If you ignored the lineup of this years Maryland Deathfest that just passed, you missed one hell of a stacked lineup. With headliners like At the Gates, Dark Angel and Candlemass, and three venues for three days, (four if you bought a ticket for the pre-event on Thursday) it was an event that I was extremely happy to be part of.
Unfortunately, I only had the funds and the time to make it to Deathfest on Sunday, the day with Candlemass headlining. Sunday, in general, was a day with a ton of doom, sludge, and stoner metal, but there was also some death and black metal acts thrown in. Candlemass is my favorite living band, and the last time they came to the United States was part of the Death Magic Doom tour in ’08; six years ago. This was an exclusive show for Candlemass. They came to the U.S. for this one date, and went right back to Europe, so this was a very important show to me.
Through Youtube videos, pictures of the days before, and talking to the people at the show, I know that the previous days were just as killer as Sunday was. As with any festival show, the atmosphere was upbeat, and it was really cool to see the entire metal community breaking out their T-shirts to support their favorite bands. Everyone was incredibly happy, and into it. Another note I have to make before I start talking about each band’s set was that security at the show was great. They were extremely helpful, and very polite to the crowds. They also had a little fun with the guys who were crowd-surfing. It was easily the best security I’ve seen at a show.
The first act to go on that day was a female-fronted stoner-doom act Windhand. I couldn’t ask for more out of the band that started the day. The female vocalist sounded great live, and the band was spot on. They had a small crowd, since they started, but their set was tight, and sounded good.
Stoner-sludge act Bongripper followed. They have no vocalist, and play extremely long tracks. The highlight of the set was when one of the guitarist’s guitars broke at the end, and he destroyed it. Overall, the crowd wasn’t incredibly behind these guys, but they played well, and did their jobs.
Graves at Sea came next, and they were awesome. Their vocalist was great, and they were the first band of the day to REALLY turn the energy up. They got a great reaction, even cheers of “one more song” when they headed off. I think they were the first real act of the day that impressed people. They did such a good job, people actually went to their merch booth to buy EPs right after the set.
Following Graves at Sea was Misery Index, and they were even better. The energy and aggression of their set was turned up to 11. Even though they were one of the first bands, you would have thought they were headlining with the amount of intensity they put out. By this point, the crowds were definitely amped up, and ready to go. Misery Index was one of the highlights of the event for me.
The next act, Pseudogod, I was less than impressed with. They were your standard black metal act. They had pretty cool corpse paint, but that was about it. They had no crowd interaction, and pretty much just played their set. There were points where the bassist tried getting the crowd to clap once or twice, but only tried for a few seconds between his parts. They did their set, which again, was pretty standard black metal, and left. Pretty dull after Misery Index and Graves at Sea had great performances.
Following Pseudogod was by far, the worst act of the day. Another black metal band called Wrathprayer. First, they came on 10 minutes late to their set, which, when you’re at the biggest metal festival in the United States, and come all the way from Chile, and only have 40 minutes to impress people, is pretty inexcusable. After that it was boring to average black metal. Halfway through their set, me and my friend went to the merch booths to make last minute purchases there.
Inquisition was what a black metal band at this kind of show SHOULD be. They were only a two piece, but the two of them had ability for four people. Their stuff was intense and creative, and they were into it the whole time. They got the crowd going behind them, but still kept their stoic black metal appearances up the entire time. They showed both of the black metal bands that came before them how it was done.
Soilent Green was another act that was solid and tight. I don’t have much to say about their set besides it was pretty good. I enjoyed it.
Crowd favorite Gorguts was next. Out of all the bands, these guys seemed to be the most excited to be here. All of the musicians, especially the vocalist, seemed thrilled and happy. He commanded the crowd with power, and the crowd in turn, loved every second of it. There were chants of “Gorguts! Gorguts!” constantly, and this was when the moshing and crowd surfing went to a whole ‘nother level. This was when it began to show that these short festival sets are just TOO short for the great bands. These guys could have went another hour or two easily, and seemed to just be at their peak when they finished. My only complaint was that they were incredibly bass-y to me. I was front and center, so that was a huge part of it, but I barely heard the guitars. The bass just drowned everything out. I was told it was much clearer in the back of the stage, though. Other than that, they did great work.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats followed, but I stayed at the stage Gorguts finished at to make sure I got front row for Candlemass. I like Uncle Acid from their studio stuff, and it sounded like they put on a tight set. At that point, I was talking to a lot of the other gigantic Candlemass fans next to me, and we were watching them sound check, so I’d be lying if I said my attention was really on Uncle Acid. I really wished their set was earlier so I could have heard them more.
The big one. Candlemass. I was screaming and stoked from the minute the smoke poured out, and they started with “Mirror Mirror.” The band was spot on, and Mats Leven was in rare form. A lot of people give Mats shit, and do the whole “he’s not Messiah” deal, but I love Mats. I think he’s a great vocalist, and maybe the best performer Candlemass ever had. Candlemass performed nine songs, and the crowd absolutely exploded for them. Once again, an hour just isn’t long enough for a band like these guys. It felt short, and pretty much everyone was begging for an encore. Every song was well received, and it was cool to see all of the diehards that were up in the front with me screaming every word. By far, Candlemass had the best command of the crowd. In terms of live performers, they were just a cut above the rest. Only Gorguts really came close to commanding the crowd. The highlight for me was when bandleader and bassist Leif Edling took the mic for a minute and said “you guys are awesome! If shows here are like this, we should come more often!” I hope they do come more often. I also was fortunate enough to get the band’s setlist from the stage, thanks to the awesome security guards. I hope I get another opportunity to see them blow my mind.
My Dying Bride closed out the night, and this confused me. I mean no disrespect towards My Dying Bride. They’re a good band, with a cool catalog. But they certainly aren’t Candlemass, who are legends of their craft. I wondered since they came out with set times why My Dying Bride closed the show instead. My only thought was that the people who put Deathfest on didn’t want the third venue, which began 20 minutes after Candlemass ended, to have no crowd. It showed, because a huge chunk of people left as soon as Candlemass ended. My Dying Bride still had a good crowd, and they too had diehards that were going strong, but it was a lot less than the other big acts. Plus, as their set went on, people slowly trickled out, too. I felt a bit bad for them, but I’m sure they knew it was coming.
Overall, Maryland Deathfest was awesome, and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it, even if it was just for the one day. Next year, if you missed out on the festivities, keep your eyes out for a band listing. Deathfest gets killer bands every year, and you might just be surprised by the names they draw. If you get a chance to go next year, don’t pass it up! It’s one hell of a good time for a metal fan.