For a metal fan, especially an underground metal fan with a cultured taste, Maryland Deathfest is the holy grail of music festivals. They are metal fans, so they understand metal fans. It has grown by leaps and bounds like a little cottage industry with California Deathfest, Quebec Deathfest, Netherlands Deathfest, Days of Darkness and more to come I’m sure. As I attended my first ever full weekend, I saw incredible bands on my bucket list, met a lot of great people from all over the world, hung out with friends and basically had more fun than I could imagine. It was basically summer camp for die-hard metal fans. No judgments, no fights, no fake kung fu in the mosh pit, just all awesomeness 24/7. Fun for families and even dogs. Plus Natty Bo’s and cheap and delicious street tacos!
Baltimore is a phenomenal town, and not just the nice fancy parts of the city. Tommy Victor of Prong said during his set that “Baltimore was the friendliest, yet hardest town in America.” He’s right. Local denizens were more than bemused by all the long hair, patch vest and spikes heshers and hesherettes invading their town. However, everyone I met was nice and welcoming.
If you love metal, MDF is worth coming to for the vendors by itself. They should consider hosting a Maryland Merchfest someday! In addition to merch from all the bands, the gear in the vendor alley was just insane. From well know and trusted brands such as JSR Direct, Decibel Magazine, Pizza Party Printing to all the major indie metal record labels, to independent vendors from all over the world, it was great. In fact, I blew most of my merch money by day two. Now I understand travelers who bring empty suitcases to bring back stuff. I’ll be doing this next year. As for the venues, Rams Head Live and Baltimore Soundstage were well run and the staff and security in each were and terrific. I know long time attendees miss the old Edison Lot and the Sonar venues, but for me having the two venues within a 5-minute walk was great. Especially when there were overlapping bands and also for the torrential rains that curtailed some of the activities on Sunday.
As for the bands, it was mostly all killer, with just a little filler. Something for everyone in every scene. There were a few bands that put me to sleep, but it was marathon weekend and I gave myself some breaks when possible. The definitive winner of the weekend was the genre of Grindcore. Anytime you walked into the Soundstage venue, you might have seen some incredible bands going off, with the fans going off even harder. I discovered as many bands as I knew, which is a rare thing for me because I run this website and consume music 24/7.
After missing the pre-fest show due to work, I rolled in early on Day 1 and immediately threw down with bands like Gateway to Hell and Bestial Evil. Khemmis, who I have now seen four times in six months, was amazing. Perhaps one of the best bands in doom right now. Running back and forth between the two stages, I caught impressive partial sets from Torn The Fuck Apart, -(16)-, Gutted, and most of the impeccable Mantar. Ufomammut was one of the highlights for me and I watch their full show. Incredible. I saw some of Defeated Sanity, but I mistakenly left the venue to get some air and hang with friends. By the time I needed to get back in to see Broken Hope, it was hopeless to try and get in. They sounded great, but the venue was swamped with mouth breathers. This was the only time this happened to me. Seeing the end of Today Is the Day and the campy Satan-worshipping stoner jams of Coven, I felt like day one was a really fun day.
Being impressed with the grind bands I stayed close to the Soundstage on Day two. Bound By The Grave, Durian, and Cognizant all impressed me. Then after grabbing some grub (Crab Cakes!), I checked out Rams Head venue bands like Morta Skuld, phenomenal sets from Misery Index, and Blood Incantation, and more. Blood Incantation was one of the best bands of the entire weekend, Then I saw Test, Integrity, and the incredible EyeHateGod at the other stage. The crowdsufers and moshers for Integrity and EHG were some of the best I’ve ever seen for those two bands. Closing out the day was God Dethroned and a strong set from Suffocation, filling in for Bloodbath.
Saturday was the longest day in many ways. It was a real test of endurance, and as much as I wanted to party, I needed all my energy up for these bands. The top bands on day three were Ritual Necromancy, Phrenelith, Pessimist, Horrible Earth, Pavel Checkov, Stimulant, and Gasp. The groovy Dødheimsgard and the doomy The Ruins of Beverast played great, lengthy sets that showed off their best material. There was a great semi-impromptu set from Goatwhore at the bar upstairs at Power Plant Live! that was pure nuts. I’ll likely never get to see them in such a small space ever again. The rain hit to extreme levels at this point, so that was a bummer.
Most braved the rain in order to not miss the bands. Back to the main venue, I waited a long time to see Bolzer, and they didn’t disappoint. I see why everyone was rocking their shirts at Roadburn last spring. Sad that I missed Cripple Bastards, the one real failure I had all weekend, Pig Destroyer made up for it though. An insanely good setlist, incredible crowd vibe, and a wedding proposal from MDF legend Chicken Man (she said yes!). Closing out the night was greatness from Prong and Helmet to close the Soundstage. It was the last night of their tour together, so both bands pulled out all the stops and played the old-school jams. Prong had the best circle pit of the weekend actually. An inspiring show from Satyricon brought this day to an end.
The last day came with a little sadness and was both slowed down from tiredness, and pouring rain. We saw fewer bands hiding out from the raindrops, but the ones we saw ruled. Hard. One thing that buoyed our spirits was again the Soundstage lineup. Neolithic, Violation Wound, and Pulmonary Fibrosis were dope. Viscera Infest from Japan had everyone yelling “High-Speed” and of course the mighty Wormrot brought the house down. The Wormrot fans and the high energy crowd were the likes of which I had never seen. There were the craziest non-stop stage divers ever, blow up dolls, a guy dressed as He-Man with an epic wig, and the venues’ trash cans had to be removed because they were being used as props for moshers too. The band was clearly overcome with emotion from this, and they gave it right back to the crowd. Beautiful.
The weekend should have ended right then and there.
Enemy Soil came on after Wormrot. There were more than a few bands of merit on this day at Rams Head like Dusk, Thantifaxth, Sinmara, and Arkhon Infaustus. Evoken was excellent and Godflesh was Godflesh. They are great, but everyone saw them right after Wormrot, so that was tough because we were spent.
Overall it was an amazing time and I can’t wait to do it all over again!
WORDS BY KEITH CHACHKES
PHOTOS BY HILLARIE JASON