THE standard of the bands in both semi-finals were a tribute to the quality and diverse nature of Northern Ireland's metal acts, and Friday's (May 5th) second and last semi-final was no different in a (cue the cliché) hotly contested evening of top notch sounds.
Like the meme going round this was Revenge of the Fifth as Belfast's Voodoo reverberated with riffs.
As always the running order was drawn at random, leaving Oracle to open proceedings with a ferocious, aggressive groove metal attack. Jason manically moved around the stage when not clutching the mic as if his life depended on it.
The inter-play between the guitars was balanced, allowing sufficient breath for the rhythms to come to the fore. While they were good in the heats they elevated their performance to great in a set that showcased why many are excited ahead of their forthcoming début album.
Although shorn of their normal corpse paint there was no sense that Neamhni were going to lessen their performance levels. As soon as the intro tape ended they unleashed a mighty melodic blackened maelstrom of metal. At times the sound was a little patchy and muddy, but they soldiered on through.
And that sense of overcoming anything thrown at them was clear as Alessandro towered over and dominated the ranks of headbangers down the front. They are a band on the rise, without pretensions or poses - just laying down death for all in their path.
They may bill themselves as sludge/doom but that underestimates the dynamic of Elder Druid. They have the sensibility not to be monochromatic in the pace of their set, with fluidity not so much a functional thing but an essential part of what they do within songs and the arrangement of the tracks themselves.
As they reach out to shows outside Northern Ireland they are reaching a maturity in their music and stagecraft with some mighty playing.
Muscular music is what Beyond the Beneath do, so muscular that Badger broke the bass drum...it was a technical glitch that threw the band off their stride, and compared to their magnificent show in the heats they seemed a little off their pace.
However, what was clear is that Beyond the Beneath have heft and heaviness that is apparent through all of their songs. They tread the treacherous borderlands between heavy rock and metal with sure-footed ease, creating songs that will develop into full-flown erosion of the senses.
Bakken's thrash metal leanings are proudly displayed in all their recorded and live material, harkening back to the days when the 'Big Four' dominated the pages and airwaves. With Celtic twists to the sound they complete the mélange of their sounds with ease.
The new(ish) line-up gives the Voodoo some of the best tracks they have in their allotted 30 minutes, with a few dashes of power metal thrown in by Simon et al to complete an evening of metal excellence.
As the quantity of beer imbibed and anxious bands and fans awaiting the result Mr Loveday once again resorted to his trusted abacus and solar powered calculator.
Going through to the final on Friday May 12th are: Neamhni, Oracle and Elder Druid.
And it's at this point the local Judges hang-up their lawgivers as Chief Judge and dispenser of final justice Mr Simon Hall will adjudicate. Given he will be also running a raffle for a weekend camping at Bloodstock it's the perfect opportunity to go see top notch metal! The winner will be accorded the honour of playing the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock...
Review by Jonathan Traynor
Pictures by Darren McVeigh