Kirby tells me there’s plenty of metal in Michigan. He mentions a band I’ve never heard of named Gutrot, who I promise I’ll look up. His taller friend, whose name I forget, talks to me about the other bands in the area, whose names I forget. I mention that I’ve only ever been to Michigan once, to a town called Frankenmuth, which is tiny and adorable and projects an image of 1800s Germany — the shops there primarily sell cheese and chocolate, and there’s a massive Christmas store there with the tagline ‘It’s His birthday—It’s His way!’ This seems at odds with the images of Michigan cities I have in my head, towns like Detroit and Flint whose biggest exports appear to be stabwound-riddled bodies, boarded-up windows, and music about these topics.
We stand outside the Ram’s Head Live! which sits in the middle of what can only be described as an outdoor mall. The other venues sling burgers and plastic cup beers, and the club across from us is doing some kind of epic dance party bullshit. This, I think, is the Frankenmuth of Maryland Deathfest, the venue that tries to recall what concerts in this part of the country are supposed to be like, but still bearing a hint of the fest’s trademarks — the rude security, the willful ignorance paid toward weed smoking and drunken stumbling.
"Are you Scab?"
“Yeah, I recognized you by your voice.”
Patrick and I chat briefly — he’s heard us on East Village Radio and likes my and Wyatt's complimentary tastes. For the next hour, I waddle around the shade of the merchandising tent as though I’m somebody. The beers I’m wantonly guzzling slowly push away the hangover, letting the warmth of recognition wash over me. He recognized me by voice. How bizarre is that? My loud crusty baritone has been recognized by somebody who has let it creep through his speakers or headphones before. There are moments, writing about metal or talking about metal into a microphone, where you wonder if it even matters, and to be fair I am still deeply aware that the dudes running the Hells Headbangers booth are more important to this subculture than I ever will be for talking about space-docking on Internet radio. But the fact that one person has recognized me by my fucking voice is just mind-blowing to me.
My mind wanders back to an interview I did with metal artist Mark Riddick some time ago. Riddick was a pleasure to talk to, but more so he was inspiring. When I asked him about his many musical projects, such as Fetid Zombie and Grave Wax, he mentioned that he was just happy to give back to metal, the genre that he so loved. If I can play a Black Anvil or Nekrofilth or Take Over And Destroy track and have someone else hear it, maybe I’m doing the same. Getting the word out, getting people into the new shit. If someone recognizes me by my voice, yeah, I’ll feel like a fucking star in some shallow capacity, but maybe it also means I’ve helped get underground metal to the masses.
My beer finished, I venture out into the blazing sun of the festival. If the Ruins of Beverast are as decent as I’ve been told, it would look good to have a lot of people in their MDF photos later. At the very least, I can be one of the dudes that make up the crowd that impresses some other promoter to give them a gig or sponsor their tour. It’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got. Small steps. Little ways to give back.
By the time Impaled is set to go on at Baltimore Soundstage, I figure I’m done. I’m out. My feet throb with pain. My liver aches. This whiskey-coke is doing nothing to kick me back up. Too much booze too early has left me exhausted. The location of my hotel doesn’t help — it’s up a pretty steep hill. So false though it might make me, I figure I’ll catch ten minutes of one of my favorite bands and then call it and trudge my way back home to a bottle of whiskey and an exhausted moan.
But that ain’t what happens. What happens is, Impaled start playing their debut album, The Dead Shall Dead Remain, easily one of my top ten death metal albums, in its entirety, and every crunching gut-sucking rectum-breeching note fills me with energy. Glow sticks fly everywhere. Inflatable dinosaurs and beach balls fill the air, bouncing off of raised fists; it looks like a rave, but Impaled are playing “Trocar” and two dudes dressed as blood-spattered doctors are crowd-surfing like crazy. And suddenly, there I am, in the front row, in the pit, swinging my arms around like some kind of trained monkey and cackling at anyone who I collide with. My lungs burn, but my feet feel nothing. My heart pounds against my sternum, but my liver begs for more alcohol. Sweat pours down me like a baptism while “Spirits Of The Dead” fills the air. As I take a quick breather, Robert from Mutant Supremacy, drunk off his gourd, slaps my back and laughs maniacally. As “Back To The Grave” opens up, I scream out the intro quote: “DO YOU HAVE TO OPEN GRAVES TO FIND GIRLS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH?!”
Back at the hotel, I feel justified in my zombie-like fatigue, and congratulate myself as I pound a Natty Boh and drive a heated safety pin through the translucent blister that’s formed beneath my big toe (Impaled would have wanted it that way). Wyatt texts me that he wants to chill — he’s only here for the night — but the idea of putting on dry clothes and leaving the room is hideous to me. I’ve paid my dues for the night. Only bed is real.
Hooded Menace from Finland might be my favorite band at MDF this year. Part of me was deeply saddened to miss them, as their set overlapped with that of Dark Angel, but the Bay Area thrash unit’s slowed-down versions of their classics — which seemed to lean way too far from the unbeatable Darkness Descends — do nothing for me, and I manage to make it back down to the Ram’s Head in time to catch the Menace. Decked out in hoodies (just adorable), their grinding brand of horror-drenched death metal is so slow and groovy that it kicks up the blackened mud at the bottom of my soul, stoking my love of zombies and shadow.
Melody is straight-up shitfaced, and after Asphyx, she, Greg, Lily, and a couple of other Brooklynites stumble down Baltimore’s stretch of strip clubs. Liquor is no longer being served after 2:00 AM, another way that this city is inferior to New York, but Melody talks to the manager and we get a couple round of shots in us before turning to face the dancers. Alas, they’re all busted, not ideal for when they’re to be gyrating over me and asking me semi-innocuous questions about where I’m from and what I do. This place gives me the creeps, too. The background of the small stage features life-size pin-ups of porno stars like Jenna Jameson, the sort of overly-polished early-2000s adult actresses who just make you think of Barbies.
The night ends in the laundry room of the Holiday Inn Express. The first party we attended was busted up by the cops, and the second one we tried to join onto were suspicious of us and barred our entry, and so to the laundry room we went. But as we sip beers and crack wise atop standing washers and dryers, I am reminded of my youth as a metalhead. When you’re a teenager whose T-shirts are often either sleeveless or host to blasphemous imagery, you don’t hang around a lot of cool places — unless you’re one of those pretty, savvy teens who knows everyone and gets into clubs and drinks for free, which, let’s face it, the Casserole was not — so you drink where you can. Much of my youth was spent cranking Kreator on my Discman and drinking forties in Riverside Park or smoking cigarettes out of bathroom windows. The laundry room has a safety to it. No one gives a fuck what you do here. If only we had a boombox with some Morbid Angel, this would be perfect.
And that's a wrap on our MDF coverage. We'll see you at MDF XIII next year: May 21-24, 2015.