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Maryland Deathfest 2016: Sunday, May 29

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Photos by Levan TK. Follow Levan on Instagram at @levan_tk

By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I found myself pretty worse for the wear, as did most people around me. The crowds in general seemed more sparse and less enthusiastic. Cloud cover mercifully cooled Edison Lot down, but an ongoing rainstorm kept people diffuse for most sets.

None of that stopped the reformed Wombbath, whose command of groove had passersby outside of the parking lot bouncing and raising their firsts. I never think of Wombbath as essential Swedish death metal listening, but maybe the canon could use a little re-ordering, because even with two fill-in musicians the band hit a home run.

The same can be said about Germany’s Desaster, who seemed genuinely happy to be playing at MDF. I’m unfamiliar with their massive discography, but all of their songs fit together, and founding member Infernal played with grace and ease. The sound issues that seemed to be plaguing other bands mercifully skipped Desaster.

The first drops of gray rain tamped down enthusiasm for Bongzilla, who dubly suffered from being the first slow band of an otherwise high-speed band list. Overall they played a competent set, but I find their brand of stoner metal to be interchangeable with a few other bands.

Interment brought the energy level back up to snuff, as they seemed determined to make up for missing MDF 2012. Even though they only released their debut album a few years ago after a long period of inactivity, they played like a seasoned outfit and provided more d-beats per capita than any of the other Swedish death metal bands.

A diminished Incantation took the stage next, short one guitarist and with their crowd thinned by worsening rain. Much like a postal worker, John McEntee didn’t allow the inclement weather to stop his full-on death metal assault.

I was never a fan of Incantation, and tend to dislike their stylistic imitators, but they won me over last year during an intimate pre-show slot at the Ottobar. Compared to that point-blank execution their Edison Lot set seemed a little tepid, but none fo that’s their fault. I can’t imagine any other band performing that well while sans one member and in the rain.

An extended pow-wow with friends and colleagues from other websites prevented me from seeing Demolition Hammer or Satan, two sets I looked forward to, but afforded me the opportunity to see Portland crust legends Tragedy, a band that I’ve been trying to see for years, but just never seem to nail down. I saw more energetic bands at Soundstage, but probably no band that sounded better.

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The best set of Sunday belonged to Mitochondrion. I do not enjoy so-called abyssal death metal, even though many of my friends and IO writers are suckers for the stuff. Mitochondrion are, for my money, the absolute pinnacle of the style. They avoid every drawback the microgenre presents. They write songs with distinct pats, and every one of their instruments—including the three vocalists’ differently pitched growls—sound clear no matter how much distortion the Canadian four-piece employs. It’s a mean trick on record. Live it’s a revelation to experience every time. What’s better, they approach their live show with just enough rock swagger and black metal aloofness to elevate them from performers to entertainers. That’s the secret: if I’m being buried in an avalanche of high-volume dissonant harmony at intense speed, I want it to be entertaining.

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Smiling and smartly dressed to differentiate himself from other performers and accentuate his schoolboy good looks, Þorbjörn Steingrímsson took the stage with confidence as the guitarist and vocalist of Zhrine. The progressive and atmospheric black metal outfit was a last-minute replacement for guitarist Nökkvi Gylfason’s more storied Svartidaudi project, but as far as I’m concerned Zhrine was an upgrade. Svartidaudi has more albums, but none of them are as front-to-back awesome as the brand-spanking-new Zhrine debut, Unortheta, which they played almost in its entirety. Live, songs like “Empire” make the already stagnating Icelandic sound seem new and daring. Extra credit is awarded to Ævar Örn Sigurðsson for playing a stand-up bass.

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As a grand finale to an excellent MDF, I couldn’t ask for more than UK crust forebears Doom. Despite the dread seriousness of their D-beat assault, their set felt like a burst of concentrated joy. Constantly jostled, stage diving and being staged dived-upon, I squeezed every last ounce of energy and jubilance i could muster out of every minute of their set. Was it a great set? I’ll be honest, I was having too much fun to pay attention to if the songs were well played or not. Too often we, as music lovers, become hypnotized in the search for details, for successes and errors. The great thing about MDF is it presents so much music in such a concentrated span of time that, if you let it, it will blast those bad habits out of you, render you too stimulated and exhausted to engage that part of your brain. In their absence there is exhalation in motion, of the sensation of distortion, of the ability to be violently intimate with everyone around you. In the face of that, even if it ends too soon, even if the sound sucks, even if my favorite band cancels or puts on a bad set, and even if the lineup doesn’t clean my clock, I have no complaints.

MDF is about community, and community is life.
MDF for life.

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