Sunday – Maryland doom fest
I had already seen some good doom metal since I’d arrived in Baltimore. I saw Sourvein, I saw Coffins, Necros Christos, Hooded Menace, and Asphyx. But Sunday was the day for doom legends to rise from their wormy graves. But the Day of Doom began with a few bong hits (figuratively for me, although there was plenty of casual smoking in the outdoor venues).
Windhand are a relatively new band, but one I was somewhat familiar with already. What I didn’t know from their recordings was that their vocalist was a female. Regardless, Dorthia Cottrell was meant for the stage. Her voice rose above the riffs and provided an almost panicked wail with a sense of melody that I hadn’t heard from just the recordings alone. I have to say that Windhand was already a band I enjoyed, but seeing them live was an even more enjoyable experience. And I give the credit to Cottrell.
As good as Windhand was, Bongripper was the first “Holy shit!” moment of this day. They were incredibly loud. Their sound permeated my bones. And they were captivating from the first note on. There is no vocalist in this band. There are only riffs: sweet, tasty, groovy doom metal riffs. Anyone and everyone who was near the stage had to stop and listen, dumbfounded by the spectacle on stage: four guys creating some of the most massive guitar tone any of us had ever heard. At the end of their set, after bludgeoning the crowd with their thunderous cacophony, one of their guitarists was just eking out the last bit of feedback from his guitar amp. He just let the guitar fall to the floor, the guitar snapped into two pieces, neck separating from the body. He was heard after their set saying, “that’s why I buy cheap guitars and good amps.” If you missed Bongripper, you missed something special. Yet, that seems to be a repeatable theme at Maryland Deathfest.
I skipped Graves at Sea and Misery Index because the sun was getting to me again. I needed water, and I needed barbecue. I found both at Zombie Barbecue, where I loaded my sandwich with extra spicy “Fuck Sauce.” The proprietor gave me extra water for free. This was crucial, given that there was no free water anywhere else and that sunshine was seemingly endless.
To deviate from the doom, it was time for some more devil worship. Russia’s Pseudogod got those festivities started with a bloody bang. And by bloody, I mean literally bloody. The band looked like they had cut each other up before their performance as they were all caked with blood, sweat, and whatever else. Plus, vocalist I.S.K.H. had a pretty sizable inverted cross rosary gleaming in the summer sun. Regardless, their brand of black metal reminded me of Black Witchery with just a bit more going on in the riffs. Indeed that comparison seems even more àpropos considering Black Witchery’s Impurath was playing bass on the live stage. It worked well, but I thought their getup was a bit silly for the sunshine and I was worried for their health.
I really like Chile’s Wrathprayer on their album The Sun of Moloch: The Sumblimation of Sulphur’s Essence Which Spawned Death and Life. However, after the barrage of sound from Pseudogod, their sound was a bit too similar to hold my interest for very long. They didn’t sound bad, but I needed to conserve my energy (and consume more cold water!).
I attended the My Dying Bride signing session and met one of my musical heroes, Aaron Stainthorpe. There were some MDB super fans in this line, some of whom seemed to have brought every MDB recording ever. I had them sign the most recent album and my favorite of theirs, Turn Loose the Swans.
As I walked away from the signing session, it was time to see one of my favorite black metal bands, Inquisition. They blew me away when I saw them at this very same festival a few years ago. And since then, I’ve had the chance to see them live a few more times. And every time, the two-piece has never disappointed. This was no exception. They played an almost identical set to the one I saw on tour with Behemoth. Regardless, it was flawlessly executed and extremely heavy. Guitarist/vocalist Dagon becomes his guitar as the fullness of his chords is heard through the rumble of drums behind him. I am in awe of a man who can command such a full sound all by himself. That is the mastery that is Inquisition. Any who were seeing them for the first time had to have been as impressed as I was my first time. They were still that good.
Ben Falgoust of Soilent Green told me it’s been three years since the band played live. He told me he littered the front of the stage with lyrics so he wouldn’t forget them. You can’t blame him; he’s made his bread by being a road warrior for sludgy black metallers Goatwhore. Yet, it is the former band that graced the Maryland Deathfest stage, and I must say that they did not disappoint either. The bluesiness in their riffs was there. The groove was massive. And there might have been a little pot smoke floating around as well. Welcome back to the stage, Soilent Green.
My anticipation was high for Gorguts. I had managed to miss them during their first stab at a reunion and subsequent tours. I have never seen them live. Their new album, Colored Sands, is every bit as good a reunion album as there ever was. And even though the band is now Luc Lemay and Pals, they were phenomenal. No notes were out of place, Luc’s voice sounded killer, and their brand of jazzy tech-death won over everyone watching. For only having about 45 minutes to play, they definitely played a good mix of old and new. I was very pleased to finally see the band do their thing.
And as the sun began to set on the final day of Maryland Doomfest, the doomed rose again. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats made their first American appearance. I didn’t know how they’d be. Their vocal approach is so unique, that I had my doubts on how well they’d execute live. They were the second “Holy shit!” moment of the day. Maybe the pot smoke around me was getting to me, maybe it was the sunset behind the band, maybe it was the sweet blues solos emanating off the guitars, I don’t know. Uncle Acid nailed it. And the vocals were beautiful. They couldn’t have been more different from Gorguts. It was like I was watching an old blues band do their thing on the MDF stage. But it had just enough of a metal attitude that it fit perfectly. And even though they confused the hardcore moshers in the pit, everyone else seemed mesmerized by the sound on stage. I already liked what I had heard from this band. Now I am a full-on acolyte to the Church of Uncle Acid.
Yet, as awesome as the day had been, it was time for the headliners to show everyone how it’s done. Candlemass needs no introduction. But maybe their singer does. Mats Leven is kind of a hired hand among Swedish melodic metal bands. He’s done vocals for Therion, At Vance, Amassefer, Yngwie Malmsteen, and a plethora of others. But Candlemass is probably his most high-profile gig. And even though I thought Candlemass was awesome, Mats did get mixed reviews from some of my friends. I had never seen them live, so I was going to love it regardless. Maybe I was too busy singing “Bewitched” and “Mirror Mirror” at the top of my lungs to notice, but I thought Mr. Leven did a fine job. And he had all the standard rock n’ roll stage poses to make him a more than formidable front man.
My Dying Bride is a completely different entity. While still doom metal, they take away all that rock ‘n’ roll bounce and replace it with a sense of sincerity and gravity that I doubt the festival had seen up to the point. My Dying Bride were captivating. While other bands brought raw energy, or hatred, or anger, My Dying Bride brought subtlety and true emotion. Aaron Stainthorpe is not a leather-clad hard rocker. He is a brooding, serious individual who puts his bleeding heart on the stage for all to see. And he hadn’t done it for an American audience in 18 years. He apologized, and promised that they would be sooner than 18 years from now. My favorite part of their performance was that when they were being soft and quiet, an otherwise rowdy crowd was actually attentive and gave them the silence needed for those musical nuances to be appreciated. Could the main stage of Maryland Deathfest have a better closer? Doubtful. I do know that My Dying Bride wasn’t just icing on the cake. They were having your cake and eating it too.
Yet, the festival wasn’t over. I got to the Ram’s Head in time to enjoy all of Ulcerate’s set from very close to the front. I wasn’t that familiar with them, honestly. I knew the name and I knew they were a technical death metal band, but that was about it. But holy shit what a wall of sound! Their riff style is a bit chaotic and tough to follow, but what really impressed me about this band of Kiwis is the drumming. Jamie Saint Merat is now on my radar as a very underrated (or virtually unknown virtuoso) drummer extraordinaire. His intricate drumming was peppered with flourishes on the cymbals that just blew my mind at every moment. I was tired, sure. But Ulcerate were a spectacle. And thankfully, the pit was relatively tame enough that I could enjoy a weird band without much hubbub behind me.
I called it a night after that. Immolation came out to close the fest. I know they probably ruled. But it was time for a good night’s rest and time to call it quits on another amazing Maryland Deathfest. I left with a few cuts and bruises, a huge smile on my face, and a few new shirts and CDs in my luggage to carry home. In closing, the fest was expertly run; with few exceptions the sound was impeccable, and I had one of the best experiences I’ve ever had seeing live music. This was one for the history books.