I’ve been to every edition of the Maryland Deathfest since its inception, from the years at the Thunderdome (before it became a titty bar), to the miserable experience at House of
Rock Cock, to its relocation to Sonar and its growth into a rather
large outdoor festival on the grimy streets of Baltimore. With age, all day fests have evolved from an
opportunity to see every band I could want to see to becoming a test of endurance
where fatigue usually defeats any desire to see the last band of the
evening. That said, it’s an enjoyable
enough experience; it beats fighting Memorial Day holiday traffic to the beach
or amusement park where I would have to battle hordes of miserable families under
the sweltering sun for parking, concessions, etc. And I get to buy sweet merch that’s pretty
So M and I (because I’ll protect the identity of my spouse from future employers out there, and if you know me personally you already know her full name anyhow) both hold steady jobs, perhaps not the jobs we plan to make careers out of, but jobs that demand we show up most of the time. So when Thursday sold out rather quickly, we took a look at the MDF running order and decided that while Napalm Death and Nasum would’ve been sweet, they weren’t "$50 bucks a person" sweet to fight holiday traffic up I-95 to Baltimore at rush hour over; especially when we both had to work. So we decided (or I guess *I* decided, since M was less enthusiastic about attending the fest than I was to begin with; she might be 7 years younger but she definitely behaves like the older person in the relationship- she collects fucking china!) to just attend the weekend portion of the Fest.
I guess we arrived sometime around 2pm, and several bands were playing inside (Looking For An Answer, Dragged Into Sunlight) but we bumped into some peeps, and M made with the chitchat while I gravitated towards the merch tables and began wasting hard earned money on soon to be obsolete media (CDs) and a few kickass shirts to freak out my professors on campus with (like this one, except in white). The Deathgasm Records table was running all CDs for $5 bucks, which was fucking awesome, and the Sevared Records table had some decent stuff; I guess Sevared is hosting a Deathfest of their own in Rochester, New York next month with Embalmer headlining .
The first band outside to play was Hellbastard, who I think are from the UK. Their frontman started off by rambling about being against bullying then they played a really sloppy, unmemorable sort of thrash with punk influence? It wasn’t particularly enjoyable at all, and judging from the crowd, most of whom weren’t paying attention, I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in that assessment. At some point I walked into club, where Black Witchery was playing. Black Witchery was better than Hellbastard, if for no other reason than their extremity. However, I wasn’t particularly enthralled by their bland sort of straight ahead black metal and went back outside in time to see Deviated Instinct.
Deviated Instinct was good. I actually thought they sounded somewhat Swedish, but it turns out that they are from the UK also. They played a style of thrash meets hardcore I guess? It was rough around the edges and had big meaty riffs and a pissed off vocalist, so I approved at any rate. Maybe they weren’t actually that good, but compared to who I’d seen beforehand they were gods.
Maybe I’m getting mixed up, but at some point here October 31 also played. October 31 is the more melodic band that King Fowley of Deceased plays in. Truth said, to my ears they don’t sound that different from Deceased, besides having a more NWOBHM kind of vibe verses Deceased’s thrashier approach. But as a Virginia boy, I like Deceased (really, outside of the Richmond scene they’re all we’ve got…) and I respect the hell out of King Fowley, who believes in heavy metal the same way little kids believe in Santa Claus (and probably hates 95% of the stuff I listen to). So of course I enjoyed seeing October 31.
At this point, M and I hadn’t drank all that much beer (because Sonar really jacked up their prices this year…$7 fucking dollars for a Stella Artois? Does it come with a blowjob?) but we needed to use the restroom. If you’ve ever been to a concert of any kind, you know how disgusting and unsanitary the restrooms at a venue can become. We also desired food, and we didn’t trust the food vendors; so we took the 3 or 4 block walk to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and found our salvation at Chipotle instead.
Side rant here: I can’t understand why people would be willing to pay $9 bucks for a half-cooked sausage on a bed of noodles (or as I called it, a “bowl of dick”) or a taco prepared by a “crusty”, especially when better food could be found cheaper a short distance (and very safe walk) away. It’s like this; even if the people working the food stalls weren’t actual crustpunks; they’re still fucking carnies. You ever been to a County Fair or Carnival? You ever see the characters who work those things? They look like they come from the movie Gummo. Having just been recertified in Food Safety at my McJob, I can assure you the health department would have a field day with the degenerates selling overpriced bowls of dick.
Having said that, despite Baltimore’s rightfully earned reputation as America’s armpit, it is a city with some character(s) and solid culinary options, including affordable ones. My favorite? Chaps Pit Beef, which was featured on Food Network, and one of the favorite meals M’s parents had while they were visiting America two years ago. It’s about 3 miles from Sonar down Orleans Street (turns into US Highway 40 and promptly leaves Baltimore past Chaps, which is located next one of Baltimore’s finest adult entertainment establishments, the Gold Club!).(/end rant)
I would’ve liked to have seen Morbid Saint, but the clean bathroom and acceptable food was more important. I did make it back in time to suffer though a set by Anvil; Anvil being the Canadian pre-thrash band that was featured in that documentary 2 or 3 years ago. If you’ve watched this documentary, you realize that this is the most pathetic band ever. The band wrote exactly one good riff ever (the main riff to “Metal on Metal”) and if not for the sympathy the band solicited from the movie, they wouldn’t be playing festivals, and especially not MDF, where they were an odd fit, not because they were old (because Saint Vitus is also old) but because Steve “Lips” Kudlow is the kind of person oblivious to the audience he has and proclaims that he is a “hippie” to an audience of extreme metal kids. Anyhow, Anvil basically sucked, and I’m not sure how well received they really were past the first song. Though they are so broke apparently that they were supposedly crashing on the floor at the house of some 17 year old chick that attended the fest.
Thankfully they were followed by Confessor and Brujeria on the outside stages. To me, Confessor was the “Athiest” of doom metal, really technical to the point of being just out there. As a friend put it to me, the band plays one song and the vocalist sings another. Somehow it works, especially because Confessor is heavy as fuck. Though they dealt with the same shitty sound every band on every stage struggled with all weekend (with one exception), I thought they were the first KILLER band to play MDF.
Brujeria is kind of a novelty. Even though it’s obvious who some of the band are (such as Shane Embury from Napalm Death), they still bother to wear bandanas on stage. And they still sing mostly about dealing drugs to please Satan. But they’re heavy, catchy, and they played the Taco Bell song (“Matando Gueros”) so I was pleased. I guess Horna was playing inside during this time, but I think Horna is gay, and I’m mostly writing this because I want it published on the internet that I think Horna is gay.
Speaking of terrible, Morbid Angel closed the outside stages on Saturday night. It seemed that everyone M and I knew was excited about this; that they were expecting the old school Morbid Angel of 1991 to get on stage. I knew better. Reports of the band members being general dickheads at the Fest aside, their hearts aren’t into it. “Heretic”, the previous album before “Illud Insanwhatever Inwhatever”, featured 6 songs and a bunch of tracks that were literally just fucking around in the studio. “Illud..” featured exactly four death metal songs of average if unimpressive quality, and a bunch of crap that was um…“Too Extreme”. Making things worse, David Vincent’s voice sounds shot as hell in 2012. Anyhow, regarding their performance, which began after what seemed like a 20 minute “intro”, was horrid. The bass drums overpowered the mix, making the guitars difficult to hear. And Vincent’s voice sounded just as shot and weak as it did on “Illud..”. They did focus on their older songs, “Nevermore” being the only new song I recall hearing them play, but they sounded like garbage. Vincent’s insincere, well rehearsed stage banter just angered me more, honestly. How much more fake can a dude be than telling the audience that he’s surrounded by “his favorite kind of people” while spending the entire day either hiding on his tourbus or in VIP lounge acting like a primadonna along with the rest of his band? The tragic thing is that most of the festival goers will say how great it was to hear Morbid Angel “play the old shit”, buying into bullshit nostalgia and proving that metal fans overwhelmingly are not a discerning bunch of music fans. If I want to relive the days when Morbid Angel was good, I can sit at home and listen to “Altars of Madness” or “Covenant”; this shit was garbage and fuck people who disagree.
I heard a bit of Tsjuder, but just like Horna, they’re gay. Okay, Tsjuder is less gay than Horna, but I wasn’t a fan. So M and I sat outside and rested our feet.
The last band we stayed to see was Haemorrhage from Spain. Though the sound inside was worse than at the outside stages, Haemorrhage’s downtuned, simple style of goregrind was able to succeed where other bands couldn’t, and they were enjoyable enough. Fatigue set in, however, and though M and I both wanted to see Winter, we decided it was better to leave. Honestly, I still love doom metal but I’m not sure if I have the attention span for Winter in 2012 that I would’ve had for them in 2002 anyhow. Because Winter is fucking slow.
We were a bit sluggish on Sunday, and didn’t arrive until nearly 4pm. This meant that I missed Disma, the first band I had wanted to see this day. I guess I’ve seen the real Incantation a few times, so missing an Incantation knock off didn’t hurt my feelings too much. The first band this day was Demonical, a Swedish band comprised of ex-Centinex members. They basically sounded like Stockholm style death metal: high gain guitars and throaty vocals. Good band.
Morgoth followed on the other outdoor stage, and totally killed it. I never really got into this band, they were always a third tier death metal band to me. With odd vocals, no less. Who went through a weird semi-industrial phase. That said, they seemed to focus on their less experimental material, and totally ripped. I watched most of this set close to the stage before slipping inside to catch the last 2 songs by Rwake. I really like Rwake on album; they’re slow without being too slow, and there’s a lot of variety in the types of riffs they play. The sound at the indoor stage was no better Sunday than it was on Saturday, but I thought Rwake still sounded really good. Not so much that I regret missing most their set watching Morgoth, however.
The same dilemma happened with the next 2 bands, both of whom I wanted to see and both of whom had overlapping sets. This time, I watched Ulcerate inside before watching Church of Misery outside. Ulcerate released one of my favorite albums last year, and I would say this was one of the bands I was most excited to see at MDF. That said, I was really disappointed. Not by the band, who appeared to perform competently, but because the sound guy was so inept; every time Ulcerate’s drummer started blasting, the rest of their music became inaudible. Really frustrating. After 2 songs, I went outside and watched Church of Misery, who played their brand of sludgy, gruff stoner rock to a much larger audience. I ended up digging them a lot too, and was compelled to buy a sweet shirt from them.
Chile’s Pentagram (not to be confused with the Washington DC legends of stoner rock) played next. They were beyond solid, playing a vicious brand of Slayer-esque thrash. During this set M and I left the festival and obtained some Subway to tide us over until the end of the fest. Surprisingly, the Subway in between the titty bars on Baltimore Ave was far better than the humourous experience I had several years ago with another friend, who drunkenly and loudly proclaimed that her sandwich sucked to the bewilderment of the staff.
Made it back in time for Suffocation, who I was seeing for the first time with a drummer not named Mike Smith. I bumped into Terrence Hobbs walking to my car the night before, and in our little chat he basically revealed that it was a clash of egos that resulted in Mike leaving the band. No real surprise there if you read the story from Blabbermouth. Enter new (old) drummer Dave Culross, formerly of Malevolent Creation. He played on the “Despise the Sun” EP, which Suffocation played entirely on this night. The band sounded extremely tight and furiously fast, basically issuing a “fuck you” to Mike Smith, who claimed that the current band members couldn’t competently perform the old material. Frank Mullen seemed to be having a genuine blast on stage, and announced that their new album will be out at the end of Summer. Interestingly, Suffocation seemed to be the only band of the entire fest that wasn’t butchered by the sound guy. My only complaint? No “Thrones of Blood” on their setlist. Otherwise they proved to be the best band to play at this year’s fest.
Saint Vitus played after them, and in contrast to Suffocation’s relatively good mix, Saint Vitus got the shaft. For most of the set, I could tell that Wino was singing, but I couldn’t understand what; Wino doesn’t suffer from pronunciation issues. Midway though their set, the wind picked up and it started raining, and one of my personal coolest moments ever at the fest took place; seeing Vitus play “Born Too Late”, (THE doom metal anthem if there ever was one) at night during a steady rain. Doesn’t get more “doom” than that. While their sound wasn’t great, I still enjoyed Saint Vitus, and would look forward to seeing them play again soon. I guess they’ve got a new album coming soon, so hopefully they’ll tour for it.
After Saint Vitus, Electric Wizard closed the outdoor stages with a snoozer. It appeared that most of Sunday’s crowd, which doubled the turnout on Saturday, was here to see them. As one of M’s Brazilian friends told me, “they just play one riff”. I don’t hate Electric Wizard on album, but live they’re boring as fuck. There’s nothing wrong with playing slow, but play more than one fucking riff, dammit. So with Electric Wizard being crap, and having zero interest in seeing the last 3 bands (Sargeist, Bethlehem, and Mortuary Drape), M and I left with 2 of her Brazilian friends in an attempt to find decent food. After an abortive attempt to visit Chaps (apparently they changed their hours and close at 10pm now), we ended up a diner on the outskirts of Baltimore (Double T, I think?) which had a gigantic menu, big portions, and fair prices. A nice dinner and making new friends seemed like a cool way to end the weekend. And with that, you have my journal/report/rant about the last 2 days of the Maryland Deathfest, 2012. If they book bands I want to see next year, I’ll be back. If not…I guess there’s always the beach?