Saturday – keeping it old school
I skipped Goat Torment to have a late lunch. My belly thanked me, but plenty of my friends said they were quite good. But black metal in the hot summer sun is a weird entity unto itself. Regardless, Diocletian was up next and I really wanted to see their brand of war metal on the stage.
In a similar vein to bands like Conqueror or Canada’s Revenge, Diocletian pummels you in the face with a spiked iron fist. They are one of the most hateful bands I’ve ever seen on stage. Vocalist Atrociter distorts his face with so much anger and hatred; I had to try to capture it on camera (I did my best). Regardless, their set was a constant barrage with little variance, but it was still aggressive enough to keep me smiling even during the parts where I couldn’t find much of a rhythm to bang my head with. I enjoyed their set, but I think they are better off enjoyed indoors.
Entrails proved to be just the thing I needed to set my palate for some solid Swedish death metal. These guys know their shit. Yet another vocalist who is able to double as an instrument impressed me. They were extremely heavy, but not very technical, which is what you want in that old school gory death metal sound. The whole time they were playing, there was a drunken dude (how the fuck are you that drunk at 2:30pm?) yelling “BLOOD HAMMER! BLOOOOD HAMMERRRR!!!” Vocalist/bassist Jocke Svensson finally gave into this demand and went into “Bloodhammer,” and now I realize why the drunken dude wanted it so bad. Fuck yeah, that song rules
I skipped Machetazo to the dismay of my friends. They say they ruled, but I needed more food and water. My body was drained. The sunshine and long days on my feet were getting to me. I got a bit more strength and found a spot near the front for God Macabre, a band that many were anticipating highly due to their old school cred. God Macabre released one album back in the 90s and called it quits. This is usually hit or miss on the stage, as bands that take big breaks sometimes can’t keep the magic alive on stage. God Macabre did not disappoint. They were fucking heavy as hell. Entrails, meet your makers. The good news is that God Macabre’s long-lost album is being re-released and the band will have a new album soon.
As amped as the crowd was for Swedish metal, an American band came was the subject of high hopes for many. I slunk away early from God Macabre to make sure I was front and center for Nocturnus A.D. This isn’t Nocturnus, but rather Mike Browning And Friends. Still – it’s Nocturnus – The Key in its entirety. In a few words, it was fucking incredible. There were live keyboards, Mike on vocals and drums, and flawless guitar. The coup-de-grace was at the end. Mike fuckin’ Browning, founding member of Morbid fuckin’ Angel, did drums and vocals for “Chapel Of Ghouls.” That was one of those live moments I will literally never forget. The band had a hiccup in the middle and just decided to regroup and try the whole song again. And it was great. By the middle of it the second time around, you couldn’t even hear Mike singing any more. The entire crowd almost in unison was chanting along – “SATAN! IN THE FIRES OF HELL AWAITS!”
The day went on, and it then was time for some old school thrash metal. I did not watch Tankard from the front. But I did do a little moshing. Just a little. I felt it necessary, considering that this is a band that totally doesn’t take themselves seriously. Gerre slaps himself in his beer belly with the microphone, dances with women from the crowd on stage, and drinks copious amounts of beer during the show. This was one of the most fun sets of the entire fest, and even someone that wasn’t drinking at all (me) was singing, “I want some BEER! I want some WHISKEY!” at the very end. Awesome.
If Tankard didn’t take themselves seriously at all, Sacrifice did. Both bands are thrash; both bands are quite different in their approach. Since I was pretty worn out from Tankard, I watched most of Sacrifice from the back. But they had some of the best guitar tone I’ve ever heard and sounded technically amazing. We are very lucky this band has gotten back together, because there needs to be more good technical thrash bands around. It ain’t always about partying hard, boys and girls.
As the sun dipped behind some clouds low on the horizon, it was time for a big mood change at Maryland Deathfest 2014. Norway’s Sarke were another oddball for the fest. They have black metal cred, featuring members of Borknagar and the almighty Darkthrone, but they’re more of a melancholy hard rock band. When Ted Skjellum (a.k.a. Nocturno Culto) shyly walked on stage, the whole crowd erupted in cheers. The man was revered by just about all among that crowd. But despite his credentials, Nocturno Culto is not a very experienced front man. He seemed reserved, almost distracted. He seemed aloof, which fits his persona. At times he would take his cell phone out and just snap photos of his band, while in the middle of a song. But his voice sounded awesome. Seriously, the man fit the bill for this band, yet he even admitted on stage that he isn’t much of a showman. Regardless, Nocturno led another moment that will go down in history for MDF. He grabbed a guitar and proclaimed to the crowd they were about to do two covers. He simply dedicated the first one to “Tom and Giger,” and Sarke went into “Dethroned Emperor.” The place erupted. A previously stoic crowd just went insane for the Celtic Frost cover, delivered by one of their lords and saviors. But it was their closer that got an even crazier response. Nocturno Culto, standing in front of a North American crowd for the first time, announced “Too Old, Too Cold,” and you’d have thought Darkthrone was on stage for these people. It was, to repeat myself from a previous (and quite recent) experience, magical.
And yet, the day wasn’t over. A long-lost friend of mine made it to the fest just in time to see a band from his childhood. I joined him on the backside of the pit to witness a band that in my opinion all these kids playing “old school death metal” need to bend their knee to. Johnny Hedlund is one of the undisputed kings of the death metal growl. And boy did Unleashed deliver their death metal on a cold concrete slab right in the faces of all who witnessed. But what Unleashed gave us those other death metal bands failed to give us was a fucking show. Johnny has every bit of charisma that you’d want from a band that just churns out classic riff after classic riff. By the end everyone was fist-pumping and singing along. It was madness, and I’m glad I got to see it from behind the violence. Unleashed definitely deserve their spot in the immortal pantheon of metal.
This next bit makes me deserve a swift kick in the nuts. But it was a decision I procrastinated until the very last minute. Dark Angel have been one of my favorite thrash metal bands for years. And they’ve long been broken up, so I just never imagined they’d return. Regardless, Switzerland’s Bolzer put out one of the best EPs I’ve heard, like ever, with 2013’s Aura. It’s so unique, such a breath of fresh air, that the festival organizers putting them up against Dark Angel was a travesty. But right at the zero hour, I decided to ditch the Edison Lot and get in the midst of the Ram’s Head for Bolzer. And to this very moment, I still don’t know if I made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic to see Bolzer, and they played all of Aura. Yet, KzR – for whatever reason – was suffering from the EXACT SAME feedback problems that Steve from Torche was having. And this is a band that relies heavily on dynamic changes and tempo shifts and ambiance within the aggression. There is nuance to the sound that Bolzer creates. And it was all lost when that high-pitched feedback just washed everything out. KzR was so visibly frustrated with the sound that he cut his band’s set short by two songs and they left the stage. So, I missed a headlining set of a band I love to see 20 minutes of another band I love. I still bought a ton of Bolzer’s merch and told them that I really hope they come back to the States for a proper set because, goddamn, there’s so much potential there.
The other thing that missing Dark Angel let me do was watch all of Hooded Menace from the front. And this band brought the doom. They had no feedback issues whatsoever; they just crushed skulls left and right. They had great old-school guitar tone, great riffs, and low-end growls. Yep, Hooded Menace snarled in the very face of the mainstream. There was nothing to be disappointed about here.
But that was just an appetizer for another band that are considered one of the best of the festival by many. By the time Asphyx were setting up, anyone who had been pummeled by Dark Angel had made their way to the sold out Ram’s Head. And from note one, the mosh pit was insane. The Ram’s Head security had no idea how to handle the barrage. The crowd was nuts. There were people smashing into me left and right. Yet, through it all, Martin van Drunen and crew were absolutely killing it on stage. Old material and new, it didn’t matter. There might have been new dogs playing with old tricks at MDF, but Asphyx are the old dogs – and they are your grand masters of that slow death metal. Regardless, as exhausted as I was, staying awake for Asphyx was totally worth it. And once my head hit the pillow that night I was asleep instantly, with ears still ringing.