Maryland Deathfest XI- @ The Former Sonar Compound & Baltimore Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

MarylandDeathFestLogoWhere to begin with this sordid tale of sadness, drunken debauchery, tears and fear? Ye gods, I don’t even know if a particular portion would even be safe to publish, but in the name of faux journalists everywhere, I must report the meager yet revealing details of the extracurricular activities, including my own spiritual and mental degradation over the course of a most rock’n’roll weekend where more booze entered my body than any other substance, including (but not limited to) food and weed. So, after a brutal nine hour drive through capricious weather (thanks, Poseidon) with only the radio and a Tenacious D CD to anoint our battered souls and posting up at the wondrous Sheraton in order to stage our siege on the unsilent streets of the ‘More, we re-acquainted ourselves with the hilly and alien climes, as we had been here before (myself being deployed a second time), no stranger to its seething underbelly of prostitution, drugs, and all-around degeneracy. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And join ’em we did, but more on that later.

Thursday: All is calm

Ajax 2We arrived at the former Sonar compound at around the time when Pallbearer’s brand of glacial riffage cascaded from the tent. Having two fingers of Jose Cuervo, the stuff of dead rats and 40% alcohol, I was quite mushy upstairs. Added to this was the miasma of not only the vaporized sweat of thousands in the balmy air of the urban wastescape that surrounded, but also a faint hint of weed smoke, as doom metal and toking go hand in hand. Hell, if they’d played a cover of the Black Sabbath classic “Sweet Leaf”, they’d have gotten my full approval. They sound like last year’s riff-bearers in, though not quite as compelling. Sadly, we had just missed the Philippine’s leaders in the war against all that is holy in Deiphago, but they’ll hopefully be back around soon, since they’re among the few War Metal/”Bestial” Black Metal bands I don’t despise like coconut flavouring.

Ajax 3Little cause for despair still yet to be had as Abigail, the Japanese kings of sleaze, took the stage with their hateful Engrish spewings relating to sluts, violence kill and destruction, and wizardry. Such a race specimen they are, seeing as they keep an air of secrecy around themselves and stick to mainly large festivals or underground shows that have little to no promotion. To witness “Attack With Spell” and “Hail Yakuza” live was quite phenomenal, I tell you what. Next up were the true ‘war metal’ masters in Cobalt, whose stage presence is equally rare due to their singer, Phil, being a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Semper fidelis, ist krieg. I stayed in the back and watched the band perform their ritualistic machinations with all the prowess deserved, since we paid quite a bit to see them, ya hear? I’m not too familiar with their music but it was well-executed American Black Metal that boasts more of a punch than their contemporaries in Wolves In The Throne Room or deafheaven, who go for the atmospheric and spiritual approach rather than a Comanche armed with an axe running amok in the woods on hallucinogens.

And the coup de gras of the night, the British death metal legends in Bolt Thrower, who, while they have every right to consider themselves a monolithic name in the genre, shouldn’t have to take over a half hour to set up. Their sound can hardly be so nuanced. But anyhow, their cannonading style of old school riffage, bellowed echo-chamber growls, and groovy sensibilities laid all spectators to waste. The pit was warlike, and we can expect no less from the godfathers of the concept of ‘war metal’ in the most literal sense. Of course, they brought out the standard heavy artillery; “Warmaster”, “Cenotaph”, “The IVth Crusade”, “Mercenary”, etc. Oldies but goodies to get elbowed in the face to. No casualties to report, but regardless, they came to do damage, and it was done most effectively. Following this night of revelry musically, what better way to celebrate than with excess beer? I think I puked on this night, but time became such a blur that it could have been Friday. After some magick brownies and a chicken salad sandwich, I was understandably sleepy. This blackout brought to you by National Bohemian Beer, the PBR of Maryland, but not even good. Yet I probably had at least 30 cans in total over the course of 4 days. I hate myself.

Friday: Send the storm

Friday is a day that will live in partial infamy in my mind, for it was the start of the downturn in my mental state to come. After being so fucked up I couldn’t be roused back to the land of the living through all normal means like shouting my Earthly name, I passed out and missed Pig Destroyer. As fate would cruelly besmirch me, I awoke at the exact time the set list said they would end. Damn. So I ran (read: walked somewhat quicker than usual) to the Sonar in hopes that I would catch Michigan’s Repulsion, the O.G.’s of the grindcore sound. Hell, I intended to get my money’s worth somehow, and it wouldn’t be by tricking myself into thinking that my chipping in 30 bucks was paying for all my drunk foolishness. So, I caught Repulsion, yippee-ki-yay, and it was just as good as you could imagine; sloppy, fetid riffs, rhythmic barks, blast upon blast and skank sections that make you want to knee yourself in the face. Revel in filth.

ajaz 4Not to be out-brutalled, the year-younger British grinders in Carcass took the stage to blaspheme with a more medical bent, showing us that forensic pathology is one of the most metal careers one can pursue. Toilet gurgles, chainsaw riffs, blast’n’groove percussion, all coming together with a melodic sensibility that made their sound accessible to those who were initially afraid of the extremeness of grindcore and death metal. While the set list was lacking in songs that I personally wanted to hear most, including “Inpropagation” and “Arbeit Macht Fleisch”, but hey, who’s complaining when you get to see two of the main pushers and dealers of the grindcore sound from the mid-80s back to back? Ending on a soft note were post-hard rockers Pelican. While their instrumental melodic steaze was appealing, it seemed to leave an oddly non-visceral flavour in all attendees’ mouths for their drunken walk home. And commence more orgiastic alcoholic celebration. It was at this point that my mind truly fell from its wagon, and it involved a prostitute, her friend, a CIA-type, and some white stuff. Said white stuff makes you think anything’s possible, but it’s not. One heartbreak later, and I drink my way into Saturday, gaining no sleep along the slippery stinging path of Lethe.

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Words: Sean Pierre-Antoine

Photos: Hillarie Jason Photography