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Monday, 28 May 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: M2TM South Wales Semi Final 1/Agrona Album Launch (Live Review By Paul H)

Metal To The Masses - South Wales Semi Final 1, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

A week after the astonishingly brilliant Eradication Festival it was back to Fuel for the first Semi Final of the South Wales 2018 Metal To The Masses. With the ultimate prize a place on the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock Open Air, this was serious business. A huge shout out to Alyn and Tim for their organisation of the event and the earlier qualifying rounds, no easy feat to get this together but with the night close to a sell out it must have felt like justification for their hard work.

Opening the evening was Incursion, who must have felt the déjà vu after doing the same for the Mammoth Fest qualifier a week or so earlier. Incursion (6) were on sharper form than their previous attempt and with a hearty crowd giving them renewed energy, Jonny, Adam and Robbie raced through their half hour with little problem. Once again there was no issue about the raging thrash that the band play but as a week before, Jonny’s vocals highlighted the limitations of the band as he struggled with the clean parts. Highlight of the band’s set was the sight of Democratus front man Steve Jenkins lining up against Adam’s mother in the wall of death. Neither gave any quarter and with a BOA place up for grabs Jonny really wasn’t concerned either!

Valley’s outfit Prophecy (5) were next up. Having spent an age getting their sound sorted, the six-piece launched into their truncated set. With a sound that mixes Kamelot with Five Finger Death Punch, Prophecy aren’t an instant hit with a little more attention required to access the more nuanced elements of their music. Fuel’s small stage meant that Joel Christian’s keyboards were located on the floor, dangerously close to the entrance to the toilets! Prophecy gave it everything, and the oppressive heat in the venue was beginning to make viewing uncomfortable so being on stage with the band’s smart outfits must have been challenging. As the set progressed, it was evident to me that singer Dan Griffiths was struggling with his vocals, well, rather ropey, to be honest. A poor vocalist always makes it a challenge to appreciate a band and so it proved with the night air a more enticing prospect.

A total change of style, always one of the joys of the M2TM events, saw Caerphilly based Epsilon (6) hit the stage third. Josh Ball has an interesting presence at the front of the stage, with the band pulling in a different direction to the previous two bands. Fusing their brand of hard rock in the style of Architects, Deftones and even a bit of KSE, the fervour of their supporters was infectious as the band drove forward. Competent in all the right places, my only struggle with Epsilon is that I just don’t particularly like their brand of music and after a couple of tracks I headed to watch from the back of the room.

And then the final band arrived and smashed it big time. Cardiff’s Blind Divide (8) hit the stage like a steam train and rolled everyone over with a display of huge groove and thrash similar in style to the likes of Lamb Of God, Parkway Drive and KSE. Whipping up some hostile and aggressive pits in front of them, Blind Divide didn’t stand on ceremony and bulldozed the audience from the off. Looking around the room there were knowing nods as those assembled heard what would surely be one of the finalists.

Before the announcement of who would had through to the final, it was time for the guest headliners and what a superb set from Agrona (9). The launch party for their superb debut release Realm Of The Fallen, the band blasted through the entire release in melting temperatures. The packed room roared approval of each song and we were also treated to Steve Jenkins adding his vocals to Storm’s End. This band are improving with every show and with the material now honed from continuous practice, there is a smoothness about the band that screams quality. Agrona may have only just released their debut but these guys are heading for bigger things. A great choice of headliner.

And so, to the announcements of the finalists from the first semi final and it was no surprise that Blind Divide romped into the first slot. Their set was impressive, and the band’s tightness grabbed the attention. The other finalist was more difficult to call but it was Incursion who made the cut. On the form displayed at this event, I’d be unsurprised to see Blind Divide ripping up those circle pits at BOA in August. Time will tell. Another great night and the turnout was magnificent, proving once more that the true metal scene in South Wales is very much alive and kicking. Congratulations to all the bands who played on the night.

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