Tape Wyrm XXV: Maryland Deathfest X Tape Wyrm XXV: Maryland Deathfest X

Sunday: May 27th 2012

Sonar in Baltimore has a great area for photographers and journalists to record each act. Situated right in front of the stage, these private areas make shooting and filming easy, allowing for some unparalleled intimacy with each band. Perhaps someday I will be allowed inside. For now, I was 10 feet away and all photographs of the bands looked like pictures taken with a disposable camera taken by a 5 year old. Fuck it, I’ll start my own Deathfest and you won’t be invited. One of the most interesting aspects of shows, besides the exclusive access, are the attendees. The audience is literally what drives the intensity and creates the atmosphere. For 4 days, 1 square block in Baltimore was littered with an assortment of personalities from different backgrounds. It was a mass of excitement in constant motion with thousands of conversations drowned between thick distortion. From the young to the old and seasoned to the green, the audience in Maryland Deathfest was a testament to heavy metal’s reach through culture. This was, of course, what I kept telling myself.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

If you are going to attend a metal festival, make sure you wear white clothing. Sure I looked sort of silly with my T-Rex shirt, aviator sunglasses, netted mesh hat, gel inserts, and high rolled white socks. Sure it may have been absurd to bring a packed lunch and sunblock. Sure I may have looked ready for the beach but I was also prepared for 12 hours of metal in the 92 degree heat. I am glad other people decided not dress for the weather, otherwise these photographs would be less interesting. Hopefully no one took pictures of me since I looked like a dad on vacation. I even had a laminated itinerary.

Maryland Deathfest (MDF) has reached its tenth iteration. Spread over the course of 4 days and 3 stages, 61 metal bands and hundreds of fans descend on Baltimore’s downtown to celebrate extreme metal beneath a highway underpass. The beer is relativity cheap, the food is somewhat awful, and the music is always loud.

While I would have loved to go all 4 days, each fiscal year determines my level of participation. Some years see this to reality while others are like this one. I could only attend 1 day despite my best protests and pleas. I chose Sunday due to a high number of interesting afternoon acts and the fact stoner doom legends Electric Wizard chose to return to the States after a 10 year absence on this particular day. If I was only going for 1 day, I would see all 19 bands or die trying.

Early Afternoon Grind:  
Back Slider / Coke Bust / Agents of Abhorrence

I love early afternoon bands for 2 reasons. One, the bands are ecstatic to be playing and two, there is no one in attendance. Before the rooms become human nets of sweaty skin and pulsating heat, they are cool, dark, and virtually empty. This was a perfect time to flail and punch in the shadowed air conditioning. Backslider is a 2 piece from Pennsylvania. I thought they were from Australia. What a perfect way to start out the day with chaotic sludge grind played with determination. The room was dark enough for 1 guy to smoke a small pipe of grass. Listen, it is not that I am, by any accounts, a square rather it strikes me as an odd choice of music for recreational drugs. I did also just refer to marijuana by its 60’s street name. Perhaps this dad outfit is getting to me.

Coke Bust is from DC and I thought little of them while previewing their YouTube videos. By the open crash of their set, however, my mind was changed and immediately made up as the crowd exploded from the center. This was party grind with a low beat fueled by cheap beer and fuck wild energy. The band almost seemed unsure of what to do on a stage as they appeared to be more familiar with a crowded living room, basement, or spray painted stairwell. I lost my lens cap during their set which was the first time I have done so since getting my camera 5 years ago. I can get another one. One day I am going to break something standing in the center of a pit. It was completely worth it.

I split my time between Agents of Abhorrence and Disma. Disma was in the sun while Agents rested in the cold blackness of inside. Whenever entering the main room, there was a period of partial blindness where only the sound of terrifying noise acted as my guide rails. Thank you Agents of Abhorrence for impressing me and making all other bands timid by comparison. Ulcerate was a close second. These guys were from Australia. I knew it was one of them. Agents have not had a release since 2010. Perhaps their next album will be more recognized and they will play later in the day.

Mid Afternoon with the Hip and Doomed:
Disma / Cough / Rwake / Ulcerate / YOB

Alright it was slightly unfair that I grouped these bands together but it partially made sense. Though all play different styles of music they all have a reverence to doom. They have also all been featured in non metal publications with large followings. They are all from Profound Lore Records or Relapse Records. They are all relatively new. They are all also fantastic and have all released high profile records in the past 2 years.  They are the next generation, the rising class, the ones that transformed my cool dark room into one warm and filled with dope smoke.

Disma’s set was as solid and fruitful as their recent effort Towards the Megalith. Death metal will have its hip renaissance eventually but for now it lies in sporadic moments of greatness. I feel that Disma could have been a later headliner and their time will eventually come. I wish I could have bought one of their shirts. Their album art would make for a great poster or tapestry.

One of the first bands I interviewed for another publication was Richmond’s Cough. Bassist and vocalist Parker Chandler exuded a despondent position when questioned, which fits the band’s particular brand of blackened sludge. Coughs tenacity and disdain set the pace for the rest of the afternoon as Chandler draped himself over the microphone occasionally shrieking over the still and dark swamp waters. These were the stoner disciples of the black mass and everything they did made sense — with slow jams over the crawl of eternity.

I have always liked Rwake ever since their 2011 album Rest. I have however never felt Rwake until their performance following Cough. Vocalist CT looked the least like any metal head in attendance. With thick coke bottles glasses and a rockabilly haircut, CT is out of place among the legion of long haired bearded Norse warriors. Rwake’s performance was spectacular, exemplifying their combination of atmospheric sludge and wood splitting screams. I was completely unaware of the female co-vocalist until she arose from her tenure at the moog to split the sun like a waterballoon nailed to the ceiling. This was something special. This was amazing.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Ulcerate was amazing. I have always liked Ulcerate despite their somewhat overlook in mainstream media. 2011’s Destroyers Of All was a frontal assault in the arena of elongated death metal. Perhaps this hip renaissance of death metal already happened and I was never aware. Regardless, Ulcerate was king and when they played it sounded like machine guns from a hovering chopper which happened to be in the same room as you. Goddamn it.

YOB started right around the ending of Pentagram. I finished my pasta with a guy who works at NPR and traveled inside only to be greeted by the backs of what imagine a million Vikings in dark room mead hall. The band was in the middle of “Prepare the Ground” from their fantastic 2011 release Atma. For all intents and purposes, they looked like they were having a blast. The sound was great, the instrumentation was near flawless, yet the amount of people laid out like shingles did little to make it an enjoyable show. I could find nowhere to stand that was not in the way of 4 people who were obviously late to some important meeting. Someday YOB, someday I will get you to my living room for a full experience.

Late Afternoon Orphans:
Morgoth / Demonical / Church of Misery / Pentagram

Maryland Deathfest, like most festivals, stacks lesser acts on top of each other so the possibility of bouncing between multiple early shows is very real. All of these acts were outside and were caught on the periphery of doing other things. Whether or not those things were floating through the crowd, reading shirts, buying illegible cassette tapes, or talking to people I’ve only known on the internet is, of course, varied.

I was told to see the Morgoth reunion because it would be amazing. Morgoth falls in line with the vein of MDF bands which lay claim to some obscure part of history. The band’s legacy represents a golden period in death metal history where sinister music toyed with experimentation yet still retained its relentless charm. Morgoth’s set in 2012 spoke to great remembrance as each of the band members were more than enthusiastic to be a part of the festival. Actually, I do not know who had more fun, the crowd to see these death metal icons or the band to be playing to a people who still remembered their music. Fuck it, this was great.

Demonical could be the academic definition of Swedish death metal. They have long hair. They promote headbanging and general mayhem during their shows. They introduce each song with the end of the title growled. They are death metal which everyone expects. Despite Demonical being only 5 years old, their style reaches back decades and becomes timeless. I cannot complain as they bade me to pretend I had longer hair so I could flail it in the setting sun. Under my sun hat of course.

I sat behind the Church of Misery merch tent while pouring over the cassette tapes I had just bought from an unidentified tent. I saw Church of Misery selling their own merch and taking pictures with eager fans. It pleased me to see the members excited to be there and the drove of fans who lined up to take pictures. I have heard Church of Misery before but was never impressed until seeing them live. Their worship of Sabbath coalesced in some weird serial killer sludge cult which made for one of the days most surprising shows. I guess it is my love for old heavy metal which draws me closer but it is my appreciation for something special which keeps me here.

When I saw Pentagram was playing I got excited. When I saw Pentagram was not the band I was originally thinking, rather a Chilean black/death band, I was disappointed. When I heard Pentagram from Chile play I was immutably taken by their reverence to chaos and brutality. I have almost forgotten that another Pentagram exists because the one I care about comes from South America. I read some places the band changed their name to “Pentagram Chile” out of respect for the other Pentagram. I think we should have seen a parking lot knife fight with no predetermined winner.

Evening Headliners:
Suffocation / Saint Vitus / Electric Wizard

I was sitting on the curb in front of the main entrance when I heard at least 5 people mention Suffocation and how they had already seen them and it was time for dinner. I guess it is everyone’s rite of passage to see Suffocation once. This was why I was waiting. After all this was the band that not only stood as a highlight in mid era death metal but popularized the breakdown for future generations. This was the band that released Effigy of the Forgotten — a fact I was not allowed to forget since half of their set consisted of selections from those early years. It was not that I didn’t enjoy Suffocation, rather now I can say I already saw them and then proceed to the taco tent next time they play.

Sunday for Maryland Deathfest seemed to be the repository for doom, sludge, and general acts of slow terror. Along with Electric Wizard, the creators snuck in Saint Vitus in. Saint Vitus is monumental for classic doom. In fact, everyone should own an album or at least a t-shirt from this band. Saint Vitus stood as an unexpected delight during the main thrust of Sunday night. It is not that I thought they would sound terrible but the fact that the band has been inactive for more than 15 years gave me little expectation. Despite technical problems and the occasional onslaught of rain, the band proved that the reverence for traditional doom could crossover into a flawless set. Clean, heavy, and eternally stoned. Bravo fine sirs, I look forward to your new record.

As mentioned before I was most excited for Electric Wizard. I love the intersection between stoner doom, pulp horror, and the occult. It is everything I absolutely adore. The band’s visual aesthetic was also tear inducing as their use of retro Day-Glo colors depicting drug induced nightmares was outstanding. Electric Wizard’s first three albums are a part of my most esteemed cannon of metal records. One of the most exciting aspects of Electric Wizard was the occasional dislodging of my ear plugs only to be grated by a blanket of thick fuzz. Liz Buckiham and Jus Oborn’s guitars sang a song which was louder than everyone else and vibrated the inner working of my body like some devilish tuning fork.

I loved seeing Electric Wizard. I loved hearing some of my favorite songs like “Supercoven,” “Funeralopolis,” and “Return Trip” come to life in terrifying Technicolor. With the glaze of city rain on my brow I became a part of the congregation of devotees who arrived for doom, sludge, and a slow death. I loved all of this despite a general feeling of sleepiness. Some of the songs were slowed to an almost unrecognizable pace and the band took their time hitting riffs and passages. It was incredible if nothing else than for general excitement and future stories related to friends. I’ll be amazed if I get through the last set of bands.

Late Night Black Metal After Party:
Sargiest / Behtleham / Mortuary Drape

Of course the closing set of bands has to be the black metal oddballs which will never again play anywhere near me. God Fucking Damn It. In 2010, the closing band on my night was Portal which promoters specifically put at 12:40 to test my threshold of patience and endurance. Fuck, why does Italy’s Mortuary Drape and Germany’s Bethlehem have to be so late. Why can’t black metal adhere to the 9-5 workday week. Ohhh, there is no work tomorrow? Fuck, why can’t black metal play when I am laying in the prone position.

I re-read Charles’ preview of Deathfest and agreed with 95% of his summations. The 5% that Charles and I will have words over is Sargeist because these robed deities were absolutely fantastic. Perhaps it was the contrast between the warm tone of Electric Wizard to the icy fog of Finnish black metal. Where Electric Wizard’s set was set to the tune of a narcotic crawl, Sargeist was equally as slow but with knives prodded at shallow lengths. The shrieks from Hoath Torog resonated into the upper atmosphere. It cast rain-clouds over the audience who happened to be inside. I loved how the band’s outfits made it seem like they wore them all day, waiting in coffins to appear.

Alright fine, I admit it, I did not see the closing 2 bands despite my best intentions. A vacationing Dad can only stay up so far past his bedtime. I could lie and talk about their sets while looking at YouTube videos but I know I would fuck up and mention something about the band covering Journey and costumed in dinosaur outfits. Fuck it, I am going to assume that nothing amazing happened.


GODDAMMIT

—————————————————————————————————————————————

This is the 25th edition of Tape Wyrm and also the one year anniversary of the column on Pinpoint Music. I want to thank Ben, our Editor for giving Tape Wyrm a shot and allowing me to publish bile spewing evil along side cute indie folk acts. I think it has been a wonderful potluck dinner. You can check out any of the links below but in all seriousness, if you are down at the bottom of the page it means you have read everything else and for that I thank you. Perhaps we can get together this weekend and drink tea. Maybe a board game. I’m terrible at Scrabble but I run a mean game of Gin Rumy.

Tape Wyrm Facebook
Champions of the Universe (my music podcast)
Some Exotica Music

***Article edited by Mrs. Carbon while listening to Prince’s Greatest Hits.



Comments are closed.