Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Right-sized: A Maryland Deathfest XV Summary





It seems that in recent years the Maryland Deathfest has been a bit like communism: great in theory but not when executed. Tremendous band lineups conflicted with poor logistics, or aggressively violent security, or oppressively hot temperatures, and with rapidly escalating ticket prices as the festival expanded and gotten bigger. The 2016 edition, MDF XIV, seemed to represent a breaking point in that sky high prices, frustrating distances between venues, and what appeared to be promoter apathy towards the concerns of their remarkably loyal attendees resulted in a significantly lower turn out than in years previous. The promoters probably didn't help themselves out by basically organizing two other festivals in California and Holland with very similarly curated lineups, which effectively killed MDF as an international destination festival that it briefly was around 2009 when Bolt Thrower headlined.

Something had to give, and when discussing my experience last year, I made a bunch of suggestions that frankly were not well received by a lot of my peers. I most certainly am not arrogant enough to believe that a pair of well traveled dudes promoting multiple shows and festivals each year and hobnobbing with legendary bands are going to follow the poorly edited and rarely updated blog of some curmudgeonly fan but I'll be damned if basically every single one of my preferred changes did not come to pass exactly as I envisioned them. They scrapped the outdoor Edison Parking Lot for a smaller, more compact set up by Ram's Head Live and Baltimore Soundstage; ticket prices came down significantly and while there were somewhat fewer bands, it wasn't really a drop in quality. They still had respectable headliners and even a few "holy shit" bands that motivated me and M to attend this year (particularly Akercocke, In The Woods..., and October Tide.)

With student loans that demand repayment I've taken on a promotion at work that on one hand has given me more disposable income, but on the other demands more of my time. So I was fortunate enough to have an accommodating boss that let me squeeze out early on Thursday so I could pick up M and make the brutal rush hour drive to Baltimore. M had decided at the last minute that she really wanted to see Tiamat and the stoner doom show at Rams Head, while I had already arranged to see the death metal lineup at Soundstage. Friday would be a no-go sadly, but I was able to twist a few arms and get the weekend off.

I arrived in time to see the end of Goratory's set; I guess they're back together. I remember having someone literally hand me a copy of their "Sexual Intercorpse" record that got thrown into the crowd when the band played the first MDF. Fun record. What I saw of their set indicates that nothing as changed, as they play a slam-heavy style of death metal. Following them was Malignancy, who delivered what Malignancy delivers- a jarring, turn on a dime sort of progressive metal if it was pushed thru a filter of NYDM. They sounded great and it's been too long since "Eugenics" dropped and they're way overdue for a new record.

Malignancy
Gorgasm followed by most likely performing the best set of the evening, playing from all of their albums. For the unfamiliar, their style of death metal is kind of that early 2000's Midwest interpretation of Suffocation's crunch; over the years they've really tightened up and become a very focused, razor sharp band; their last two records ("Orgy of Murder" and "Destined to Violate") get frequent rotation during my daily commutes.
Gorgasm

Decrepit Birth followed them up after that, and they were about what was expected. I was a bit surprised that they performed as a 4 piece, but their mix of California-styled brutal DM with theatrical later-Death worship sounds great live. They closed with a cover of Death's "Crystal Mountain."

Decreipt Birth
Cryptopsy headlined at Soundstage, and though only drummer Flo Mounier actually played on the record, the band played "None So Vile" in it's entirety, and they did so viciously and convincingly. Truth; Matt McGachy is better than Lord Worm was. If "The Book of Suffering: Tome One" was a sincere indication of where the band plans to go, they might actually record from that boo-boo they released in 2008.

According to M, Conan put on an amazing set at Rams Head, SubRosa was limp, dull and boring, and Tiamat basically came across as rock stars in a near empty room while playing a set mostly focused on their Sisters of Mercy-inspired gothic cock-rock before performing a bizarre, half inspired "Wildhoney" medley at the end. Personally, if they weren't going to play "Sumerian Cry" in its entirety, I really don't give a shit about them.

M tried to get a shot of Conan, but she may have been drunk.
Saturday we made it after the end of Father Befouled's set but just in time for the gore filled shenanigans of Embalmer, who played a fantastic set of "old" death metal done right. They were followed by Necropsy from Finland, who were admittedly a tad bit boring and dull. Their style of old school DM would be best described as Incantation-ish with the slow dirges but without the truly aggressive parts that occur frequently enough to keep it interesting.

Embalmer, proof that not everything from Ohio sucks.
After them was one of the early festival highlights, Uada. I had just heard the band about a week earlier, and I was pretty excited to hear what these guys would deliver. The truth is that their shtick isn't original or reinventing the wheel; they've got a smoke machine and the dudes all wear hoods. Musically even, bands like Dissection, Unanimated, Sacramentum, and more recently Mgla have been doing the melodic black metal thing long before this band of quite recent vintage emerged. That said, Uada simply gets the formula done "right" and their overwhelming competence and confident delivery suggests this Portland, Oregon based band are going to be players in the scene for the next few years. Their merchandise quickly vanished after their set was completed.

Uada being grym and mysterious. I wonder if Sunn0)) gets royalties when other bands cop their hood gimmick.
I've never been that high on or enthused by Usurper or Exhumer, and I actively dislike Exhumed (I've always found them to sound like sloppy shit live; puking in a trashcan doesn't really change that...) so M and I took the opportunity to look at band merch and find food. Merch this year was a bit of a let down; far fewer vendors than in past years and besides the bootleg t-shirt vendors the majority of who was there had less assortment than in past years. I still managed to spend too much money on the offerings of Sevared Records and Dark Descent, but I absolutely missed the presence of Hells Headbangers, Deep Send Records, and Crucial Blast as I was hoping to fill several holes in my modest collection. And yes, I scored a bootleg Solitude Aeturnus shirt as well, but can you show me where I'd be able to find official merchandise from that band in 2017? They had enough space for more vendors from what I could tell (certainly inside Ram's Head if not outside for whatever reason) so I assume it was anticipated that there would be poor turnout and not worth the trouble of paying for space. A shame considering that the merch is one of the draws of the fest, at least for me.

As far as food went, M and I took a chance on a pizza spot just past Soundstage called "Blaze." I've had Frank Pepe's in New Haven and I've had Giordano's from Chicago and I'm not going to tell you that any pizza anywhere lives up to those places; but for a mere 8 bucks a pie "Blaze" hit the spot REALLY well. M usually dislikes "American" pizza, so when she's complimentary that means something.

We made it back to Rams Head in time for Root, and confession: I've never spent much time hearing these guys before. I knew who they were, and I knew their significance the history of black metal's first wave as well as the whole CoS deal with their frontman and main creative force, the uniquely named "Big Boss." What I didn't know is that they had essentially morphed into an "occult doom" sort of band or that Big Boss was in his mid-60's. Aside from lyrically, nothing about Root sounded 'black metal' in the 2017 sense of the word as the band played mostly a middle tempo and Big Boss's vocals were more operatic or even shamanistic than shrieked. That said, it was an interesting and worthwhile performance if not a band I'm likely to immediately rush to hear again.

Amist the horrible lighting is Root..who weren't as silly as they looked.
Grave followed that with being Grave. Grave is awesome and don't disappoint. They busted out a few older numbers in their set from "Into The Grave"; I was actually hoping to hear more from the last record because "Out of Respect For the Dead" was really fucking good.

iPhone 6 plus didn't really do a great job of capturing Grave here.
Morbid Angel was the headliner for Rams Head on Saturday. Since their last abomination back in 2011 or 2012 or whatever, everyone not named Trey Azagthoth got the boot and Steve Tucker rejoined the band alongside two much younger and previously unheard of dudes. Evil D and Tim Yeung are off somewhere touring as "I Am Morbid" covering their former band when their hired guns aren't getting arrested in Poland.

Really, you know you've hit rock bottom and reached peak "sell out" territory when you go 'country'

They borrowed from the King Diamond routine of taking way too fucking long to get on stage (because the longer you wait the more you want it, right?) and their sound was awful; everything sounded poorly mixed and muddy. New drummer guy was clearly cheating with his triggered kicks too. That said, Steve Tucker looked happy to be on stage after years in the wilderness (yes, I know he did the Nader Sadek thing and has his Warfather project...) but their set focused entirely on "Formulas Fatal To The Flesh" and "Gateways To Annihilation", with some rather ordinary new songs like "Warped" sprinkled in. The upside is that this incarnation is definitely a death metal band; the downside is that at least live they're a very ordinary one, especially following Grave. M and I didn't even bother to sit thru the whole set.

Sunday started with a visit to Chaps Pit Beef, one of Baltimore's best joints for food. We ordered way too much delicious food and rushed to the venue just in time for October Tide. This was probably M's highlight of the whole weekend, and I was rather excited to see them as well. They didn't play "Sightless", but they did play "12 Days of Rain" and "Grey Dawn." Their style of doom actually worked really well in a live setting, and I hope I'll get the chance to see them again someday.

October Tide
Seeing Nightbringer would have been cool, but they apparently had issues getting to the country from London so Angel Corpse played as a last second replacement. I hadn't seen Angel Corpse since I was 18, when they opened for Cannibal Corpse in Richmond, Va. So that was pretty cool. Didn't care that much of Acheron or Behexen. Oranzzi Pazuzu was as weird as their name; they were competent and certainly a bit psychedelic for a black metal band, but they weren't overwhelmingly interesting.

Nice view of Angel Corpse
In The Woods... was great, but didn't play anything from their new record that I could pick up. It seemed that their set focused mostly on early, older stuff when the band was a bit more blackened than they are in their current incarnation. They were also massively drunk and hammered and played over their allotted time but they were really good, so who cares?
Not really visible is the case of beer that In The Woods... brought with them on stage.

Akercocke followed that with an amazing set that focused on their last 3 albums. They didn't play in suits but they nevertheless delivered their beastly blackened death metal with all of the conviction of a band that is back and means business. They've got a new album coming out soon; perhaps set closer "Son of the Morning" is an indication of where they're going with that album's direction. I just hope it doesn't mean Voices is going to be put on hold...

Akercocke, sans suits.
Candlemass closed down the festival with a set in which they played "Nightfall" in its entirety. I swear that every time I see them, they have a different vocalist; the best being when I saw them with Robert Lowe from Solitude Aeturnus. This time around it was Mats Leven, a Swedish guy that's performed with Therion, At Vance, and Yngwie Malmsteen in the past. His voice was okay, but his mannerisms were more 80's glam rock and less doom metal. Facing a long shift at work at 7am the next day, M and I left after about half of their set.

The room was a bit crowded to get a good shot of Candlemass.
Overall, this was the smoothest running and most enjoyable MDF experience we had in several years. Having Rams Head and Soundstage host the fest meant professional staff working the event and clean bathrooms. Everything being centralized meant that had we chosen to buy tickets to both venues that the way set times were spaced we could have realistically seen most of the sets by all of the bands playing. Ticket prices were fair, and even the parking was cheaper. I don't suspect the turn out was near what it was in 2009, but it certainly was enough that the setup seems viable.

If I were to nitpick, I'd suggest booking more young up and coming bands like Uada and fewer old school and legacy acts like Necropsy (the balance was way too far towards old man bands this time around, and I'm saying this as an old dude...), encouraging bands that perform to bring merch (In The Woods... and Akercocke brought nothing...) and to do something about getting more vinyl and CD vendors instead of just bootlegged shirts. Having said that, this was still an overwhelmingly positive festival experience and given that others seem to have concluded it would be better than expected I'm optimistic about the fest's future.

 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More Stores You Can Still Buy Metal Records At: Texas Edition





I'm sitting in front of my computer listening to the new Pallbearer, I'm pretty damn excited to buy this one as they remain one of the best new bands in metal in quite some time. I've got the Memoriam record ready to go next; ex-Bolt Thrower guys delivering more of the same...solid expectations for that one...

That's not what this entry is about though. This is an update to my previous entry where I listed a few places around the country you can still buy metal. With M on Spring Break, and only a few states left for us to visit before we complete all 50, we used her week away from her studies to venture to Texas: the land of enormous highway overpasses, respectable BBQ, and the only hotels in America that have their TV sets in the lobby turned to Fox News.

There were a lot of these types in Texarkana. You'd think a state founded by fellow Virginians like Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston wouldn't make me feel like such an outsider...
That said, Texas has a long and storied history in metal music that extends well beyond Pantera; it is a cauldron of sounds as diverse as Absu, Devourment, and Solitude Aeturnus. Shows and festivals there are known for high turnouts; there's even a distinct death metal sound known as TXDM (best way to describe it is as a sloppy sort of Suffocation worship.) It only stands to reason that such a state probably has several cities with multiple shops you can find metal CDs and vinyl. With consideration for M, I only checked out shops in Austin and San Antonio, but if you're passing through these are must stops and if you're from the area you're spoiled and should support these places; most of the country is not so blessed.

I was able to acquire a pretty decent stack of fresh tunes and harder to find classics, if not for my semi-adult-ish sensibilities it would've been much larger...


https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/kPO_M8iq56szhU6OWpBDqN3hJjiGb8qezG5AxR3EYWZTAE7omJ0fZx828h-6RKuasylZXn4w-RCgWsCxhfm1cP3cXKXilUufWNfgtOiSo_-vrVQeHXsRWMXP_GcVDuwQP-N8HYs

Encore Records
809 E 6th St
Austin, Texas 78702


So the unfortunate timing of M's Spring Break was that we passed through Austin during SXSW week, so this store looked pretty well shopped. That said, they've got a really solid variety of metal across multiple genres both on CD and on vinyl. Lots of shirts as well. The store is run by an older gentleman that has probably smoked a TON of weed in his day, and who likes to ramble on about feeding his dog peanut butter. I would assume that without SXSW that parking would be easier, but the prices are reasonable and I imagine he has more in stock during the rest of the year. I picked up records by Avulsed and Serial Butcher here.


https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/m-ZYaVwXujbHKSSspdM3MVfZrJ9hy0TpBk7bMRp9iVv-qLB5u6sRl1vCQ0KmmydKu6m-ncTld6YYzhc2b0L8cuPtbX9yMdROBsvSjxIF8LL5NGLrhIDFnLOSrAiOgKDyt-DsLf0

Waterloo Records
600A N Lamar  
Austin, Texas 78703


This is the hipster shop in Austin where girls in thick framed glasses and those weird super high waisted pants go to buy their Mumford and Sons records or whatever Coachella approved bullshit the young and affluent artsy crowd is into today. That said, while they don't seem to have the decency to put their metal offerings separate from the rest of the pop/rock section, they do have a lot decent underground metal on their shelves. I was able to pick up records from a diverse array of artists ranging from out of print Agalloch to up and comers Sunlight's Bane (fucking great record, btw. Apocalyptic blackened hardcore that delivers!) It reminds me a lot of what Plan 9 Records in Virginia used to be years ago.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5759/20904737561_ac402e9c12_b.jpg 

End Of An Ear Records
4304 Clawson Rd
Austin, Texas 78704


From what I gathered, this is mostly a shop for the eclectic minded; particularly those into jazz or prog music. Mostly vinyl focused, but with a small and lovingly curated section of underground metal against the wall in a far corner. I was able to pick a pair of albums by Canadian black metal troop Weapon as well as the new Blood Incantation album from last year. I contemplated buying the back catalogue for Angel Corpse that I don't currently own, but after realizing that I don't actually listen to Angel Corpse all too often I decided to be responsible with my money. I probably lose tr00 points for that. Still, between this shop as well as the other aforementioned record stores, Austin has to rank as one of the best towns in America for a metal head to reside.

https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/424998663/1145936780_l.jpg 

Hogwild Records
1824 N Main Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78212


The best for last. San Antonio is pretty cool city to visit, and given its reputation for metal (it has recently been the host for Phil Anselmo's Housecore Festival) I couldn't resist looking up online if there was a metal-centric record store there. Hogwild does not disappoint. There's actually a very solid selection jazz and hiphop to be found there, but the primary focus of the store is metal and punk. Good assortment of new releases on CD; I picked up the new Hour of Penance and Gatecreeper albums here. Lots of vinyl, and holy shit they've got a TON of metal shirts for sale. On street parking was easy to find and abundant. A great store and a must stop if you're in San Antonio.

On this trip I didn't really spend much time in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, but I'd imagine somewhere in that labyrinth of highways and dirty concrete structures there's a decent shop there. Likewise, while I enjoyed passing through Houston and especially it's food, I had already spent a fair amount of money and wasn't looking to bankrupt myself. Given Houston's diverse population and vibe, I'd say it's a certainty they've got some great shops but alas, those will have to wait until M and I hop in the car again for another long road adventure...we still haven't reached West Texas (or New Mexico, Arizona, or Oklahoma...)