Monday, June 10, 2013

Maryland Deathfest 2013, Sunday May 26

My last day at MDF. Getting out of bed and making my way to the Sonar at 1:00 pm would have been a great idea if everyone else hadn't had the exact same idea at the exact same time. By the time I reached the venue, the line had grown beyond belief, stretching across the parking lot and around the overpass. And it moved about as slowly as an Evoken song. To their credit, most in line showed amazing patience; even a statement issued through facebook that the line was flowing with no patdowns elicited more sarcasm than outright anger by people who could clearly see this was not the case (choice response: "As someone standing at the entrance, I call bullshit."). But as time began to drag through the first couple bands of the day, my irritation grew. What was the point of buying a three day pass if it meant being stuck in line for an hour? There had to have been a better way to handle re-entry for people who already had their wristbands than to force them to lineup all over again.

Missing Speedwolf wasn't a big deal, because I've seen enough eighties revival wannabes, thanks. But I was bitterly disappointed to miss Cruciamentum, who I've heard nothing but good things about and whose break up was eminent. I managed to catch half a song; still disappointed, but something tells me they didn't do anything in the preceding 28 minutes different from those last two.

If waiting an hour to get in wasn't enough for some people, a line quickly formed in front of Sleep's merch table that stretched around the bar. What kind of idiot waits an hour to buy a Sleep shirt that will inevitably be available online? This mystery and many others could have been solved while I stood in that same line. Other equally productive things I could have done instead: Counted every patch on every denim jacket assembled for Midnight; stalked Josh "The Warmaster" Barnett at the Indie Merch Store booth; or just grabbed a marker and made my own damn Sleep shirt. Of course, by the time I got to the merch table, there was nothing left except some white shirts and an empty box. Come to think of it, I should have just taken the box. It looked like it was in my size.

After those two debacles, I was looking for something to save both my afternoon and my faith in humanity; the reformed Sacred Reich were more than up to the task. They apologized to fans who never saw them back in the day, claiming "We were a lot cooler before" - clearly they never got the memo that every old school thrash band is cool now (even fucking Xentrix reformed). For anyone who missed the eighties, there was a song about backwards masking ("Who's to Blame?") and another one about the Reagan Doctrine ("Surf Nicaragua," natch). When the circle pit gets going, even a couple of the security guys jumped in - a first for MDF that year, as far as I know. They may not look cool anymore, but I'll take these guys over the jacket patch revival kids any day.

Sacred Reich made a name for themselves by combining hardcore's political consciousness with the precision of thrash; on the other side of the fest, a resurrected Integrity (basically Dwid with some young ringers) were doing the opposite with metal's nihilism and hardcore's thuggish simplicity. Which is possibly the worst of both worlds, but the kids running around in circles in the half-empty tent would understandably dispute that. Integrity are a throwback to a time when drop-D tuning and palm muting was all a hardcore band had to do to get tarred and feathered as "too metal"; sandwiched between Sacred Reich and Sleep, their metal bona fides all but evaporate. Still, as forerunners of their own brand of crossover, they provided a welcome history lesson to anyone wondering when hardcore kids learned whammy bar solos.
When I saw Sleep play in 2010, the audience essentially nodded in unison for an hour while the band played sections of Jerusalem/Dopesmoker interspersed with some Holy Mountain songs. I was looking forward for more of the same, but this time around they saved Dopesmoker for the very end. Not that it mattered: Upbeat songs like "Dragonaut" were slowed down, and slower songs like "From Beyond" were slowed down even further, til it all sounded like Dopesmoker. You'd think playing at the speed of continental drift would dissuade crowdsurfers; you'd be wrong. Matt Pike's rampaging guitar monster counter-balanced Cisneros' quiet spiritual center on the opposite side of the stage. That's Sleep in a nutshell, and the primary reason people find them so engaging - the other reason was abundantly clear as the smell of weed wafted in the air throughout their set.

I'm not entirely on the Pentagram bandwagon; the last time I saw them was an underwhelming experience, and their newer material has never quite captured the magic of their early albums. But it would take more of a curmudgeonly soul than me to dispute that given their checkered history, seeing them play their hometown in front of such a large crowd was moving. Bobby Liebling hammed it up like an acid-fried Vincent Price, pulling out every 70's rock move his old bones could still pull off. It's hard to believe that this was the same half-dead drug casualty from Last Days Here. A testament to the surprisingly restorative powers of doom; or maybe just the patience and hard work of Sean Pelletier.
Anticipating my first Venom concert ever, I was certain of two things: 1) They'd probably be terrible, and 2) they'd definitely play "Black Metal," so it wouldn't matter. As it turned out, only that second thing was true, though opening their set with their most popular and influential song while the sound was still adjusting was probably a mistake. But  before long I was grinning like an idiot and screaming along with "Welcome to Hell" and "Bloodlust". If only they'd stuck to songs from the first two albums (plus the greatest intro ever), it might have been the perfect ending to MDF 2013. But in balancing their set with songs from their last album, things started to drag heavily. Or maybe three days of metal had finally taken its toll on me. Either way I headed out long before the strict curfew meant that their set was cut short in the middle of "Warhead." The crowd's outrage at the early stoppage rang out across the compound; but I'm pretty sure we were all saved from hearing that awful "Punk's Not Dead" song. Plus, what's Venom without a little controversy? 30 years later, they're still at war with settimes.

Stray Bullets

• I was looking forward to finishing my weekend with Carpathian Forest, but unbeknownst to me they were denied entry into the country and were forced to cancel. A good portion of the audience seemed surprised by this as well, despite it having been on Blabbermouth a few days earlier. Maybe the best news out of all this is that no one reads Blabbermouth anymore.

• Big thanks to the vendor who emptied his drinks cooler at the end of the fest. A six-pack of black cherry soda was an unusual finish to MDF 2013, but like Tom Warrior, I was parched with thirst and dying.

• There's something intrinsically funny about seeing packs of metalheads wandering around Baltimore throughout the weekend, as well as in line at every supermarket, convenience store, and fast food restaurant in the area. It's like there was a comic book convention in town where everyone came dressed as the same character.

• Crowdsurfing Jesus became another MDF character. I think I'll miss you most of all, Chicken Guy.

• Seeing The Obsessed, Sleep, Pentagram, Down, and Weedeater in a single weekend is pretty mindblowing. If Saint Vitus and Trouble played this year as well, it would officially have been the Maryland Doomfest.

• Speaking of doom, I was pretty bummed that Morgion pulled out of this year's MDF, but I probably would have been stuck waiting in line outside during their set anyways.

• I've seen numerous complaints about the MDF security online, but I don't think much of it was aimed at the guys working behind the barricades, who I found for the most part to be professional, even entertaining. What impressed me the most was the "spotter seat" set up near the main stage, signalling whenever a crowd surfer was headed their way and other shenanigans. MDF has this concert security thing down.

• That the small and medium MDF shirts were the first to sell out could be taken as a sign that America's obesity epidemic is over. Either that, or those sizes were ordered in low numbers because, like me, the average MDF attendee hasn't been a "medium" in over a decade.

• At MDF 2011 I met a dude named Rich, who's the only other person I've ever met with a Logical Nonsense shirt. It was good to see him again, still rocking the same shirt. Maybe together we can campaign for a Logical Nonsense reunion at a future MDF.

• A lot of people I met wanted to know more about the scene here in South East Asia; if only there was a podcast that dealt with that sort of thing. I had a really good chat with Tim from the band With Burning Contempt and his friend Chris about the SEA metal scene. You can check out Tim's band here. They'll make an appearance in an upcoming Bandcamp Picks column soon.

Hey Sarah from Vancouver who I met during Sleep - if you're reading this, don't be a stranger!