...

All photos by Levan TK. Follow Levan on Instagram.

...

Day Three: Friday, May 22
In keeping with yesterday’s theme of excess, every Maryland Deathfest teaches me that it simply offers too many bands for each of them to be experienced. I learned the hard way that an important part of enjoying festivals like this is positioning myself to get a great view of the bands I really want to see.

Which meant that on Friday, May 22, the first day at the Edison Lot venue, I hovered near the rear for Funebrarum and pretty much skipped Cianide in order to jockey for a good position to see UK crust-death-doom supergroup Vallenfyre. (I was standing in the entrance line for all of Artificial Brain, but considering I saw them a few months ago in a tiny bar, that was no loss).

It may seem odd to skip two older, rarer bands in order to see one that I just saw on the Decibel magazine tour, but let me explain my reasoning: Vallenfyre put on the best set at my stop of that tour, or at least they would have had vocalist (and Paradise Lost guitarist) Greg Mackintosh not fallen and severely injured his leg, cutting their set short.

...

Vallenfyre

...

After that tantalizing experience I was determined to see a full Vallenfyre set, and the band did not disappoint. Mackintosh was both hilarious (“It has always been our dream to play a parking lot in Baltimore!” he announced between songs) and locked-in. I found myself most impressed by live drummer Waltteri Väyrynen, who is by far the youngest member of the band at 21 years old, but plays like a seasoned vet. His kick drums, however, sounded like Vulcan machine cannons, so loud that my ears hurt even through my plugs. Sound issues on Stage A would be an unfortunate theme of the weekend, but that didn’t stop me from fawning when the band played “Bereft,” one of the best cuts in Mackintosh’s repertoire.

...

Master

...

Eastern European thrash outfit Master played next, and while I’ve been a casual fan for years I felt content hanging back rather than launching into the thick of the pit. Obscure thrash outfits were a sizeable part of the Edison Lot lineup in 2015, and while all those bands tend to play tight, hits-driven sets, they also tend to come across as if they’re playing on auto pilot.

...

Lock Up

...

Grindcore supergroup Lock Up felt more dangerous, but then again that might be the ear-killing sound on Stage A as much as the band themselves. Kevin Sharp, formerly of Brutal Truth, said it was only his second gig as vocalist in the group, but did a fine job. Still, the band’s must-hear material featured deceased guitarist Jesse Pintado, and I couldn't help but feel a little unease.

...

Aura Noir

...

I had to stay in line or else forfeit my spot to interview Greg Mackintosh, which kept me tied up during Aura Noir who was high on my to-see list, but at a distance they sounded remarkably clear, and the crowd reaction seemed universally positive. Following the interview, I trekked to Soundstage in order to see the tail end of Noisear who proved again that in 2015, Soundstage was pound for pound the most vicious and entertaining venue. Drummer Bryan Fajardo in particular played with exacting precision and an ear for sharp cymbal work.

Afterward I stuck around for quite probably the last concert ever by Portland/Seattle death metal outfit Splatterhouse, who played to one of the smallest but most rabid crowds of the weekend. Their set started out a little rough, but after two songs the group locked in and delivered some satisfying Carcass worship.

...

Obituary

...

This meant missing out on all of Suffocation and most of Obituary, but I’ve seen both before (they perform well, especially Obituary) and expect to be able to see those bands live again in the near future.

...

Bloodbath

...

Rather than get into the pit for the last of Obituary, I landed a front-and-center position for Swedish death metal supergroup Bloodbath. It was their first ever performance in the United States and one of their first with Paradise Lost singer Nick Holmes behind the microphone.

I wasn’t expecting much, honestly. Bloodbath is made up of musicians that have largely decided to play soft alternative rock in their other projects. From their perspective I could see Bloodbath as more of a novelty exercise than a serious endeavor.

As it turns out, the band put on a great show, all dedicated to the buzzsaw guitar and black humor that makes Swedish death metal my favorite variety. Holmes, who had not growled on record in years before last year’s Grand Morbid Funeral was confident in his delivery, occasionally spiking his mic stand onto the stage to punctuate a song.

Most impressive, however, was the crowd, who seemed ravenous for Bloodbath’s material. Naively, I didn’t think the band has much of a following, but the MDF attendees proved me wrong. The audience erupted when the band returned for their encore with back-to-back hits “Mock the Cross” and “Eaten,” the latter of which was such a hit that the crowd seemed to scream every lyric louder than the band themselves. I’ve never seen a sing-along at a death metal show before, and after joining in, I lost my voice (it’s still not back all the way).

In my review of the Decibel Magazine tour at No Clean Singing, I noted how the tour has plucked headliners from Maryland Deathfests in the past, and then said I didn’t see a potential tour headliner this year. I retract that statement. If i saw one band that could make money headlining a large package tour in the United States, judging by audience reaction that band is Bloodbath, and the members of the group might do well to elevate its priority beyond “side project.”

...

Napalm Death

...

For dessert, I returned to Soundstage for a no-barricade set by UK grindcore godfathers Napalm Death, who impressed earlier this year on their tour with Voivod. To my slight disappointment they played a virtually identical set, but the energy of the audience made up for it. Their set felt like a party, and I made a few bar trips during (which I would regret the next day). I even stagedove twice during “When All is Said and Done,” one of my favorite cuts of theirs (in general I would have liked more material from Smear Campaign). Shortly thereafter, I had to pull a friend away from the pit when Barney Greenway announced “Scum.”

“You don’t wanna be in there. I know what this will look like.”

Trash cans flew. So did bodies. Napalm Death’s set lost energy after that, but the experience of seeing that band in close quarters felt fresh and special, though not as memorable as Vallenfyre and Bloodbath. Then again, those bands could have used some tossed trash cans as well.

— Joseph Schafer

. . .