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Maryland Deathfest 2015: Saturday

Trip03

All photos by Levan TK. Follow Levan on Instagram.

Day Four: Saturday, May 23
The human body is not well suited to five straight days of long hours standing on hard surfaces, yelling and ingesting alcohol while submerged in high decibels. Feet swell. Stomachs hurt. Heads ache, after a while.

I knew Saturday would come and did my best to prepare with healthy food, vitamins and plenty of water, but it came anyway, as I knew it would, and it came to my entire cadre of friends. We crawled to breakfast together and decided, as a whole, that we could not dive right back into the MDF experience, which meant missing Twilight of the Gods, my biggest regret (#2 would come later in the day). Either way, we recuperated leisurely and spent some quality time at the National Aquarium (their font is the same one Crass uses). A working vacation is still a vacation and besides, sharks are nearly as metal as Polish grind outfit Antigama, who played my first full set of the day.

Antigama began their set in darkness, with vocalist Łukasz Myszkowski shining a massive tactical flashlight in the eyes of nearby concertgoers before the band exploded into full technical grind mode. The flashlight came out again during a fog-filled interlude, mimicking a lightsaber. I was most impressed with bassist Sebastian Kucharski, who plays in an almost jazz fusion-inflected style. The band blasted through a satisfying hour of fan favorites that continued to build into the one-two punch of “Meteor” and new track “Eraser,” which culminated in a crowd-stirring breakdown. It was the first of several excellent sets at Soundstage that day, though I hurried back to Edison Lot in order to catch Triptykon.

Triptykon
Triptykon

As I’ve written before, Tom G. Warrior is one of the few artists whose work has had a direct impact on my life. I call myself a diehard fan of both Celtic Frost and Triptykon, and often find that his work resonates with me on an emotional level, particularly his more recent work. It took a moment for the feelings to set in, as Triptykon opened with “Procreation of the Wicked,” the first of two Celtic Frost tracks that set, to be accompanied by a rendition of the Hellhammer song “Messiah.” The broad daylight stifled their oppressive vibe a bit, as did a broken bass string mid-song, but none of that mattered once the band started into “The Prolonging,” which is where my waterworks started. The grim determination of that song, and the way it’s vindictive lyrics cycle into a mantra made it a personal touchstone when it was released in 2010, and I found myself going back to that grimmer emotional place in a somewhat pleasant, cathartic way. It helps that the song is, despite its length, a banger.

Triptykon
Triptykon

Still, ending a 50 minute set with a 20+ minute song was a bold choice on Warrior’s part. Yes it brought things to a powerful state of resolution, but it left me wanting more. That day’s Edison Headliners Sodom dropped off the bill at the last minute and were replaced by Solstice. I can’t help but think it would have been a better move to give their slot to Triptykon. Tom G. Warrior had more to say, and I want to hear it, but I’m not sure that another US tour is in the works for Triptykon.

Arcturus
Arcturus

As it happens, Solstice were entertaining enough, but I’m not very familiar with the band’s discography, so I opted to grab a tall drink at get close to the front for Norwegian black metal supergroup Arcturus, who played one of the most surprising sets of the night. The band poses in costume for their science fiction/fantasy inspired promotional shoots but I did not expect them to do so in person at a festival with a roster full of straight-laced bands.

Arcturus
Arcturus

Then again, Arcturus is hardly straight-laced. The band’s slot on the bill seemed more-or-less like a consolation prize for Ulver’s cancellation in 2014, but while Ulver’s avant-oddness is serious and effete, Arcturus is, for lack of a better word, silly. Current and former members of avant-garde black metal groups like Ved Buens Ende, Virus and aforementioned Ulver unite in Arcturus to create a melodramatic and genre-spanning sound incorporating folk, electronic and neoclassical elements; the results tend to impress on an instrumental and melodic level, but hardly come across as serious.

Arcturus
Arcturus

New(ish) singer ICS Vortex, formerly of Dimmu Borgir, furthered their carefree vibe by performing half of the set with his hands in his pockets. Still, the band managed to milk a rich live sound out of the stubborn Edison soundsystem, and played cuts not only from their new album, Arcturian, but also deeper cuts from The Sham Mirrors and even ended their set with 1997’s “Master of Disguise.”

The crowd surprised me again, and responded in singular, celebratory (and homoerotic) fashion. I took this iPhone video for reference:

After that it was time to head to Soundstage to see Cephalic Carnage, which proved to be a mistake. In honesty I was more interested in getting a good position for the bands that followed, but I’ve always sort-of enjoyed Cephalic Carnage’s eclectic take on technical grindcore. My disposition soured after vocalist Leonard Leal decided to let his between-song banter get a little dicey.

“There’s nothing wrong with loving your country, but if you love your country too much, it’s kinda gay,” he said.

Right about then I checked out and wished I had seen Razor.

Wolfbrigade
Wolfbrigade

My mood lifted when Swedish D-beat stalwarts Wolfbrigade played. I’m a fan of this style of Discharge-influenced metallic hardcore, and Wolfbrigade do it better than most, even if every song pretty much sounds identical. Burly and tight, with one of the most fun mosh pits I’ve ever taken part in, Wolfbrigade did not disappoint.

The highlight of the night however, and probably of the entire fest, was the first (and possibly last) full show by electronic grind outfit Agoraphobic Nosebleed. What had previously just been a side project for Pig Destroyer guitarist Scott Hull to play with his drum machines and singers Jay Randall, Kat Katz (ex-Salome) and Richard Johnson (Drugs of Faith, Enemy Soil), became a powerful live outfit with a little help from bassist John Jarvis.

No drummer? No problem. The outfit’s first show went off without a hitch and sounded spectacular, cementing Soundstage as the ruling venue in 2015. Sure, vocalist Jay Randall pretty much did nothing except wander around onstage and slap hands like a grindcore Flavor Flav, but that somehow made the performance aspect of the music richer. I have no idea what they played and I don’t care, it was more than a concert it was a party, with the audience seeming like part of the performance owing to the constant crowd surfing and stage diving. In the strobe lights, I saw the faces of my fellow audience members grinning ear to ear. Friends I’ve never seen mosh jumped into the pit. When the band ended, their outro breakbeat electronics prompted the crowd to form a circle pit conga line. I left bruised and jubilant in equal measure. Agoraphobic Nosebleed took the fucking deposit but still showed up, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Their singular, festival-defining performance is one of the best I can remember, though the crowd takes part of the credit.

— Joseph Schafer

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