(In this post NCS guest contributor Kevin P, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at this year’s edition of Maryland Deathfest, provides his thoughts about the 12th installment of this amazing U.S. festival.)
This was my third MDF and the first one I planned on attending all four days. In 2011 I went Friday through Sunday, and last year on Thursday only (yes, I flew out simply for Bolt Thrower). As luck would have it, Triptykon cancelled three days before their scheduled performance on Thursday, which made me rethink my plans.
We have a brand new baby in our house (three months old) along with a ten-year-old, so the wife wasn’t what I would call “pleased” that I was going to be away for almost five days while she played the single parent game. The only bands that really mattered to me on Friday were Necros Christos, The Ruins of Beverast, and At the Gates (who I’d just seen twice on Barge to Hell in Dec 2012), so once Triptykon made Thursday utterly useless for me (yeah, Coffins are cool and all, but nothing that gets me all chubbed up at night), I decided to cut my trip to only Saturday and Sunday (ya know, help out around the house, make the wife happy, all that kinda shit).
Then, in their infinite wisdom (and possibly me gently nudging and requesting it on their Facebook page), the organizers decided to add a second Bölzer set on Friday night (in place of Aeturnus, who had visa issues at the airport). Bölzer was originally scheduled to play Saturday night, opposite Dark Angel, which was my sole pain point for the whole festival. I don’t live and die everything Dark Angel, but they are a legendary band I enjoy and have never seen. But when the hell am I going to get a chance to see Bölzer again? So once they added a second Bölzer set on Friday night (opposite At the Gates’ time slot), the wife said “go, why not at this point”. So at 11:50pm Thursday night I rebooked my flight AGAIN to arrive on Friday early afternoon.
I’ve always heard people complain about security in years past (mainly the people hired by the Sonar, where the fest took place), issues with getting in in a timely matter, lack of food availability, and crappy sound at the inside venue. I myself never had any real issues besides not knowing where in the world any of the food vendors were (we would always go offsite to eat). But the size of the fest had outgrown the Sonar location. They needed to do something about that, and they did.
Edison Lot was set up with what seems like triple the amount of room, the merch in a separate area from the stages, and enough food and beer/drink stands that you hardly ever had to wait for anything. Even getting into and out of Edison Lot was a breeze. Sure, it’s still under/adjacent to an overpass and makes you chuckle thinking “hey, this is the best we can do here in the USA”, but it seems like anyone who traveled here from Europe didn’t seem to mind or think it was “low rent”.
The first band I saw was The Ruins of Beverast, and for a black/doom/death metal band, they felt surprisingly uptempo. Maybe it was seeing them in broad daylight, which frankly was an odd experience. Next was Necros Christos, who were able to replicate their unique guitar tone pretty much to a tee. I enjoyed both sets, ate a vegan jalepeno and cheese hotdog, then wandered around between the merch and food areas (as I had multiple hours to kill until At the Gates at 9:45pm).
Before Agalloch hit the stage at 8:45pm, I stumbled into a conspicuous presence “making love” to chicken on a stick — it was none other than your friendly neighborhood Islander. As we both inhaled a $13 portion of chicken, fried rice and noodles (it was quite tasty and a massive amount of food), Jacobo of Majestic Downfall wandered by and it was a regular metal Pow Wow. My plan at this point was to catch a few songs by At the Gates and then leave for the 15-minute walk to Rams Head to get there for Bölzer with enough time to spare. Islander seemed tickled by this idea and the plan was to meet at 10pm sharp at the vegan hotdog stand. Long story short, we didn’t synchronize our watches and I left without him. As you probably read in his recap, he was glad he stayed and was able to see all of At the Gates.
Bölzer was pretty incredible. It’s amazing hearing their songs live and that just two guys are able to pull this off. Watching their performance gave me an even far greater appreciation than I already had for their music. And it was a pleasant surprise they had a lot of people there to see them. Their merch booth was jam packed as soon as they started selling shirts. Not bad for a band with half a dozen songs to their name. After that were Enthroned, which I couldn’t tolerate, and then we left after a few Incantation songs (never a big fan besides the first album).
Saturday was going to be the “Marathon Day” as I wanted to see Entrails at 2:35pm and Apshyx at 12:40am (with a plethora of bands in between), while the rest of my party wanted to get there even earlier to see Diocletian at 1:55pm. But the highlight of my day occured pretty early on, once we wandered over the to the merch area and saw Martin van Drunen hanging around. I had told my daughter all week that if I met him, I’d get a picture with him for her. In the past year since I’ve introduced her to metal she has latched onto Hail of Bullets as a band and would google his picture from time to time (she has a “thing” for the singers of most bands). After telling Martin my story, he was kind enough to create this sign:
If you’ve never met Martin, you couldn’t encounter a nicer guy. Anyways, after seeing countless bands that day it was time for Dark Angel at 9:45pm. My feet hurt, I was tired, and I didn’t bother to get up too close to the stage as I wasn’t into dealing with people or being “pit police”. So while the sound wasn’t bad by any means, I was far enough back that it came off a bit thin and I just wasn’t “feeling it” for whatever reason. So our crew bailed after 5-6 songs and headed over to Rams Head to catch Hooded Menace.
Upon our arrival, Bölzer had just finished their second set of the weekend and the line for merch was even bigger than the night before. Thanks to my NY entitlement theory, I pushed Islander up a few times to get him to the front of the line so he was able to snag the Bölzer shirt he wanted before they sold out.
My main draw today, along with Dark Angel, was Pungent Stench, who I hadn’t seen since 1992 at Club Baby Head in Rhode Island. Everyone I know says they killed and were awesome, but maybe I was just too tired, so for me they were only “ok”. Not bad, not awesome, just okay. Their sound wasn’t the best either. I think part of me felt guitly for bailing on Dark Angel so my head wasn’t with it. At this point I was done for the night, but a friend wanted to see Asphyx, so we stayed.
After taking a quick cat nap at the bar (my head leaning on upright wrist) and being told “it’s against policy and I need to stay awake” (I’m not kidding, security told me this) I got up for Asphyx. And thank god I did. They absolutely killed. They had the best sound of any band at Rams Head all weekend. They played all the hits: “The Rack”, “We Doom You to Death”, “Death the Brutal Way”, “Deathhammer”, etc. It’s one of those happy accidents and a great way to end a loooooong day.
Sunday was the recovery day. I could have waited until Candlemass hit the stage at 8:45pm to get to Edison Lot, but our group arrived around 3pm-ish (after hitting up Bagby Pizza Co., pricey but soooo good) to see Pseudogod. I dicked around and barely paid attention until I made sure to get a good spot for Candlemass. We couldn’t get too close, though, as we needed to leave a few songs early to make sure and get a primo position for My Dying Bride (who were playing right after Candlemass finished).
I’m a Messiah Marcolin guy through and through. It pained me that he left/got kicked out/whatever, but I learned to enjoy the Rob Lowe albums. Now that Mats Leven was the vocalist, I didn’t know what to expect (though I was cautiously optimistic since I enjoy Krux). As soon as things kicked in with “Mirror Mirror” I was hooked. Mats was incredible and the whole band performance was basically flawless. Perfect sound (the best of any band at Edision Lot all weekend) and an old school setlist (minus one song) made me feel guilty that I had to walk over to the other stage and only hear “At the Gallows End” and “Solitude” from a distance.
My Dying Bride was my numero uno band for this whole festival. The only times I have seen them live (twice) were on the 70K Tons of Metal Cruise in 2012. Those performances merely whetted my appetite, so I was estatic that they were booked, as they never struck me as a band who would appear on this type of festival. Their sound was crushing, it had a nice amount of rawness to it that made it feel like the stage was gonna collapse under the sheer weight of it all. Five of the nine songs they played were not featured on the cruise, so I couldn’t have been happier (ok, if they had played “I Am the Bloody Earth”, I would have been even happier). I managed to not cry this time and only had some slight moisture in my eyes (yeah, this band is kinda a BIG DEAL to me).
After they closed out the Edison Lot performances, it was over to Rams Head for Ulcerate and Immolation. Ulcerate put on what seemed like a drum clinic with the guitar and bass as backing instruments. It was an inhuman performance, super tight, dense, and not for the faint of heart. Immolation closed out the night and were orginally scheduled for 55 minutes, but played for about 80 minutes. You won’t hear me complain as MORE IMMOLATION = MORE BETTER. My group had left about five-six songs before the end and were asking me to leave, but I couldn’t. I simply won’t violate the Death Metal Prime Directive: one does not leave an Immolation set early. Bob Vigna always puts on his own show, engaged in a fight to the death with his guitar. It’s a joy to watch and hear. They played 15 songs, with “Close To A World Below” being the only song I wanted to hear that they didn’t play. Not really a complaint at all. Great performance and a great end to a great event.
Some other random notes and observations:
– never a line for the porta potties, they had enough and cleaned them out every night. I liked the pink ones myself.
– all the food I had onsite was great, $10 for three tacos, $13 for a big piece of chicken on stick, fried rice and noodles, $5 for vegan hotdog (like 10 varieties, I tried two). I didn’t try the Zombie BBQ or the Greek food, but heard positive things as well. Draft beer was $6. I had no issues with the prices, some felt it was high, but you are always gonna pay more at a festival. Maybe I’m just used to being raped by Disney all the time.
– the new location at Edision Lot offers plenty of room. It never felt packed and once a band finished on one stage, the next one started within about 5-10 minutes. Things seemed to go off without a hitch.
– moving the merch to its own area was great and a much-needed change
– unlike past years at The Sonar, the two outdoor stages didn’t face each other, so if you left to get a good spot for one band, while you could still hear the music from the other, you were off the the side slightly, so you lost some of the effect/feel, as the music wasn’t traveling at you in a straight line.
– regardless of what Islander thinks, I had THE BEST & MOST BRUTAL SHIRT OF THE WHOLE DAMN FEST!
Top 5 Performances
1 – My Dying Bride
2 – Candlemass
3 – Asphyx
4 – Immolation
5 – Bölzer