying on someone else for our own happiness instead of taking charge of that ourselves and fighting for our own self-worth.
Sectile: Our favourite is probably the song ‘Dissection’ which is unreleased. It has a lot of dynamic changes and moves and flows extremely well. The bridge section is a lot of fun to play. And the choruses have some amazing drums, vocals, as well as some tapping for our guitarist Michael to enjoy.
This Place Hell: I think it varies depending on the gig and the crowd reaction! We have a new song ‘Pummel’ that we have yet to release that’s an absolute headbanger! That’s really fun to play live!! But I suppose ‘End Game’ would be the one that is both fun to play live and holds the most meaning to us! Mental Health is something we all struggle with from time to time. Some days you can be flying high and the next you feel crushed under an indescribable weight! So ‘End Game’ was our lament to both the people we’ve all lost to their struggles through suicide and to the people currently going through difficult times to let them know they’re not alone. There are people out there who understand and are waiting to help.
As Animator mop up any remaining energy from the now exhausted and anxious crowd, Simon Hall takes some time to make his tough decision. With shout-outs and raffles taken care of, he first announces that he is going to add not one, but two of tonight’s bands to his “bucket” of bands from which he may revisit once he has finished judging the ~30 other M2TM finals (of which tonight is only the fourth, I believe). Those bands are Sectile and Creep. But the overall winner of the Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition is This Place Hell, who as Simon commented, have certainly not lost their swagger! The crowd vote of the night goes to Black Dawn Rising (for the third consecutive time in the competition) who bag themselves an electronic press kit courtesy of Overdrive.
Already, people are talking about M2TM 2019, and Bloodstock hasn’t even happened yet. If it’s not obvious by now, the competition affords unrivaled exposure for every one of the participating unsigned bands, regardless of who wins or loses, and we expect to be here again next year to witness more new talent and another top-class series of gigs brought to us by Overdrive and Jetrocker. For now, it’s time to catch our breath and to get ready for BLOODSTOCK!!
This Place Hell are:
Stephen Cannon – Vocals
Mick Hynes – Guitar
Damien Regan – Guitar
Dylan Scully – Bass
Ryan Cummins – Drums