Interview: Alan Daly
Metal To The Masses. Four words (or three words and a number) that have come to represent the yearly pilgrimage for fans of fresh Irish metal from near and far to Fibber Magees rock bar, where each year, dozens of hopeful unsigned bands vie for a coveted slot at Bloodstock Festival. This year, 35 bands signed up for the first-round heats that kicked off back in January, and with the help of judges’ decisions, audience votes, and a wildcard second chance qualifier, the twelfth and final showdown is set to take place on Saturday May 18th.
Of the six finalists, two have made it this far in previous years. For four others, it’s their first time getting here. For some, it’s their first time even entering the competition. Three of the six got here without needing to impress the judges at all, thanks to the all-important support and votes of their fans and friends. To reach the final round is a massive achievement. To perform at Bloodstock would be a dream come true.
We at My Global Mind have followed and covered this annual event since 2013, and with the 2019 finale mere days away, we touched base with each of the hopefuls and picked their brains…
Alan: Hi guys. First of all, tell us about your band, your genre and your influences.
AeSect: We are Tony Carberry (vocals), Dave Kennedy (guitar), Aidan O’Halloran (guitar), Luke Peters (drums) and Aidan Williams (bass). We’re based in Dublin. This lineup has been together since October 2018 when Tony joined the band, but AeSect has been performing and recording since 2011. We’d categorise ourselves as death metal with elements of thrash and hardcore, and have been influenced by bands like Lamb of god, Killswitch Engage, Meshuggah and Sylosis.
Black Shuck: Our Current line up consists of Brendan Murphy (guitar/vocals), Thomas Doherty (bass/vocals) and Ian Doherty (drums). Brendan and Ian have been Playing together for years, over a decade actually, and Thomas has joined us only recently officially, but has worked with us previously on a number of other projects. We are based in Galway city, the European capital of culture 2020. I like to think the metal scene has something to do with that (but probably not!). We’ve always found it very had to pick a genre. The truth is we don’t really know. It sounds like a cop out, but we just kinda go with the flow and see what happens! If we were pushed, we would say “groove metal”. Absolutely everything inspires us, from Metallica to Tom Waits, Slipknot to AC/DC, In flames, DevilDriver, Motorhead, Fleetwood Mac, Black Peaks, Gojira, Royal Blood, Black Dahlia Murder, There are very few artists I know that don’t trigger some ideas at least! Especially when its outside your comfort zone!
Creep: Well we are from Ballybrack in South Dublin and have been jamming together for about 9 years. We have had some changes in the last year when Jake and James decided to move on. We decided to go on as a four-piece after hiring new bass player Paul Wallace. Paul has added so much to our sound and we are so glad to be working with him! Our current line up is Jason McGuinness (vocals), Liam Noctor (guitars), Layne McGuinness (drums) and Paul Wallace (bass). Genre is something we don’t really think about too often to be honest. Any time we have ever written a song it’s because we like how it sounds. We don’t try to have a specific sound and you can hear that in the diversity of our set. We just write whatever feels natural to us. But if pushed to answer, let’s say grunge metal with hints of doomy blues! We all pretty much listen to the same bands and take inspiration from them, without trying to sound like them. Our biggest influences would be Alice in Chains, Pantera, Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Tool, Mastodon, the list goes on and on.
Fornoth: Fornoth began late in 2017 when John and Charlie Appleby, who had been playing guitar together on and off for a couple of years, combined with singer Daire Coburn and drummer Oscar Little. Bill Thompson joined on bass in July 2018, and ever since then we’ve been writing, rehearsing, gigging and recording in Dublin. We have no problem jumping between genres so we’re usually hard pressed to narrow it down – blackened death metal would probably be the best fit. Someone once called us “Lamb of God, Thin Lizzy, the whole shebang!” so that should say a lot. Conscious influences would mainly be Maiden, Bolt Thrower, Amon Amarth and Slayer.
Old Season: We are Anto Walsh (drums), Dave Copley (bass), Dermod Smyth (keyboards), Jimmy Blanchfield and Jimmy Kiernan (guitars) and John Bonham (vocals). The band has been around in various incarnations for around 20 years, this line-up for about 6 years. We’re based in Athy and we have a rehearsal room there, although we’re not all from Athy. I suppose the quickest way of describing our style would be epic heavy metal or melodic heavy metal, but we also take bits and pieces from hard rock, doom, prog, NWOBHM and whatever else we can get our hands on! We’re not really too concerned about what category we fall under, our primary concern is generally that we write music we’re proud of, that we enjoy ourselves, and that we can all stand 100% behind. There really isn’t any one band that we draw our inspiration from. It is very hard for us to nail down specific influences, or a favourite band, because we all listen to such a variety of music. Some of the bands that come to mind would be Amorphis, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dream Theater, Opeth, Thin Lizzy. The list really goes on and on, sometimes extending outside the metal genres. We try to blend them all very subtly, to the point where you could have 4 different people listening to the same song and have all of them name 4 different bands as possible influences.
Organ Blender: Our current lineup is Jay Grimm (drums), Jason Kealy (bass) and Padraig Mckeown (vocals/guitar). We’ve been playing for under a year now, and the M2TM final will count as our 5th gig! I’d consider us extreme metal to keep things simple. Our influences and inspirations include Pantera, Morbid Angel, Strapping Young Lad, Thy Art Is Murder, Mr. Bungle and Cattle Decapitation.
Alan: Very few Irish metal bands have made it big internationally. Why do you think that is the case? And what can be done to fix that?
AeSect: This is a very good question and there isn’t a simple answer. The fact that Ireland is such a small country and we don’t necessarily have the same infrastructure as the UK for example which is definitely a hindrance. Although these days it’s easier to share your music with the world online, but you’re competing with so many bands/artists for the listeners’ attention. The Irish metal scene has developed so much over the last number of years, so that break through will come soon.
Black Shuck: It’s a hard one to answer to be honest. We have had plenty of metal bands of a really high standard but they never seem to take off like you see with English, American or other European bands. Hopefully the trend will change sooner rather than later.
Creep: Well, unfortunately to be a seriously big band these days, you need to have a lot of marketing behind you. Companies and labels know what makes money and they target their audience well so at the end of the day, it’s the lack of money that’s one of the issues. To get the Irish metal scene to stand out we really need to start supporting local bands and make Ireland a real hotspot for metal, and to be honest, I can see it growing here.
Fornoth: I think Ireland faces the same problem as most metal scenes in smaller places – there might be a lot of people into the music by a proportion, but not in absolute numbers. This means that the output of the scene (and the ingrained support that the scene has for its own bands) is overshadowed by bigger neighbours. Switzerland, for instance, has more people (spending more money) than Ireland but beyond Celtic Frost, has had little impact on metal while Germany, Italy and France all have numerous successful metal bands. The Irish metal bands which have done the best are the ones which have embraced their background most effectively and fused that aesthetic with top notch music to cut through and be noticed. And that’s something which more bands could take on – there’s a wealth of influence to be found in Irish traditional music and literature, not to mention the landscape. There are plenty of bands on the Irish scene who could be from anywhere in the world, and that’s a shame because there’s so much potential for a NWOIHM around.
Old Season: It’s hard to know really. If we had the answers, we’d have done it ourselves by now! There’s just so much music out there now, and it’s all so easy to access, that probably makes it harder for bands to stand out. Though at the same time it’s giving more bands a chance for their music to reach further. So in short, we don’t know!
Organ Blender: A smaller scene in general would be a factor we think. Also a lack of venues willing to let these bands play.
Alan: What Irish metal band (other than yourselves or any band you are involved in) do you admire/enjoy most, and why?
AeSect: There are plenty of bands out at the moment we would envy. Obviously Dead Label are leading the way for Irish Metal. Bands like Ten Ton Slug and Words that Burn are doing great things too.
Black Shuck: Has to be Ten Ton Slug all day long. They work hard as hell and never fail to bring and awesome live show.
Creep: Psykosis for us. We played our very first show with them and have a lot of memories with them. Well blurred memories.
Fornoth: Mael Mordha have always been my favourite Irish metal band. These guys are the best possible introduction to Irish mythology you could want and turned out two of the finest concept albums of recent years. They didn’t just add a tin whistle over generic metal, but applied the principles of the most haggard trad playing possible to some almighty doom riffs. And then put a tin whistle on top.
Old Season: Primordial would have to be in there for most Irish metal bands. You don’t need to be an avid listener to appreciate the enormity of what they’ve done. They’ve carved out their own space within a crowded genre. They’ve forged their own, unwavering and unique sound and the world has lapped it up. It’s hard not to admire what they’ve done. Some of the other bands in this competition like Sectile (helping to push progressive metal forward in Ireland) and our fellow finalists AeSect (their insane energy is always fun!) show there’s no shortage of talent in the current metal scene in this country.
Organ Blender: We recently saw the Virgin Converters at the Wildcard show, 10/10 for originality.
Alan: How do you attract (and keep) fans of your music in this era?
AeSect: It’s a matter of keeping up with online social media trends and staying relevant. We are lucky in that Luke is a graphic designer by trade and he designs all our artwork, merch, posters, branding. Tony has a great online presence which helps us engage and build a support/fan base.
Black Shuck: It’s gotta be the live show. It always helps to have good merch and great quality recordings and all that but if you can’t show up where it counts, what’s the point?
Creep: I think it’s just about standing out. When people here the same thing all the time they will lose interest, whereas they tend to be attracted to something that is unique and original.
Fornoth: Firstly, you have to acknowledge the internet’s importance and the need to keep a presence up. It’s not very rock and roll, but it does encourage us to always try to have something to share – we post a lot of live videos and recordings around the internet to pass our music along to communities who would never otherwise connect with us, and this requires music to be able to share. Put bluntly, this is what lies at the very heart of making and keeping fans in any age – producing music that’s engaging. We put our music at the very forefront of what we do, and play what we play with conviction because that’s what fans are looking to connect with. There’s a lot of music that isn’t genuine out there, and we feel a need to provide something that is. The reactions we get are genuine enough to suggest it’s working.
Old Season: For us, playing live has been a major method of attracting new fans. Audiences are very receptive to our music in general. We like to think that our music has a wide appeal across genres and demographics and this has been reflected in the vastly different audiences whom have expressed support and have turned up to our shows. We’ve noticed that the audience is getting younger and coming from all sorts of musical backgrounds, from hard rock, gothic, doom and traditional metal, right through to people who would not normally be into ‘heavy’ music at all. These shifts in the audience demographics have been really interesting and positive. It’s not always feasible to do things the old-fashioned way by touring and playing loads of shows to small audiences and trying to just cover costs. The internet allows us to access audiences in their own homes. Social Media is an important aspect in the business now. In the past, we neglected this side of things a bit, but we’ve fully embraced it now and have seen great results. It’s also allowed us to speak to fans from all around the world, something which is really important for us. We like the personal touch, speaking to people individually has allowed us to develop a good relationship with our fans and supporters around the globe.
Organ Blender: Literally playing any shows that come our way and trying to keep content updated on our social media pages.
Alan: Finally, With almost all of the bands for 2019 already announced, what band would you (realistically) like to see added to the Bloodstock Festival Lineup next year?
AeSect: Bleed From Within had a great set in 2018. We’d love to see them back again.
Black Shuck: Gojira plz and tnx.
Creep: We would love to see Mastodon added, and of course, Creep!
Fornoth: The lineup could do with some more doom – Belfast riff-merchants Elder Druid, please!
Old Season: So many! Someone like Amorphis or Dark Tranquillity would go down very well with us.
Organ Blender: Cattle decapitation.
So with the introductions over with, make sure to come down to Fibber’s on Saturday May 18th to see your new acquaintances in the flesh at the biggest event in the calendar for unsigned Irish metal. Get there early, have a few beers, vote for your favourite band, check out a set from special guests Ten Ton Slug and maybe even win a full weekend camping ticket to Bloodstock festival courtesy of the familiar face and jovial judge that is Simon Hall. Some day you could be telling your kids about the time you saw the winning band getting their first big break.