Putting the numbers on the scorecard, putting my name at the top and handing them to Mr Loveday was doing so knowing that I was helping send through a band, or contributing to their exit was sometimes with a heavy heart. But on each occasion judging was done with a fixed set of criteria...
The first heat seems so long ago now, but it didn't begin auspiciously. Selene came on stage with the vocals absent from the mix and the entire band visibly nervous (in complete contrast to their confident show days later in The Empire at Blazefest).
Altus came on stage with a deathly sound, made all the more menacing with Sleeve's vocals, and his between song cheesy banter also helping the atmosphere around the sound.
In contrast Paradigm's performance, whilst solid and competent, needed more actual identity to what their sound actually is, with flavours of metal, grunge and alt mixed in. Perhaps more gigging will help the band settle its sound.
Sorrowfall need no such quest for identity their blackened death metal features songs that shred and dominate. However, they took a significant risk with their set comprising solely of new material. The band's strength as a unit, and a stellar show from Chris Polin worked out for them - even if it was Sleeve's second slot of the evening after his performance with Altus.
Qualifiers: Altus and Sorrowfall.
Heat twoThe diversity of the competition was evident in the second heat with four acts from a range of rock and metal's genres. Openers Cavehill came on stage with a bluesy hard rock sound with Sinco leading the band with ease, and some songs dealing with edgey material.
If Cavehill eased some of the crowd into the competition they were soon terrified when Pete Clarke roared his deadly growl out to open Zombified's set. The band's quality as a death metal act is not in doubt and they ploughed up the venue and audience in well developed sounds from the dark regions of human existence.
From death to contemporary thrash as relative youngsters Donum Dei took their development yet further through a series of songs the audience are becoming increasingly familiar with. Thomas Marshall is becoming more confident as a front man, leading his merry band of thrash marauders to run amok.
You can never have too many guitarists...at least that's what Rule of Six seem to believe - one drummer, one bassist and four guitarists, playing a range of riffs, harmonies and solos; all based around songs with a whiff of sci-fi around them.
Qualifiers: Rule of Six and Donum Dei
As I and fellow judge Mark Ashby from Planet Mosh were reviewing Hammerfest and HRH on this weekend our friend Darren McVeigh (photographer from this parish) was among the judges.
Qualifiers: Overoth and Proxist
Again the diversity of the rock and metal community of acts in Northern Ireland was apparent in the fourth instalment as Scimitar took to the stage, bringing forth a wall of thrash, powered by incessant rhythms and....dozens of plastic scimitars for the audience to wield. With material culled from their two eps it was a confident performance.
Drawing their influence from the NWOBHM and delivering with humour Conjuring Fate dove straight into their show with each chorus bringing forth sing-alongs from the audience as Tommy's grin grew wider and their well-balanced arrangement of songs won over doubters.
With a blend of death, thrash and hardcore By Conquest or Consent challenge the listener to react in a furious face-off, dealing with uncomfortable truths with a sledgehammer of songs, delivered with poise and precision.
With the second instalment of Sinocence's No Gods, No Masters ep out days after the band appearance in the heats the quartet are on a high. They still stick to their regular opener 'Long Way Down' but they use what was the upcoming release well to balance out more familiar material.
Qualifiers: Conjuring Fate and Sinocence
Once again Mr Loveday's Distortion Project brought forth diversity for the concluding heat. Opening up were A Little Bitter. The trio are renowned as a powerful blend of metal and melody, but knowing this was for slots at Bloodstock and Wacken they toughened up their sound yet still retained the melody in the key arrangements.
Death metal act Shrouded are billed as having three members, but had a stand-in bassist for the night. Their death metal was smooth and silky in its terror. There is plenty of potential for such a young act to develop further once they iron out a few live kinks.
Cursed Sun come on the stage storming, angry and vicious. Their hard-edged extreme sound pouring forth like a tumour of metal malignancy, yet joyous in their intensity. Many individuals throughout the heats had left the stage to play segments, but when Jonesy leapt from the stage he prowled, stalked and climbed to deliver the band's dystopian odes.
Concluding the heats were hard rockers Dead Addiction, who have been growing in stature as they have begun to notch up more live slots. With solid songs to build their sound upon and the ability within the band musically.
Qualifiers: A Little Bitter and Dead Addiction
Semi Final One
Semi Final Two
Opening up the now four-band line up were Altus. Since the heats they had installed a new drummer, and it made a difference, with more doom, more malice and more intent across the sound; and Sleeve poured his soul into each song.
Sinocence delivered their set, as always, with precision. But, this was a set marked by a sense of attitude raging from Moro with a sense of controlled anger coming across, especially on tracks from No Gods, No Masters Vol 2.
With their four-guitar attack Rule of Six's wonderfully bonkers songs and interplay they came across as a band with loads more to deliver and a real sense between them and the audience of having a lot of metallic fun.
When Overoth hit the stage they came to conquer with a callous disregard for anything else other than delivering some delightful death metal: as measured as a surgeon cutting out diseased flesh.
Finalists: Sinocence and Overoth.
So, that was that - five heats, two semis and now a final on May 8th at Belfast's Voodoo. Throughout all the rounds what was clear is that there is quality, diversity, songwriting and much more in Northern Ireland's hard rock and metal scene. Maybe there's something in the water....
And, what's more the judges and the audience have no say, as a representative of Bloodstock will be there to have the final say.
Come along, support the scene and...there's also a raffle for a case of Hobgoblin beer and...tickets to fucking Bloodstock!
Words by Jonny
Photo credits: Darren McVeigh, Carolyn McGimpsey, and Marty Johnston - many thanks to them all - a selection is also below. All these photos are the copyright and intellectual property of the photographers. If you wish to use under licence or purchase please contact the photographers directly.