FESTIVAL REVIEW: MARYLAND DEATHFEST (2016)
The Maryland Deathfest is the closest most fans in the United States will come to experiencing a metal festival that compares to the great shows in Europe. Other than Full Terror Assault in Illinois or Berserker in Detroit, this is the premier event in the eastern US for the best in extreme metal music.
Running from Thursday May 26th to Sunday May 29th, Maryland Deathfest XIV explored a variety of extreme metal music at multiple venues in Baltimore, that included Rams Head Live, Baltimore SoundStage, and the Edison lot. Given this was my first taste of this prestigious event, I started out small and focused on the Edison lot stages. The stages were located in the heart of Baltimore near the Mount Vernon district.
As a newbie to the festival, I found the Maryland Deathfest Survival Guide that Metal Chris from DCHeavyMetal.com put together, to be an indispensable resource. Chris provided detailed venue information, set times and locations for each band, and valuable tips to make your festival experience the best it can be. I need to also mention the fantastic staff working behind the scenes at the Maryland Deathfest. The sound and light crews kept the bands sounding great, and the security team was outstanding. Not only were they helpful and polite; they enjoyed the music and participated as much as they protected. More venues should follow the Maryland Deathfest lead in finding staff that care about the fans.
Day 1 – Friday
The sun was pelting the pavement and it was just over 90 degrees as the music got rolling on Friday. Horrendous was the first band on the Edison B stage. This Philly/DC band put a progressive spin on traditional death metal with interesting time signatures and furious chord changes. Centinex came all the way from Sweden to jam some old-school death metal. November’s Doom from Chicago fused death and doom metal, which was met with plenty of support from the crowd. The sci-fi technical death band Wormed from Spain then pleased those in the audience looking for intense time signatures backed with croaking guttural vocals.
The Nordic countries of Europe were well-represented at the Maryland Deathfest. Khold from Sweden darkened the sunny skies with black metal. These guys also had a great groove going with hook-riddled songs belying the corpse paint of its members. Sinister was unable to attend, so Florida’s Gruesome got the call to take the stage in their place. This Death tribute band payed homage to Chuck Schuldiner and co. with dazzling covers of Death originals. They also applied their musical talents to craft new music inspired this legendary band.
The Haunted from Sweden then pounced on the stage with a barrage of melodic death. The pit was lively as band played tunes from their incredible catalog, including a few choice cuts from ‘Exit Wounds’ and the always popular “Hate Song”. Friday evening culminated with Paradise Lost, Samael, and finally, Mayhem. Paradise Lost was splendid in casting a dark and ominous spell with their haunting music. Combining industrial and electronic music into a hybrid of black metal, Samael in turn enthralled their faithful fans. Finally, the pioneers of Norwegian Black metal, Mayhem, held the crowd in awe with a set that heavily drew from ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’. The fog consuming the stage added to the black intensity of the band’s performance.
Day 2 – Saturday
Saturday dawned with blue skies and a hot sun to beat down on the metal faithful. Many fans were sporting denim and leather vests adorned with patches of their favorite bands. The music hit hard from the start with Australia’s Hellbringer. These guys put new life into old-school thrash metal by ironically lacing it with some death (metal). Their sound was reminiscent of Possessed. Speaking of old-school vigor, Demonical embraced the throaty punishment of their Swedish forefathers Entombed and Unleashed. Fun fact, 3 of the 5 members of Demonical played on Friday in Centinex. Now that is the way to maximize your exposure while watching your touring budget.
For their second performance at the Maryland Deathfest, Gruesome were equally impressive. They swapped out a cover and an original tune to keep things fresh. The Swedish death onslaught continued when Deranged took the stage; their music was full of blast beats and ridiculously fast guitar riffs spiked with plenty of squealing pick harmonics. Tulus featured 3 of the 4 members of Khold, thus explaining the similarity in their musical styles with lots of catchy riffs, sans the corpse paint. Fun fact: most of Tulus’ songs were sung in Norwegian.
The standout performance of Maryland Deathfest XIV though, was Hirax. These maniacs from California are the epitome of thrash. From start to finish, they cranked out a set of thrash metal that would leave younger bands devastated and crying in their beer. The pit never surrendered during their set. Nevertheless, Atrophy kept the west coast thrash going with a blistering set of metal that drew a hefty crowd of thrashers to revel in the sun. Hail Of Bullets regaled the denim-clad crowd with tales of war in bone-crushing detail under a blistering sonic assault of classic death metal. The guitar tones were menacing and rich with distortion. The heat and humidity did not prevent a vigorous pit from erupting as Impaled Nazarene subsequently tore into a set of Finnish death metal underscored by screaming vocals and relentless drums.
Next, the original members of Exciter put on a clinic in speed metal. Along with bands like Anvil and Motorhead, Exciter pioneered speed metal. The crowd loved every second as the band briskly moved through their set. Things quickly went insane as Nuclear Assault came on stage next, and launched into “Sin”. Thrash metal never sounded so good. Nuclear Assault was on top of their game with the rhythm section of Dan Lilker and Nick Barker (original drummer for Cradle of Filth) laying down the law. Testament brought the festivities to a climatic finale that night. The band was amped up and very engaging with the crowd, playing cuts from across their revered collection of thrash classics, as well as hitting on their last album ‘Dark Roots of Thrash’. The pit was intense, and bodies were continuously surfing the crowd. To make their visit to Deathfest even more memorable, Chuck Billy encouraged a wall of death within the pit. This was quite a sight to behold as dozens of pit warriors roiled together.
Day 3 – Sunday
Maryland Deathfest XIV came to a close on Sunday. My schedule didn’t allow for me to attend the full day’s entertainment, but I did manage to check out 7 of the 11 bands. Australia’s Denouncement Pyre played with the fury of the Dark Lord as they melted faces with their brand of Black Death. Shed The Skin bludgeoned the crowd with iron-born death metal that was reminiscent of Incantation with touches of early Slayer. Nocturnal Graves from Australia poured on the heat with satanic thrash designed to split skulls with razor-sharp guitars and pummeling blasts-beats. They received hearty cheers and horns from the audience. Wombbath came ready for battle as they made their first trip to the US to spread their message of death. Due to some visa issues, their drummer and guitarist unfortunately couldn’t make it. However, Jeramie Kling and Taylor Nordberg from the Absence were able to fill in. From hearing the band, you would never guess that they had not played together for years.
Desaster let loose the hounds of hell in a torrent of speedy guitars, bone-jarring rhythms, and roaring vocals; all of which would be highly approved by Satan himself. Clad in leather and spikes, these Germans put the crowd at the Maryland Deathfest through their paces. For a complete change of pace, Bongzilla brought their heavy stoner grooves up next to the Edison stage B. Maryland has decriminalized marijuana, which is a good thing, as Bongzilla was a weed-fueled monster laying down fat grooves and dank riffs. I was able to catch all of Internment’s set before I needed to hit the road. Sweden was well-represented by this band, embodying the hideously thick guitar tones and neck-snapping rhythms that define Swedish death metal. As if a reflection of the dark and ominous music, the skies turned gray and began to release rain upon the diehard metal fans of Maryland Deathfest.
All enthusiasts of extreme metal music should make a pilgrimage to experience the Maryland Deathfest. This festival did an outstanding job this year of providing great music, with a welcoming atmosphere that celebrated all the good things about the metal community.