It’s time for me to bring this five-part reminiscence about Maryland Deathfest 2016 to a close and try to get back to more typical NCS activities this week.
I said when I started this recap that I wanted to give a round of applause to the best bands I saw at MDF, organizing them into four categories. The first three categories I nicknamed Swedish (and Dutch) Death Metal Supremacy, Shades of Black, and The Black Death. However, there’s no common denominator among the five bands grouped together today, so I’m calling this collection Divergent Delights.
I was thinking about Mixed Martial Arts, but much of the music here isn’t martial. Assorted Ass-Kicking was appealing, but I don’t think “ass-kicking” really fits everything either. Maybe Variegated Victories would have worked.
Anyway, for those of you who were at MDF this year, you’ll soon discover that I’ve omitted some (or many) of the bands you thought were among the best. In some cases, I probably didn’t think the bands were as great as some of you do, but the most likely explanation is that I just didn’t see them play.
There were a lot of old-school thrash bands packed into the 2016 line-up, and I skipped nearly all of them. I also made choices that left me almost completely missing in action at Soundstage, and so my recaps are devoid of the kind of crust, hardcore, and grind bands who stacked the line-ups there. And I missed still other bands because of socializing, meal-time festivities, and being slow out of the starting gate in getting to the earliest sets at Edison Lot.
Based on reports I heard (and have now read) by others, plus my own preferences in some instances, I wish I’d seen Weedeater, The Afternoon Gentlemen, Magrudergrind, Demonic Christ, Demonical, Hirax, Testament, Nuclear Assault, Infest, Negative Approach, Denouncement Pyre, Demolition Hammer, Ringworm, Tragedy, and Rotten Sound — though Rotten Sound is the first band in this collection (I’ll explain in a moment).
Feel free to criticize my poor judgment, gluttony, sloth, and inability to be in two places at the same time.
I missed Finland’s Rotten Sound at Soundstage on Thursday night of MDF so I could see Secrets of the Moon at the Rams Head venue, but I did that because I knew Rotten Sound would be playing last night at the Highline bar in Seattle. And I didn’t miss that show.
I geared up for it by listening once again to the band’s latest album Abuse to Suffer. So damned good. And the live show was an HM2-fueled blast furnace of grind destruction. When the band were operating at high speed (which was most of the time), they were amazingly tight, both head-spinning and head-battering (the drummer, in particular, appears to be superhuman). When they slowed the pace, it was crushing.
And they were lots of fun to watch, too — all of them in constant motion, bounding around the stage, feeding energy to the crowd, who reciprocated enthusiastically. I’ve rarely seen this kind of musical speed, or moshing, at Highline. A major ass-kicking was enjoyed by all.
If there was a bigger breakout debut album in 2015 than Crypt Sermon’s Out of the Garden, I don’t know what it is. It’s too soon to call it an instant classic, but I’m really tempted to say that it is — and this comes from someone who is obviously very tepid about clean singing in metal.
Brooks Wilson’s remarkable voice is vital to what made Out of the Garden such an eye-opening debut, and I’m very happy to say that he sounds at least as good live as he did in the studio — maybe better. He’s also got the stage presence and moves that helped make Crypt Sermon’s opening-day set at MDF 2016 an early highlight of the whole festival.
But he wasn’t alone. Steve Jansson’s guitar performance was fantastic — among other things, he had to wrestle through an amp failure and replacement without letting that fluster him or throw him off his stride (other performers at MDF didn’t handle the technical difficulties with as much aplomb). And Enrique Sagarnaga has proven that he’s just as powerful a drummer when playing at the pace of classic doom as when operating at his more customary blasting speed.
Having recorded such a fine first album and having proven their mettle on stage, the big question now is whether Crypt Sermon have it in them to create another album as good as their debut. The pressure is on….
The Italian prog rock band Goblin (now billed as Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin) are known in part for their recording of soundtracks to Italian films, perhaps most notably the horror movies of Dario Argento. I can’t claim to be very familiar with their work, but I found their hallucinatory, often creepy music as performed at MDF to be enthralling.
Because the music seemed to consist largely of excerpts from soundtracks, Goblin’s set had profuse visual accompaniment. In addition to an eye-catching and ever-changing light show, almost every piece they played was accompanied by excerpts from Italian horror movies (not one of which I have seen, but now want to see) projected on a big screen above the drum riser, meticulously synced to the music. And then there were the two appearances by a very comely dancer performing something like a burlesque routine.
A couple of female festival goers voiced some complaints in my ear-range that this was just pandering to all the testosterone in the audience. I thought the pandering worked quite well myself. When I posted some photos of the dancer on facebook, one friend asked whether they levitated her or sawed her in half. I remarked that I thought she did levitate, or maybe that was just me.
As you’ll see below, I kind of went overboard with the photos of her.
Wormed played two sets at MDF, one at Edison Lot and a second, midnight show at Soundstage in place of a band who had canceled. I caught the first of those performances and was blown away, left in a highly adrenalized and bewildered state. My Facebook status at the time does a fair job of capturing my reaction:
“Thinly disguised in the flesh garb of humans, hyper-accelerated alien mechanoids have invaded Baltimore: we’ve been Wormed. Wish I’d worn my fucking adult diapers.”
While Phlegeton gurgled, growled, croaked, and squealed his rendering of the lyrics, he often traced geometric patterns in the air with his fingers. I have an uneasy feeling that he was implanting post-hypnotic suggestions that will compel everyone at the show to appear a year from now at a field in Kansas where we will be translated into light waves and begin our journey to Andromeda.
The current incarnation of The Haunted, which includes Marco Aro on vocals and Ola Englund as lead guitarist, turned in what I thought was an inspired and inspiring performance, mixing in songs from older albums along with some of the newer material from Exit Wounds. It brought back fond memories, and wholly apart from that, watching and listening was an exhilarating experience.
Over and over again at MDF, I’ve seen veteran vocalists who generally have an angry and/or grim visage break out into big smiles in between or even during songs, when they see and feel the enthusiasm of the audience response. Sometimes they seem pleasantly surprised. At other times, it seems like a powerful reminder to them of the joys of performing live to an appreciative audience. Marco Aro smiled a lot, and that was cool. His bandmates looked like they were having a kick-ass time, too.
I’m afraid I may have fallen into rank fanboy mode again when Paradise Lost performed — and I’m not even one of those people who’ve been an ardent listener since the band’s early days. I’m unfamiliar with big chunks of their discography, and have had a meh response to some of what I am familiar with. But damn, something about being close to the stage when this collection of veteran luminaries performed put a thrill in me for reasons wholly apart from the music itself.
But I really enjoyed the music, too. The set list included some of the heavier doom/death numbers in their repertoire, which gave Nick Holmes a chance to growl (such a sweet sound), and although Holmes‘ stage banter tends to be reserved, very dry in its humor, and at times verging on the jaded, his performance and those of his bandmates was charged with emotional power and energy.
And here endeth the recap. I tend to agree with the opinions of others that overall, the line-up of MDF XIV wasn’t as strong as in the two preceding years, and it did seem that the crowds at Edison Lot were smaller than I remember from my past trips to Baltimore. But I still had an absolute blast, and I can’t wait to see what the organizers cook up for the 15th anniversary edition next year.
More band photos below (the Rotten Sound pics are from their Seattle show last night).
Complete MDF 2016 coverage: