There weren’t that many bands I was dying to see on Saturday, but I ended up spending the most time at the Sonar that day. Go figure! Sludgemongers Noothgrush and death-doom paragons Winter were at the top of my list, but I was also curious about death-thrash underdogs Morbid Saint, as well as deathlords-cum-Too-Extreme-Radikultists Morbid Angel. We forgot to obtain glowsticks for their set, unfortunately, so there was no way we’d be able to give latter-day classics like “Destructos Vs. The World” or “I Am Morbid” their proper treatment. We were all pretty disappointed about that, let me tell you.
The only way I was able to “see” so many bands on Saturday was by using the bulk of the day for perusing the wares of the metal bazaar. Festivals like these are great places to stock up on merch and records that would otherwise be near-impossible to find. I myself have a vinyl copy of Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse to show for my efforts, and no, you can’t have it. The downside to engaging in such ADD-ish behavior is that a lot of great acts didn’t get the attention they so clearly deserved, as I was jumping back and forth between merch booths and food stands while taking the music in as more of a background presence rather than giving it my undivided attention. I made sure to watch at least one song in total from each band I saw, however, because Maryland Deathfest would be nothing if not for the legions of excellent artists who play there every year. And Saturday was jam-packed with killer acts to see, many of which I was completely unfamiliar with and who ended up totally rocking my socks.
Dragged Into Sunlight was the first of the day, a blackened death/doom trio from Liverpool, England whose 2009 debut LP, Hatred for Mankind, had quickly grown to be one of my favorite recent helpings of most-extreme death. While the actively oppressive and nightmarish sounds of the record work beautifully when you’re all alone in a dark room in the middle of the night, it was hard to believe that they’d be able to pull off the same misanthropic magic in a hot, sweaty room at 3 in the afternoon – but pull it off, they did! With red lights, fog machines, and a wicked goat-skull-adorned candelabra altar, Dragged Into Sunlight’s performance was a blackened nightmare ritual that prepared the ground for the rest of the corpse-painted evil that was to follow. Not many bands would equal the high quality of their performance, but a select few just managed.
I split my time between Hellbastard and Black Witchery next, and enjoyed the former far more than the latter. The coiners of the very name “crust punk,” Hellbastard are absolutely essential for anyone who considers themselves a fan of hardcore punk blended with metal, whether it be crust or crossover. What I witnessed of their performance was absolutely electric. Performing at the same time indoors was Black Witchery, who played an interchangeable set of Beherit-influenced filthy black metal. The first song I heard of theirs was pretty good, but they soon displayed that it was the only song they knew how to play. With repetitive blast beat patterns and samey riffs, I became bored pretty fast, and apparently so did the crowd. Leaning into the mic in between songs, the singer/bassist called for whoever threw beer bottles onstage to come forward. “We’ve got a special surprise for you at our merch tent, you fucking weakling!!” he growled. You’d think that metal bands would be used to violence at their shows, though! I never thought I’d see a butthurt Internet Tough Guy(TM) outside of his natural habitat of poorly-moderated internet fora, but there you go. It’d be one thing if their music were actually worth listening to, but well…….
Heading out from the blackened cellars of the Sonar into the sweltering Baltimore sun, the next act I witnessed were traditionalist heshers October 31, who proved that old tricks can still sound fresh when done right. While their oldschool NWOBHM-inspired sound certainly invoked several hails and horns, it was their closing cover of Saxon’s ”Power And The Glory” that truly won me and the rest of the crowd over. They also held up signs that read “Sharon Osbourne Is A Cunt,” which is a sentiment that I think we can all get behind! After that display came the recently reunited Morbid Saint, whose oft-overlooked 1992 LP Spectrum of Death is an absolute classic of death-thrash, easily earning its place among the very best of acts like Possessed, Kreator, and Sodom. And we were in for a treat today, as they played the album in full, front-to-back, from the thrash-tastic opener “Lock Up Your Children” all the way to “Beyond The Gates of Hell.” Their performance was easily one of the best of the day, and there were far more than a few people who proudly sported the band’s shirt, emblazoned with the slogan “I SAW MORBID FUCKING SAINT LIVE.” If there’s one band who deserves to add a superfluous “fucking” in the middle of their name, it’s definitely Morbid Saint.
After a short dinner break, my pals and I reconvened at the festival grounds to witness a couple titans of Finnish black metal perform. Archgoat, corpse-painted death-dealers from the Suomi northlands, played a relentless blend of black and death metal that sounded like Black Witchery would if they knew how to write more than one song. For scratching that filthy Beherit-inspired black metal itch, it was absolutely perfect. Horna, next on the bill, proved that black metal actually has a capacity to groove! Mixing wicked tremolo-picked hoarfrost riffs with stompy and mid-paced drum beats, their occultist invocations lent themselves a uniqueness possessed by few other groups operating today. The highlight of their performance, however, was undoubtedly when the lead singer reached under his robe, pissed in his hand, and washed his face with it. Yup.
If I had to pick one band out of Saturday’s lineup as an absolute highlight, it would have had to have been Noothgrush. While my pals and I sadly forgot to bring our toothbrushes (Dr. Seuss or get the fuck out), it’s good that we didn’t because the pit was absolutely batshit. You wouldn’t expect it to be at a sludge show, of all things, but there was absolute chaos amidst the tortured crawl of the band’s sound, with people and trash cans crowdsurfing in equal measure. As much as I love slow-paced heavy metal, I have to admit that it can often fall flat in a live setting; Noothgrush, however, proved to be the exception to the rule, with a grinding churn that moved the crowd to absolute blissful ultraviolence. It was everything a metal show should be, and set the benchmark for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, nothing else met the heights of Noothgrush’s set, but a few acts certainly came close.
Then came the headliner of the night, the lapsed legends of Floridian death metal known as Morbid Angel. Introducing themselves with half an hour of questionable electronic noises that left us fearful that we might have actually needed the glowsticks, our fears were put to rest quickly when the band mounted the stage to rapturous applause. Starting strong out the gate with such death metal classics as “Immortal Rites,” “Rapture,” and the classic “Maze of Torment,” it was easy to believe that the nightmarish Illud was just a fluke, a minor misjudged error soon to be forgotten and abandoned by its creators like Celtic Frost’s infamous Cold Lake. But then they played a couple songs from it, and while the crowd reacted with absolute chaos and enthusiasm to the cuts from Covenant and Altars of Madness, their reaction to “Nevermore” and “Existo Vulgore” could best be described as apathetic, and that’s being generous. At least they didn’t curse us with something Manson-esque like “Destructos,” although “Radikult” would have definitely been appropriate for when someone watching the concert from a nearby highway overpass was arrested by the police, in full view of the crowd. I may or may not have started a “KILL-A-COP” chant in my section when witnessing this. I’ll say no further words regarding such an occurrence without my attorney present.
The next act, moving the celebrations indoors, were black metal scene stalwarts Tsjuder. If ever there was a band to stand as the epitome of Trve Norwegian Black Metal, it would be these guys. Clad in corpsepaint and spiked bracers and invoking cold tremolo-picked riffs with shifting blastbeats and demonic hawk shrieks, Tsjuder invoked atmosphere and ferocity in equal measure with their performance, even closing with a cover of Mayhem’s ”Deathcrush.” Listening to their 2004 effort Desert Northern Hell should show you that these guys are more than deserving of carrying the Mayhem torch, but seeing them live will do an even better job of proving it. Next up were Spanish goregrind legends Haemorrhage, who mounted the stage in bloodied surgeon’s garments and launched into a ferocious set of two-minute grindcore bangers. Vastly different from the NO FUN, NOT EVER atmosphere of the day’s black metal acts, Haemorrhage was graced by the presence of not just the ubiquitous MDF chicken man who seems to be everywhere, but also a crowdsurfing idiot in a fucking hot dog suit who was doing the Soulja Boy dance in the circle pit. God, I love goregrind. Winter, the last band of the night, sucked the air out of the room with the first note they struck. Veritable legends of death-doom, their debut LP Into Darkness has been counted as an influence by such metal luminaries as Neurosis, with brooding doom atmospherics and death metal brutality in equal measure. The languid tortoise crawl of such monster cuts as “Goden” and “Eternal Frost” quickly put me in the mood for a long and uninterrupted sleep of the grave, and I had to cut my enjoyment of their set short. What I did bear witness to, however, was memorably monumental.
Aside from a few unfortunate missteps, Saturday at MDF X was a widely enjoyable tour-de-force of metal from all across the spectrum. I was unfortunate enough to miss a few acts I’d been hoping to see, but what I did witness was more than worth the price of entry. It was Sunday, however, where everything came to a head in a glorious cannabinoid-fueled doomgasm, and tired as I was, I could barely fall asleep for how excited I was to see Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard in the flesh. Oh yes, there would be blood.
I Got My Face Ripped Off By: Noothgrush, Winter, Tsjuder, Morbid Saint, Horna, Dragged Into Sunlight.
I Was Pleasantly Surprised By: Archgoat, Haemorrhage, Hellbastard, October 31.
I’m Sad I Missed: Brujeria, The Devil’s Blood, Anvil.
I Made Dismissive Masturbatory Hand Gestures During: Morbid Angel, Black Witchery.