by Jay H. Gorania
Saturday (May 29)
Last year’s MDF lineup, including Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Bolt Thrower and Mayhem, intrigued the up-and-coming metal film-makers in Handshake Inc., David Hall and David Cardoso, to the extent that they filmed a documentary about it. Maryland Deathfest: The Movie (not to be confused with Maryland Deathfest: The Ballet?) premiered in full at this year’s fest, running throughout the fest on a projection screen inside a tent.
At this year’s fest, they were capturing more footage for a sequel. Apparently during the Eyehategod interview, the Nawlins boys were breaking glass and being…Eyehategod. Up to no good. Arriving Saturday, a day before their performance, they found themselves completely red-eyed and blitzed well before sundown. Sweating, stumbling and nearly cross-eyed, bassist Gary Mader pointed, with authority, while he exclaimed, “I’m gonna get wasted tonight!” Like a fighter jet ripping through the air preceding its own sound catching up with it, so too was his lack of sobriety and his choice of words.
Playing earlier in the day on the inside stage, Ingrowing were without pretense, grinding their way as in-your-face as you can get. They were followed by Norway’s Obliteration, a young-looking bunch who played an intense form of old school death metal that allowed for breathing room with frequent doom transitions, then the doom would speed up for raging hyper-speed climaxes, and so on. Though their homeland’s inherent black metal thread wasn’t overt, its bleak atmosphere certainly permeated everything they did.
The constant blast beats and guttural death growls, as appealing as they may be, definitely become a bit too redundant and mind-mushing at a fest like this. So when Jucifer lit up the inside stage with their unique mix that included occasional melodic vocals, it was a breath of fresh air, to say the least.
With blackened vocals and catchy grunge grooves and hooks, they revel in depressive but somehow pop-affected doom, yet when they speed up there’s an utterly frantic nature to their old-school punk-flavored thrashing passages. They left an impression with their diverse songs and noticeable stage presence. It’s almost as though husband-and-wife duo Edgar Livengood (drums) and Amber Valentine (guitars/vox) fall into an apparent trance-like state while playing.
The gritty filth of hardcore punk remained when old school hardcore punk/thrash kings Verbal Abuse took over inside, reminiscent of DRI, but arguably a touch nastier, and certainly a lot more chaotic than most overly-processed and metronomic death and grind bands.
Outdoors, LA’s long-running act Sadistic Intent shook the crowd with an interestingly groove-laden form of old school filthy death metal. And then death metal pioneer Jeff Becerra was on stage! No, he wasn’t a guest. Following Sadistic’s set, he joined them because the current incarnation of the great Possessed, for those who don’t already know, is Jeff Becerra with the members of Sadistic Intent standing as his backing band.
This year, there was a second outdoor stage to minimize overlapping sets. But generally speaking, this second outdoor stage didn’t offer the best sound (and with both outdoor stages, the closer you were, the better the sound was; the further you were, the less audible it was, significantly so).
It was on this stage that dark death metal fiends Incantation performed a set that was sadly a letdown. It was great to hear their classic songs live, and as individuals the performances were proficient and enjoyable. Yet as a collective, it was a bit loose. It seemed as though they weren’t on the same page, performance-wise, from the get-go.
But back on the predominant outdoor stage, Israel’s Melechesh infused the sounds of the Middle East with the aesthetics, music and spirit of classic black metal. But they were only priming the crowd for a back-to-back assault of classic American grind and death.
Death/grind grandpapa’s Repulsion had the energy of early thrash and punk with the coarseness of death metal and the belligerence of grindcore. The Michigan band still are all of the above, and their performance was everything their fans could ever ask for. Musically, it was deliciously ruthless and intense, yet it lacked clarity. It was beyond muddy, but, then again, that’s pretty much how they sound on record.
Though I heard it, I didn’t see the tail-end of their set, during which time, according to Hellbound’s Kevin Stewart-Panko, they were joined by Cretin‘s singer/guitarist, the big bossomed Marissa Martinez. She was formerly a bearded, long-haired man named Dan in Cretin’s early days. Earlier in the day, she was certainly generating a great deal of conversation and drawing attention, constantly surrounded by a crowd.
But not to be outdone, the death metal pioneering playas in Autopsy represented the West Coast. California classic death metal, byatch! No, there wasn’t any Notorious B.I.G./Tupac Shakur, East Coast/West Coast violence literally, but was Dan Lilker trying to attack Repulsion with his overwhelming bass sound?
It didn’t sound bad. It was Lilker’s distinct bass style, with a touch of Geezer Butler shining through during the more doom-focused parts, but it was ridiculously overpowering in the mix. I don’t have enough of a command of the English language to do justice in adequately describing the prominence of Lilker’s bass volume, but if you could imagine Dan Lilker smashing his bass through your computer screen directly into your face, that would come close, kind of, to giving you an idea as to how obnoxious it was.
Again, though, volume aside, the sound itself was great, and the opportunity to watch the doom ‘n death divinity of Autopsy was essentially the equivalent of a religious pilgrimage to Mecca for death metalheads. Chris Reifert’s drumming was catchy and powerful, his vocals utterly vile and demonic.
Back inside, Wolfbrigade‘s throat-choking mix of D-beat crust punk and metal was purely negative and violent. As impressive as they were, they were essentially puckering up the audience’s lips for a devilish face-pounding, and sure enough, Portal shoved it down their throats without even a hint of foreplay or romance.
If there was ever music that would scare prim and proper Christians and leave them believing they were hearing music that came from hell, Portal would be the culprits. If there was ever music that actually did come from hell, Portal would be the culprits.
Not obsessed with tech-death, not bogged down with death or black metal conventions, Portal abuse dark metal’s reference points with brute force and the true spirit of death and black metal. They are the logical extension of dark death metal pioneers like Immolation and Incantation, taking the style to a point of progress while others have lost their way along the path.
And, oh yea, they’re loud as hell. Jucifer’s Amber Valentine said watching Portal made her feel bad about what Jucifer does to its audiences. Sheer sonic abuse.
But it was a little too loud. The nuance that can be understood, comprehended and appreciated while listening to them on record was largely lost inside the Sonar due to the speaker-destroying volume.
And in terms of visual aesthetics, their black-cloaked heads enhanced the ambience. Sure, frontman Curator of Time (did his momma name him that?) looked bad-ass with his anti-Pope head dress, but it was disappointing to see that he wasn’t “wearing” the enormous old-fashioned clock on his head that he’s known for.
Part 3 of Jay Gorania’s MDF recap, documenting Sunday’s performances, will be posted next week