By Jay H. Gorania; Photos by Albert Mansour
If you’re a fan of extreme metal and you live in North America, it’s likely that you have a strong impulse to attend the continent’s biggest annual festival: Maryland Deathfest. Actually attending the fest, however, isn’t always possible, especially if you live thousands of miles away. Time and money are obvious challenges. And sometimes, if you’re oh-so lucky, you’ve got the TSA.
I understand that they were doing their jobs, and they were genuinely courteous in the manner in which they spoke to me, but I can’t believe, and deeply regret, saying, “Thank you,” especially after their thorough screening that entailed one dude combing through my wallet. Knee-jerk reactionary social pleasantries are common in most people’s lives, but my inner dialogue was telling me, “Shit,” over and over again.
Thursday, May 24
After the brief interruption on my path toward Baltimore, I eventually wound up at the Sonar for the “pre-fest” show at the venue’s inside stage in time to catch one Dying Fetus song. Were they heavy? Were they good? Who knows? It was too loud to be able to make those assessments.
Texas black metal legends Absu followed up with an impressive set in which bassist Ezezu and drum god Proscriptor McGovern traded vocals and rhythmically battered the crowd with their well-written black metal that is deeply entrenched within the spirit of traditional heavy metal and Show No Mercy-era Slayer. And yes, they were so good that you can forgive Proscriptor for wearing that silly-ass headband/head dress.
Louisiana’s swamp kings Eyehategod followed with their gritty resonance and passionate delivery, propelled by the riffs of guitarist Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton. Madman/frontman Mike Williams encourages looseness, yet in spite of appearing stoned out of their minds, the rhythm section of bassist Gary Mader and drummer Joey LaCaze keeps everything on track. It was sludge and metal, obviously, yet their spirit was that of an ‘80s hardcore punk band, an influence rearing its ugly head most prominently during their up-tempo sections.
Following Agalloch’s set, Autopsy capped off evening with their raw, old school death metal that supports the notion that death metal is all about spirit more than technicality. It wasn’t quite as menacing as their appearance two years previously at the fest, but it wasn’t too shabby at all.
Friday, May 25th
Steve Austin is a madman, and his band’s music has always been an adequate reflection of his maniacal nature. In spite of the fact that they only practiced once since last October, a practice which was less than 24 hours prior to this MDF set, the noise rock/metal machine Today is the Day ripped through a blistering set of authentic primal rage.
Romania’s Negura Bunget successfully pulled at the heart strings with their melancholy fueled dark metal, but the real magic took place on one of the outside stages when industrial metal legends Godflesh kicked into gear. What’s even more interesting than the fact that just two men are capable of producing something more heavy than a thousand death metal bands combined is the fact that it’s so bloody groovy. Bleak and bordering on something that’s both hopeful and hopeless, their repetition can be trance-inducing, enhanced by the dream-like, massively projected visuals that stood at odds with Baltimore’s concrete skyline that dominated the backdrop.
On the opposite side of the Sonar’s parking lot, Justin Broadrick’s former band Napalm Death was absolutely ferocious as they blasted ear drums on the other outside stage with a set that was supposedly intended to scrape across their entire catalogue, though according to Richard “The Grindfather” Johnson (Drugs of Faith/Agoraphobic Nosebleed), they didn’t play anything from two albums. (Pfft. Posers!)
Back inside, Unsane‘s barrage of punchy, groove-laden noise rock resonated a kind of heaviness not too unlike that of Today is the Day, another similarity being the very real madness in the frontman department with Chris Spencer’s OTT personality bleeding fully into the band’s music.
Nasum rounded the evening out with a must-see set of classic grind. Disbanding following the tragic death of frontman Mieszko Talarczyk while he was vacationing in Thailand at the time of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, some murmured about the reunion tour being “Nasum light” for the fact that he’s not involved. Yet judging by their performance and the contribution from fill-in vocalist Keijo Niinimaa (Rotten Sound), there was nothing light about it. Driven by Rickard Alriksson’s blast-driven intensity, their grind approach was a powerful synthesis of classic early ’90s Swedish death metal and Swedish hardcore.
Shortly before jumping on stage to provide guest vocals alongside Niinimaa, much to the crowd’s delight, Misery Index‘s Jason Netherton said Nasum was a band that changed his life.
At the end of the evening, it was time for people to unwind at the venue’s bars, not that they weren’t doing that the rest of the time. Morbid Angel’s David Vincent, in fine alpha male form, leaned against the bar with a circle of people surrounding him and listening to his stories, hanging on his every word. Napalm Death’s Shane Embury abruptly charged through the circle of worship with the subtlety of a bull in a China shop. “David Vincent, you know that album Altars of Madness? You know that one? Tomorrow you should change that riff that goes ‘Duh-nuh’ to ‘Dun-nuh-nuh!’”
Then, on several occasions, Embury interrupted Vincent’s conversations (or was it a monologue?) by moving back into the circle and putting his arm around the Morbid Angel frontman’s shoulders, always with the same contribution to the conversation. “Dun-nuh-nuh!”