More Maryland Deathfest 2014 – going full bore at MDF

Friday – the day of no rest

The Edison Lot features some of the higher profile and most anticipated bands of Maryland Deathfest for fans of death, black, thrash, and doom metal. And Friday’s lineup was probably the most stacked for my tastes. This day had no breaks: I was deadest on watching all bands’ sets in full. And that’s what I did.

I arrived to the Edison lot just in time to get a good spot for Mgla’s set. I had purchased their whole discography on intuition that they’d appear at MDF one day and that intuition paid off. Those purchases paid off too, because I love this band. And they were to become one of many amazing sets I saw at MDF 2014. Somehow Mgla managed to wear leather jackets and black hoods on stage in the blazing summer heat – their black metal had atmosphere, tempo changes, and true dynamics. They are certainly not a blasting, machine gun black metal band. The subtle flourishes that make them so captivating on their recordings were done perfectly live. They were great, and I found my fists perpetually in the air for their set.

A quick walk over and it was time to see Ruins of Beverast. This is a band I never ever thought I’d see live. For one, it’s a one-man project. Secondly, I thought Ruins was just a bit too obscure, a bit too underground for this festival. But here they were. And holy shit, they were heavy. I always thought they were a slow, plodding black metal band. But I’ve seen them described as death-doom by others. I can see why they are associated with doom metal now. That slowness becomes almost dirge-like as vocalist and bandleader Alexander von Meilenwald spits forth his vitriolic hate along with the churning miasma of the music behind him. The dude looks possessed when he’s growling – he’s so fucking angry! Their set closer was also the only disappointment to my ears. They went into the opening chords of “I Raised This Stone as a Ghastly Memorial,” from Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite to the delight of many a fan. That song has some truly epic clean vocals that were just not well executed on stage. For all the majesty they have on CD, Meilenwald and his band couldn’t give those vocals the weight they needed live. It’s still a very heavy song and I loved hearing it – that was just their only flaw in an otherwise awesome set.

Being the doom fan I am, I was anticipating Necros Christos probably more than even Coffins. I’ve spun the shit out of their two albums, Triune Impurity Rites and Doom of the Occult. They opened with one of my favorite songs, “Tormented Flesh Upon the Mount of Crucifixion.” What a crusher! Since I had worn out their albums, I was head-banging and air-guitaring like a lunatic. But when I took a break from looking like an idiot, I noticed that for a band that seems to drench its lyrics in mysticism, they are extremely average-looking dudes. For a band called Necros Christos, they just look like Nick and Chris from your old high school. Still, they were fucking top-notch.

It was Solstafir, band of Icelandic heathens, which gave me my first surprise of the fest. I was unfamiliar with their material but I was told not to miss them. So I watched them not knowing a note of their music. I walked away with in awe. They were completely unlike any other band at the festival. Solstafir’s members dress like cowboys: vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason has a big hat, big boots and aviator sunglasses on. His crooning, melancholy voice is what sold this band to me. They’re the act that surprised me the most, because of how good they were compared to how little I knew about them coming into this fest.

Taake is another one-man band with a live lineup. While there are few consensus picks for “best band of the festival,” Taake seemed to be on many people’s lists when talking to folks after the show. They blew everyone away. Main member Hoest came out dressed in a cartoonish cape and hood, with corpse paint that somehow made him look a bit like the Phantom of the Opera. Goofy stage makeup aside, the band was just simply stunning. Every riff came through, and Hoest’s bandmates brought their own energy. Through it all Hoest himself brought the charisma needed to bring this set together. I was in awe of them during several moments of their set. I snapped a few good pictures, but otherwise I was enchanted by just how fucking good they were. I daresay they could convince even the most diehard death metal fan to at least appreciate what black metal can be all about.

I watched Cancer’s set from the back of the pit because I needed a breather. I’m not too familiar with their material, although I know how legendary their albums are, particularly Death Shall Rise. What I can say is that they were very good, and a worthy addition to the festival. Their sound is very typical and solid old school death metal.

I saved my energy for Agalloch, a band for which I am a self-professed fanboy. I’ve been nigh on obsessed with this band since The Mantle was still fresh. I often can’t decide which of their albums is my favorite. This year marks the release of their newest album, The Serpent and the Sphere. And while a new Agalloch album is definitely something to be excited about, it being released just a week before the festival means that I wasn’t too terribly familiar with it. Still, the band played four of their songs from the new album, which was a little disappointing. In fact, they played no older material at all. I can see this as a positive if I had properly let their new material take shape in my mind. But being unfamiliar with about half their set made me a bit dismayed. Also, the bass was way too loud during their set, which meant that my favorite band had some of the worst sound of the entire festival. I can only hope I can catch them on tour and that these issues will be rectified. I’m lucky to have seen them twice prior (once at MDF, and another in Omaha, Nebraska). What I can say is this: as such a big fan, if this was the first time I had seen them I would have been very disappointed. Regardless, they performed well and brought a great amount of energy. I was just a bit let down.

I also had a large amount of anticipation for At the Gates. Here is a band that helped me get into metal. They had already broken up by the time I decided to become mental over Slaughter of the Soul. Their reunion in 2008 only oiled the machine for me. I had to see them live. I had to wait until MDF 2014 for that to happen. Other than a few technical hiccups with an amp early in their set, they were flawless. At the Gates played mostly from the SotS album, to the delight of the fans. But when they played even older material, the pit went absolutely bananas. This was by far the most brutal pit to be in so far. I think it’s due to the popularity of the band and the fast pace of all the songs. I tried to hold my own, but it being so late I had to step out of the pit. I got no pictures of At the Gates because the crowd was so crazy around me. Their set was energetic as all hell, and Tomas Lindberg is just a great front man. I’m so glad to scratch this band off my bucket list, finally.

I walked to the Baltimore Soundstage for Impaled, and what would be the most insane set I’d see at the festival. If all the sets at the Soundstage are as crazy as what I saw in there that night, I’d leave MDF beaten and severely injured. As it stands, I could probably only handle it for one band. The Soundstage features most of the hardcore, punk, crust, and grindcore bands that MDF can amass. That’s not usually my scene, but I love Impaled so I had to see them again. And they performed their entire first album with Leon del Muerte on lead vocals, which is a pretty awesome thing for this band to do. Performance-wise, Impaled was great. They were extremely tight, well rehearsed, and very funny on stage. Their performance belied the insanity on and off stage. There were stage-divers left and right. There was an insane circle pit going on at all times. There were crowd surfers simultaneous to the stage divers. There were blow-up dolls and glow sticks everywhere. The ballyhooed MDF Party Brigade was in full swing. And in the face of all this insanity, Impaled played on flawlessly, dodging everyone who dared go on stage.

Because of how insane it was during their set, I could only stay awake for a few songs of Incantation. What I saw sounded phenomenal, but I had to call it a night. My body was too wrecked to handle more. Besides, there was still two more long days of metal to go.