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Maryland Deathfest 2015: Sunday

Anaal Nathrakh
Anaal Nathrakh

All photos by Levan TK. Follow Levan on Instagram.

Day Five: Sunday, May 24
Look, it’s important to know your limits, and when I woke up on the last day of Maryland Deathfest my body said that point was in my rear view mirror. Worse, Sunday was far and away the best Edison Lot lineup, coupled with a hot day sans cloud cover. My companions and I hydrated, fortified and set off.

A second helping of Colombia’s Masacre woke me up. The band killed it again, though I preferred their club set and found my voice far too hoarse to try another chant of “Death Metal Forever.” My sources tell me that Drawn and Quartered are trying to book a full US tour with Masacre. Promoters: make it happen. These guys know what they’re doing and deserve more exposure in the states.

Goatsnake
Goatsnake

In the interest of future sets, we decided to catch Goatsnake from afar, but still paid rapt attention to their crushing rendition of “Flower of Disease.” While Greg Anderson’s guitar obviously owes much to Tony Iommi, through the big speaker system I couldn’t help but feel a lot of Phil Rudd in Greg Rogers’s heartbeat-steady drumming. New material from the upcoming Black Age Blues fit nicely into the set. Something tells me there’s a post-comeback future for Goatsnake.

Primordial
Primordial

Primordial
Primordial

Primordial
Primordial

I sidled up close for Ireland’s Primordial, who have been dropping strong and unique albums for the past decade, mixing Celtic melodies with increasingly arena-friendly heavy metal. Frontman Alan Averill was born for the stage, and at times his charisma seemed almost too exuberant for the melancholy material his band presented. The set focused on newer material, culminating with a rousing rendition of “Empire Falls.” I could have stood for a longer set with some more deep cuts, like “Rome Burns” or even “Fallen to Ruin,” but I couldn’t help but get a little choked up during “Coffin Ships.” I am a quarter Irish, and though I represent the Brazilian side of my heritage more on the internet because I feel South America’s contribution to the international metal scene is underrepresented, something about Primordial tugs at the heartstrings. Their take on Irish black metal would not work coming from America, where Irish blood has been commodified into an open-source commercial brand devoid of meaning, but Averill sells it. Here’s hoping Guinness doesn’t catch on.

Anaal Nathrakh
Anaal Nathrakh

I stayed put at Stage B for a decent look at blackened industrial grindcore outfit Anaal Nathrakh, who were a major draw to the festival for me. Apparently they were a selling point for others as well, their crowd was packed tightly until the band started playing, at which point the band prompted one of the meanest pits I saw at the Edison lot. Anaal Nathrakh is completely dedicated to overstimulation and sonic assault, making the individual parts of their music at times hard to pick up, but making for a compelling overall experience. Frontman Dave Hunt is a lovable nihilistic misanthrope, one who addressed the audience more personally than most of his peers while simultaneously giving off an air of abject contempt, which is perfect for Anaal Nathrakh. As is the case with pretty much every band on Soundstage, I would have preferred an intimate indoor setting and more older material; Nathrakh played only the title track of In the Constellation of the Black Widow, my favorite album of theirs, but did perform a few cuts from Eschaton. “Drug Fucking Abomination” eats up an awful lot of set time. Minor gripes aside, Anaal Nathrakh exceeded my high expectations, and bowed out to enthusiastic applause.

Skepticism
Skepticism

Skepticism
Skepticism

I found them so exhausting, in fact, that I hung back for most of the two big Finnish bands of the day, funeral doom maestros Skepticism and tech-death pioneers Demilich. For what it’s worth, even at a distance the tuxedo-clad Skepticism were affecting, and managed to wring some great sounds out of the problematic Stage A. Organist Eero Pöyry in particular sounded wonderful.

Demilich
Demilich

Shortly thereafter, Demilich played through nearly all of the fretboard acrobatics of their first and only album, Nespithe, which has become something of a technical death metal classic since the band has made it free to download on the internet since long before doing so was en vogue. Word has it Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton attended just to see the band play.

Neurosis
Neurosis

Neurosis
Neurosis

Then came my first live Neurosis experience. I found myself in an emotionally vulnerable state going in to the set, and coupled with the group’s overwhelming live presence, the set was something of a blur. Most of the faces around me seemed awestruck. If this performance was any indication, the band’s upcoming US tour will be one to remember. “The Tide” and “Stones from the Sky” proved why the band has been so influential for the past 20 years. Even with legions of imitators the Neurosis experience is singular.

Amorphis
Amorphis

After that, I practically limped into the crowd for Amorphis, but the chance to see the band play their classic Tales from the Thousand Lakes front-to-back could not be ignored. Personally I’ve only ever been a casual fan of the band. Some people swear by their newer material, but I find it a bit too melodramatic for my tastes. Their classic material is good, though I feel some of their contemporaries focused on the same mix of prog and death metal with more interesting results. That said, “Black Winter Day” is still a jam, one of the best metal songs from that era I can think of in any genre.

Amorphis
Amorphis

Live, however, the band showed why they’ve maintained popularity in their homeland. Their set was as well constructed as an Egyptian pyramid. My most lasting impression, however, was the sheer amount of couples that decided the Amorphis set was a good time to start snogging in full view of the band and fellow concert attendees. Heavy metal needs more makeout music, and to that end long live Amorphis.

Following that, my companions and I piled into cabs to Ram’s Head for a few nightcaps and three war metal shows back to back. War metal has never been my cup of tea and never will be, but my alternative option was to see Melt Banana (who are coming to Seattle) and D.R.I. (who play Seattle often), so war it was.

I do much of my Invisible Oranges work in the corner of a local bar, one which tends to cater to a punk and metal clientele, but on Friday my local spot tends to attract a more well dressed pop and hip-hop loving crowd. At the end of the night on Friday, the bartenders (who do not like metal) play Raining Blood, because it’s loud and (to most people) unpleasant. It encourages people to leave so the staff can clean and close up shop.

Impetuous Ritual
Impetuous Ritual

Sunday Night at Ram’s Head was the metal equivalent of the hip-hop bartenders playing Slayer. Every band seemed to say “Go the fuck home, nobody wants you here. Metal spring break is over and it is time to leave!”

Impetuous Ritual
Impetuous Ritual

Impetuous Ritual are really mean and play muddy riffs over filthy blast beats while wearing loincloths, and there’s not much more to say about them (actually there’s a lot to say about a bunch of dudes from heavily-colonized Australia wearing tribal garb being in fucking awful taste and abhorrent considering the state of Aboriginal peoples in 2015, but that’s for another day).

Knelt Rote proved no more tuneful although more memorable. First, they look relatively normal by metal standards, especially considering they were playing between Impetuous Ritual and Portal. More importantly, the band seems to have found a way to turn 5150 amp heads into weapon ordinances. I cannot stress enough how overpowering Knelt Rote is live. My companion, No Clean Singing’s Islander, told me afterward that during the set I looked like I’d just seen a baby go through a windshield. Sounds about right. That doesn’t necessarily translate into memorable songcraft, but I’m at least glad that I caught them.

Portal
Portal

Last was esteemed Australian avant garde death metal group Portal, who I made a point to see since so many of my friends enjoy their music but I’ve always found it dull. Having seen Portal live, I can safely say that I think the band is one big gimmick. Yes, Horror Illogium is an impressive guitarist and their sprinkling of jazz fusion elements into Incantation-style death metal is interesting on paper, but it’s hardly compelling, emotional, or worthy of revisitation.

I should have seen D.R.I., but again I’m glad I experienced it firsthand. As far as bands to scare people out of the bar so that the damage caused by Maryland Deathfest could be repaired, I can hardly think of a better act.

— Joseph Schafer

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