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Metal 2 The Masses Merseyside: a competition that continues to galvanize the scene

Last year's Metal 2 The Masses Merseyside winners, Novacrow, performing in the final at Zanzibar (photo credit: Phil Vidamour)

The dates for the heats and the final of the annual Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Merseyside were announced recently. Heats one, two and three take place in Zanzibar, Liverpool on 31st March, 21st April, and 19th May, while heat four sees the event make a welcome switch to the Wirral in Molly’s Chambers, Birkenhead on 16th June. Then, it is back to Zanzibar for the Grand final on 1st July.

We can look forward to the cream of the region’s heavy rock and metal talent battling it out to try and secure a slot on the New Blood stage at Bloodstock Open Air festival 2023. In addition to acts such as Devil’s Henchmen, Black Kettle, Ogun and Spitfyre taking part in the competition, long-time promoter of the event, Deathwave Entertainment, have already secured gargantuan guest headliners in the form of slam death metal maniacs, Colpocleisis, who will take to the stage after heat one.

Since its initial inception as an indoor festival in Derbyshire, UK, in 2001 and particularly since its transition to an outdoor festival with more than one stage in 2006, Bloodstock has been an independent metal festival that has nurtured new talent. In 2023 there are Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition events taking place in 29 locations throughout the UK and Ireland. For bands based outside of the UK there are similar opportunities, with acts from as far afield as Norway, Poland, Slovenia and Croatia having previously had the chance to grace the New Blood stage.

Battle of the bands style competitions like Metal 2 The Masses have been pivotal to the Merseyside rock and metal scene for several decades. Long before the emergence of national festivals like Bloodstock and Download, Liverpool was host to a prestigious annual Battle of the Bands competition. Organised by Radio City and the sadly missed DJ, Phil Easton (presenter of The Great Easton Express rock show), the competition featured some famous guest headliners including Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame who performed in March 1981.

Of the local acts that took part in the competition, Export were one of the most successful. Formed in 1979 and featuring vocalist Harry Shaw, guitarist Steve Morris, bassist Chris Alderman and drummer Lou Rosenthal, the band won the Battle of the Bands in the same year. Their prize was a record contract with Atlantic, although according to this only led to a solitary single, ‘Julie Bitch’. Following their independently released self-titled debut in 1980, Export were picked up by major label Epic in the US. They released the hard rocking album Contraband in 1984 and this was followed up with the more keyboard driven, AOR radio friendly Living in The Fear Of The Private Eye in 1986 before sadly being dropped by Epic due in part to poor sales.

Export (image courtesy of Tony Bolland)

Although the current Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses Merseyside prize is not as prestigious as a major label record contract, the lure of a place on Bloodstock’s New Blood stage remains a considerable one for new bands. Reflecting on the continued significance of the contest, Deathwave Entertainment head, Andy Hughes, asserted that it is a “catalyst for the scene.”

He went on to explain how: “I’ve had […] people forming bands, contacting me, saying we’re forming, and we are forming now specifically to be ready in time for Metal 2 The Masses and in those cases, I’ve actually encouraged that.

As well as having a galvanizing effect on the formation of local bands, taking part in the contests also provides vital experience for younger bands learning their trade. Hughes told us that for most bands entering the competition, it will take them several years before they can progress into the final and possibly have a chance of winning: “if they form, they do need that time to get their stage craft down, get their live performance down, as well as writing the music […] you need to actually be on stage before you understand how to be on stage.”

The impact of actually winning Merseyside Metal 2 The Masses can have consequences far beyond merely playing at Bloodstock Open Air. Jess Stanley, drummer with Ashen Reach who won the contest in 2018 while playing in Equinox (the band that would become Ashen Reach) explained how their appearance on the New Blood stage was a significant turning point. As she stated, it “put us in front of the most people we had ever played to at that point in time. I think it put us to the test to see if we could thrive in front of a crowd that big, and I think we proved to everyone we could. After Bloodstock, we seemed to be on a couple more radars, and got Bloodstock down on our ‘band CV’ making us more desirable.”

Ashen Reach (photo credit: @joestanleyphotography)

Jess went on to reveal how it had been a “rollercoaster” ride since their Bloodstock appearance. Tour dates supporting the likes of Bullet For My Valentine, Stone Broken and Gun, combined with airplay on Planet Rock radio and appearances at festivals such as Planet Rockstock are testimony to how Ashen Reach have been a success story that has its roots at least partly in the Merseyside Metal 2 The Masses.

In the coming months it will be exciting to see which new bands will earn the right to repeat such success.

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