Review by Jay H Gorania; Photos by Albert Mansour
Saturday, May 26
A plethora of merch booths lined the grassy outskirts of the Sonar, with more jam-packed inside the building. While purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of crappy one-man black metal bands may be tempting, yours truly couldn’t be bothered with handling vinyl at the fest, on flights, et cetera. Sure, you can drop a baby every now and then, but you can’t let vinyl get scratched. Ah, maybe next year.
At any rate, tinnitus-causing blast beatery was on deck, and Spain’s Looking for an Answer set things off early with a grindcore expression heavily influenced by gruff, old-school death metal. Dave Callier jumping on stage for some guest vocals was the icing on their crust cake.
The UK’s Dragged Into Sunlight defies rigid metal sub-genre categorization, a nebulous beast, to be sure. Granted, they reference chaotic black metal, death metal, guitar-oriented noise and doom, but they merge and mesh said styles in a seamless and undoubtedly unique manner. Billowing stacks of fog machine mist fill the air, and seizure-inducing lights march in tandem with the blasting sections, a visually enticing delivery augmenting the bleak, hateful experience. While an unsettling, noisy collection of riffs is the core of their sound, it seems that everything about the band is constantly salient.
Aside from their drummer, every band member has his back to the audience in fine anti-rock star form. But it’s still a rock show, and there’s a big fucking skull mounted on a mantle which also holds candles.
Black Witchery’s sound wasn’t optimal, and compared to Dragged Into Sunlight, their Blasphemy-on-crack approach was entirely one-dimensional. That said, they were far from boring.
The Devil’s Blood, however, forwarded the kind of evil rock pioneered by Coven. Their rocking sensibilities and the “Mouth of Satan’s” soulful, eerie crooning were a welcome change to the blast ’n growl routine of 99 percent of the bands playing MDF.
Confessor, too, refreshingly strayed from the general template of most MDF bands with their progressive metal/heavy rock/doom that was, in some ways both sonically and rhythmically, a precursor to Meshuggah, no matter how much Hellbound’s Kevin Stewart-Panko disagrees with me. Scott Jeffreys executed the high-pitched singing that can be heard on their records, and it was far less creepy than the three times he approached me to sing “Collapse Into Despair” a cappella the previous evening at the bar.
Anvil. Poor Anvil. Steve “Lips” Kudlow’s extended solos were as laughable as his goofy facial expressions. True to the picture painted by their well-known documentary, the band’s performance and behavior pointed to their passion which is obvious and absolutely undeniable, but it also underscores the fact that they’re unrealistic about their expectations. Inspiring, misguided and a little sad, all at once.
In the same vein, King Fowley of Deceased fame fronted his equally “metal ’til death” band October 31, and the metal pride was evident, but there’s little more to chew on than what you might find from the best local band of old timer metalheads in your own home town.
Unleashing violence of the auditory variety, Brujeria played to a raging, loud audience which included many people waving Mexican flags and beaming with Mexican and/or Latino pride, quite ironic considering there were three British white guys on stage [Nick Barker (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Testament), Jeff Walker (Carcass) and Shane Embury (Napalm Death)]. Their quirky take on death metal was pummeling and, unlike most death metal bands, extremely anthemic at points. Brujeria is a crowd-pleaser, and even the most arrogant of elitists would be hard pressed to refrain from smiling.
Midway through Brujeria’s set, we made our way back to the inside stage to catch sludge legends Noothgrush, featuring Dystopia’s Anthony “Dino” Sommese on vocals. His tortured screams were as drawn out as their knuckle-dragging riffs and snail-paced beats. Beautifully miserable.
There were thousands of people facing the outside stage at which Morbid Angel played, and it seemed to take quite some time for them to actually set foot onstage, for whatever reason, but kicking into the first song from Altars of Madness was a great way to appease the hungry crowd. It seems that “Nevermore” was the only track played from their latest, and much vilified, release Illud Divinum Insanus. Their classic, very early material comprised the bulk of their set, in fact. Pete Sandoval’s absence from the band has left a pretty big set of shoes to fill for Morbid Angel, but Tim Yeung did a sufficient job of maintaining their high standard. Trey Azagthoth, not surprisingly, wowed with his guitar wizardry that makes it hard to question the notion that he sold his soul to the devil for musical brilliance, a la blues legend Robert Johnson, his leads and certain riffs sounding as though they were wicked sounds twisting upward from hell.
Sure, he may have looked like a cross between Nikki Sixx and an old nu-metal dude, what with his glam-looking hair and flamboyant leather outfit, yet David Vincent was an aggressive, archetypal death metal frontman. Granted, his banter was at times more than a little bit silly and uttered in the manner in which a pro wrestler would “work the crowd,” though his presence and voice were incredible where it counts the most: in their songs.
Prior to their final song, technical difficulties were holding them back. Not long after kicking into “God of Emptiness,” Trey strummed his guitar and one or more strings broke. He threw his hands up, turned around and walked off stage. His departure didn’t even remotely phase Vincent and eternal newbie Destructhor (Myrkskog, Zyklon), the two professionally and successfully holding the final, classic song together.
New York’s classic death/doom merchants Winter capped the evening off with a dreary set. While their uber slow tempo that might be enjoyable in the confines of, say, one’s bedroom, it was painfully slow and tiresome live. Yours truly, a long time fan, lied to himself that evening, pretending it was as awesome as a long-time fan would hope for it to be. But the truth was undeniable in the morning, similar to the way that one loses their drunk goggles and sees who is actually next to them in bed following a wild night of alcohol consumption.
Invariably, though, when they kicked it up a notch to a filthy, quicker Hellhammer/Celtic Frost groove, there was a sense of climax, satisfaction and release.
Sunday, May 27
It could be due to partying, walking through the plentiful merch booths, making your way to and from your hotel room, or simply moving from one stage to the next, but whatever the case may be, most people are bound to be exhausted by this point of the fest.
With battered soles and souls, we found ourselves at the indoor stage for Little Rock, Arkansas’ Rwake. They are doom. They are sludge. They are metal. They are undeniably Southern. CT’s piercing screams, occasionally augmented by B’s equally viscous rasps, punctuate the gruff and melodic foundation that’s nearly majestic at times.
New Zealand’s Ulcerate demanded attention from the get-go with an overpowering blend that, to over simplify things, sounds like a cross between early, hate-fueled Isis and mid-period Neurosis with Immolation’s bold approach to death metal. The weekend’s competition was stiff, but drummer Jamie Saint Merat took home the award for MDF’s best impersonation of Animal from The Muppets.
Portland’s YOB was groovy and inhumanly heavy in terms of low-end, and Electric Wizard’s set was rocking and worthy of fist pumping, in spite of the frequently redundant and over-played riffs. And, sadly, in terms of the sound mix, practically all that was audible was Jus Oborn’s voice and guitar.
Back on the death metal front, Suffocation was reliably brr00tal and tough, new/old drummer Dave Culross sitting in as a fine replacement for the somewhat recently departed Mike Smith.
But Morgoth’s set was truly special. The Germans sounded more Floridian than anything, resembling Death and Obituary in style and substance, though serving it up in a relatively unique way with a strong sense of song writing. Unintentionally providing comic relief, Marc Grewe addressed the crowd in the most cheesy way possible. “How are you doing, Baltimore? Or should I say, BaltiGORE?” The stench of fromage was so strong that numerous concert-goers either shook their heads or sighed in disbelief. At any rate, they capped off their first-class performance, described by Misery Index’s Mark Kloeppel as everything he likes about metal, with a rocking rendition of their classic track “Isolated.”
Brian Patton (Eyehategod/Soilent Green) was thrilled to see some of his friends at the fest including Pentagram, or so he thought. “Aww, man!” He was bummed out to hear that it wasn’t the Maryland doom crew led by Bobby Liebling; instead, he discovered that it’s the Chilean old-school death metal squad bearing the same name. Their performance was meat ’n potatoes South American death thrash. You knew what you were getting, and really, on some level it was satisfying like yo momma’s home cooking.
You can’t see everything you would hope to at an event as grand as Maryland Deathfest, like when I got caught up in a conversation with great friends during the Saint Vitus set that I missed entirely. Yes, I suck for missing them as well as Macabre, Rorschach, Castevet, Ghoul, Nausea, Bethlehem and Mortuary Drape. I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself…