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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: M2TM Bristol 2019 Grand Final (Live Review By Paul H)

Bristol M2TM Grand Final, The Exchange, Bristol

The second semi-final of the Bristol event was an enjoyable event and it was with relish that we returned to catch one of the last finals in the 31 which have been taking place across the county. With Simon Hall in the judging chair this was serious stuff and six bands were pumped for the performance of their lives with that spot at the UK’s premier Independent Metal festival up for grabs. Having witnessed one of the most intense finals in Cardiff a month earlier, we were also interested to see how the two events compared. If you read my review of the semi-final on 1st June, which seems an age ago now, you’ll have noted my observations about the organisation from Questionable Life Choices and Mortishead. Well, the final ran even smoother and full credit to Steph, Rich and the team who even appeared to have time for a beer outside in a relatively relaxed fashion throughout the evening. Once again, the venue was perfect for the numbers, the sound and (newly improved) lighting were on point and the cool blasts of air conditioning in the main room most welcome. Th Exchange also benefits from a raised stage, allowing viewing from around the venue and that works superbly well, especially for those who may not be 6 foot tall.

Having negotiated crazy scenes on the M32 and the final drag into Bristol due to the St Paul’s Carnival, we secured a car parking spot and high tailed it to the Exchange in time for band number one – The Fangs Of The Dodo (6). A carnival of dystopian chaos awaited, as the Bath based five-piece launched into their set with powerful enthusiasm. Their post-industrial sound which mixes Radiohead with Tool with Manson with The Velvet Underground, proved to be the first of six different styles we witnessed during the night. The band were interestingly bedecked, their image a little suspect but overall in keeping with their changeling style.

Count Dodo commands attention at the front of the stage, his leather trench coat removed after a couple of numbers (to much mirth and The Stripper being sung by the crowd) whilst keyboard player and vocalist Cinder, in her Mystique-style face paints was possibly underutilised, her clear vocals on the opening Please Don’t Feed The Vultures more pleasing to the ear than the Count’s slightly off tune approach later on. With drummer Hazard forced to remove his gas mask to add growls on one song, and guitarist The Guardsman suffering from technical challenges, the band soldiered on but lost vital momentum. As their set raced to a close, A Nice Warm Mug Of Old Hatred reignited the fire and the band took matters into their own hands, the Count commanding a pit from the edge of the floor, brandishing his bass dangerously as the brawlers collided about him. The Guardsman had other ideas, abandoned his guitar and flung himself into the melee. It was chaotic, it was carnage but a high-octane start alright. TFOTD have plenty of potential and their social media work is a delight well worth checking out.

However, what followed was a lesson in brutality, Death metal four-piece Dies Holocaustum (8) simply brutalised for their 30 minutes. Despite only having been gigging since the start of the year and having to introduce guitarist K-lum Schmit during the competition, the band levelled the room with their brand of old school death metal. In Will Pearson they have a drummer who knows his stuff, being the engine room for 2018’s winners Body Harvest. Frontman, vocalist and bassist Robb Innell commands the stage, his tall muscular frame and growling vocals dominating without overshadowing the duel guitar work either side of him. Furious pits, albeit small, erupted as Dies Holocaustum went about their business and by their final song there was limited oxygen circulating. This is a band who can push on hard from this event and in a city where death metal has a sizeable following, don’t be surprised to hear a lot more about the band soon.

Local outfit Myst (6) were next and once more provided the evening with a dramatic twist. The band’s conceptual utterings drew a large crowd in the semi-final and the band drew decent support as singer Andy Squibbs invited the audience to join the band on their unnerving journey. With Squibbs once more the focal point, it allowed the rest of the band to deliver what is at times a crushingly heavy sound. My only issue was that the repetition of song format meant that attention drifted at times rather than holding me tightly enthralled. As the set edged to a close, Squibb became the second singer of the night to disappear into the crowd. Dark and disturbing, Myst’s unique brand of metal was once more a chilling set to watch.

A favourite with our friends in Sepulchre, Voluntas (7) decided that attack was the best form of defence and hit the stage with energy to burn. With K-lum Schmit doing double duty, the progressive thrash of this four-piece drew a frenzied response from the crowd. With the grit of early Machine Head and a plethora of influences that clearly ranged from Maiden to Death, the set flew by. Bassist Joe Barton resplendent in the early edition Sepulchre tee laid down the groove alongside vocalist and rhythm guitarist Mark Watkins whilst Schmit soloed for fun. Lacerating shredding, frantic old school thrash which combines both clean vocals and death growls was going down well with the assembled masses and material included the band’s debut single Into the Black from their forthcoming EP Walk Into Hell. Job done.

In the semi-final NO:IR UK (5) had overcome the loss of a bass amp with an energetic passionate performance to reach the final. With all systems working, it was a strangely subdued first ten minutes which greeted me. Maybe the nerves were having a bit of an impact? Vocalist Sam ‘Evvi’ Davies bounced around, and as usual the band’s loyal support enabled the energy to increase but, on the night, they were a little flat. I stated in my previous review that I’m not the biggest fan of their schizophrenic musical style, and the fusion of hip hop and progressive metal still doesn’t really do it for me. However, I truly admire the enthusiasm the band bring. They work hard and I am sure they have a big future. On the night they just weren’t quite up there.

Once more the square peg in the round hole, South Walians Trep (8) impressed me hugely in the semi-final with their progressive rock/metal. Another quality 30-minute set with the band focused and tight. This was always going to be tough for them, their sound very much the odd one out in the evening but for me they were streets above the other bands in terms of musicianship. A smaller crowd suggested that I was in the minority but for those who decided to watch them, what a reward. Bassist Sam Green’s infectious enthusiasm and humility in his plaudits resonated, whilst singer/guitarist Rhys Evans allowed his guitar work to take centre stage. Cutting some tracks back from their usual lengthier passages worked well, keeping the band bang on track with their timing. Once more the band at times were also able to let rip as hard as any other band on the night. As a ‘palate cleanser’, Trep certainly did the job and although deep down you knew they weren’t quite the right fit, there is much more to come from a band who have been one of my finds of 2019.

Five down, one to go and oof! This was some set. Trayus (7) bring the metalcore, the raging pits and a visceral intensity that only Body Harvest could match on the night. I’m not hugely into metalcore but Trayus worked the room hard and were rewarded with some of the night’s most intense floor action. With only one guitarist, there is some reliance on technology to flesh out their sound and when things went South, there was some panic. Still, the M2TM event is all about comradery and it was sorted with enough speed to allow the band to continue with their onslaught. Frontman Alex Bennett is exactly what you need in this type of band, his enthusiasm and guttural roars stoking the pit fires. A huge crowd reaction on the night, and another band who are worthy of checking out.

Before Simon Hall delivered the verdict, and the raffle prizes, it was time for last year’s winners Body Harvest (9) to demonstrate why they almost took the Hobgoblin Tent into orbit in 2018. With their sophomore release Parasitic Slavery the band grabbed the word brutality, turned it inside out and threw it sobbing onto the pavement. Their live set was probably the most punishing I’ve seen since Behemoth earlier this year. This was viciousness on a different level to anything that had gone before. Pinned against the wall by the sheer ferocity, I stood with my jaw open at the power and intensity that the Bristol four-piece summon. Not since Gojira moved my internal organs several years ago in an intimate 400-person gig in Cardiff had I felt such a disturbance. Body Harvest simply destroy. It was sheer joy to watch, whilst trying to work out if those down the front were moshing or merely caught in the death metal tractor beam emanating from the stage. If you’ve not seen Body Harvest or listened to their music, then you really should sort your life out. Pure brutal death metal. I loved every second of it … again.

And so, to the results. After I was one ticket away from winning the raffle, Simon thanked all those involved including the bands, the venue, the excellent sound and the organisers. Announcing one runner’s up spot, this went to Trayus, who may get a slot subject to the outcome of some of the other events. Surprisingly to me, the winners of the Bristol M2TM 2019 were Voluntas. I say surprising because they weren’t my choice on the night, but I wish them nothing but good fortune. Their set was certainly entertaining and with their EP launch the weekend before BOA, I may well pop back to Bristol to check the lads out before their massive set at the festival.

As with all the M2TM events this year, this was huge fun. Let’s do it all again next year, and with good fortune and kind scheduling, we can bring coverage of the Bristol heats as well.

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