Maryland Deathfest XIII. Baltimore. May 2015
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a guest post. It’s also been awhile since I’ve covered a lot of extreme music. So I asked Genji to share his thoughts on MDF XIII. Reading his trip report really makes me wish I could’ve made it out. Oh well, it sounds like it just keeps getting better, so there’s always next year! – Martini
In the weeks leading up to this year’s Deathfest, there was a lot of trepidation and concern over whether or not the show would actually go on. Or whether it was even wise to be going to Baltimore. Concern over who had to back out of the festival seemed very trivial compared to the very real problems of social injustice and social unrest going on in the city. But Baltimore is resilient, a true blue collar city with good hearted, prideful people who are hard to keep down. So once things calmed down the choice became easy because metal crowds are very similar in that there is almost nothing that will bring them down or keep them from enjoying what they love.
This was the first year I actually had a four day pass to the Edison Lot, the Soundstage and the Ram’s Head, so I was excited to get full access to all the bands involved this year. And even though Sodom and Dragged Into Sunlight had to be this years dropouts, there was still more than enough music to keep this festival running on high all weekend long.
The first band on tap Thursday night for me were German duo Mantar, whose debut album Death by Burning was one of my top 10 last year. They played an electric set with the fury of a full band that had the Ram’s Head crowd buzzing. They even vowed to play extra hard to make up for the absence of fellow German thrashers Sodom and it was hard to find fault with their effort. Doom metal darlings Jex Thoth were up next and quickly took the night for a darker turn, literally. Playing mostly in a low lit setting, their brand of mournful doom mixed with the sensational vocals of Jex immediately entranced the crowd. And even though i’m not a huge fan of their style of doom, the band sounded good while Jex’s vocals soared over the top and kept me entertained throughout.
The reason Jex Thoth’s brand of doom is not my favorite though, is because the next bands’ style is. Italian doom troop Ufomammut play noisy, heavy, psyched out doom that crushes all in their path. And Friday night was no different as they bludgeoned everyone mostly with songs off their latest slab Ecate, peppered with a few others from Idolum, Snailking and Oro Opus. Extremely loud and heavy, the crowd was blissfully battered into submission. If you don’t have it yet, by all means check out their new one, it will be on my best of the year list.
Unfortunately one of only a couple schedule dilemmas had us missing hip-hop troupe Mobb Deep (a first for MDF I believe), so we stayed to catch Oregon doomsters Yob instead. Mike Scheidt is a relentless force and Yob never cease to entertain with their unique style. They closed the night out in punishing fashion and set the bar for day two.
First Friday band I wanted to see was Vallenfyre, after missing them on the Decibel tour. Founding member/chief songwriter for Paradise Lost, Gregor Mackintosh, started the band after his father died in 2009 and their brand of death metal is much rawer, like old Entombed or PL. With a familiar chainsaw guitar tone in full effect, the band ripped through everything from up tempo burners to slow dreary doom odes and got one of the best nights of the fest started! After that it was time to catch Norwegian black thrashers Aura Noir. Their brand of raw Kreator/Destruction/Slayer style black metal was executed tightly and with the rage of 20 year olds instead of 40 somethings. Delivering songs from Hades Rise and The Merciless mostly, they kept the fire burning and built up the intensity for NY’s Suffocation who came out and devastated the Baltimore crowd with their punishing brand of brutal death metal. This crew know how to deliver the goods and slayed with a nice cross section of songs spanning all their albums. An air tight delivery and funny banter from Frank Mullen made their performance one of the best of the weekend.
Continuing the carnage were Florida death metallers Obituary. Their classic Celtic Frost/Slayer tinged riffs kept the bodies slamming and the divers diving as they plowed through their awesome back catalog. From the opening strains of “Don’t Care” to classic rippers like “Slowly We Rot” and “Infected”, everyone got exactly what they’ve all come to expect from Obituary…death metal done right. However, the next band would have something to say about that. After much anticipation, all star Swedish death metal squad Bloodbath stormed the stage, covered in blood, and after opening salvo “Let the Stillborn Come to Me”, ripped everyone to shreds. You just knew this performance was gonna be something special. New singer Nick Holmes was fantastic and proved to everyone that he was absolutely the right vocalist for this band as he nailed every song from “Breeding Death” to “Soul Evisceration”to “Mock the Cross” and “Like Fire” as well as his new songs, while the rest of the crew executed in top form. This was a performance for the ages and was arguably the highlight of the weekend.
The night wasn’t over yet as we scurried to the Soundstage to watch veteran Uk death/grindsters Napalm Death obliterate the Deathfest audience. One of my favorite live bands, they never disappoint and are a must see. Barney is a maniac live and the band is beyond ferocious and tighter than a drum. Former Brutal Truth guitarist Erik Burke filled in for legend Mitch Harris and did a bang up job keeping the riffs grinding and secondary vocals screeching while Shane and Danny Herrera kept the intensity at supersonic speed at all times. There was a constant stream of divers launching from the stage and the pit was nonstop rowdy, violent fun. If there was any doubt, ND brought the house down and closed out the best night of the weekend.
Although Saturday would be missing German thrashers Sodom, there were more than enough top notch bands to see. First up were Polish death/grind crew Antigama. With a sound rooted in the Napalm Death vein with a little electronic flavor thrown in, the Soundstage audience welcomed them with open arms and they delivered a blistering set that was worth getting out to see. Over on the Edison Lot, i watched a couple of songs from old school Italian vets Bulldozer. Though not familiar with their stuff, their Venom-esque tunes caught my ear and might warrant a closer look-see into their back catalog.
Even though the mighty Triptykon taking the stage in the bright sunlight kinda kills the atmosphere a bit, Tom Warrior and co. know how to deliver the goods, sun be damned. Playing a generous selection of old Celtic Frost tunes, rabid renditions of “Procreation of the Wicked”, “The Usurper” and “Circle of the Tyrants” had everyone foaming at the mouth. Warrior even went as far back as the Hellhammer days with “Messiah”. But Triptykon is the real deal and “Goetia” and “Tree of Suffocating Souls” crushed just as much as anything in the set. The band hammered away like they were forging steel, even bassist Vanja Slajh breaking a bass string couldn’t stop the pummeling they laid on the Deathfest crowd. The only issue was that it was over before it really began, otherwise this was one of the top performances and highlights of the weekend.
Swedish crust punkers Martyrdod struck next, bringing their brand of mayhem to the Soundstage. While Elddop was also a personal favorite from last year, their enthusiasm definitely carried them more than their chops, as they were little on the sloppy side. I love their style and sound so I still enjoyed their intense performance and gave them a pass. After a prolonged break it was back over to the Ram’s Head to catch Norwegian black metallers Tsjuder. These guys brought the darkness a few years ago to the Deathfest and their punishing black thrash sound is a true force to be reckoned with. With songs like “Kill For Satan” and “The Daemon Throne” they are certainly not for the faint of heart. Drummer Anti-Christian is a beast on the kit and absolutely killed it. He was is best BM drummer I’ve seen since Frost. They burnt down the house with a cover of Bathory’s “Sacrifice” and then as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone like an apparition in the night.
Sunday brought about a few problems that i’ll get into later, but the day started out promising with the legendary Goatsnake. Greg Anderson and co. brought the thunder and got things going right off the bat with “Slippin the Stealth” and “Flower of Disease” before playing some cuts off their latest “Black Age Blues”. One of my first doom loves, they sounded great and I look forward to spending some time with the new one. Immediately after that came Irish black metallers Primordial. Now I have to admit that even though I have a couple of their albums, I wasn’t the biggest fan. But after their performance Sunday, I had a change of heart and I finally ‘got’ it. The band killed it and Nemtheanga was brilliant getting the crowd pumped up, chanting, screaming and anything else he commanded. His voice sounds to me like Eric Adams from Manowar, which goes a long way in my book. The band sounded lean and mean and had one of the top performances for sure. Consider me a convert. I only stuck around for a few songs from UK noise mongers Anaal Nathraakh. They delivered their terrifying blasting grind core to perfection as usual, but I needed to take a little break after that to gear up for the final run of the weekend.
I couldn’t resist getting in a few songs from Portland, Oregon’s Spazztic Blurr. Born from the ashes of the infamous Wehrmacht, who were, imo, one of the earliest grind core bands. Not well known, as evidenced by the crowd, their blend of blazing fast punk riffs with tongue in cheek lyrics were a great blast from the past and I was happy I went to check them out. After that it was back to Edison to catch the mighty Fins, Amorphis, play their classic album Tales From the Thousand Lakes in it’s entirety. If you’re only familiar with their late 90’s output, you need to hear this album, it’s a bonafide classic and the band sounded inspired, playing it to perfection. Tomi Joutson, the singer for the past decade, delivered a great performance and kept the crowd fired up, even though that wasn’t very hard to do. Once the album was done they played a couple songs from Elegy and with that, closed out the Edison lot.
Back at the Soundstage, probably the strangest band to play the weekend was the mighty Melt-Banana. To describe this crazy Japanese duo is nearly impossible. It’s like noisy grind core with an electro-pop feel and a small dynamo of a girl (Yasuko Onuki) screeching over the top of it. But I have to say, if there was one band I really was looking forward to seeing, Melt Banana were it, and they did not disappoint! The crowd was into them too, diving and slamming like it was going out of style. Definitely an experience. They were the perfect lead up to mighty crossover legends DRI, who’ve always been an awesome live band, and their performance was as good as i’ve ever seen them. Like Napalm Death, the pit exploded from the start and didn’t let up. Classics like “Who Am I?”, “Couch Slouch”, “Suit and Tie Guy” and “Madman” whipped the crowd into a frenzy and between all the divers and moshers it was tough to stay upright in the pit. In fact, during “Thrashard” I twisted my ankle in the pit and had to sit on the sidelines for a little while. Since I was down for the count, about 2/3 of the way through the set I decided to try and check out Portal over at Ram’s Head. Unfortunately for me, at some point I lost my all access bracelet in the pit and couldn’t get in to see them. Nor could I get back in to see the rest of DRI. So after cursing myself for a bit, I called it a night and went back to the hotel to pack up.
Overall it was another successful Deathfest. This year the food was better, the booze was better and having the four day pass to see everyone was a total win. Special shout out goes to Tim at Lord Pork Tacos for the hospitality. There’s always a handful of bands I miss out on, but despite my Portal failure I pretty much got to see everyone I wanted to. The legendary Excel will be at the California Deathfest later this year so I will catch them there. Every year the festival gets better and better, and if you haven’t ever been you should try and make it out one year. It’s a fun experience in a cool town with great bands. What more could any metal head ask for??