Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maryland Death Fest Sunday 5-29-11

I skipped Saturday's line-up to recharge my batteries, returning to Baltimore on Sunday. The security staff confiscated the veggie stir-fry I packed for lunch, but were nice enough to let me keep my ibuprofen...though not before some good-natured ball-busting.
"What is this?"
"It's aspirin...Advil."
[Disbelieving look.]
"No, really."
"[Inspecting pill] It don't look like no aspirin I ever seen."
"It's the generic kind."
He gave me the bottle back. Most likely he looked at this rapidly aging hesher with the receding hairline and pear-shaped physique and figured I probably needed aspirin to get through an all-day metal fest. A question about writing my name on my stir-fry container was met with a dismissive, "Trust me, no one's going to want to eat it."

Repugnant might be the politest band to ever put a rotting corpse on a t-shirt: "Can I have a little vocal in the monitor? And maybe a bit of bass drum?...and a little of this guitar?" In 2011, the old school Swedish death metal revival was already becoming a little crowded, but Repugnant stood above the rest of the Johnny-come-latelies with their mix of Repulsion and Nihilist. Sadly, their time on the stage was too short, even if the crowd that assembled for them was too sparse. Or maybe they were saving their energy for later in the night...

This might have been the performance that finally sold America on Orange Goblin. Frontman Ben Ward made the most of his role as frontman, leading the crowd in chants, and hamming it up for a few (shockingly young) kids in the front row. Even the security guys were grooving along behind the barricade. Seeing the Goblin play their good-time doom metal with the sun setting behind them will remain my definition of the perfect Sunday afternoon for years to come.  

"I love Satan but I gotta see," vocalist Aimee Artz informed the lighting guys early into Bastard Noise 's set. Defying easy categorization, they may be the most progressive band of the line-up; their guitar-free, power-electronics driven rumbling makes me think of a cross between Harvey Milk and a particular localized earthquake. Watching a kid headbang to one of their noise interludes, I wondered if he was really that into it or having a seizure. Halfway into their set I decided to act my age and sit down. I've never missed the stadium seating at NY's Gramercy Theatre so much. At that point in the afternoon, I was flabbergasted by all the kids who went through the entire 3-day fest without any hearing protection. My brain turns to jelly just thinking about it.

I had time to check out the last 20 minutes of Nuclear Assault's set, but the chance to snag a sweet spot for Coroner was too much to pass up. For what it's worth, NA sounded good from my vantage point: all the way across the parking lot in front of the opposite stage. With Death Breath and Lock Up having dropped out of MDF on short notice, I was counting on Coroner to save the week-end for me. Coroner was a band I never thought I'd see, and I'm sure most of the audience felt the same. The band themselves seemed to regard their return with the same importance, with a gold drum set and gold lettering on their backdrop [my hopes for them coming out in gold lame suits were sadly dashed]. The setlist skewed heavily to the proggier material from their last album Grin, which brought home the fact that what may have seemed off-kilter and transgressive in 1993 is now merely quant; in that light, the three songs they played from their No More Color opus were greatly appreciated (and in truth, that's all I was there for).

With their downtuned riffs and catchy breakdowns, Wormed were as close as MDF got to traditional American brutal death metal - which is doubly surprising because a) I remember when American deathfests were crammed from top to bottom with that style, and b) Wormed are actually Spanish. It's to the organizer's credit that Wormed actually stood out that night. It wasn't enough to get me back on my aching feet, but I did rock back and forth in appreciation.

Well, they stood out until Last Days of Humanity got on stage. Even on the best of days, I have a low threshold for gurgling death metal, but after six straight hours of metal I grew increasingly annoyed - and that was before the glowsticks started flying around and a kid dressed as a Teletubby waded into the pit. They drew a sizable and enthusiastic crowd, but I would have traded my close vantage point for a quiet corner and a nap.

The drummer and guitarist from Repugnant came out to soundcheck for Ghost - multiple theories abound to why that is, but I was just happy that they got a little bit more time on stage after their cruelly short set. The excitement for Ghost was palpable - the crowd tried unsuccessfully to chant the band's name before settling for "Satan". When the band finally took the stage for their headlining set, the place exploded. In his bizarre (and dryly funny) stage performance, Papa Emeritus didn't say a word between songs. He may not have needed to sing a word either, as the audience had that pretty well covered. Exhausted as I was at that point, I was buoyed by the band's performance (much heavier live than on record) and the crowd's enthusiasm (where else will I find a couple hundred people to sing "Hear Our Satan Prayer"?) As wary as I am of hype, and the bands that ride that wave only to disappear without a trace a few years later, Ghost really captured 2011's zeitgeist (pun intended). 

And when it was over, I had to drag this sore, decrepit body to Baltimore's Penn Station. I hurried back to catch the last train to NY, and was followed by a crackhead for my troubles. She took the time to explain that she "wasn't no trick" before asking for a dollar. Thanks for the memories, Baltimore.