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.