Over the past weekend, the biggest annual gathering of metalheads in the US took place with the latest installment of the Maryland Deathfest. The eagerness for the “America’s biggest metal party of the year” was visible among my list of friends and foes planning to lose their necks and minds over the excellent list of bands ready to play. Bands like Demolition Hammer, Angelcorpse and Nuclear Assault brought some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and gave us, regular attendees, another experience for the books.
The festival has gone from a few days to almost a week’s worth of metal and madness, starting off with a pre-fest show handled by Absu, Profanatica and Cryfemal, supported by Pissgrave and Putrisect. While I was not able to attend that day because it’s becoming more difficult to request time off from my regular day job to disappear for that long, I never stopped getting reports from those who were in Baltimore since the beginning of the week.
Most of the reports during this show revolved around Cryfemal and Profanatica’s performances. Although this came from long-time fans who may have a biased perspective over their shows, they still seemed to be very honest. On the other hand, I encountered opinions regarding the show from raves about how good they were to unfamiliar listeners who simply couldn’t tolerate them.
Maryland Deathfest has become a tradition for many metal heads in America and the rest of the world. That means that opinions over its consistent progress and booking fly left and right, varying by backgrounds and musical tastes. When talking to some fans from South America about the Pre-fest show, Cryfemal was the only one praised in a different, ethereal overtone than some of my North American friends’ take. This could have happened either by simply talking to the right or wrong people or by the immense following the suicidal black metal Spaniards have in Latin America.
The mix of these different cultures have made this festival one of the most diverse and interesting in North America when it comes to the social and anthropological aspect. There hasn’t been a single year that I attended without coming back with a larger list of friends than what I had before landing in Maryland every Thursday morning and this year was no exception. At this point, it’s becoming harder to ignore the fact that Maryland Deathfest has been morphing from a festival with must-see bands back to back to a gathering of old and new friends.
I landed at 8am after a direct red-eye flight from Los Angeles with the only intention to meet up with friends to catch up and get ready for the festival, which started at 5pm. After some time drinking with some really cool people and checking into our hotel, we decided to head out to Rams Head to catch Crypt Sermon.
Getting there to catch Crypt Sermon was my idea, as my friends weren’t familiar with the Philly doom quintet, but that didn’t stop them from coming with me to see what the buzz was about. This brought me back to my first year attending the festival back in 2012. At the time, I went on my own with plans to meet up with just one friend on the second day of the fest and I was forced to venture on my own without knowing too many of the bands playing. When I looked at the list of bands performing, I would notice the set times for the bands I was interested in, only to find myself thinking what to do with the large chunks of “down time I had. If I had done the proper research on the bands playing that year, I would’ve dealt with my experience years after of not finding a single moment to rest and colossal list of bands I “had” to see.
If you’re open minded regarding the genres of metal you consume, the uncertainty of catching brand new bands in your catalog become meaningless and you may walk out with a new favorite band. Not really sure if my friends left Crypt Sermon great set to buy their debut album Out Of The Garden, but at least they didn’t complain or express any displeasure. I would catch them tapping their foot and nodding slowly to the catchy riffs performed by Steve Jansson’s guitar and EES’ drumming. Looking back at the audience, they were mimicking the same behavior as everyone else focused in their music, and that set the mood for the rest of the day for me.
As the day went by, my itinerary turned into several 10-step marathons trying to hit the next stage with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while at the end of each attempt. With the lineup during the first official day of the fest including Bongripper, Weedeater or Jungle Rot, the decision to skip some of their sets to socialize for a bit was easier. It is becoming more difficult to keep the festival roster fresh and interesting, so the organizers are forced to book bands that toured the US in recent months. This is where my first thought about the festival losing its core started to run my head. If all these friends and strangers were missing Disgorge’s set by standing outside drinking with their peers, who was watching their set?
After the initial greets of my first day were done, I was able to catch more bands I wanted to catch on my list. Bands like Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin ans Severe Torture were definitely worth the effort to remain awake and conscious til the end of their sets. At this point of the day, many were deciding on what to do right after the festival’s first day was done, asking for hotels and rooms willing to continue with the madness way past midnight. All the excitement of the first day had taken a toll on me and decided to head back to my room to wake up decently early to catch the first few bands of the following day; but not without pointing some friends out to look for the Holiday Inn Express.