WHEN Whitehaven band Drudge were beaten in the final of Cumbria's Metal 2 the Masses last summer, the defeat only made them more determined.

Now, 12 months on, they are gearing up for a debut at Bloodstock Festival having destroyed the competition in the county's biggest battle of the bands.

Only two years into their existence, the stoner metal four-piece have some experienced heads among them. Three of the four have made the finals of Metal 2 the Masses with other bands, while the fourth currently lines up alongside a one-time member of Black Sabbath in the recently-revived 70s rock outfit Necromandus.

Still, winning a place at the UK's top dedicated metal festival holds as much excitement for the lads as anything they've achieved in their music careers.

Guitarist Andrew Fitzsimons knows the feeling better than most, having been a winner in Metal 2 the Masses in 2017 as a member of Seek Solace In Ruin.

"We got to the final last year, with my other band, BloodThread and Thy Demise, so people were telling me I had a two-in-four chance," he says.

"But you wouldn't take that chance with a gun - I thought I had a lot more to lose.

"Maybe it's just me, but you get a vibe for the band that's going to win, and like Triverse Massacre the year before, it felt like everything was right for Seek Solace to win.

"It was a strange happy/sad moment for me, knowing I'd won but my Drudge bandmates were a bit down about the result. We asked advice from the judges, and Simon Hall from Bloodstock knows exactly what's needed to make it - he said we needed to tighten the vocals and lock the harmonies down a bit more, so that's kind of been in the back of our minds all year."
Andrew Fitzsimons of Drudge (photo by David J Morgan)

Going out all guns blazing in the 2018 competition, Drudge were always going to be one of the stand-outs again. In a sea of mostly death and thrash bands, their slower, groovy sound always sets them apart.

And with a year of practising and perfecting their set-list behind them, they were in a stronger position this time to come out on top of the pile.

Andrew continues: "The final this year again was a hell of a good competition, and the way the draw goes, our good mates in Severe Lacerations went first and were so, so good that it put us on the back foot a bit.

"When it was announced that they would be going through to the wildcard round (for the runners-up of each Metal 2 the Masses around the country), that's when I thought 'we got this'."

In August, Drudge head to Derbyshire for their Bloodstock bow, sharing a line-up with world-renowned metal acts such as Judas Priest, Gojira, Nightwish, Emperor and At The Gates.

Even among such a varied bill they will be one of the only stoner-influenced bands in attendance, but it is their distinctiveness that has won over the Cumbrian metal fans so far.

"We're all massive fans of bands like Down, Sabbath, Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity, and there is nothing else like this in our area," says Andrew.

"I know it's not unique, but it is a bit unusual for this kind of music to have twin vocals, and I think that helps us stand out as well. When they're both singing, it reminds me of a Alice In Chains or Black Label Society sort of sound.

"We seem to fit in really well. They won't thank me for saying this, but I think we appeal to a lot of the older generation - and there's a lot of them around here, who would usually go to Download and the big festivals to see the headliners.

"We're pretty delighted that we're playing on the Sunday, so we don't clash with the main bands we want to see.

"Judas Priest are the big ones for me, and because they're headlining on Friday, we've got a full day to recover from what will be a pretty heavy night."
John Branch, Andrew Fitzsimons, Michael Woods and Unyan

Despite landing this huge gig already, it still feels like early days for the band.

Drudge - completed by Michael "Pecker" Woods on vocals, Graham "Unyan" O'Neil on bass, and John Branch on drums - are still to put out their first 'proper' EP, but the first music from the new release is being drip-fed online over the coming weeks.

Following a demo EP in 2016, the new Cosmic Goddess EP Parts I and II are recorded and their arrival is imminent - and the band couldn't be happier with the results.

"We fumbled our way through a really lo-fi recording, just to get some music out there," says Andrew of their early output.

"It's as raw as you can get, done mostly in one take with no real tweaking or production - it was a bit haphazard and it sounds like that too.

"So we've been desperate to do something more professional sounding. We worked with Ant (Petrie) from my other band, who handled everything around the mixing and the production - we were a bit of a test bed for him too to get his Arterial Media name established, so he was really keen to show what he can do.

"I'm immensely proud of it. I think that when it comes on in the car, it stands up to everything else.

"It's not the easiest type of music to record - when you see bands like Down and Corrosion of Conformity you really feel it in your chest, so the challenge is how do you capture that? I think we've done a pretty good job of it."

The new EP coincides with a busy summer schedule, that also includes a debut at Touch Down Festival in Workington, and a return to Aspatria Music Festival.

After that, there's a small matter of a support slot with British metal titans Diamond Head to look forward to, as well as increasing the number of local shows.

One of the big ambitions for Drudge is to ingratiate themselves in the stoner rock scenes in places like Manchester, and ultimately be under consideration for the Hard Rock Hell Doom vs Stoner Festival that they are such huge fans of themselves.
Michael Woods of Drudge (photo by David J Morgan)

For what began as a casual jam band between four friends, this year has given them the inspiration to take it as far as possible.

"For myself, it started off as a bit of a side-project, with Seek Solace In Ruin being my more serious band. It was a case of balancing my time a little bit, and the other guys all have families and that naturally takes up a lot of their time.

"We've been a lot busier this year though, and recently especially because we want to capitalise on this and get the word out there.

"I think we're starting to build a bit of a fan base, and with this win we're getting played on Bloodstock Radio and things like that, so we're noticing a lot more activity on our social media.

"We feel like we've raised our profile enough for people to take us seriously, and from my own perspective now, I don't prefer playing in one band over the other. The main thing now is to continue what we're doing, and hopefully we'll start to get acknowledged by people a bit further afield."

Drudge's next outings are at Lounge 41, in Workington, on Saturday July 7, Touch Down Festival on Saturday 14, and Aspatria Music Festival on Saturday 21. They appear live at Bloodstock on Sunday August 12.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DrudgeUK