On Sunday I was back at The Big Red for the Metal 2 The Masses quinter final five bank holiday all-dayer where seven bands battled it out for the final three places in the semi-finals in June; Hammerjack and Hex Morbidity from Heat 3, Harbour Sharks from Heat 5, Bird Brain Mafia from Heat 9, Seven Main Sins from Heat 10, Gravastar from Heat 11, and Core of iO from Heat 12,
Also playing on this glorious bank holiday were special non-competing guest band Bangover who made it to the Grand Final of M2TM London 2017 and played the Jagermeister Stage at Bloodstock Open Air last summer. Today’s judges were Keiran Sheard, Rico Cook and myself, and between the three of us our votes made up 60% of the final score, with the remaining 40% coming from the audience.
First to hit the stage on this sunny Sunday afternoon were four-piece Core Of iO, who we featured as our Band of the Day back in October last year. I hadn’t seen these guys live before but right from the start of their set they caught my attention with their happy and energetic performance and their great rapport with the crowd. Opening their set with “14 Stitches” the music was tight and well-thought-out and the band oozed charisma. They play their own unique brand of tech-metal / progressive rock with groovy riffs and a heap of energy, which went down well with the crowd and provided something for everyone to enjoy. All four guys looked like they were having a fantastic time, and drummer Richard had a permanent smile fixed to his face. Vocalist Bob let slip that the band are currently working on their debut album, which I for one am very much looking forward to checking out! They ended their set with “Hit The River Hard” – about Bob’s grandfather’s plane which was shot down in 1944, crashing into the River Maas in Holland – which was a very strong finish. The final lyrics sung were “you haven’t heard the last of this from me”, and I think we haven’t heard the last of these guys in the competition!
Next up were post-hardcore / alt-metal quartet Harbour Sharks from Kingston – another band I hadn’t yet seen live and another band I instantly loved! Starting off their set vocalist Jack congratulated Core of iO on their strong performance, which was a nice touch, before the band launched into their high-energy performance. For me their music was alt-metal with a pop-punk flavour, which I really enjoyed, and I wrote in my notes “good fun and good tunes”. Their music featured big guitar riffs, groove-laden drum beats and melodic vocals, and various band members regularly jumped off the stage to bring their music into the crowd, making it a very immersive experience! Their performance was not only energetic but full of passion, which I always love to see. After playing a brilliant Metallica cover, Jack apologised to the crowd for playing pop-punk in a metal competition and they went back to their heavier style, ending their set with the title track from their 2017 debut album A History of Violence.
Third to take to The Big Red stage were melodic black metal band Hex Morbidity. While the band didn’t win their heat they shone at the “Moshpit” round to secure their place in the quinter finals today and I got a sense that they weren’t going to let this second chance pass them by as they put everything into their performance. Jarod’s vocals were delivered with feeling and intent, and the whole band sounded really tight, as well as looking fantastic all dressed in black with a gothic vibe. They used backing tracks to add an extra level of drama to their performance but these didn’t distract from the music which was aggressive and impassioned with a melancholic / macabre vibe. Arianna’s cello was also more prominent this time round than I had ever heard it before, which was wonderful as it added a real richness to their sound. They ended their set with a track named after the band; “Hex Morbidity” that began with a cello solo before it all got deliciously sludgy and heavy with the addition of the drums and guitars. Yet another strong finish – judging was going to be very hard today!
Next up were intergalactic metal band Gravastar who we featured as our Band of the Day back in 2014. Something I really enjoyed about their performance was how vocalist Sot introduced each track in a deep, sombre, breathy tone – almost like he was telling a horror story – which added a great sense of drama to their performance. Like Hex Morbidity before them, Gravastar also had a very cohesive look all dressed smartly in black shirts and waistcoats punctuated with white ties… apart from drummer Nick who sported one of the band’s t-shirts. The addition of the keyboard (played expertly by Viktor) added a nice depth to their sound and provided the intergalactic vibe to their music. There were chuggy guitars, scream vocals and some brilliant drumming, as well as some very catchy tunes. Gravastar also brought their fair share of fans to the show tonight, who banged their heads in unison in front of the band. At one point towards the end of their set Sot’s mic cut out but he didn’t let that faze him or hinder their performance, as he went over to the backing vocals mic and used that instead. Pretty seamless and very professional.
The next band, Seven Main Sins, made it to Quinter Final 2 but despite not winning that round they were able to rejoin the competition due to another band being disqualified. Here is the official word from the event organizer Mick Wood: “after having to disqualify a band […] we went back through the votes for every other event this year, the closest runners up who didn’t get through were Seven Main Sins.” Like Hex Morbidity who played earlier in the evening, I got the sense from Seven Main Sins that they were not going to let this second chance at glory pass them by. Once again they had a brilliantly dramatic entrance with vocalist Łukasz dressed in a long black hooded cloak emerging in a plume of smoke with a book, quill and lantern, before the band launched into their set. Seven Main Sins have put their own stamp on the black metal genre and they produce a wonderfully atmospheric sound. Łukasz’ throaty vocal roars go brilliantly with the heavy riffs and a deep bassline provided by his bandmates. Once again the band were joined by stand-in drummer James who provided thunderous rolling drums to add to the drama of their sound. At one point the drumming was so furiously heavy that it felt like my insides were rattling around… in an awesome, metal way. Another very strong performance from Seven Main Sins.
Band number six tonight were Hammerjack from Guildford. These guys had an old-school rock n’ roll vibe, and there were also hints of sleaze rock to their look, with scarves adorning the bass and lead guitars. Their music was hot and heavy with some fantastic riffs – in my notes I put that their music was “groovy as f*ck” and their cited influences of AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones were clear to hear. I enjoyed Sharpy’s gravely rock n’ roll vocals, and the face-melting guitar solos by Korush. One of the last songs they played was “Sunshine Queen” which was apparently only their second time playing it live, though it certainly didn’t show! Sharpy told the crowd they had found it hard playing so late in the line-up as they had to stay relatively sober for many hours, but the effort paid off and their set was brilliant.
The seventh competing band to take to the stage tonight were punk / metal / blues trio Bird Brain Mafia. I really enjoyed their sound which to me wonderfully mixed bluesy rock n’ roll with a shouty, thrashy metal vibe. Their songs was fantastically catchy and although there were just three of them on stage, they made a fantastic racket (in the best way possible). Later on in their set drummer Jake told the crowd that the band were “grateful and surprised” to have made it to the quinter final rounds, but having seen their performance I wasn’t surprised at all. They were clearly passionate about the music they were playing which I think really makes a difference to how a band are received by an audience and how their music comes across. “Shitstain City” was a particular highlight in the band’s set for me but to be honest I enjoyed everything from start to finish and would definitely go and see Bird Brain Mafia live again.
After all seven competing bands had performed it was time for the judges and audience to deliberate and cast their votes. While they did everyone was treated to a special performance from non-competing guest band Bangover. The thrash-metal five-piece have had a change of line-up since I saw them at the M2TM London final last summer, but they were still as fantastic as I had remembered, owning the stage from the moment they stepped onto it. They put on a fiercely energetic set of thrashy and fun tracks including “Floss or Die”.
It had been a glorious afternoon/evening of metal and all seven bands put gave it their all but alas only three of the bands were able to advance to the next stage of the competition. It was an extremely hard one to call as all of the bands were so different and so great, but the eventual winners were…Core of iO, Hex Morbidity and Seven Main Sins. Huge congratulations to them – we look forward to seeing you in the semi finals!
Metal2TheMasses London returns to The Big Red on Friday 8th June for the first of two semi-final rounds where six bands complete for three places in the grand final which will take place at The Dome in Tufnell Park on Saturday 7 July and feature special non-competing guest band Courtesans. Tickets and more info available here.
Photos by Katie Frost Photography