Maryland Deathfest XII spanned from Thursday, May 22nd to Sunday, May 25th of 2014 and as usual it brought all kinds of metal bands to Baltimore. Each year attendees get to see metal bands not only from exotic locales all over the world but also witness reunion shows and check out some smaller up and coming bands too. Last year there were quite a few snags in the event which I won’t really get into here (you can read my interview with MDF co-founder Evan Harting where I asked him about issues with last year’s fest here). This year went much smoother and while there were a few issues, I think the biggest being a lack of free water for attendees at the main festival grounds, overall the problems of last year were pretty much all solved. I think the change in location for the main grounds really helped this year. So here’s a recounting of the bands I saw at Maryland Deathfest XII on the first two days of the fest, part two will cover Saturday and Sunday. All of the below photos and videos were shot by myself. I have many more photos on Flickr that you can see here if you’re interested.
The first day of Maryland Deathfest always seems like a bit of a warm up. This year Rams Head Live was the only venue to host bands on the first day and while the line up was pretty good, unfortunately the headliner, Triptykon, had dropped off due to Tom G. Warrior’s involvement in H.R. Giger’s funeral (read his statement about this here). This gave some of the other Thursday bands extended set times at least. The first band to play was the LA based sludge band Seven Sisters Of Sleep who started things off pretty well but the next band, Australian doom metal band Whitehorse, was just incredible. I had seen them before at Golden West Cafe in 2012 but the big stage at Rams Head Live with a real sound system made their slow motion doom riffs just sound great. They showed that they are masters of the slow build up with huge heavy riffs as the payoff. I missed most of Sourvein and Torche as I went to get food and catch up with friends arriving for the weekend. I made sure to catch all of Japanese death/doom band Coffins though. They were really good and I enjoyed every second of their set. The last band to play was Crowbar from New Orleans, one of the oldest sludge bands around. At one point a fan ran on stage and after security dealt with him Kirk Windstein ranted about how fans shouldn’t do that kind of thing especially after what Randy Blythe had to go through. This wasn’t my first time seeing Crowbar though and they’ve never been a favorite of mine so I left before the set was over to get some rest for day 2, the first day that would have the main festival grounds open. I don’t have any photos from Thursday except this shot of the infamous Chicken Man and his cow comrade in front of the fountain outside Rams Head Live. You haven’t really arrived at Deathfest until you’ve had a Chicken Man sighting.
Friday was the second day of Maryland Deathfest and the one I had been anticipating the most. While there are bands of many genres spread out throughout MDF each year, I tend to notice that each day has a main genre “theme” and Friday was the black metal day by my account. This started off with the Polish band Mgła making their first US performance. While some of the bands coming to Deathfest have their best years behind them this is not the case for Mgła, these guys are in their prime right now. They did not disappoint live and while they must have been very hot under all of their black leather, hoods and masks, their material is very strong and the audience in general seemed to love them. It’s always a bit weird seeing a black metal band in the daylight, particularly one whose name translates to “fog,” but sometimes that’s what happens at Maryland Deathfest and you gotta just roll with it.
Immediately after Mgła finished the next band started on the other outdoor stage. The Ruins Of Beverast is a German black metal band with only one member, though obviously Alexander von Meilenwald gets other musicians to fill the line up for live performances. Unfortunately their set was plagued with poor sound and it made the performance rather forgettable to me. The next band to play was Necros Christos, another German black metal band. These guys sounded much better and their set was great! They have a fairly stripped down sound with some weird riffs that are also catchy and they make it work.
The next band to play was quite a contrast from the previous three. Sólstafir is from Iceland and it’s pretty hard to genre classify their sound. They have elements of folk and black metal and even post rock too. While certainly less aggressive than the previous bands of the day, Sólstafir’s set was very moving. As you can see in the video below, the wind really started picking up during their performance and it seemed to fit with the drama of their set. I’m sure the trve elitists weren’t impressed but I enjoyed their emotional set immensely.
Then the incredible black metal continued Friday when Norway’s Taake, which also translates to fog, hit the stage. Let me start off by saying there was no one wearing a swastika on stage, no one exposing their penis while performing and no sick banjo solos either. Due to Taake vocalist Hoest’s legal issues it was something of a miracle that the MDF organizers even got the band into the country to play at all. Taake did not disappoint in their long awaited US debut as they really brought the energy to the stage. Hoest looked like some sort of black metal Sith lord with a hooded cape, corpse paint and white contact lenses in his eyes. He was probably the most entertaining front man I saw all weekend as he ran around the stage throwing menacing looks at the crowd from every angle. The band sounded awesome and even though they didn’t play my favorite song of theirs it was still an excellent performance.
The next band to play was UK based old school death/thrash band Cancer, playing their first US show since 1993. Being only somewhat familiar with the band’s back catalog I decided this would be a good time to run my newly acquired merch back to the hotel and grab dinner. When I returned to the Edison lot Agalloch was just finishing up their set. They’re also playing Empire on June 28th (details here) so if you missed them you’ve still got another chance. After they played it was time for the night’s headliner, At The Gates. ATG is probably the most influential band out of the classic Gothenburg, Sweden scene that developed their own trademark style of melodic death metal in the 90s. At The Gates has also been blamed by many an elitist over the years for causing the rise in popularity of metalcore however they aren’t a metalcore band (though ATG’s riffs are often ripped off by those bands). Their first two songs were plagued by poor audio as the lead guitars were not very loud which was very obvious when you couldn’t hear the solo over the rhythm guitar in “World Of Lies.” Then the band stopped for 10 minutes or so while the sound crew got the situation fixed and when they finally got everything working again it did sound much better. Unfortunately I wasn’t planning on staying for the entire set so I didn’t see a whole lot more of them. You might wonder why I left a chance to see one of the legends of metal make a rare live appearance in our area and it’s because of this: when given the option of seeing an old band reforming for the first time or getting to see a new band in its prime for the first time, I’ll always take the chance with the new band. Reunions come and go (and with At The Gates already announcing a new album in the works, they’ll surely be back once that drops) but a band is only in their prime once and when that time passes it doesn’t ever come back. So I left the Edison Lot and started my walk to Rams Head Live while “Under The Serpent Sun” faded into the distance.
The reason I left early was to see the Swiss two piece Bölzer perform. Bölzer also played the following night but they were added to the Friday line up at Rams Head Live at the last minute when Aeternus was refused entry to the US. Bölzer is a very new black/death band with only a three song demo and another three song EP released so far, though they’ve got another EP arriving soon. If you haven’t checked them out you I highly recommend you listen to this stream right now. Bölzer put on a hell of a performance Friday night at Rams Head Live and it was definitely worth leaving At The Gates early to see them. It was simply amazing to see how much sound just these two people could create and their intensity live was even better than on their recordings. Their songs are loaded with heavy, sometimes weird, but catchy riffs. There was a decent sized crowd there considering a headliner was playing at the main location and the place erupted when they played the opening riff to the excellent “Entranced By The Wolfshook.” It’s not every day you get to witness a performance like this by a band just hitting their stride but that’s part of the awesomeness that is Maryland Deathfest. I didn’t catch Bölzer’s second set the following night but I can only assume it was pretty much the same since they only have so many songs.
After Bölzer played Enthroned took the stage at Rams Head Live. They’re a black metal band from Belgium and while I’m somewhat familiar with their material their songs started sounding pretty much all the same to me so midway through their set I left. I hadn’t seen any of the bands playing at the Baltimore SoundStage yet and since it was on the next block over from Rams Head the walk was easy even on my sore feet. I got there just before the venue’s final band of the night, Impaled, took the stage. As soon as they took the stage, before they even started playing, the audience was already going crazy. Neon glow sticks and rolls of toilet paper were thrown at the stage and the mosh pit erupted immediately, all before they even played one note! Impaled is a gore obsessed death metal band from the San Francisco Bay Area with a sound reminiscent of old school Carcass (that’s pre-Heartwork material) and they share a few members with the band Ghoul. They’re a fun band to watch and the audience agreed as stage diving and crowd surfing was constant while they played. At one point they had to briefly stop their set because someone was injured in the pit but things quickly resumed once he was pulled to safety. After Impaled I headed over to see Pennsylvanian death metal gods Incantation back at Rams Head Live. Incantation is one of the old school death metal bands that helped truly define the “death metal sound” we all know today. They’re heavy, brutal and have some kick ass riffs. That all said, they were the final band of day two and my feet were tired so I was sitting for a bit of their set. Then I heard them start playing “Shadows Of The Ancient Empire” and I had to get up and push my way to the front, my feet be damned. I’m glad I got off my ass because the set was fun and I love me some classic old school death metal. Thus concluded day two of my Maryland Deathfest XII adventure. Be sure to check out my next post as I recap days 3 & 4.
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