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Maryland Deathfest 2016: Friday, May 27

Photos by Levan TK
Photos by Levan TK

Edison Lot and Rams Head photos by Levan TK by Levan TK. Follow Levan on Instagram at @levan_tk
Soundstage photos by Blair Hopkins

In my first Maryland Deathfest write up I expressed a collective disappointment with the festival’s setlist. I saw people complain both in discussions on the internet and observed firsthand in Baltimore. I don’t share that sentiment completely. On Friday May 27, at least, the festival was stacked from 3pm to 1:30am. So stacked, in fact, that Friday cast a shadow over the remainder of the weekend.

Many of Friday’s big draws played on one of the two large Edison lot stages, with bass-heavy mixes meant to carry their sound over long distances while audiences watch in sweltering heat. It’s a tough stage to succeed on. But Horrendous did. Their throwback take on old school death metal centers on the sound of Death, and guitarist/vocalist Damian Herring does a great Chuck Schuldiner impression. In fact they pull off the Death sound so well that I felt free to not check out Gruesome later at the fest. Their set focused on their critically acclaimed recent album Anareta but still made room for “Ripped to Shreds” from their debut album The Chills.

Similarly retrospective, Centinex played the first of many Swedish death metal sets of the weekend. Their fast, hooky take on the genre inspired the first large circle pit I saw that weekend, and they made a decent splash with new songs from their upcoming album Doomsday Rituals. “Sentenced to Suffer” in particular went over well.

Novembers Doom had a tough time following up. Their longer and gloomy gothic metal songs might have gone over better at Rams Head. It’s tough to take a song like “Rain” seriously while watching everyone around you’s skin peel in the sun. For a band that writes excellent ballads, the choice to only play “Just Breathe” might have been a missed opportunity. The crowd seemed more receptive to its lovesickness than other attempts to out-rumble the previous acts.

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The award for exceeding expectations goes to Spain’s Wormed. Their hyper-produced sci fi death metal isn’t MDF’s usual fare, but Wormed play against type. They sound like they belong on Sumerian but released their last album, Khrigsu, on Season of Mist. Singer and frontman J.L. “Phlegeton” Rey squeals like a brutal slam singer, but emotes with wild, hand-gesturing quirks while performing. One time he appeared to mime a Kamehameha wave, and though it’s dorky the Dragonball Z effect works. Wormed sound like they tried to imagine what a metal band from the world of Ghost in the Shell or Akira would sound like and simply made that band in all its warp-speed ridiculousness. In turn, the crowd responded with equal absurdity.

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Compared to such futurism, Khold kind of sounded like if ’70s Aerosmith tried to form a black metal band, and I mean that in the best way. While I’m no huge fan of the band on record, their sound definitely works in the live setting. Huge blues chords and pick slides give their music a stomp and sexuality that too often black metal lacks. They picked a good time to begin playing the states: we are in sore need of black metal with this kind of entertainment appeal.

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In need of shade, and after hearing that Sinister had dropped from the bill with Gruesome taking over their slot, I trekked to the soundstage for a front row view of UK grind outfit The Afternoon Gentlemen, and I’m happy with that decision because they rip. With just enough crossover thrash in their sound to keep things from feeling too brief, even though most of their songs top out at a minute. The band invited stagedive after stagedive. Better, they persevered through sound issues which rendered one guitarist completely inaudible for the second half of their set. All the better to hear how killer their ’80s thrash bass tone is.

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I enjoyed myself so much at Soundstage that I missed the beginning of The Haunted’s set. I have a tight knot of opinions about this set. I love The Haunted, especially with Marco Aro. I’m aware that’s hardly in-line with the critical mainstream of heavy metal, but I stand by their first two albums and have a tremendous soft spot for rEVOLVEr. Hence my consternation that I missed “99” and “No Compromise” at the beginning of their set, and stood still through a bunch of songs which I almost always skip over. They played well, and Aro seemed comfy back in the captain’s chair after the departure of Peter Dolving, but they didn’t play many of the songs that made me a fan. Sure, they closed with “Bury Your Dead” and “Hatesong,” but by that time I had already decided that I wanted to get good and close for Paradise Lost.

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It’s not possible for me to give an unbiased opinion of Paradise Lost’s set. Nick Holmes, Gregor Mackintosh and company remain one of my favorite bands, period. I found myself next to fellow Paradise Lost superfan Albert Mudrian near the front, and I’m pretty sure the pair of us blew out our vocal cords screaming along to their set of mostly very old songs, including “As I Die” and “Rapture”. Choice cuts from last year’s The Plague Within rounded out the set. The band, and singer Nick Holmes in particular, has a small reputation for low-key live performances, but that’s not what I witnessed. My only complaint, however, is that a slightly late start cut the band’s set short by one song, and while “Beneath Broken Earth” is a bold ending, it’s also a somewhat anticlimactic one. As I remarked after their show, I could have watched them play for another hour and not been bored for a second. With any luck their reception at this set will set up a US headlining tour in the near future.

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I expected a little disappointment from Samael’s performance of their entire Ceremony of Opposites album. The band has played this set before at other festivals to lackluster reviews. What I saw sounded pretty good, though. “Black Trip” is a hell of an opening song, and its percussive assault shot me awake just as exhaustion and post-Paradise Lost depression began to take hold. I can’t comment further, because halfway through “Celebration of the Fourth” I received a text message:

“Dude. Are you at Soundstage?”

“No.”

“Get over here. Magrudergrind are killing it.”

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My friend’s words were true. Magrudergrind’s pit looked like a crew of refugees fighting to clamor onto a departing lifeboat. It was an absolute riot, so much so that I was too intimidated to elbow my way to the front. That didn’t stop Infest vocalist Joe Denunzio, who screamed a song with the D.C. grind trio and then took his own turn stagediving.

I enjoy listening to grindcore, but often struggle with articulating exactly how one particular band exceeds at the genre. Magrudergrind do it well, but don’t stray far from the tried and true tropes of the genre. So what about them inspires people to cause such havoc? It may have something to do with vocalist Avi Kulawy, who projects a stylized masculine intensity without it seeming like a put-on. He looked genuinely pissed, but not in an overly confrontational way. You just kind of want to be pissed alongside him. That kind of audience-artist connection is hard to follow.

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Having already seen Mayhem, and not particularly enjoying De Mysteris Dom Sathanas (I’m a Grand Declaration of War/Wolfs Lair Abyss kinda guy), I opted to stay at Soundstage for more grind fun. Rotten Sound didn’t get quite the same crowd response (I imagine some of the pit regulars were licking their wounds) but put on at least as good of a set. I opted to hang to the side and get a good view of drummer Sami Latva, whose crisp blasting is usually one of my favorite parts of Rotten Sound’s composition. Rightly the band’s set list focused on songs from Latva’s tenure, especially their most recent album Abuse to Suffer and 2011’s Cursed. I was impressed enough to buy a ticket to see them again in Seattle this coming weekend.

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After all of the up-close-and-personal grind, seeing Angelcorpse from a distance away at Rams Head didn’t stimulate me so much. It didn’t help that their constant machine gun sound can get a bit repetitive and, eventually, exhausting, which seems to be the point. Angelcorpse might have made a better daytime set.


Edison Lot and Rams Head photos by Levan TK


Soundstage photos by Blair Hopkins

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