Posted on by Oran

Five months ago, 35 bands began a journey that would only have one outcome. Friendships were put on hold, alliances were ignored albeit for a half an hour or so, and the battle cries were sounded, all for one purpose: to play on the hallowed ground of Catton Hall at Bloodstock Open Air on the New Blood Stage. BOA head-hunter Simon Hall has the unenviable task of selecting only one band out of the 6 that have made it this far. Overdrive sent Shaun Martin to the frontlines to reveal the devastation that engulfed Fibber Magees.

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This is the national final, ladies and gentlemen! To quote Ozzy Osbourne: ‘Go hard or go home!’ The injured are still being counted……

There is always one band that has to pick the short straw on an M2TM final. Tonight, that band was Sectile. It’s always difficult having to start the night because you have to set the pace and standard that everyone else gets to follow.

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After a brief introduction by Overdrive’s founder Oran O’Beirne, Sectile gets to work. Led by vocal dreadnought Gabriel Gaba, the band slowly but surely warm the crowd up as the heads start to move gradually getting faster and faster, to an eventual riff-fest that is taking place. Like I said – the first slot is tough, but Sectile are taking the fight to Fibber Magees and are showing no vulnerability at all.

Their off-beat but very well-structured song arrangement combines threads of prog metal maestros like Opeth and Mastodon, with some home-brewed hard rock spatters. Gaba’s vocal ability is superb. His range and sustainability rival anyone in this event tonight, and the riffs supplied by guitarists Daniel Boyce and Mark O’Reilly add a feeling of pure excitement into the atmosphere. The venue is starting to become more packed as Sectile draw more and more people in to see who’s making all the noise.

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They audience only gets bigger as the noise gets louder, and the pit opens up. Fibbers is now well and truly alive as Sectile are putting everything on the line. Drum monster Zachary Newman is keeping the time like a Swiss watch and backed up by Cormac Hennigan on bass, the duo provides a thick and boomy spine to an otherwise very crisp and polished performance.

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After Sectile’s unreal opening act, the bar has been set. I look around and people are shaking their heads wondering how they can be topped. Dean Donnelly isn’t one of them. The frontman of M2TM stalwart Call to Arms looks poised and ready, adopting a maniacal and fearsome stage persona each time he picks up the mic, and this is no different. Call To Arms were finalists in last year’s M2TM, and know exactly what to throw at the stage show tonight, having lost out to Ten Ton Slug and Two Tales of Woe last year.

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Unfortunately, I missed Call To Arms in their qualifying heat and the semi-final, but I’m glad I got to see this gig tonight. Axemen Daniel Tyrell and Niall Ennis purge the gas tanks to give some of the darkest metal that I’ve ever seen them play. Call To Arms are akin to the stage professionalism of world-renowned bands who continually evolve i.e. Machine Head: every show I see them play surpasses the last. The drum section is positively unhinged – Ronan Murphy keeps things right on track, supplying excellent timing with each crash and blast of drumskin and cymbal.

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I spoke to him briefly after the show, and said that they had tunnel vision last year – they put themselves under an insane amount of pressure to win last year, but this year they are more relaxed. Their whole gig takes off like a rocket as a result. Bassist Alex Caffrey holds the line like a pro and Call To Arms are lashing the crowd over the head with a heavy furore of searing riffs and thick crushing music. Donnelly parts the seas of heads in the crowd as he is known to do, and the wall of death, typically reserved for A: larger spaces and B: larger bands, is unleashed. But nobody gives a fuck here – bodies are slammed together and the limbs fly. Auditory canals are well and truly cleaned out, as Call To Arms are reminding everyone that respect is earned, and they are earning it tonight from everyone in Fibber Magees.

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Celtic metal heroes Na Crúithne (say ‘Na Croonya’), from Galway, step up to the plate and take slot number three. Their eagerly-awaited appearance jams, even more, people into the venue, and from the looks of things, we are nearing full capacity. Na Crúithne are one of the most under-rated bands in the underground metal scene in Ireland. Their no-fucks-given approach to their stage show makes them a very dangerous adversary in showcases like this, where the last roll of a dice can determine what band could go through.

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It doesn’t matter now how many votes you got in the past: tonight is where you pull out all the stops. Simon Hall has a very big smile on his face looking at these guys, and I can see why. Frontman Maitiú Ó Héanú is, as always, tackling the mic duties dutifully and faithfully (and looks off his noodle doing it), but maintaining professionalism throughout.

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The awe-inspiring double-bass skills of Lisa Howe add a treacherously infectious groove to the feadóg and fiddle mix of Ciaran de Búrca and Ana Carolina Hatschbach Cardon respectively. Ó Héanú is quick to acknowledge the hard work of everyone in the Overdrive/Jetrocker/Bloodstock camps before launching headfirst into their last song of their 5-song set ‘Seabhac’ (say ‘shaw-wak’).

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By the time their song is over, their tank is empty, and they did themselves proud tonight. There are shaking heads, smiling faces, and sore necks everywhere. We’ve only reached the halfway point, and the strain is already starting to show on the audience.

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Next to take up arms are Tipperary prog/doom metal upstarts Zhora. A fiercely original and highly-talented band, taking several blends of prog and death metal and weaving them intricately into songs that are offbeat, atmospheric, and are very well structured, but also catch you off-guard. It’s amazing to think of how their tapestry of sound can sound so unstructured but it all comes together to give Fibbers a firm kick in the gut. Zhora pounds the stage and are yet another band that are very comfortable in their own skin, doing what they do, they way they do it. This is what got them on Wacken Open Air’s bill last year.

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Frontman Colin Bolger has an ecstatic look on his face, as does his shred-mate Pancho O’Meara. Drummer Tom Woodlock is rigid and composed behind the kit, pulling in vocal duties with the dual axe wielders. Bassist Alan Hanlon is as animated as you can imagine – the head might snap off him if he bangs it any harder!

Zhora’s signature sound draws people in from outside and they stay to see who’s making all the fuss, and Zhora pulls off a show that will be talked about for a long time, well after this showcase has ended. This is yet another testament to the quality of Irish metal, and how tortured Simon Hall must be if he has to pick only one band out of the 6 busting their guts to get that number 1 vote.

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Metalcore up-and-comers Antidotes guide us softly and gently into their first song in slot number 5 of this already intense final. It is a ruse, however… a sly trick. They have no intention of lulling us with a short, soft melodic intro. A false sense of security is their game, and at the drop of a hat, the trap is sprung; the rug is pulled out from under us and we are thrown face first into the abyss of brutal guitar riffs and screaming vocals, led by guitarist and singer Stephen Cannon.

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Their meteoric rise to notoriety has been startling, to say the least. Cannon can roll with the best in the business, and there is a unique partnership between drummer Donal Bowens and bassist Leigh Walsh. Each man feeds off the vibe of the other, and the fans have decided that enough was enough. Crowdsurfing, circle pits, and blatant disregard for personal safety ensue as Antidotes rip through the viscera of Fibbers patrons.

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The sea of heads that are pointed at the stage is growing at an impressive rate because I can see the pit getting bigger and bigger, and room to move is becoming quite restricted. Simon Hall has a look of amazement on his face because he knows that these guys are among the best in the showcase. Cannon is on fire tonight, whipping up a frenzy amongst the audience, but everyone is feeling the buzz – so it’s not hard to get a few headbangers to lose their shit, during the soundcheck, there were a larger number of people shouting for the band, and they have turned up the volume proportional to the volume of the music.

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The screams are deafening. Antidotes are killers in this genre and would take a kicking and keep on ticking. I can foresee them playing bigger than BOA if the time comes because their blend of metalcore and insane riffage transcends a few different festival specialities. If they stay their course, the world is theirs for the taking.

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Lastly, we have trojans from M2TM finals from 2015 and 2016, The Devil Wants Her Swagger Back. To put it simply, TDWHSB can only be summarised in one word: devastating. Vocalist Stephen Cannon (who had fronted the previous band Antidotes about 15 minutes ago), assumes another manic persona to match his brothers in arms Dylan Scully on bass, Mick Hynes and Damian Regan on guitar, and Ryan Cummins on drums.

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His voice is a bit weak in the first song, but he’s been sitting cold for the last 15 minutes. One and a half songs in, and Cannon is back in the driving seat. Some may say it’s unfair on him to front 2 bands and have to choose between them. Some may say it’s unfair on the other bands because he gets a second roll of the dice. But I’ll tell you what it IS: it’s dedication, and it takes hard work to pull that kind of stunt off at the pace he does.

TDWHSB is so heavy, it may as well have its own gravitational field. You could throw things at the band mid-set, but the objects would float in orbit alongside them (but you’d be a total cock-womble for throwing stuff at any band in the first place). TDWHSB answer to nobody and you only need to listen to their songs to get a feel for their flair of metal, and it’s pure fury.

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Scully sprints from one end of the stage to the next, as Hynes and Regan try to break their fingers on their fretboards. Cummins looks like a stick of dynamite ready to blow: he is moving faster than anyone in the building, including the now 50-strong moshpit that has taken up most of the live venue floorspace. Like I said – it is devastation. Bodies are flying, pints are ending up in the air, and TDWHSB are feeding on the energy from the audience and it is making them stronger. The Devil will get her swagger back if the world knows what’s good for it because the lads here are gonna come and get it. God be with anyone in their way because nobody else will.

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As with all finals comes the torturous decision to pick a winner. That is made by Bloodstock booker Simon Hall, who travelled down from last nights M2TM Northern Irish final. The crowd vote for the runner-up prize of an Electronic Press Kit by and a paid gig headlining a soon-to-be-announced date in Fibber Magees is awarded to Call to Arms, and the judges vote to play the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock Open Air goes to the Tipperary proggers Zhora.

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The audience erupts in a cheer of congratulations, but Hall isn’t done yet. He announces that there is a possibility of another Irish band heading to Bloodstock but will be pondering the options with his self-described “bag of holdings” method, so Ireland may have two bands representing again at this year’s Bloodstock Festival.

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Overdrive will let you all know when that decision has been made because our nerves are shot to shit over it. This draws the Metal 2 The Masses Ireland 2017 to a close, and I need a stiff drink to calm down.

It’s been another wild ride this year. As always, my thanks go out to Oran O’Beirne, Director of Overdrive, Kevin Kirwan of Jetrocker Promotions, Steve Dempsey of Down The Barrel Photography (one of the best in the business), Robbie McCabe of EHT Promotions, all of our guest judges Carl KingKelvin DoranEoin Lawlor, Sean O SuilleabhainConor McGouran and Darren Keogh, and special guest bands, AnimatorTwo Tales of Woe and The Crawling.

Most of all, sincere thanks goes to all of you Overdrivers who give us the energy to keep this coming for another season! We’ll be back in 2018 to rock your socks off all over again, where we’ll put the best to the test and to hell with the rest!!

Peace and love to you all!
Shaun Martin

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Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Ireland Final 2017 Photo Gallery – Down The Barrel Photography © 2017