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Maryland Deathfest 2016: Thursday, May 26

JungleRot02

In four years of regular Maryland Deathfest attendance, I’ve never had one of my most-anticipated bands play at the beginning, but there’s a first time for everything. Following twin cancellations by Dopethrone and Malignancy, my cohort arrived in time to watch Philadelphia’s Crypt Sermon play an early set at the Rams Head venue on Thursday, May 26. Their debut album, Out of the Garden, ranked high on my top albums of 2015 list, and they’ve already established a reputation as a great live act, so my expectations ran high.

Crypt Sermon did not disappoint. Their set ran through all of my favorite cuts from their debut album, from the colossal stomp of “Heavy Riders” to the more slow, sad and vengeful “Master’s Bouquet.” Drummer Enrique Sagarnaga laid into the kick drum as if his foot were encased in concrete, while lead guitarist Steve Jansson shredded with virtuosic 80’s swagger, even while having to swap amp heads mid-set.

Photo by Joseph Schafer
Photo by Joseph Schafer

Singer “Reverend” Brooks Wilson impressed more. Dressed to the nines in a steel-tipped collar, western boots and a bolo tie, he whipped the mic cord as if taming a tiger, and projected his voice with the matching charisma of a carnival barker. His voice sounded better live than on record. I’ll never get the chance to see Ronnie James Dio live, but I’ve seen videos, and Wilson seems like his reincarnation. With him as point man, Crypt Sermon put on one of my favorite sets of MDF2016, right at the beginning.

Not feeling the urge to follow doom with more doom, I headed to the more punk and grind oriented Soundstage venue to catch one-man brutal death metal outfit Putrid Pile. Wisconsinite Shaun LaCanne looked to be having the time of his life surrounded by stage divers and armed only with a guitar and backing tracks. At times, I found myself wondering exactly how much of his sound was pre-recorded vs. live, but I decided quickly enough that I didn’t care. LaCannes’ jovial attitude made “Party Pile” an exciting shot of adrenaline.

Realistically, though, I went to Soundstage in order to get a good spot to see Chicago’s Jungle Rot. They aren’t the most difficult-to-see band, but Dave Matrise and company play a toughguy hardcore-inspired kind of death metal that excites me more often than not.

Photo by Joseph Schafer
Photo by Joseph Schafer

Jungle Rot rumbled through fun and satisfying cuts like “Eat, Fuck, Kill,” and “Left for Dead”, but suffered from some minor sound issues which irritated Matrise, though did not impact his playing. Minor sound issues became a recurring issue across all stages this year, though they didn’t spoil Jungle Rot for me.

Afterward, at soundstage, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin were already sound checking. The historic progressive rock band, most famous for their soundtrack compositions for films by George Romero and especially Dario Argento, have been capitalizing on a late-career uptick in popularity now that films like Suspiria and Profondo Rosso are more readily available. As such they stood out as relatively easy listening as far as MDF is concerned, which is no critique: their jazz rhythms and interest in memorable melodic lines provided a much needed break from relentless distortion.

Photo by Levan TK
Photo by Levan TK

Though the trio we saw only featured one original member of the band, they knew their material inside-out and performed it so that every compositional element could be distinguished. Simonetti picked, I think, an ideal selection of songs including the themes to Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria, as well as deep cuts that I did not expect, such as the chase theme from Phenomena, and “Aquaman” from their non-cinematic album Roller. No other band took as much advantage of the high-ceiling acoustics and projector screen capabilities at Rams Head. They modified their performance with solo burlesque performances during some tracks, as well as supercuts of their films during soundtrack performances. I loved the set, but I’m a fan of those films and so may have an unfair bias. It’s hard to think objectively about music when you’re watching a really cute butt jiggle while thinking “Shit, I need to watch Dawn of the Dead again!” So I may be victim to some cognitive sleight-of-hand on Simonetti’s part. Either way, I want to see his iteration of Goblin again, and soon.

Photo by Levan TK
Photo by Levan TK

Following that, I found the cavernous low end of Earth, and Dylan Carson’s higher-than-I-expected live vocals to be a little jarring. Given that the band plays very near to my home and in more intimate venues on a regular basis, I decided to dip out after the first few minutes of “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull,” even though I love that song. For a while I regretted that decision in case the group performed anything from Hex, but setlist.fm tells me instead I missed a new song. Anticlimactic, sure, but I knew I’d need all my strength for the stacked day to follow.

All gallery photos by Levan TK

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