Friday, June 6, 2014

Concert Review - Maryland Deathfest XII, Edison Lot, Friday, May 23, 2014 - Baltimore, MD

I've waffled about going to Maryland Deathfest for a couple years now - I mean, it's right here in my home state, yet somehow I've never been interested enough in enough of the bands to justify the ticket price. But this year, the stars aligned and almost all the MDF bands I would have wanted to see ended up playing the same venue on the same day. How could I not go??

One of the bands I most wanted to see, Mgła, was fairly early in the running order (3:45) so I headed up right after lunch, aiming to get there with an hour to wait in line, if necessary. I probably got there in about that timeframe. For someone reasonably familiar with Baltimore, finding the Edison Lot was not difficult - but finding the gate to the parking lot was a pain >.< At the entrance to the venue, the street to the lot was closed, and knowing Baltimore, trying to go around meant making a bunch of weird turns, but finally I found the parking lot by sheer luck. Only to discover they had increased the price from $10 to $15 (perhaps because there were ball games in town that day, too, but still that was irritating, since I thought I was going to have to come back the next day and drop another $15 into parking >.<)

The line was actually not that bad. It had only just started to wrap around the venue when I got in it, and it also started moving (slowly, but steadily) almost as soon as I got in line. Besides, there was an entertaining European guy nearby complaining about various things, like not being able to drink beer on the street ("It's the land of the free! Liberate the beer!") And New York math metal or black metal band Castevet started up as well ("This is good for the soul," someone near me commented), and they sounded pretty good. Their live sound had more of an intense black metal sound than I expected from their kind of light, atmospheric/prog rock type songs I'd heard ahead of time.

I'd say it was about 3:30 when I actually got into the venue. I really needed to find the portapotties, but not seeing them, I decided to go pick up my pre-ordered MDF shirt first, since I did see the tent for that. There was barely a line and it took just a couple minutes for me to obtain my shirt (maybe a photo tomorrow, cause I'm gonna wear it to tomorrow's show :) ) Then since there were a bunch of merch tents, I wandered on looking at the stuff - lots of CDs, shirts, patches and some books. Didn't find anything I wanted on first glance, but then again I was going kind of quickly since I knew Mgła would be on soon.

The merch tents formed a sort of aisle immediately to the left when one came into the venue, dead-ending inside a tent, which was where the books were. Past that corridor of merch was a big open blacktop with a stage facing the entrance (Stage A) and another stage at the far left by the highway overpass (Stage B). The lot extended under the overpass and there were a few tables in the shade there; I guess that was the shady area for any overheated metalheads to recover. Although I hadn't been following any debate that may have happened, I did notice that MDF announced there was supposed to be a "shaded" stage where the black metal bands that had to perform in daytime (oh, the horror) would play, but neither of the stages was actually in the shade. However, there was a difference, as the photos will show. (I brought my crappy digital camera which is literally ten years old and snapped some pictures, just because I could..)

At this point I was a little flummoxed as to where the portapotties could be, so I headed back toward the entrance, and there I finally found them, tucked away in a nook to the right of the entrance (when coming in) where it had been pretty much impossible to see them on the way in. I suppose it was an ok spot for them, but they could have had a sign or something making the location more obvious.

That quest completed, it was time for the fun to begin, starting with the second band of the day, Mgła.

Polish black band Mgła was the band that convinced me to attend MDF - when I reviewed them for DC Heavy Metal, I knew I had to hear this band if I had a chance. That was what led me to look at the MDF running order at all, and to realize that Friday in the Edison Lot was absolutely perfect. As soon as I'd gotten the day off work, I bought my ticket. It was a great decision. Unfortunately Mgła's performance wasn't the shining highlight I'd hoped. They're heavy on atmospheric guitar work that tends toward groovy or even climbs to soaring, but at MDF, the guitars were somewhat drowned by reverberating bass and hollow-sounding drums. (Mind, I was standing kind of toward the back of the crowd, since I feared my earplug-less ears couldn't handle the sound closer - but perhaps I should have tried.) Fortunately, the vocals were nice and clear at least, and the groovy melodic guitars were so headbangable, if a bit hard to hear when the drums and bass were going. My favorites were "With Hearts Towards None III" ("And you shall know perdition / And it will set you free... With hearts towards none"), with its long waves of atmospheric and mostly audible guitar riffs, and "With Hearts Towards None VII" ("Always downwards - and towards / the farthest sides of the north"), with its furious, relentless tremolo riffs.

Mgla performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Mgła. This is pretty much all they did during their whole set. They must have been roasting - in hoodies and leather jackets. Also, I never noticed before that they also perform with their faces covered. Every now and then a fog machine would waft a cloud of fog across the stage but unfortunately I could never get my camera out quick enough to capture it..

They were followed up by another atmospheric black metal band, Germany's The Ruins of Beverast. I'm not terribly familiar with this band - they're a little weird for my tastes - but I find them intriguing all the same. When they're not freaking me out (or even when they are), they can be very good at building an eerie atmosphere, with churning, slightly discordant guitars, usually laced with some creepy whispers or anguished cries along with the snarls and demonic rumblings of the vocalist. Unfortunately, they started out with same problems as Mgła, the drums and bass drowning out the guitars. At several points, the guitarists must have been doing something awesome cause they were headbanging wildly, but I couldn't hear the guitar part at all (so it was even worse than Mgła). As their set went on, the sound got a little better and I started being able to hear the guitars, although I still felt that perhaps both this band and Mgła might have sounded better indoors. A dark, enclosed space would have been more atmospheric, too. But then, that wouldn't have been much different from a regular concert; being outside in a festival environment was somehow more exciting.

The Ruins of Beverast performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
The Ruins of Beverast. It is noticeably lighter on Stage A.

Germany's Necros Christos was up next, and they sounded pretty good, but I wanted to look at the merch again, so I went and pored over patches and CDs while they thundered on the other side of the tents. I mostly got stupid stuff that I didn't really need, so I'm not going to talk about it (oops), and a present for someone.

After that was another of the bands that I really wanted to see, Sólstafir from Iceland. Considering how Mgła and Ruins of Beverast sounded, I was bit worried how Sólstafir's subtle and dreamy guitar work was going to come across in the festival setting. But to my great joy, their sound was perfect - you could hear every note of their delicately layered sound. They only played 4 songs (not counting the intro), but I guess that's what happens when your songs are all 10+ minutes long. After the intro ("Náttfari"), they started off with the opening track of Svartir Sandar, "Ljós í Stormi." Hearing the haunting guitar passages live quite literally gave me chills. They followed that up with the title track "Svartir Sandar," which has the same dreamy atmosphere but a little more momentum in the guitars, and a pretty melodious segment toward the end, and then the song I was dying to hear, "Fjara." I was afraid I might weep during this song, but honestly it wasn't quite as intense live as it is listening to it on the album - although it was still intense. They finished with "Goddess of the Ages," a song I was not familiar with, but it fit with the feel of the songs from Svartir Sandar in terms of atmosphere and emotion. Their set was over far too soon, although I was satisfied to have heard "Ljós í Stormi" and "Fjara." Seeing as their headline show in this area was cancelled, I can only hope they'll make it over here on another headline tour sometime soon!

Solstafir performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Sólstafir. I got pretty close for these guys and somehow it didn't hurt my ears.

Solstafir at Maryland Deathfest XII
Showin off his boots?

As soon as they finished, everyone headed over to Stage B for Norwegian black metal band Taake; I hung back for a bit but eventually joined the crowd in front of the stage, since someone told me this band was good. They sounded like Mgła should have sounded, their first song anyway - the atmospheric guitars nice and clear, the drums crisp but not overwhelming. The next song was thundering, and the one after that had quite a rock vibe. They seemed to play for a long time, much longer than Sólstafir. Overall they were very groovy and headbangable, and I enjoyed them more than I expected.

Taake performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Taake. Wish I'd gotten better pictures, but you can kind of see the band's corpsepaint and the singer's cloak.

After that it was time for a dinner break during Cancer's set. I honestly didn't pay much attention to Cancer at all; I was busy chowing down on delicious barbeque and texting people about a big interview, Drudkh albums, and the fact that someone gave me passes to a strip club XD And then I went and grabbed a Drudkh CD just before Agalloch came on.

Oregon's atmospheric, blackish post-metal act Agalloch was every bit as amazing as I hoped, but I had trouble getting into them at first, because I was standing at the back waiting for someone and people around me were talking, which made it hard to get into the atmosphere of the music. Gradually I moved up closer and managed to sink into the lovely and melancholy cascades of guitar a bit more. It was also starting to get cold, which was a little distracting.

Agalloch performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Agalloch. This was the least blurry photo I had. My camera just sucks for night photos. I didn't even try for At The Gates. Agalloch's lighting was very nice though - a lot of this bluish green stuff, very fitting for their chill music.

After Agalloch finished there was a bit of a break before the headliner, Sweden's melodic death metal legends At The Gates, took the stage. They started off just decent - heavy, agressive, but not very melodic. I was standing next to expert metalhead Metal Chris (of DC Heavy Metal) and he commented the lead guitar was just about inaudible. "There's supposed to be a solo here, but you can't hear it." The band noticed, too, because they paused after the first song to correct the technical difficulties - Metal Chris was of the opinion that the lead and rhythm guitar were switched somewhere. It probably took them a good ten minutes to fix that, but it paid off as the rest of the set sounded great. The largest proportion of songs seemed to be from their last album, Slaughter of the Soul, and these, along with songs from the previous album Terminal Spirit Disease, were full of raging melodies that made me want to push people around (but I was hardly going to go in the pit at MDF; I'd get squished like a bug!). Older songs like "Windows" and "All Life Ends" were face-smashingly brutal, but I preferred the more melodic ones. For being pretty new to actually listening to At The Gates (they're one of those bands that I just always assumed had to be good, since they're so legendary) I enjoyed the set a lot more than I thought I would. I'm sure there was a pit somewhere, but from my place near the back I couldn't really see people moving that much - but me, I was throwing my hair around like crazy to their furious melodic riffs. I didn't come to a metal festival to not headbang!

After they finished, I hung back away from the gates (I know, I am the worst) letting most of the mass exodus get out of the way. Getting lost leaving the parking lot, lane closures on 95 and needing to stop for coffee meant it was nearly 1am when I got home, even though ATG finished playing before 11 (this in spite of the time spent on technical problems, but they didn't play an encore, so maybe part of their set got cut off due to curfew or something..) I didn't mind too much though. For my first Maryland Deathfest, and my second ever metal festival experience, I thought it was just awesome. Being surrounded by metal people and metal music and metal things was just amazing, the atmosphere was so charged and full of energy. Although going with people would have been nice, in a way I'm also glad I got to go alone, because I experience things so much more profoundly that way, and this was an experience worth soaking up without missing a second. I can only hope next year's MDF features a similarly awesome line-up so I can go again!

Next show: A Sound of Thunder, Iris Divine, MindMaze and Metanium at The Pinch - tomorrow! (Or is it today by now? :P The show is Friday, June 6.)

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