My first time back at Grand Central since an epic Blaze Bayley gig just had to have a special twist, and it came in the form of Metal 2 The Masses, a competition taking place across the country in which bands compete to win a place at Bloodstock. Five great North West acts were on tap to try and prove something to a gathering of the Manchester faithful, not to mention competition judges from Rocksector Records, and earn the prestigious prize of performing at one of the UK’s most popular festivals.
Heavy rock quintet Blastronaut kicked things off and set the tone for the night by unleashing some high octane energy, particularly bassist Dave Ogden who thrashed about the stage maniacally. The group’s first two songs were a wonderful combination of tonally crushing Sabbath-like riffs, and vocal work from frontman Chris Whitehouse. It was a joy to listen to. Unfortunately the band was struck by technical problems as a string on one of the guitars snapped, and very shortly thereafter an amp went out too. The delay in sorting out replacement equipment ending up dragging out for several minutes, and it was a damn shame because these guys were really good. Eventually they got back under way with a guitar borrowed from one of the evening’s other acts and performed a fairly blistering second half, closing with a sweet number called ‘Carnage in Carthage’. Performance wise these guys were damn good, but unfortunately that delay in the middle must have proved costly with the judges.
Charming alternative metallers Propax were up next, and amongst the various styles which they blended into their sound there was definitely a noticeable punk edge to their performance. Like the previous band they brought tremendous energy to the stage and singer Sean was very enthusiastic in jumping around the small stage. This was a very aggressive set characterized by thudding, thumping music. The drums at times took on a slightly djent feel to them. The only thing that might have counted against these guys was an audience who were still a little reserved. Being early in the evening, it seemed at times like Sean’s calls for people to go nuts and jump with him really were falling on deaf ears. Musically though this was a killer performance.
Godhand were up next and I’ll be damned-my old mate Kyle McSweeney performed like a genuine rock star! Unleashing tremendous riffs and solos, he seemed a far cry from the lad I knew at University playing in comedy bands and making outrageous on stage proclamations (or at least he would have without the context of the interview I had just conducted with the band!) Gareth Reid was prominent on bass throughout the set, letting loose some ground shaking riffs which counter balanced Kyle’s guitar work perfectly. Meanwhile Fergus Ellington, also a veteran of aforementioned university comedy bands, confidently performed his semi-serious vocals admirably, particularly during ‘Diseased’. The whole performance was offset excellently by the drum work of Paul Linsley, and at the end of a great set I had a feeling he was more confident than the rest of the band, for you see…
…Paul was also drumming for Footprints in the Custard that night. The 2012 Metal 2 The Masses finalists looked ready to blow Grand Central away right from the get go. Singer Russ prepared for war during the sound check with rigorous calisthenics, though in truth his frantic energy may have been matched by some of the most intense audience members I’ve ever seen at a gig. It is fair to say that in the crowd work category Footprints won the heat hands down. Russ and his band mates interacted with their ferociously headbanging audience spectacularly, performing an at times psychotic set down amongst the people. It may be hard to adequately describe a Footprints live show to anyone unfamiliar with it but perhaps the best way to do so is to simply say that they have found the perfect blend of comedy and hardcore music. These guys are ridiculous, but also brilliant, and once you’ve seen them dressed in drag (and Borat mankinis) performing excellent songs like ‘Wasted’, you know that as a gig goer you will never be the same again!
Needless to say the final contestants of the night NekroDrako had a hell of an act to follow, and indeed for a good portion of the set it looked like they couldn’t as far as getting the crowd going. Everybody seemed fatigued and blown away by their exertions during the Footprints set, and it wasn’t until NekroDrako were about halfway through their performance that they headbanging and movement returned to the audience. Musically these guys were flawless. Frontman John Thompson, the founder of the band celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, growled his vocals and unleashed the drum machine which characterizes the ‘digi-death’ style of the band to great effect. The rest of the group were no nonsense in performing some crushingly heavy riffs, especially my old band mate ‘Beardy’ Dan Quiney, who funnily enough had already won a previous heat in this competition with his thrash band Amethyst. On the whole, it felt like these guys definitely won in terms of musicianship. Compellingly heavy and quite unique, the intricate performance was a marvel to behold.
It fell to Absolva frontman Chris Appleton to announce the two winners of this heat, and I don’t think anybody would fault the decision to award the night to NekroDrako and Footprints in the Custard. Both worthy and deserving winners, these two stellar groups each have something to prove as they advance in the competition; with Footprints having just missed out on a Bloodstock place two years ago, and NekroDrako looking to secure a slot at one of the country’s most prestigious festivals to celebrate the band’s tenth year. This was another great night of local music at Grand Central, and though only two could go through I think each of the bands who played earned at least one new fan. With stiff competition, whoever wins this overall will definitely have earned it!
Review: Michael Dodd