[Once again, heavy metal whipping boy Aaron von Lupton travelled to war-torn Baltimore for Maryland Deathfest X and (barely) lived to tell the tale...this is Part One.]
If a horror journalist goes to a metal fest and never writes about it, did it really happen? Probably. But that’s exactly what happened last year at Maryland Deathfest 2011 – America’s biggest metal party – when former RM intern Perry Thomson and yours von truly headed down to Baltimore to check out three days of crust, grind. death, black, and doom metal, including horror-specific acts such as Acid Witch, Bloodfreak and Hooded Menace. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I once again packed up my black T-shirts and broke for Baltimore with every intention this time of reporting on the debauchery that would surely ensue.
What is Deathfest you ask? Basically it’s THE metal event of the year for North America, having usurped the crown from Milwaukee Metalfest some years ago. It’s actually a four-day fest – which ran from Thursday, May 24 through Sunday, May 27 this year – though tickets are limited the first day as bands only play inside Club Sonar, as opposed to both inside and outside like they do the rest of the weekend. Deathfest’s reputation is staked on getting only the best names in extreme metal, meaning you won’t see lame bands such as System of a Down or Fear Factory, nor will you see larger acts such as Anthrax or Megadeth. The event takes place every May and consists of one indoor stage and two outside. The sound is incredible and the atmosphere is very friendly and party-like. You can drink expensive beer inside or your own cheap stuff outside in the parking lot. Generally speaking, no one cares.Due to work commitments I wasn’t able to make it to Baltimore until early Friday morning, where I met up with the handsome Mr. Thomson, who had arrived a day earlier to take part in the first day of the event, legally or otherwise. After dropping my stuff off at the hostel where we would be staying, we went out for lunch at a nearby pub, which was now populated with a few other metal-logo wearing longhairs sitting rather awkwardly with the clean-cut lunchtime crowd. Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury came in and sat a few tables next to us. After lunch, we grabbed a couple of cheap 40 oz. beers (and by cheap I mean $1.80 as opposed to the $5 we’d be paying in Toronto) and joined fellow concertgoers on the steps of our dwellings.
On a side note, I just want to express how impressed I am with the evolution of the North American metal community. As we sat and talked with our housemates who had come from as far and wide as Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky and more, it was surprising to hear how liberal and progressive the people who are drawn to this music are today. It was weird to hear so many fellow metalheads talking about the problems of racism and homophobia that plague parts of the country. This is not the metal scene I grew up in, but it’s one in which I feel more comfortable.
Okay, now for something completely sexist: holy fuck, there is a lot of hot girls at Deathfest! I was stunned at the number of black-clad beauties that I saw last year, but this year they may as well have changed the name to Maryland Babefest. It was sometimes tough to keep your eyes on the bands!
Getting back to the event itself, I must admit that this year’s lineup did not hold as much interest for me as that of last year. Horror-wise, the only bands of note were thrash mutants Ghoul and, for the most part, that’s it. Ghoul was high on my list of priorities and they were playing in the early part of Friday. Though we got to the venue with plenty of time to spare, we were forced to stand in excruciatingly long lineups to first get our drinking wristbands, then to get into the actual show. The lines were so slow that we were still quite far from getting in when Ghoul took the stage. Using our good looks and charm, we weaseled our way to the front, then literally ran into the club and used a fullback/halfback combo to barrel our way to the stage where the hooded ones were conjuring up a nice little circle pit to the tune of “Bury the Hatchet.” Next was “Rise Killbot Rise,” which included an appearance by ol’ circuit board himself. Full of liquid goods, we were only too happy to stomp around the pit and work off some of the built-up anticipation. Ghoul finished off with its anthem “Gutbucket Blues,” spraying the audience with gallons of fake blood. Unfortunately for Perry, the blood on his face was real after he got an elbow to the schnozzle.
We then headed outside and caught the end of a set by Finnish death metallers Demigod, who apparently reformed simply to play this show. There were deliciously heavy riffs to be heard, though it was less fun than what we’d just experienced with the Ghoul set.
Luckily, the next band on the bill was one I had been waiting to see for some time: Macabre. I have been a fan of the group’s weird combination of death metal, grind, and nursery rhymes about serial killers for some time and had always heard that they put on an enteraining show. So, expectations were high. Frontman Corporate Death (pictured) plays a Gibson Flying V and uses a headset microphone while wearing overalls à la Ed Gein. During the song “Zodiac,” someone dressed for the part came out and stood at the front of the crowd. A metallic version of its country non-hit “The Bloody Benders” was well received.
After another beer or two, we checked out Danish thrash dudes Artillery, who I had previously never heard, before gearing up for Napalm Death.
Napalm is one of those bands that remains a main draw due to its historical significance. Without these grind legends, a number of bands would have never existed. But let’s be frank: those who’ve been influenced have long surpassed their muse. Live, however, is an entirely different story. Mark “Barney” Greenway is one of the loudest singers I have ever heard – his voice practically duplicated all of Motörhead’s collective thunder. The screeching background vocals make for an intense sound, and the band members gave everything they had and then some for a solid hour straight. I spent the entire set in the pit, and came out thoroughly battered, bruised and unable to give anything more for the rest of the day.Obviously, it was time to party! Perry and I grabbed subs from Subway (one of two restaurants that exist in downtown Baltimore, the other one being 7-11) and 40-ouncers from the liquor store/chicken deli, which we enjoyed in the park before heading to the venue’s parking lot to hang with other Deathfest attendees and compare mosh pit injuries in true heavy metal style. Admittedly, the night became a little blurry at this point. At one point, we met up with some other Torontonians and chilled out on the front steps of a nearby abandoned building, during which time I got up to relieve myself in a nearby alley. Perry then did the same, and as I approached to tell him I wanted to head back to the concert, I turned around to see three Clydesdales carrying police officers on their backs! Temporarily stunned, we were informed that our indiscretions would cost us $75. However, once they saw our Ontario IDs, the cops were confused about what to do next and let us off with a stern warning. As we headed back to Club Sonar, our Toronto friends ran up to us with the beer the horse cops didn’t make them pour out. Win!
After one last meet-up in the heavy metal parking lot, we headed in to see Swedish grind giants Nasum. (The band’s name is a reference to Flesh for Frankenstein, for all you horror geeks out there.) For those not in the know, this is Nasum’s final tour, with the band calling it quits after its frontman was killed in the 2004 tsunami. Filling in on vocals is Rotten Sound vocalist Keijo Niinimaa. I am a little spoiled having just seen them the previous weekend headlining a show in Toronto. All I can say is that both performances were equally mind-blowing and in fact, rank high amongst the best metal performances I have seen in my life. Insanely tight and disgustingly intense, Nasum inspired an incredibly violent pit that I was simply too sore and drunk to get involved with. Just standing next to it, I took a nasty shot to the face, which resulted in a nice little blood fountain from my own Nasum.
Finally it was time to head home, into the dangerous Baltimore night and back to our humble lodgings…
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of my review of Maryland Deathfest 2012!
Aaron von Lupton