May 262019


After the first three days of Maryland Deathfest 2019 my feet are protesting, my back is mewling in pain, but my brain feels like it’s 13 years old again, jumping up and down and anxious for the last day to begin.

I’m here in Baltimore with my NCS comrades Andy Synn and DGR, and a big crew of good friends from Seattle and scattered other locations. Needless to say, we haven’t been blogging, but I thought I’d check in real quick before running the metal gauntlet one more time, beginning this afternoon.



This makes my sixth MDF in a row, and I’ve made some changes in what I usually do. First, I decided (and this time stuck to my resolution) not to make daily reports of the shows. In fact, what you’re reading now is probably the only thing I’ll write.

That decision has made the event much more relaxing and enjoyable for me. I’m no longer making mental and digital notes of impressions of the performances, no longer feeling compelled to make photos and videos of every band I saw, no longer waking up after 4 or 5 hours of sleep to write something before heading out again for pre-fest feedbags with the crew. I’m just a fan this time, and that’s been very cool.



Second, I also decided not to stick out every night to the bitter end. As a result, I’ve missed every headliner and almost all the penultimate bands each night, but I’ve been in bed and asleep by midnight almost every night. Last night was an exception, because I hung in there for Borknagar, who finished their set at midnight (which as a good call, because they were glorious, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the evening than by hearing “Winter Thrice” as their final song).



I’ve never felt compelled to catch every band at MDF — at least half the reason to come to festivals (for me) is to spend time talking with old and new friends — but I’ve usually felt compelled to prop myself up for the headliners. The current method is better. I can get 8 hours of sleep, wake up at a reasonable hour without feeling hungover, and then smile when everyone else tells me how fucking great the bands were that I missed, including Mortician, Tormentor, Carnivore AD, Voivod, and Immolation. And I got the last laugh when Immolation played a second set on Friday night to fill the void left by Vomitory being a no-show due to visa bullshit, so I got to see Immolation anyway (for the third time, and they are such consummate pros it felt like the excitement of seeing them for the first time all over again).



Maybe my new relaxed frame of mind is partly the cause, but I’ve enjoyed this year’s MDF even more so than usual. I’ve seen so many thoroughly memorable performances, and very few that didn’t leave a hugely positive impression. The pre-fest show was outstanding on Wednesday night. Yellow Eyes left my head ringing in wonder; Woe turned in one of the absolute best performances of the festival so far; and I was elated to see a band I never thought I’d ever get the chance to see, from right at the front of the Ottobar stage — Naglfar — and I loved every minute of it.



From there, the fest has stayed on a high note. My black metal yearnings have been richly satisfied, with strikingly memorable sets by Daeva, Vanum, Délétère, Dead In the Manger, and True Black Dawn. And a personal highlight was getting to see another band I never thought I’d get to see — the Greek band Zemial, who were fronted by Proscriptor from Absu, and who turned in a musically wide-ranging performance that was tremendous fun from start to finish.


Among the other highlights, Anaal Nathrakh and Benediction stand out, in significant part because of Dave Hunt‘s performances with both bands. He proved again that he’s one of the best live front-persons in metal. And speaking of bands I never thought I’d get the chance to see and who killed it, Finland’s Rippikoulu and Germany’s Blood are in those categories.



Many of my compatriots punched out for Revenge, but I wanted to see them and am glad I did, though I’m still trying to wrap my head around why I was so transfixed, even though I knew from their recordings what I’d be getting myself into. A combination of raw primitivism and utter chaos, with a truly maniacal, all-over-the-place drummer and bursts of shrieking guitar soloing being the principle attractions.

I can’t finish naming highlights without mentioning the Japanese band Church of Misery. I didn’t expect to be so completely enthralled. Some of that is because their music is a nostalgia trip for me (it sounds like someone unearthed a musical time capsule from circa 1969), but that’s not the whole story. The vocalist has really got a set of pipes on him, and the waif-like, bell-bottomed bassist (who was just below me from my balcony perch) played his very low-slung instrument with his pick hand constantly up on the neck, and his body in constant motion. It was fascinating.



I confess that I’ve spent very little time at Soundstage this year, partly because I’ve been very happy with the line-ups at Ram’s Head and partly because I’ve been too lazy to move back and forth between the two. I’ve also missed plenty of bands at Ram’s Head due to getting wrapped up in conversations outside the venue between bands, and long dinner breaks. But I’m very happy and have no regrets about anything I’ve chosen to do.

Yesterday during one of those meal breaks I ran into Jacobo Córdova, who had come into the same restaurant with his crew shortly before we were getting up to leave. It reminded me all over again why renewing old acquaintances is one of the big draws of MDF. He is such a good dude, and I can’t wait to start the final day of MDF by listening to him and his band Majestic Downfall in the opening slot at Ram’s Head this afternoon.


For those of you who come here on Sundays for a SHADES OF BLACK column, I’m sorry to say there won’t be one. Tomorrow, we’re all flying back to where we came from, so we won’t have the usual Monday flurry of activity at NCS either. I may or may not attempt to throw together a few words about the final performances that lie ahead on this Sunday afternoon and evening.

Hope your day and night go as well as I think mine will.



  1. I can endorse your review(s), although I punched out 30 seconds into Borknagar. Blood turned in the set of fest. Those guys were having a blast and it was infectious. Daeva and Deletere were the biggest surprises for me and the bands I’ll be digging into their catalogs.

    • I’m convinced a lot of the infectiousness of Blood had to do with the fact that most of them looked like they were in their 50s and still doing this, and doing it was such energy and evident joy. And yeah, Daeva and Deletere are definitely worth checking out, very different from each other but both very talented.

    • Your in luck Daeva’s back catalogue is literally one EP, so it’s a quick dig.

      …but I have to disagree about Blood. As great as that set was, and it was great, The Chasm decimated the entire festival. No one could touch that set that Corchado laid down

      • You’re both right. Blood were just so obviously having so much fun. I think they were blown away by the crowd response too which energized them even more. I ran into them several times over the weekend and they seemed like genuinely nice, down to earth guys.

        And I posted an hour too early. The Chasm takes the honor of the best set for the weekend. That’s the second time I’ve seen them in 6 months and both were amazing. That’s the catalog I really need to dig in to.

  2. Dude, the photos you posted of Friday night at Rams Head were great, makes me wonder where you were, because I was right there during those bands. I only opted for that one night of Deathfest due to life obligations, but seeing Naglfar and Anaal Nathrakh was a great experience, and totally the reason I picked what night I did.

    • Friday night was tremendous. I moved around, up-front for Zemial and Anaal Nathrakh and up on the second level balcony for the rest. I should have posted photos of other bands from that night, but was kind of hurrying this morning.

  3. Sounds like a fun weekend.

  4. Deletere were just at Steelfest in Finland recently, so they’re getting around!

  5. Great write up; thanks for taking the time to do it, Islander.

    Another super-fun Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore. After 12 years of attending MDF – and pushing 50 now – I have also had to negotiate with myself to survive the long and punishing weekend. I am not willing to miss the headliners (miss the chance to see Tormentor – or see Immolation close out at Soundstage – never!!), so my compromise in the last few years has been to limit myself to three days (I am just too damn spent trying to do four, particularly as I drive back and forth from DC to attend it).

    I can attest to seeing Islander right up front and center for Anaal Nathrakh, thinking, “now there is a man who is at peace with what he has accomplished in this world!” Fortunately, he survived to blog about it.

    Dave Hunt truly is the man – an international treasure! He needs to be given the Danny Lilker treatment at MDF, where they literally start creating bands just get him to perform at the fest. At the very top of my list would be both of his sets – Anaal and Benediction (I was really blown away by the Benediction set – not too mention super happy to get to see one of Dave’s last sets leading them). Hunt’s chops are impeccable, his banter always witty and top notch, and he is simply mesmerizing to watch in action (so damn physical and demonstrative). Still waiting for some stage diving…

    Along with Anaal and Benediction, I would have to put Church of Misery, Immolation (does that band ever do a bad set? – but their Soundstage set was particularly awesome), Borknager, and Zemial (Proscriptor is quite the character) as my other top sets.

    Part of the allure of MDF is also to see these one of a lifetime sets, and it was awesome to see – and get to honor/salute – Tormentor, Disharmonic Orchestra (such nice guys, too – truly seemed honored to play the fest), Blood, and others that I have admired literally for decades…

    So much fun – can’t wait to see who we get to see next year!

    • I really enjoyed reading your comments — thanks for such extensive thoughts. I did sort of lose my mind up front at Anaal Nathrakh, but somehow also survived. Your Danny Lilker comment made me laugh, because that has been a running joke among the crew I join up with for MDF. We were all very disappointed that no Lilker bands were on the bill this year — but a double-dose of Dave Hunt was more than adequate compensation (and I completely agree that he should be given the Lilker treatment). I’m also already excited to see who MDF lines up for next year. It is always such a great time.

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