Metal to The Masses Semi-Final 2. Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff
A much tighter one to call at the second South Wales Semi Final than the previous week with some stellar performances demonstrating once again that the scene here is very much alive and kicking.
It was probably warmer than the previous week's event inside the venue, something I didn’t think possible and openers And The Sky Darkened (7) stoked the temperature even higher with an excellent set. The Cardiff outfit play a sweeter style than many, using melodies and calmer passages to great effect. Large, thick riffs and crashing drums were present in abundance though, and a vociferous crowd spurred the band on. Musically tight, the band's Achilles heel is the slightly weak vocals of Ryan Lewis, whose struggle to really go for the kill with sufficient power at times prevented their strong compositions really taking off. A powerful start though, and the bar was set high.
Democratus (9) need little introduction. The band is one of the most hard-working outfits in the area, and from their opening bars it was clear how much the evening meant to the band. With guitarist Joey Watkins heroically taking the pain barrier and telling it to do one, Democratus ramped up the tempo to a level I and others around me had not seen before. This really was their best performance and the audience reacted accordingly. Steve Jenkins was more animated than the entire Womanby Street response to the giant rat that was spotted casually roaming in amongst the punters earlier in the evening, his vocals (that’s Steve, not the rat – more of an Emo scream from the rodent), soaring high and his death growls more guttural. Bassist Spoon threw everything, guitarist Kerrin Beckwith chucked out solo after solo but it was drummer Zac Kane who stole the show with his superb efforts. Despite the world’s biggest party popper failing, Democratus hit the very spot.
As if that wasn’t enough, proceedings took a turn heavier as brutality reared its ugly head in the shape of death metal trio Cranial Separation (7) whose old school style took the place apart and sent the faint of heart scurrying to the bar. Ray Packer’s unintelligible vocals mixed perfectly with the bludgeoning bass of Chris Machin and drummer Sam Heffernan’s incredible thunder from behind the kit. Packer’s guitar work was aided by a clear mix and CS stormed through their set with the usual South Walian chaos between songs. “Yeah man”. A solid ovation indicated the challenge ahead for the judges.
Described as Fantasy Djent, what Hereford’s Enmerkar (6) lacked in crowd numbers, they made up for in effort. Vocalist and Londoner Rob Shinobi Kemp is a ball of energy, cajoling and whirling on and off the stage, his vocals a hybrid mix of death growls, rapping and clean lines which are typical of the genre. I admit from the start, Djent isn’t one of my favoured genres, but Enmerkar pushed hard and despite fewer numbers, elicited a roar of approval from those punters still sweating it out in the room. A tough call as the performances were of a much higher quality than the previous week.
Bristol based Mortishead (6) have obtained a slot at this year’s Bloodstock on the Sophie Stage which is well deserved. On the night, I’m not sure that their industrial tinged extreme metal was what I needed but their groove and relentless on-stage aggression and performance was well received. The bizarre sight of vocalist Luke in full suit, keys and samples player Nick Luxa-Richards clad in full face mask and boiler suit rampaging across the stage alongside the rest of the band was interesting to say the least. I think I’d need to see them on a wider stage to get the full effect but certainly nothing wrong with these guys overall.
And so, the judges spoke and in a close-run call it was congratulations to Democratus and Cranial Separation who tipped the scales, gaining the final two places in what should be an intriguing and intense final on 16th June. On another night, And The Sky Darkened would certainly have made it through; tough draw and with Democratus on fire, it will be interesting to see how they slug it out with Cranial Separation, Incursion and Blind Divide for the top prize.
As a footnote, it should be noted that in both semi-finals, the voting system has been marred by fans of opening bands completing their slips way too early. This is a showcase of the best of South Wales talent; not a popularity contest and the respect and support that should be taken for granted for the other competitors is sometimes lacking. If you can’t get that message to your fans, then maybe you need to rethink why you are in this competition in the first place. It’s been noted and certainly isn’t impressive.