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Maryland Deathfest 2016: Saturday, May 28

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

With the fest more than halfway over, and having already seen the majority of bands on my must-see list, I felt at more liberty to explore. It’s tempting to spend one’s time at any music festival sprinting from one set to another trying to see a bit of every band. After four years of indulging in Maryland Deathfest, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much better to feel free enough to enjoy one band’s complete set and then rest in between, to peruse merchandise if only to admire the artwork on display, and to strike up conversations with people. The most intoxicating thing about MDF isn’t the array of bands, and it’s certainly not the $9 tallboys of Stella Artois. If you’re the sort of person who fights the urge to talk about metal, or relate everyday things to metal on a daily basis, then the high point of the festival is just being able to enjoy immersing oneself in the genre’s aesthetic, people and language without any expectation that one should do otherwise.

In the interest of doing so, I took my sweet time to get to Edison Lot on Saturday, and missed Hirax, one of only two must-see sets on my list that I did not attend. I hear they put on a great show, too.

Arriving just a little too late, I was treated instead to a lesser-known classic metal act, Arizona’s Atrophy. They are the latest in a long series of disbanded thrash bands to reform in recent years, probably thanks to the large potential audience that the internet provides. I recall Morbid Saint doing the same three years ago. And, much like when I saw Morbid Saint, I wasn’t really familiar with Atrophy’s material beyond “Preacher Preacher.” Unlike Morbid Saint, though, Atrophy seemed unenthusiastic and didn’t impress. Their performances sounded clean, but unenthusiastic.

Hail of Bullets were another story. One of the bands I most looked forward to seeing, Hail of Bullets played their first show with new vocalist David Ingram, formerly of Benediction, who hadn’t performed live in ten years. Like the military machines that inspire their work, they functioned with a kind of precision that can’t be deterred by natural forces–in this instance, a boiling hot sun. To my mind, they played a perfect set, opening with “Swoop of the Falcon” and then working backward through their short but excellent catalog. They inspired my favorite pit of the weekend, thanks to a high-speed circle during “Red Wolves of Stalin” and me losing my damn mind during “DG-7.” Ingram wore a Bolt Thrower shirt and dedicated “Tokyo Napalm Holocaust” to the memory of that band’s recently deceased drummer, Martin “Kiddie” Kearns. Pound for pound, I enjoyed Hail of Bullets the most out of any band at MDF.

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I can’t say the same for Impaled Nazarene. Finnish black metal has never been my thing, but it looked as if their fans loved it. There’s a manic energy to their music that gets bodies moving and, apparently, gets pink beach balls tossed into their air.

Exhausted by heat, I trekked to Soundstage to catch General Surgery, who took the stage drenched in fake blood that made stagediving a slippery–and risky–proposition. Not that it stopped anyone from trying.

The last time I saw Testament  they didn’t impress me. The Testament that headlined Edison Lot was an altogether different, and greatly improved, band. This is the best lineup they’ve ever had: founding guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick plus singer Chuck Billy joined by journeymen virtuosos Steve DiGiorgio on bass and Gene “The Atomic Clock” Hoglan on drums. Together they were on fire. Skolnick especially cheesed it up and looked to be having almost as much fun as the audience, who were either moshing, pumping fists, or making out. I found myself surrounded by what looked to be OG thrash couples reliving their amorous teenage feelings in close proximity. Chuck Billy sings babymaking music. Who knew? Their set wisely centered on their more heavy ’90s material, especially The Gathering, and ended with the first wall of death I’ve ever seen at MDF during an extended interpretation of “Formation of Damnation.”

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After that, I stomped back to Soundstage for Negative Approach, probably the most historic hardcore band from Detroit, Michigan, and local legends in my old Midwest stomping grounds. Their rendition of the title track from their lone album Tied Down got me frothing at the mouth, even though all in all they were one of the least-heavy bands of the weekend. Without the fuzz and dirt in the original recordings their songs sound an awful lot like other Michigan punk forebears like The Stooges.

I ought to have stayed at Soundstage. Discharge dropped from the bill and were replaced by a second Wormed set, one less well-attended but equally energetic.

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I only stayed for one song. I has excited as hell to see Craft. The punk-black mavericks were a huge draw for me, and talking about them became something of a massive in-joke among my friends and I. We would crush beers or slam shots and yell “fuck the universe” in public. Craft became a scapegoat idea to justify all of our naughty behavior, and we weren’t the only ones.

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Craft completely sold out of shirts in two hours. Before they played, Rams Head was full to capacity, and after their fumbled, boring, muddy-sounding set most of that crowd flooded the merch booths again.

“Wanna bet all those people are trying to return their Craft shirts?” A friend said.

Singer Nox, in particular, is much to blame. He looked completely lost on stage and frequently missed his vocal cues.

To borrow a quote from that same friend: I want to commit to never seeing that band play again.


All Rams Head and Edison Lot photos by Levan TK.


All Soundstage photos by Blair Hopkins

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