Gig Review: Metal 2 The Masses Heat 4 – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford (9th Mar 2024)

First and foremost, the following review is not from myself, I cannot and will not take any form of credit from this. The credit has to go to the lead vocalist of Stone Soup and fellow host of Manic Monday’s Radio Show on Moshville Radio, Paul. Not only has he taken up the mantle and put his own opinion of the was they night unfolded, but this is also his very first review. And it looks like we may have the potential of a new member of the reviewing team on our hands.

This may be a first as far as gig reviews go since I find myself in the position of analysing a Heat from a contest that I am currently competing in myself. Despite this apparent conflict of interests, I would like to say that this review is simply from the perspective of a lover of all live music, regardless of genre, venue, or the context of the gig itself. The bands in this contest are not my rivals they are kindred spirits, like-minded musicians whose ambitions are so relatable to my own that it would be pointless to pass judgement. With that said I was really happy to be given the opportunity to write this review as Heat 4 of Oxfords Metal To The Masses was a great evening of really enjoyable music and some new musical discoveries for me which is a fantastic result.

So, on the 9th of March this year I made my way to the Jericho Tavern, a venue that I have become remarkably familiar with after an ever-increasing number of performances there with the band I am in, Stone Soup. This time, however, I was there with the intention of celebrating various birthdays of friends (and myself) and to enjoy the fourth heat of Metal To The Masses as a punter, a normie, just a regular music-loving Joe, or so I thought…

I arrived sometime during the soundcheck (which seemed to be going incredibly well, something that has occasionally blighted heats in the past) and not long after the doors had opened, I was approached with the offer of “compering” the evening by announcing each band before their performance and ultimately delivering the results at the end. Could I, the lead singer and “frontman” of a band, an attention loving, very talkative extrovert bring myself to take on such a hugely important responsibility? Abso-flippin-lutely I could. I agreed before the words had finished coming out of Gregs mouth. Joking aside, I was really happy to get to introduce the bands, It gave me a chance to work-up the room a little and try and get the audience energy up so that each band could start their set with an amped crowd, something that I have really appreciated in previous heats before starting our set.

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The first act of the night was Mondegreen, a local band, very recently formed and here to play their first gig. What a tricky draw for them, first on for their first show! Their nerves were understandably apparent as they delivered a very well put together set of hefty nu-metal tunes. The band describe themselves as “on a mission to reignite the flames of Nu-Metal” and what they played had all the characteristics of the genre but with some excellent contemporary elements thrown in as well. The riffs were gritty and tense with innovative uses of pauses in some songs with a 5-string bass keeping the tone right in the pit of your stomach throughout. Their initial songs leant heavily on soft melodic vocals which were a bit of a struggle to hear (bring your ear plugs to gigs if you want to get the best chance of understanding the vocalist folks!) but as their set progressed more screaming elements worked their way in. I remember distinctly watching the crowd light up each time the songs reached a heavy moment backed-up with powerful screams. I am fairly sure these guys will have gained a lot of experience in that one gig alone, they finished stronger than they started, and I am certain they will only continue to get stronger as they play more. What a great start to the evening, I shook off the urge to start setting up on stage myself and instead took a break before the next band.

Second up that night was Terraborn, a Brighton based band whose name I had heard prior to this year’s contest. They have been together for some time and were here to stake their claim to that coveted Bloodstock opportunity. They were serious, something that was instantly reflected in their commitment to their on-stage image. In full flak jackets, camo gear with masks and war paint they created an imposing presence in front of the crowd. It was a little intimidating to jump behind the mic and announce them but once again my ego prevailed, the crowd did not need my hype this time, they were ready.

A pre-recorded introduction rang out over the speakers as the band stood menacingly still, it invited us to “join the Terraborn army” after the fallout of war. A chorus of chanting vocals called out briefly before the band erupted into a blasting, thrashing, relentless set of apocalyptic songs. Powerful screams came through the masks of their lead singer, re-enforced by a guitarist, this really helped boost their sound which was so loud and heavy that the occasional double vocals completely elevated poignant moments in the songs. Drummers arms and feet and guitarists hands were a blur as they delivered a very well-crafted 30-minute set, incorporating lots of interaction with the audience which lead to a lot of movement in the crowd who were absolutely loving what they were hearing. I counted at least twenty strings distributed between the three guitars on stage, their tone was full and powerful with the high notes of those multi-stringed guitars cutting through nicely.

Personally, I like seeing when a combination of image and music are pulled off together. Often-times bands may lean too far one way or the other, either with an over-ambitious theme that may not be supported by what they are playing, or, with a theme that is too vague meaning they lack the on-stage presence that the music demands. Not for Terraborn, they know exactly what their message is and how to deliver it. The message appears to be that the apocalypse is nearing, and they will gladly be your soundtrack to the end-times. And I am all for it.

Time for band number three, another Oxford group, Second Hour. Returning for their second year in this contest after having a decent run in 2023. Now I am more familiar with this group than any other taking part this year, we played together on a couple of occasions last year and have both been very supportive of each other ever since, I will try to avoid any bias in this review but honestly, you do not need to know the band to appreciate how good they are. After the barnstorming set by Terraborn, the guys from Second Hour had confessed to being a little nervous ahead of their turn but you would never have guessed that by what they delivered on stage. With absolute confidence they took over the room within seconds pulling everyone in and up to the front of the room.

The guys describe themselves as hard rock which I think is a nicely vague genre that is open to a lot of different sounds, most notable on this particular evening was the first appearance of strong, clean, melodic vocals which soared over the music underlined with powerful yells and screams at just the right moments. Second Hour write songs that are really enjoyable to sing along with and there seemed to be a decent number of people in the room who either already knew the words or were more than happy to pick them up and join in. As a band they have certainly evolved from what we all saw in last year’s competition, their musicianship and performance were both very finely tuned yet they also are more relaxed whilst doing it.

Opening with their latest song simply called “Brian” (what else do you call a song without a name?) they took us through their catalogue without any errors and with the crowd fully engaged. A room of bouncing people became a moshpit, the pit turned into a circle, there was (an attempt at) a wall of death which may have been the limit for this particular audience on this particular night. They closed with my favourite song of theirs, “Kaleidoscope” and actually came up a little short of their 30min time slot, and therein lies my only criticism, I would have loved to have heard 5 more minutes from this great band!

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Too soon it was down to the last band of the evening, West Midlands punky-hardcore 3-piece, Informal Complaint. Now this is what I love about M2TM, once again we had all been treated to four diverse bands across four different genres, something you just do not see outside of a competition format. Informal Complaint humbly took to the stage and a mild-mannered introduction preceded a performance of brilliant, relatable, energetic songs ranging from topics such as a difficult car-park ticket machine to the very relatable message “f*** the Tories”. They instantly won over the whole room, they held no false pretences as they laid down song after song of punchy punky numbers, delivered with real passion and honesty.

The song about the parking ticket was approximately 30 seconds of yelling pure frustration down the phone to a ticket company, just brilliant. I have to rate these guys as my favourite surprise of the contest so far. The band themselves seemed aware that there was a lack of similar sounding bands in the contest this year and they were not “metal enough”, to which I happily told them that Stone Soup got through to the finals last year and I play a harmonica in every song. As I said at the start, I am primarily a live-music fan and that is absolutely the sentiment of those who organise Metal To The Masses, bands like Informal Complaint absolutely belong beside all of us who like our music on the heavy side.

In their last song the bass guitarist wandered into the crowd in a mutual display of appreciation, the last few chords of their finale were structured into a fantastic finish, a small touch that really demonstrated their songcraft, in a genre that could be called out for its simplicity Informal Complaint showed real creativity with their writing whilst keeping it true to the ethos of punk and hardcore.

So that was it, I had experienced an evening from behind the other side of the curtain (despite poking my head out occasionally). This was one of the toughest heats so far and all four bands had performed so well. To continue the theme of me getting some limelight, I was to deliver the results. What seemed like hundreds of voting slips came pouring in and were diligently counted. The guys have got this down to a fine art now, so it was only a few minutes before a little slip of paper was handed to me. I had to clarify several times that it was right out of fear of having my very own Oscars moment and accidentally saying the wrong name!

Overall crowd vote winners of the evening were Informal Complaint, the crowd were jubilant as their name was called, still riding high off the back of their performance. A close second on the votes were Terraborn, another hugely popular result. Second Hour secured their place in the quarter finals with the judges vote, clearly impressed by what they had seen. It was hard luck to Mondegreen who were rightly proud of themselves for a well performed first gig.

Once again, all the bands involved were really supportive of each other, a theme that has run throughout this contest for as long as I have been involved with it and certainly in the many years before. I wish all the bands the best of luck as we progress through to the quarter finals, the 5th Heat will be on 6th April where the last few places in the quarters will be decided!

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