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.
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."
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.|
|Embalmer, proof that not everything from Ohio sucks.|
|Uada being grym and mysterious. I wonder if Sunn0)) gets royalties when other bands cop their hood gimmick.|
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.|
|iPhone 6 plus didn't really do a great job of capturing Grave here.|
|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.
|Nice view of Angel Corpse|
|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.|
|The room was a bit crowded to get a good shot of Candlemass.|
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.