To me, Friday felt like the first real day of this year’s Maryland Deathfest. (No disrespect to Thursday’s performers at all; I just only saw three of them, so for my personal experience, it felt more like a prologue of sorts.) For the first time — absent the opportunity for parking lot hangs, crushed beer-can BBQing and other outdoor shenanigans — it’d be all metal straight through, from the late afternoon to the earliest part of the morning. Let’s get to it!
Day 2: Friday, May 26, 2017
I have to say, I really did appreciate the later daily start times at this year’s festival. In years past, the outdoor stages would kick off as early as noon — meaning that if you’d stayed out through the very last act at Rams Head the night before, you’d have had less than 12 hours to get home, drink more (I’m assuming), sleep, then get up and do it all again the next day. With kickoffs pushed back to the 3:30, 4:00 range this year, recovering and resetting each day has been a great deal easier.
Case in point: before catching a Lyft down to the festival, I had time to run out for breakfast, go for a hike and play a little frisbee golf with Kevin and Lauren, my hosts for the weekend. Nice way to wake up, instead of another round of “Unghhh what time is it OH FUCK METAL!”-and-dash.
Anyway, once 4:00 rolled around, it was time to head down to the Soundstage to catch…
Aside from a quick Bandcamp perusal in the lead-up to the festival — which I quite enjoyed — I wasn’t super familiar with Chepang going into their Soundstage-opening set on Friday. The NYC-based “immigrant core” quintet serves up grinding attacks that focus heavily on class warfare and the plight of the Chepang people in the band’s native Nepal. And with twin drummers and a pair of vocalists performing from the heart of the pit, those attacks came across as ferociously as possible in the live setting. It may have been the band’s first MDF performance, but on the strength of this set, I reckon it won’t be their last. Not by a long shot.
Next up was Norway’s Nordjevel, a relatively newer band that was taking the stage over at the Rams Head. As you might have gathered from the corpse paint, the band plays mostly straightforward, unapologetic black metal, albeit with some occasional epic flourishes. And to their credit, the quartet wasn’t lacking for enthusiasm or stage presence on their MDF debut. However, in the end, they didn’t quite stick with me. I’m not sure if it was that the band felt a little too cartoony — which, I know, is a bit of a ridiculous criticism when we’re talking about black metal. Or perhaps it whether the constant, direct overhead lights during the band’s set undercut the inherent mood and darkness associated with black metal, but something about it wasn’t working for me. All best to them, though.
Organ Dealer / Mother Brain
Next up was a trip back to Soundstage for a pair of back-to-back grindcore sets from New Jersey’s Organ Dealer and Long Island’s Mother Brain. Not knowing a ton about either band, I kind of went in just see some damn raging, and wouldn’t you know it? Both bands delivered in spades.
Of the two, I think I’d have to pick Organ Dealer as my favorite. Nothing against Mother Brain by any means — the band had previously played the festival in 2015, and you don’t get invited to perform twice in three years if you don’t absolutely bring it. (They did.) But for Organ Dealer, it was the first time out; it was something special. Underneath the aural devastation of their set, you could also feel a palpable joy at simply being up there, whether in vocalist Scot Moriarty jumping onto anything he could — the crowd, the side barriers, etc. — or in the band bending over backwards to acknowledge and thank their audience, fellow bands and festival organizers.
As a result, it was hard not to get sucked in by their performance. I’ve developed a taste for grind since our first trip to MDF back in 2013, but in general, the genre still takes a backseat to some of metal’s other subgenres. Even with all that on the table, Organ Dealer earned a spot in my Top 10 for MDF XV. I was damn impressed. And Mother Brain? Hopefully they can settle for just being “really damn good.”
From there, it was back over to Rams Head for the remainder of the evening. After the last few minutes of Wisconsin thrashers Morbid Saint‘s set — quite good from what I saw; I just didn’t catch nearly enough to include a full blurb here, or get close enough to snag any decent pictures — the next band up was Sargeist.
The Finnish black metal crew was back for their first set since 2012 — albeit with a new vocalist in tow, after longtime frontman Hoath Torog left last year to focus on his work in Behexen. (More on them later.) And from the minute the band took the stage, everything just worked — corpse paint, unsettling demeanor and all. New vocalist Profundus slotted in seamlessly, introducing each song with an eerie ritual chant and a clang on his dangling incense jar, before catapulting the audience into a tempest. Whereas fellow corpse-painters Nordjevel might have tried to channel the traditional black metal aesthetic on the same stage earlier that day, Sargeist fully owned that aesthetic. The result was one of the better black metal sets I’ve seen in my time at MDF.
For three years in a row now, MDF’s included a token, non-extreme metal act in their billing. In 2015, it was beloved hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, though that was due more to extraordinary circumstances than to intentional inter-genre outreach. Last year, it was Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin, whose live renditions of his classic songs from Zombi and other horror film soundtracks weren’t remotely extreme or metal, yet still pulled the crowd under an unmistakable cover of darkness and won them over.
This year, the “outsider” was GosT, the mysterious synthwave producer known for his abrasive, cyber-punky production style and skeleton-mask-sporting live performances. And having built up a wave of momentum on the strength of 2015’s Behemoth and last year’s Non Paradisi (both available as Name Your Price downloads on Bandcamp, which you should get and pay for), the guy who calls himself Baalberith arrived at MDF for a perfectly-timed pace-change set. At a basic level, his John-Carpenter-at-a-rave-esque sound might make one think of Perturbator, but that doesn’t quite do it justice; here, there are occasional flourishes reminiscent of dubstep, and the volume knob’s turned up a bit closer to 11 for more of the time.
GosT filled the 40-odd minutes largely with tracks from those last two records (including “Genesee Avenue,” “Master,” and “4th”), but more importantly, appeared to have an absolute blast while doing so. Some people will always have questions when it comes to live, electronic music — how much of this is actually happening live? Aren’t these tracks all pre-recorded and just queued on a laptop? I’ve no idea what goes into it all, and far be it from me to assume anything with my minuscule knowledge base. All I know is that on Friday night, none of it really mattered. Baalberith jumping and dancing around behind his rig while his retrofuturistic jams blared in the background was all it took to get the majority of the audience doing the same on the Rams Head floor. It was the kind of thing that made you wish MDF would book a synthwave act every year.
Speaking of which, MDF organizers…Perturbator next year? Please and thank you.
Well, shit. I’ve never felt worse about having to name a band my second-favorite act of a festival. But for a particular band you’ll see in my recap of MDF’s Sunday sets — when I actually finish that post… sometime next month, probably — Vader would have won the whole damn thing.
I’m pretty sure this was the most crowded Rams Head had been to this point, and people. were. JACKED. for this set. I can imagine I would have been too, if I’d seen them before Friday’s set. As it was, I was going solely on what I’d heard of the Polish death-thrashers’ studio output — which, admittedly, was not the full discography, and which, admittedly, I’d more often liked than really loved.
But good lord, that performance. This was a definite example of what I call The Rammstein Effect — when a band you’ve previously been lukewarm on completely and totally wins you over with their live show. It happened to Corey and I the first time we saw Rammstein, and it happened to me with Vader on Friday night.
At 51, frontman Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek was teeming with energy — both during the set and in his interactions with the crowd. Case in point: early on, he revealed that the band would be playing its debut album, The Ultimate Incantation, in full that night, in celebration of its 25th anniversary. Kind of a big (and awesome) thing to drop on an audience without any prior indication, I’d say. But then? No grandiosity. No fanfare. Just Peter and the guys ripping through the songs like they’d been doing it for years. It was a wickedly fun, no-bullshit set, and the audience ate it up.
Speaking of the audience, I definitely saw a fight break out about five feet from me during the set. Classic case of a guy forgetting he’s at a metal show and getting REALLY pissed off that people are shoving into him. Know your territory, brah. Anyway, Vader rules.
Once the dust settled from Vader’s all-out assault…it just kept settling. And settling. And settling some more. I didn’t time it exactly, but good god, it felt like it took an eternity to get Autopsy‘s equipment set up. It reminded me of what happened with Craft last year except not as bad, because nothing will ever be that bad.
Anyway, Autopsy eventually came on. I took in a song or two, realized it wasn’t for me, and then — instead of going over to Soundstage and trying to catch a bit of Siege like I probably should have — decided I was tired and went home. Sorry, Autopsy, the seven hours it took you to set your shit up kinda did me in. Better luck next time.
- The more I think about it, the more Nordjevel’s frontman Doedsadmiral kinda reminded me of Danny DeVito’s Penguin in Batman Returns. Am I the only one? (Probably.)
- I really, really don’t understand Macabre. What am I missing with these guys?
- I mentioned in Part 1 that the crowd packing hadn’t really been an issue on Thursday. For the most part, that remained true on Friday, with the exception of during Vader’s set. At that point, it might actually have felt more crowded than Dragged Into Sunlight did last year.
- What is it with last-bands-of-the-night-at-Rams Head with this fest? Craft last year, Autopsy this year…how does it suddenly become impossible to get a band up there and playing late at night?
Stay tuned for the rest of the MDF recaps! (I’ll try to be a bit quicker about them, I promise)
Keep it heavy,