Memorial Day weekend in the United States is a time to remember our veterans who have served in the country’s military and most will commemorate such an occasion with cookouts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the partying starts a few days before the weekend but the celebration is about extreme music. This weekend is known to the fans as simply, MDF, or in full, Maryland Deathfest. Doom metal, black metal, grindcore, punk, and of course, death metal, take over multiple venues in the Inner Harbor area of the city all weekend long as the streets run black with hideous, graphic band t-shirts. For me, this is my sophomore year of the festival and could not be more excited to return.
After an all day’s road trip with friends from Boston to Baltimore, unpacking in the Air BnB rental, and a night of well-needed sleep, Day 1 rose with the sun. My friends and I walked to the Power Plant area outside of Ram’s Head Live to scope out this year’s Merch Row (previous years this would be in the Edison Lot, but the Lot was not included for this year’s festival… more on that later). After a quick lap of purchasing a bulk of merch, dropping it off back at the rental, and then eating back nearby the venues, it was time for doom metal Thursday at Ram’s Head. We walked into the bleakly lit Ram’s Head Live venue as Samothrace was attempting to bring the walls down with their brand of funeral doom.
Next up was to be Dopethrone, however, they had to drop last minute. Fortunately, Baltimore was in for a treat as Conan tour mates, North, filled in the spot and did they fill it well! Spacey sludge filled the venue and brought in quite a crowd that would not dissipate through most of the evening. Up next, one of my most anticipated bands of the whole festival, SubRosa. The five-piece from SLC that includes two violinists wowed the audience with, unfortunately, only a three song set. The mixture of stoner doom with the emotion of the lyrics and violins was simply goosebump inducing. Conan then absolutely destroyed the place with their caveman battle doom (self-described) brand of doom. They spanned all of their releases and left the stage to a thunderous ovation.
The final doom band (for me at least) today, Acid King, made their way out to put Baltimore into a psychedelic trip. About halfway through the set, I took my leave to go grab a late dinner and then make my way over to the Baltimore Soundstage. There was only one band left to see at the Soundstage for today, and that was Canadian brutal death metal legends, Cryptopsy. After a couple of newer tracks to start the set off, the familiar intro of the None So Vile (Wrong Again Records) album hit the PA. Track by track, down the album the set went. The pits were as intense as the death metal itself but remained light-hearted as blow up sex dolls were crowd surfed throughout the set. Yes. Blow up sex dolls at a heavy metal festival. And just like that, Day 1 had come to an end. Back at the rental, my friends and I talked about our favorite sets from the day, enjoyed a cold beer, and then hit the pillows for some sleep.
Day 2 started off with cooking breakfast and brewing coffee over some classic jazz records that the homeowner left for our amusement. Something about starting your day off with jazz or blues before having my ears utterly destroyed by heavy metal was just the perfect kind of day from start to end. At this point in the festival, it became apparent to me how much I did not miss the Edison Lot. The walk between Ram’s Head and Soundstage was, at most, five minutes. Two years ago, toss in Edison Lot which was a twenty-minute walk away, and it really made for long days and missing out on a lot of music. This year, and especially the rest of the festival, I was able to catch a lot more bands which was a massive plus over two years ago. With that said, we started where we ended the night before, at the Soundstage. Chepang, powerviolence from Nepal, started off the day with two singers both in the pit and both guitarists and drummers up on stage. Not only did they have two drummers, but the band itself was stellar live. If you were at MDF this year and missed out on showing up early, you missed out big time. I then played some human tennis between Ram’s head and Soundstage catching Nordjevel, black metal with some sweet grooves, at Ram’s Head, then sprinting back to Soundstage for Organ Dealer, gnarly grindcore with quite the active front man.
A quick break for some food, and perhaps another beer or two before happy hour ended, and then back over to Ram’s Head I went for the legendary Morbid Saint. Unfortunately, I did have to cut out towards the end of the set as a pair of grindcore bands were due up over at Soundstage that I was told not to miss. Captain Cleanoff from Australia hit first and were filled with high energy but the set seemed to be over so quickly due to their discography only taking up about twenty minutes. No matter, Birdflesh was up next and was filled with tons of laughter and even the return of the blow-up sex dolls seen the previous night. What happened after Birdflesh was legendary. Dan Lilker and friends known only as Stormtroopers of Beer took over the Soundstage to play Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.) songs! All of the classics were hit with epic sing-a-longs especially during the gang vocals in ‘Kill Yourself’.
As soon as SoB ended, the caravan made flight back to Ram’s Head for yet another legendary death metal band in Macabre. Song after song about famous serial killers like Ted Bundy were played by the thirty year death metal veterans. Up next, Polish death metal icons, Vader. In a huge twist, Vader decided to drop a huge surprise a couple songs in that they were going to play their first album, The Ultimate Incantation (Earache Records), in its entirety live, in front of all of us, right there and then! Siege, representing Boston, were headlining at Soundstage so I made sure to get over there to watch them tear the stage apart and this was exactly what they did. Stage dive after stage dive went the freaks in the crowd. We thought about it calling it a night, but Autopsy had just started their set at Ram’s Head so of course the group made our way over to catch some of the legend that is Autopsy. After a tiring walk back to the Air BnB rental, we did not last long until sleep overtook us all, thus marking the halfway point of MDF.
WORDS BY TIM LEDIN
PHOTOS BY HILLARIE JASON