Thursday, June 11, 2015

CONCERT REVIEW: Maryland Deathfest XIII, May 21st-24th, 2015 (+BONUS adventure tales)

This was my 4th year (all in a row!) attending MDF, and the fest once again proved most excellent and highly entertaining. It's a yearly ritual, of sorts; my vacation and opportunity for self-(Metal)growth and indulgent amounts of fun.

I typically bus to PA from NYC on Wednesday, hang out with some friends for a night, and depart via car for Baltimore with another friend on Thursday. This year was extra special as I had the rare pleasure of visiting with my brother, in from Wisconsin, for 6 days prior. We ate our way across NYC and Brooklyn, so my vacation had an excellent early start! Also new this year, my friend with whom I annually attend MDF brought his girlfriend. This was really cool as this was her first Deathfest and a lot of the bands were new to her. I really enjoyed her fresh perspective on the whole fest; I'm sure she got sick of my constantly asking what she thought of each act. ANYWAY, back to the show!

THURSDAY (May 21st)
We didn't go to the pre-show, however we did get to see most of Thursday's lineup, starting at the Baltimore Soundstage. Due to some traffic issues, we missed Mortal Decay and most of Origin. What we did catch of Origin was pretty tightly wound though, those guys are technical! Next up was Internal Bleeding. This was my second time seeing them (first was MDF 2012), and they upheld my expectations for a slam and cheese sandwich of heavy grooves and over-the-top vocals. There was a skilled new guitarist in the lineup; he clearly enjoyed playing with the band and got rather animated. Skinless took stage next and laid waste to the crowd. They were probably the most high-energy band of the night and the crowd gave it right back to them! Of course, it's been a few years since they last played live so I'm sure the anticipation factor contributed. I was probably most impressed by their vocalist's ability to keep up the grunts for so long! His voice weakened (but only a bit!) by the end, but after nearly an hour of straight gurgle, who's wouldn't? His energy never waned, however. At one point, all the MDF 'mascots' present were called on stage to start off some stage-diving madness. This included the ever-present ChickenMan (or is it ChickenBoo?), the HorseMan, CowMan, and a Penis. I still laugh about the last one, "and the banana too, get up here! Oh wait, you're just a dick." Alas, no  Tacos or Power Rangers this year. Devourment played next. This was my second time seeing them live, having caught them at NY Deathfest 2014. This show was even better as their guitarist insisted on a Luchador mask for most of the set.

We decided to skip the lately-added Mobb Deep and instead headed over to Ram's Head for some sludge 'n' trudge. Conan was first to take stage after we arrived, starting about 20 minutes late and pushing back the rest of the bands, which gave us time to munch on some fries and find a comfy spot. I enjoyed all the sauce options, apart from hot sauce (likely watered-down Red Hot) and the expected ketchup and yellow mustard, there was good honey mustard and decent BBQ sauces. I tried the pizza at Ram's Head also this year, both were very acceptable, and I was actually surprised by the pizza. It wasn't fantastic but much better than I expected. Of course, I bathed it in crushed red pepper and hot sauce, so that might have colored (or rather, flavored) my experience.
So, eventually, Conan took stage. They were super sludgy and were good to relax to after all the NY-style Death Metal madness from whence we exodus-ed. Ufomammut came on next and used a projector. The video accompanying the set might have been my favorite part as it was VERY trippy, but I must say that they were MUCH heavier live than I had any reason to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing them live. YOB closed out the first night in typical YOB fashion. This was my second time seeing them (first was MDF 2012), and as I recall this set was more diverse and solid. Of course, last time they played in the rain on a miserable Sunday, so that may have tainted my recollection...

FRIDAY (May 22)
I wanted to get to the Edison Lot early for the first full day of MDF as I was hoping to catch Funebrarum. This would be at least the third time, they always deliver so much energy, and the music is so dark and heavy!

As a warning, prepare yourself for my terrible photos, I have a dumbphone with VERY limited photo capabilities and I'm more interested in actually watching and moving to the bands than taking photos, so some are pretty horrendous. Think of them as brutal, raw, and overall very METAL. Kind of like a demo tape you got traded, the dirt is a bonus.  Apart from a killer set, the band hung out at their merch stand under the tent and were gracious enough to sign a CD for me and talk a bit. Their new guitarist shredded away too! If you are unfamiliar with Funebrarum, they take the brutality of NYDM and blend in a heavy dose of twisted darkness that separates them (by several abysses) from the pack. Highly recommended! Dave is also in Evoken (I saw fellow Evoken & Grim Legion member John Paradiso creeping about too), Daryl and Shawn are also in Disma. Check out ALL of these bands if you're a Death Metal Ghoul like me, they will all blow your coffins open!

Next up was Cianide! I've been waiting a while to see these guys, so my anticipation was high. Cianide delivered, though, with a killer set! The crowd was initially a bit slow to embrace them but by the end of the set it seemed like the whole lot was headbanging and moshing to the Metal-that-doesn't-bend.

Mike was very available during the fest, he also signed a CD and took time to talk. Cianide shared a table with Funebrarum. Fellow Chicagoans Kommandant had merch available, including a promo CD-R for their new album, which I still NEED to order and hear!

I went shopping while Vallenfyre took stage, their live sound was good and crunchy, with plenty of stage banter. On that topic, Master took stage next, well known to me for their prolonged and hilarious stage banter the previous two times I've seen them. Paul Speckman and crew managed to keep comments to a minimum (though they are always welcome to me and always hilarious) while blazing through a set of Master classics that got the crowd moving, and fast!

Paul was himself very available at the fest as well, I got to say hi and have him sign a CD early in the day. This time the CD wasn't a bootleg! Still sorry about that! He even handed out Master picks to anyone who bought anything, so that was cool.
I grabbed some food while Lock Up played, though I'm not a huge fan, it was cool to experience that project finally coming to life on stage. Many jokes were made, solid sound and set.
Aura Noir took stage next and were incredible! Even more energetic than their releases, it was a treat to finally get to see them live. I really wanted to run into Apollyon afterwards to ask about some cookies my partner and I made for Immortal in 2010, but alas, no luck. Anyway, horns up to Aura Noir, I'd see you guys live again anyday!

Suffocation took stage next and ploughed through what was probably the best set I've ever seen them perform live! All the classics were there, "Reincremated," "Infecting The Crypts," "Effigy Of The Forgotten," "Breeding The Spawn," "Entrails Of You," and "As Grace Descends." Frank 'the Tank' was already pretty wasted and hilarious. I was wondering how Suffocation would be after all the awesome NYDM bands that played on Thursday, but they reminded everyone that they are not only pioneers but banner-waivers; Suffocation ALWAYS delivers live, seemingly better than the last time too. Suffocation live is just plain hard to beat.

Obituary gave beating Suffocation their best and might just have done it with another solid set of classics. The pit opened early and only got faster, larger, and more intense by the end. This was my second time seeing them (the first was with Broken Hope for the first Carnival of Chaos Tour), and they continue to deliver no-frills brutality and swamp-stomp. I really appreciated too that the band had a signing session earlier in the day, at which point I got my CD of Slowly We Rot signed. I wish I had brought my vinyl of Inked In Blood, or better yet, my cassette of Cause of Death! Anyway, thanks for spending time with fans guys and more thanks for a great set!

 Great photo, right? Anyway, we blasted out of the Edison Lot to catch Ghoul at the Soundstage. This was my second time seeing them, the first being MDF 2012. I made the wise decision of getting upfront for the insanity while wearing a white shirt. It's white no more! Ghoul had a good live set and entertaining (as well as messy) live props, there was much stage diving, moshing, and crowd-surfing so I'd call that a successful show.

 Still dripping, we rushed over to Ram's Head for Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. This was my second time seeing them, as I saw them at the Acheron in Brooklyn previously. Continuing a night of bloodlust and perversion, Onielar spat blood from a chalice at the audience, with me right near the front. Score more blood stains for my shirt! The set was great and included several songs with those great d-beats they work in, Darkthrone-style!


Aeternus took stage after a seeming aeternity of bands (in a very good way!) to finally grace the MDF stage; there was a some sort of visa issue previously. Their set was varied, and though I'm not a huge fan of their work, I was entertained. 

Cornelius the Lecherous Lepus surveyed the damage to my Undergang shirt after Ghoul & DNS, he declared it "very Metal."

Deciding sleep was "kind of important," we missed some early bands. That said, I wanted, nay NEEDED, to see Morpheus Descends! Their live set was solid, finishing with "Cairn Of Dimitru." The crowd got pretty into it for 2pm on a Saturday; I was pleased to see fans of many ages present or made on that day! I am most pleased to count my friends whom I dragged along amongst the number of converts. There is a special story about meeting the band afterwords, see my upcoming post on their From Blackened Crypts boxset for full details.

I took the next few minutes as an opportunity to creep around, eat, and browse. Next up was Blood Red Throne from Norway. I'd seen them once before (I think) on the first 'Carnival of Death' Tour in 2012 when Broken Hope reformed. I thought they had a killer set and live sound then, but this time was considerably better! The band is interesting in that it is a Norwegian band doing NY-style Brutal Death Metal and at one time had Faust within its ranks. In a fest heavy on NYDM this year, BRT totally held their own and riled up the masses. I found them to be one of the best 'surprise, we came out of nowhere and blew everyone away' bands this year.

We rushed over to see Vulcano, who seemed to have an inexhaustible reserve of energy! Their set was also quite good. Well worth the wait! We were a bit towards the back, but I still enjoyed the show. I've been slacking in my Vulcano lessons, so I can't give you much more than that.

 Bulldozer took stage next. They had presence, unfortunately I can't comment more. Two weeks out, my memory is getting fuzzy. Not to mention that I've also missed many Bulldozer lectures, which is about to change! I previously tried to get into them but wasn't floored. I think now that I need to go back and try again!

So to make up for it, here's TWO shitty pictures! Anyway, Triptykon was up next. My expectations were high (it's TOM FUCKING WARRIOR, ugh!!!), especially after Triptykon had to cancel last year so that Tom could participate in H.R. Giger's funeral. Totally understandable, and the wait only added to the tension! What would they play? Well sure enough, it was a career-spanner (not to be confused with a hydro-spanner). We got some Triptykon tongue twisters in "Tree Of Suffocating Souls," as well as "Goetia,"  chased with a Celtic Frosty in "Procreation Of The Wicked" though ole Tommy G. teased us by asking if we were 'morbid' first. Completing a set of Warrior Hymns, Triptykon closed out with hellish hammering in "Messiah." What a pit, what a set! Death was triumphant for this return to the eve of extreme metal and Tom G. Warrior's shattering of barriers as he displayed the abyss within his soul. Whew! Also, the rest of the band was excellent and tight, with much energy, but I can't really say I pulled my eyes much from one of my greatest  Metal influences and heroes, Tom G. Warrior!

P.S. I moved MUCH closer than this; I took the photo immediately upon the band taking stage and promptly moved into the pit, staying mostly 3 people deep when I wasn't slamming into as many solid objects as possible and furiously headbanging.

We moseyed about and ate as Solstice took stage, alas maybe Sodom can play next year! Arcturus took stage next and were replete with crazy anachronistic costumes, keyboards, guitars, drums, and an electric violin. I'm not a big fan of Arcturus (though I did play Aspera Hiems Symfonia quite a bit in middle school), it was still interesting to see them live. 

Razor powerfully closed out Saturday night at the Edison lot with a set of classics, sounding better than any recording I've heard! It was a furious set with a huge and ceaseless circle pit that branched out into ever-expanding satellite pits before growing even larger as orbits overlapped. My crew suffered one casualty in the form of a knee scrape that thankfully did not require amputation, hahaha. It's proof of the might of Razor that they could get so many Metalheads on their feet and moving after 2-3 days (or more) of heavy partying and concert-going. Somehow it seems I either forgot to take or lost my photo of the band, so appy-polly-ogies there!

At this point, somehow still with strength (and limbs) functioning, I headed over to Soundstage while my friends field-dressed their wounds. I missed Cephalic Carnage (for the second time!) but got there just in time for a more important (to me) act, Wolfbrigade! The Lycanthro-Punks brought out the beast in everyone as they blazed through their set. The intimate nature of the venue, with lighting often at nil made this a really intense show; you never knew who (or what) would come flying at you in (or out of) the pit! What a treat! Ok rant time, why can I never find any Wolfpack or Wolfbrigade releases ANYWHERE?! And if I do, they sell out even before I can checkout (as I've never encountered a physical copy, only online sales)! Ok, rant over. First-world problems, right? 

Here's two, albeit extremely blurry, photos for putting up with me. My phone was having none of the low lighting. Still, one can argue that the blurriness is accounted for by the fact that I captured a live lycanthropic transformation, in progress. Sure, you could argue that I didn't, but unless you were there, you won't know (until the next full moon).
Agoraphobic Nosebleed was the next and final act of the night. This was their first ever live show. They are the most intense of any grindcore bands I've ever heard; hallucinogenic, beguiling, more pissed than any simile I could invent. Expectations were high. And they were surpassed! Easily the most intense show of the fest (and certainly in the top 3 of any I've been to)! People were moshing before AND after the actual set! Yes there was a drum machine, but in true Sisters Of Mercy fashion, it was treated as a full member and got it's own solo, heheh. Clearly the ANb crew wants everyone and everything dead, flawlessly attacking their instruments and confronting the crowd with unbridled hatred. As a bonus, someone brought a large (at least 12") inflatable penis that got passed around, volleyball-style. Perfect.

SUNDAY (May 24)
Imagine the above letters printed in stark white on a black background, reminiscent of the Shining, do this and you will have an idea of the grimness of the day.

Okay, so that's maybe a SLIGHT exaggeration, but a number of gloomy, doomy,  and heavy bands played. Again favoring sleep over shows, we didn't get to the fest until the tail-end of Masacre, but I've previously seen Prosanctus Inferi and Tombs (and will be seeing the latter again for Stardust Festival). But then, I do have a history of missing Tombs, even if I'm at the correct show; that's all another story. Anyway, we did get there to see Goatsnake and their huge Orange amplifiers.

Notable set occurrences: Greg Anderson. 'Nuff said. Pete Stahl's harmonica, Pete Stahl throwing a tamborine high into the air, NOT catching it, said tamborine shattering against the stage, Pete Stahl complaining that "they don't make them like they used to," Pete Stahl playing the shards anyway; a new Goatsnake song from June 2nd's Black Age Blues.

I shopped and ate while Primordial played. While not historically a fan, they put on a lively show and sounded good enough to warrant another listen to their material sometime.

Winter took stage next; this would be my 4th time seeing the extremely slothful New York doom/death pioneers.

Opening with one of my personal favorites, "Servants Of The Warsmen," Winter dragged us through some icy dirges with point precision. Yes, it IS very hard to play that slowly and still keep time. I was hoping for a version "Black Whole" as a powerhouse closer, but alas that hope will remain in eternal frost (at least until the next time I catch them, haha!). Overall great set, many thanks to Winter for bringing the power and might needed to drive midday Sunday into darkness!

I did some meandering while Anaal Nathrakh played; I'm not too into their catalog but they score bonus points for having Attila Csihar do guest work on some albums!

Next up was a band I'd been eagerly awaiting since they were announced to play MDF: Skepticism. Though a new fan of less than a year, I was still rabid. Having heard them mentioned often in the same breath as diSEMBOWELMENT and later Morgion, I'd long been meaning to check the band out, but somehow they kept slipping my ears' range. Anyway, their announced set at MDF made it imperative that I finally get around to checking them out and WOW what a great catalog I've been missing out on! I really wish I had these albums for some particularly trying or beautiful times past in my life. See, that's what Skepticism does so well for me, beauty and despair. I did manage to pick up most of their catalog at the fest so you can bet that they will be on frequent rotation in my home. In fact, Stormcrowfleet has become a favorite while I'm cooking, as this is a time for me to slow down and relax, often at or near sundown. That said, the band's set ALMOST coincided with sundown on Sunday, missing it by maybe 30-40 minutes. They still played in undertaker garb haloed in the sun's last rays, perhaps encouraging it's very retreat into its nightly casket with their wail. I'd like to think so anyway. I managed to catch up with some of the band afterwords; they were all really appreciative of my enthusiasm. The guitarist and vocalist even signed an old advertising postcard for the Lead And Aethere album a friend recently gifted me, giving it an even more special place in my collection. Apparently, a live CD/DVD and a new album are in the works from Svart Records sometime this year, if I understood the guitarist correctly, so I will be eagerly anticipating those!

Washing down my Finnish Death Metal with more Finnish Death Metal, I rushed over to catch tech-belcher champions of the bizarre, Demilich. This was another important set for me. Not only is the band super unique and remarkable in their own right, my discovery of them by a friend (a different one than previously mentioned, it's good to have many Metal mentors!) 2-3 years ago sent me deep on a quest of Finnish Death Metal discovery. I can't believe it took me so long to discover the strange wonders of the Finnish scene, I've spent an unfair amount of time on America, Sweden, and the UK!

So, let's get to what you want to know: the vocals sounded SPOT ON, Antti can belch and gurgle away in his abnormal gastric way live too! Also, he pronounced FULL song titles, such as the lengthy, "The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son Of Fourteen Four Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)" and the even less wieldly "The Planet That Once Used To Absorb Flesh In Order To Achieve Divinity And Immortality (Suffocated To The Flesh That It Desired...)." Considering they had 55 minutes to play and a discography not much longer, everything I wanted to hear was played, including, "And The Slimy Flying Creatures Reproduce In Your Brains." How they remember the song titles, let alone the intricate and demented riffs is quite beyond me. It must be in the water.

Finnish fiends temporarily aside, Neurosis took stage next. This was my second time seeing them, and both experiences were deep and moving. Neurosis pack a passion into their live set that even further accentuates the emotional impact present on studio recordings; you haven't experienced Neurosis until you've seen them live. Most importantly for me, they played "The Tide" from my all-time favorite Neurosis album, A Sun That Never Sets, closely followed by Sovereign. I appreciate the band's fascination with runic imagery, ancestry, and nature as a metaphor for personal destruction/discovery (especially water), perhaps it's the Piscean Viking in me...

Switching stages for Edison Lot's Finnish Finish to MDF 13, I grabbed a spot to watch Amorphis play "Tales From The Thousand Lakes" in its entirety. Though I'm more a fan of Abhorrence's demos through Amorphis' Privelege of Evil, it was still cool to hear this live. I certainly give Amorphis credit for their style(s) living up to their name.

Not yet ready to throw in the Deathfest blood-soaked towel, we quickly headed over to Soundstage. Whilst my friend picked up a DRI shirt for my his sister, I pondered over five minutes of Melt Banana's strangeness. We finished up the night at Ram's Head, catching the end of Impetuous Ritual. I can't say I saw or heard enough to make an opinion.

Knelt Rote was up next, the second-to-last band of MDF for me this year. Their guitarist got quite animated from time to time; it was obvious he was feeling the music. That kind of sincerity adds a lot to a show. Otherwise, the set was plagued by Ram's Head's sound system; most of the sound was lost to a noise wall that, near as I could tell, wasn't entirely intentional. From what I could make out and follow of their spidery riffing, Knelt Rote could be very cool. I'll need to give some studio recordings a spin!

The final act of the night and fest was Portal. Strange costumes and stranger sounds, Portal is another band that I would rather see live than listen to on a recording. I'm unsure if they played any of their actual material or improvised. I'm also unsure if it matters; the effect is the same. Listening to Portal is disorienting, with riffs that zig when they should zag, seeming like the music sheet was transposed upside down and in reverse. I may prefer guitarist Horror Illogium's work in Vomitor to Portal, but I still enjoyed the show, though the projector images were making my head swimmy by the end.

Thanks again to the security team at MDF for being friendly and supportive of all us dunderheaded, knuckle-dragging, doofs that invade the city each year. It's great that many of them are Metal fans themselves, often jumping into the pit or occasionally crowd-surfing when off duty. I was a big fan of the use of super-soakers this year; they are a fun way to cool off the crowd and a safe and amusing way to make crowd-surfing more interesting. 

Secondly, the three venues (not including the Sidebar shows) works really well. The larger fair grounds for the main stage lots is more than adequate, the vendors are all solid choices (though I still hope for Dark Descent to make an appearance!), and the food was awesome (hail the Smokerhead/Zombie  BBQ and mighty Porklord!). I was really pleased that I could eat vegetarian all weekend with no issues. I must confess that I did break down and get something with marshmallows, but come on! Count Chocula in rice crispy treats?! I couldn't resist.

I'm still processing this year's MDF but I'm already rabid for next year's. That is very telling; it takes me almost until the next year to calm down from one MDF, all the while fiending for more! Keep up the great work to everyone involved in MDF and I'll see you Metalheads next year!

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

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