Part 2 of my Maryland Deathfest XII recap will cover the final two days of the festival, Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th of May 2014. You can read part 1 here where I cover what happened on Thursday and Friday of the fest. If you’d like to see more of my MDF photos you can do that here.
If Friday was the black metal day of the fest I think Saturday was the thrash metal day with performances by Sacrifice, Tankard, Sarke and Dark Angel all on the schedule. However I decided to get start the third day of Maryland Deathfest with helpings of grindcore and whiskey shots at the Baltimore SoundStage. I caught the Czech band БУТ perform first and they were pretty good. Their set was short, as grind sets tend to be, but they were fun. The next band I saw was Sick/Tired from Chicago. These guys were impressive with how terrifying their sound was. The audience wasn’t exactly huge yet at the SoundStage at 3:30 in the afternoon but they still brought it anyways. After they played I took a short boozing break before heading over to see Nocturnus AD at the main grounds of the Edison Lot.
Nocturnus AD is a spin off band of a now defunct death metal band from the early Tampa Bay, Florida scene known simply as Nocturnus. I remember these guys mostly for an album their classic 1990 album The Key. Apparently a few Nocturnus members secretly copyrighted the name Nocturnus then kicked out drummer/lead vocalist Mike Browning, the only founding member left in the band. Mike Browning then formed a band called After Death and together with the members of this band they performed for us at MDF as Nocturnus AD. It appears that they knew most people wanted to hear them play songs from The Key and they played the album from start to finish then closed their set with a crowd pleasing cover of the Morbid Angel classic “Chapel Of Ghouls.”
The next band to play was the German thrash band Tankard. These guys had a lot of energy on stage and musically they are beer fueled party thrash, basically the old school version of Municipal Waste. The audience reacted well and if nothing else Tankard gave us a good excuse to cool down with a few beers during their set.
Sacrifice was the next band to play and I was excited to see them. This was the Toronto thrash band’s first show in the US since 1993! They had their entire line up back together and they didn’t disappoint. Sacrifice expertly played their aggressive songs and I thought that this was the show that Coroner should have given us when they performed a rather lackluster headlining set at Maryland Deathfest in 2011.
The next band to play the Edison lot was Sarke. Originally started as an eponymous solo project by the band’s bass player, they’re more known for being fronted by Nocturno Culto of Darkthrone fame. Sarke is called black/thrash but they aren’t really as fast as bands like Aura Noir and Abigail. Their sound is pretty straight forward and cold. The band didn’t play the full amount of time they were allotted but I don’t think most people minded since for their final song, after covering Celtic Frost, they did what everyone watching the show hoped they do: cover a Darkthrone song. For those who don’t know, Darkthrone refuses to play live so Nocturno Culto performing “Too Old, Too Cold” with Sarke at Maryland Deathfest is about the closest any of us will come to seeing Darkthrone live.
It was getting ominously dark by the time Unleashed hit the stage. One of the first death metal bands from Sweden was called Nihilist and after a few legendary demos they parted ways with Johnny Hedlund and reformed as the band Entombed. Johnny Hedlund didn’t disappear though, he quickly formed Unleashed, a death metal band that over the years has gotten more and more into viking history and mythology. I tend to think of modern Unleashed as the more authentic version of Amon Amarth. It’s not every day you get to see one of the founding Swedish death metal bands play in America and while Unleashed’s set was pretty damn good, they didn’t play anything off of their legendary debut album Where No Life Dwells, which was a bit of a bummer. I realize they want to get people into their more modern material, and it actually is really good stuff overall, but some fans only know that album and even just a one or two WNLD tunes in the set list would have been nice.
Next up was Saturday’s headliner, the long awaited return of Dark Angel. The band appeared with their complete Leave Scars line up, including the Atomic Clock, Gene Hoglan behind the kit. Their set list was a good mix of songs from each of their four albums. Dark Angel really put on a great show, despite the dim stage lighting and light rain that began midway through their set. Ron Rinehart’s voice was in good form and he did well on the Don Doty era songs too. They had a lot of energy, especially for an older band, and I think they really fed off the strong audience reaction. They ripped through their final song of the night, “Perish In Flames” and I could have watched them for another hour if they’d have played that long. Dark Angel was definitely my favorite performance of Day 3 of Deathfest.
After Dark Angel played I headed over to Rams Head Live to see Schirenc. They’re named after Martin Schirenc who is also known as Don Cochino, guitarist/vocalist of the Austrian band Pungent Stench. Originally billed as The Church Of Pungent Stench they were apparently forced to change the band’s name due to a court order by other former members of Pungent Stench. Regardless, Schirenc played a set consisting solely of old Pungent Stench material. I enjoy their bizarre take on death metal which has a macabre sense of humor to it, and I recognized several songs in their set list, but with only one member there it just wasn’t the same and it felt about as authentic as watching a modern “Guns ‘N’ Roses” concert.
I walked the block over to the Baltimore SoundStage to catch their headliner, Excruciating Terror, a grindcore band from Los Angeles. This was something of a reunion show for the band which released all of their material in the 90s. They’re also noted for being the first band that Fear Factory and Divine Heresy guitarist Dino Cazares was in, though he was not part of the line up this night. Simply put, Excruciating Terror lived up to their name. Their songs, while short, were intense and ferocious bursts of grind and their energy level was through the roof. The audience went crazy of course and after their performance I was a sweaty mess as I walked back to Rams Head Live.
The final band to play Maryland Deathfest XII on day three was Asphyx. They’re a death/doom metal band from The Netherlands fronted by the legendary Martin van Drunen. Their old school approach to death metal combined with their muddy riffs and Martin’s on stage charisma was a hit with the Deathfest fans. Their set list covered crowd pleasers like “We Doom You To Death” and “Death The Brutal Way” but I think the highlight for me was hearing them play their crushing song “The Rack,” an old favorite of mine. As they finished I headed back to the hotel knowing that Sunday was going to be a marathon of excellent metal that I would need my rest to make it through. We can’t have the guy who writes the MDF Survival Guide not surviving can we?
I arrived at the Edison lot early enough on Sunday to catch the first band of the day, Windhand. They’re a female fronted doom metal band from Richmond that I’ve been a fan of since their days of playing basement shows. It was just awesome seeing them on that big outdoor stage with all that power behind their ultra heavy riffs. They’re definitely one of my favorite rising bands these days and their performance was one of my top favorites of all of this year’s Deathfest.
The next band to play was Bongripper, and instrumental band from Chicago that plays, you guessed it, stoner metal. I wasn’t really familiar with them going in but they were really great live, definitely a surprise find for me as I tend to avoid bands with names focused on drug use. They played a solid thirty minute set that didn’t seem to have any downtime between songs and Ronald Petzke’s aluminum necked EGC bass guitar really brought the heavy to their songs. At one point the Chicken Man was held up high in the crowd holding a banner that read Hippie Killer, the title of one of Bongripper’s albums.
Back on stage B of the Edison lot the Portland based sludge metal band Graves At Sea took the stage. I didn’t love these guys as much as the previous two bands, they were tough acts to follow though. I didn’t think they were bad, just nothing outstanding I guess. Some people were really into them though. I ended up wandering off to buy more merch midway through their set.
Graves At Sea:
The next band to play the Edison lot was Maryland’s very own Misery Index. The local death/grind band was the first high speed band of the day and they really woke up the audience. It was great to see Jason Netherton playing with the band again, the sole founding member was absent the last time I had seen Misery Index play. He seems to have turned over much of the vocal duties to Mark Kloeppel but the band was still really tight live and as usual, very fun to watch.
Next the Maryland Deathfest audience was treated with a rare appearance by Pseudogod, a blackened death metal band all the way from Perm, Russia (although Impurath of Black Witchery was filling in on bass). They took the stage covered in blood and really brought the brutality. Their set was an unforgiving aural beating which seemed extra intense in the sun’s unrelenting heat. Their devastating set closed with a cover of “Blood War III” by French black metal band Antaeus (who happened to play Maryland Deathfest in 2013).
After Pseudogod played it was time for Wrathprayer, a blacked death metal band from Chile. They were ok I guess but didn’t stand out to me that much after the intense set by Pseudogod. The three piece didn’t seem accustomed to performing on a big stage either as they didn’t move around much up there and seemed a bit awkward. I think they would have been better on a smaller stage. After four or five songs I figured I had gotten the gist of what they do and I decided to hang out in the back more and get some cold beer.
The next band to play was the two piece black metal band Inquisition. Originally from Colombia they are now based in Seattle and they’ve become pretty popular in the past few years. However there’s a bit of controversy around them of late for possibly being racists and honestly it’s a bit ambiguous whether they are or aren’t. They have some catchy songs and the crowd seemed really into them but I hung out in the shaded picnic table area after I finished shooting them cause I’m not clear if they’re bigots and it’s really not worth my time figuring it out when I can just move on to something else.
Soilent Green took the stage next and this was something of a reunion show for the band who hadn’t played together in several years. Based in New Orleans, several of their members have moved onto more famous bands such as Eyehategod, Crowbar and Goatwhore. They play a mix between sludge and death metal that comes across much more catchy than you’d probably expect that to sound. The audience went crazy for them and you could tell the band really fed off that energy.
After Soilent Green played I made one of those tough decisions you’re sometimes faced with at Deathfest. I decided to skip seeing Gorguts, who I had just seen with Carcass a month prior, in favor of heading over to the Baltimore SoundStage to see Death Toll 80k. They’re a grind band from Finland and while I didn’t really know what to expect of them I figured this was my one chance to ever see them live. My gamble payed off, they were fucking great live! Intense, brutal and fun is how I’d describe them. They were probably my favorite band of those that I saw at the SoundStage during MDF and though my feet were sore walking back to the Edison lot after their set there was no doubt in my mind that the pain was worth it.
Death Toll 80k:
It was a total shift in gears when then next band I saw was Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats from England. They play a very catchy, and fuzzy, style of 70s inspired stoner metal. This was their first US show and a lot of people had come just for the chance to see them. They were really fun live, full of energy on stage and those infectious riffs sounded great booming out of those big speakers. Even Deathfest needs a bit of down time to let everyone catch their breath and Uncle Acid was the best chill out music you could ask for.
Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats:
Next up was the Swedish band Candlemass. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of their gothy doom sound which often has power metal elements to it. They were pretty entertaining on stage though and their new vocalist Mats Levén seemed to be a hit with the fans who were getting their first chance in years to see Candlemass perform live in the US. I ended up leaving early to try to catch Australian grind band Pneumatic Slaughter at the Sidebar. Unfortunately we were told at the door that they had dropped off the bill (I later caught up with their vocalist, who is also the vocalist of Whitehorse, and asked why they pulled out and he said they had told the MDF promoters several weeks prior that some of the members wouldn’t be able to play). A bit of a bummer but not the end of the world. I wasn’t very excited to see the doom metal turned goth band My Dying Bride headline, even if it was their first US appearance since 1997, so I headed over to Rams Head Live early.
After a bit of down time New York City based Mutilation Rites played a short but sick set of black metal. The audience was pretty sparse but they still brought the heavy for the entire time they were allotted. If you missed them don’t worry, they’re playing at the Pinch in Washington DC on July 14th (more info on that here). The band was pretty tight live and handled the big stage at Rams Head Live well.
Next up was the first of two bands from New Zealand that I’d see this night. Diocletian plays very aggressive blackened death metal and uses a lot of medieval military style imagery as well. This band wasn’t fucking around though, they brought the punishing riffs with almost nonstop rage. Diocletian also played at the Edison lot early on Saturday before I arrived but they were given this set as a bonus because Mitochondrion couldn’t get into the country. Both of Diocletian’s guitar players were wearing Mitochondrion shirts on stage in recognition. Anyways, I ended up leaving a little early because I wanted to catch a bit of the headliner a block over at the Baltimore SoundStage.
Over at the Baltimore SoundStage the legendary Brazilian thrash/hardcore band Ratos de Porão was causing a ruckus by the time I walked in! People were going crazy stage diving, crowd surfing and just losing their shit. Formed in the early 80s the band, whose name translates to Basement Rats, still has two members from those days with them, and the drummer has been there for over 20 years now too. I first became aware of this band when I was in high school because Sepultura covered their song “Crucificados Pelo Sistema” but I never figured I’d actually get the chance to see them live. While I didn’t really know most of their material it didn’t matter because it was just damn fun watching the band and the audience just go crazy together. At one point between songs their bass player requested the audience boycott the World Cup (which is taking place in Brazil right now) stating that it is just a big scam for the rich to make more money while ignoring the country’s poor. He’s probably right but this is America, we’re already boycotting soccer with our apathy toward the sport.
Ratos de Porão:
After leaving the sweaty Baltimore SoundStage with a big grin on my face I returned to Rams Head Live to see Ulcerate. The New Zealand based three piece tech death band puts out some great albums but they’re simply incredible live. Their drummer, Jamie Saint Merat, steals the show and rightly so, he very well may be the best drummer in all of metal right now. I didn’t mind missing part of their set because I had just seen them at Empire the night before Deathfest started, but even so their performance was no less jaw dropping the second time around.
Next it was time for the final band of Maryland Deathfest XII, Immolation. I felt bad for them having to play after Ulcerate, there was no way they were going to top that. The old school New York Death Metal band had a very influential album in 1991 called Dawn Of Possession and the highlight of their set for me was when they played “Those Left Behind” off of it. It seemed like the band didn’t want Deathfest to end any more than the audience did as they played right up to the 2am cut off time. Finally Maryland Deathfest XII had come to a close.
I can’t stress enough how much fun this year’s Maryland Deathfest was. As usual there were tons of great bands as well as metal brothers and sisters to watch them all with. Security was excellent this year, they treating fans with respect while also not escalating situations. They all deserve high fives for their good work this year. The MDF organizers will be announcing the bands for next year’s festival soon so keep your fingers crossed that your unrealistic metal concert wish list will become a reality.