Maryland Death Fest XIII
During Memorial Day weekend, MDF XIII came to pass, marking my third consecutive trip to the festival. Overall, the lineup was probably not quite as strong as those of the previous two years, but it was still a solid bill from top to bottom. Here’s my brief reflection on the experience, and on the logistics of surviving, more or less in one piece, what really is a rather grueling festival experience.
I decided to take the Virgin America redeye from LAX to Dulles on Wednesday night as I’ve done the previous two years. Certainly, I don’t sleep well on planes, but I actually managed to catch a few zzz’s as the 4 ½ hour ride actually passed rather quickly. My good friend Aaron picked up my friend Mike and I from Dulles on Thursday morning, as he now lives in the Washington D.C. area while going to law school. We crashed for a few hours at Aaron’s place before heading to Baltimore just after noon.
Aaron and I had a good experience with Airbnb last year, so we opted to do that once again, staying in a 230-year old row house on Tyson Street in the heart of the trendy area of downtown Baltimore. The place was clean and quiet, and our host, Taylor, graciously allowed a total of four of us (my friend Robert would join us that afternoon after taking a plane from LAX to BWI on Thursday) to stay for the weekend.
After settling in and dumping our stuff, we headed to Max’s Taproom in the East Harbor area for a drink prior to heading to Rams Head Live (RHL) and the Baltimore Soundstage for the Thursday night shows. We managed to catch a couple of songs as Origin were finishing up at the Soundstage, and I immediately jumped over to RHL to catch Primitive Man. Although not really my thing, Primitive Man were really good with a crushingly heavy delivery that clocked in at a perfect 25-minute long set.
I popped back over to the Soundstage to catch Internal Bleeding and Skinless in rapid succession with both sets being enjoyable. Devourment did not impress, so we all headed back to RHL for the remainder of the evening. In quick succession, we enjoyed excellent sets from Jex Thoth, Conan, Ufomammut, and Yob. I was especially interested in Ufomammut, as they’ve been a favorite ever since the release of Snailking, but every band that evening was excellent. Jex Thoth, in particular, have a great stage presence with frontwoman Jessica Bowen expertly working the crowd. We Über-ed our way back to Tyson Street afterwards (we used Über throughout the weekend as well as doing a great deal of walking).
The next morning, we first went to Faidley’s Market for some lump crab cake, and then headed over to the Edison Lot for the day’s shows. I was hoping for some changes at the Edison Lot from last year, mostly from an amenities standpoint. For example, MDF has lucked out the last couple of years with mild weather as heat exhaustion and/ or dehydration has not really been an issue. Free water was promised this year, but it only occurred in small coolers and paper cups near the entrance. As far as I could tell, this ran out very quickly and was not speedily replenished. Luckily, the food vendors had lowered their drink prices this year, and it wasn’t too hard to find bottled water being sold for a dollar or two. I largely stayed away from alcohol during the festival, only to relax with a beer or two at the end of each evening back at Tyson Street.
The food vendors were also pretty much the same as last year with the Greek and Thai vendors (right next to each other) being the best options with vegetarian fare and lots of fresh vegetables. This is one of the keys to surviving MDF, in my opinion; eat your vegetables. I was also popping vitamins throughout the weekend.
Another point of consternation was the lack of hand washing stations yet again. This really should be made a priority as Port-O-Potties get filthy fast and having 5,000+ sweaty people in close quarters is a bacterial nightmare. I judiciously applied hand sanitizer over and over (kept in my pocket) throughout the festival, but MDF really should address this issue in some manner.
The merchandise vendors were pretty much the same as last year; even their tents were in the same position. Digging through merch is fun, but it was apparent pretty quickly that a lot of the merch being offered for sale was the same as last year. That was mildly disappointing, but the flip side is that I didn’t go crazy buying shirts like I did last year. Over the course of the entire festival, I ended up buying five shirts (of bands that appeared at the festival), and a few patches for an intended new battle jacket.
Friday was Death Metal Day at Edison, as Funebrarum, Cianide, and Master destroyed the crowd in rapid succession. Vallenfyre, Aura Noir, and Lock Up gave everyone a bit of a break from the straight up death metal, but Suffocation, Obituary, and Bloodbath finished the evening in strong fashion. Suffocation and Bloodbath, in particular, were excellent.
We walked to RHL and the Soundstage for the evening shows. Mike and Robert headed to the Soundstage to catch Ghoul and Napalm Death, while Aaron and I stuck around at RHL for the mostly black metal shows. We arrived just as Drawn And Quartered were halfway through their set, eagerly awaiting Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. Although frontwoman Onielar has an undeniable stage presence, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult ended up being the disappointment of the festival. Marred from the start by bad sound and a failing second guitar, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult couldn’t seem to get themselves going. Aeternus finished the evening and were excellent with their riffy take on folk/ black/ death metal.
Saturday was a day spent jumping around the venues as we arrived at Edison to catch Morpheus Descends, only to immediately head over to the Soundstage to catch Inter Arma. A highlight for the day, Inter Arma were an unusual choice to appear at the Soundstage, but were a pleasant surprise. We stuck around to catch Full Of Hell and Antigama, only to walk back to Edison for the remainder of the day’s shows.
Triptykon were the highlight of the festival for me, being one of my favorite bands. I wasn’t the only one anticipating the set, as Triptykon probably drew the biggest crowd of the entire weekend as Edison appeared to be filled to capacity. The setlist was strong and memorable, consisting of “Tree Of Suffocating Souls,” “Procreation Of The Wicked,” “The Usurper,” “Goetia,” “Messiah,” and “The Prolonging” in its entirety. The roar from the crowd was deafening.
Besides catching most of Bulldozer and Solstice, Arcturus were the other main draw at Edison that evening, delivering a strong set. Only one new song, though, the title track from Arcturian, was included. We caught a few moments of Razor before walking back to RHL and the Soundstage. The evening shows were a flurry of jumping back and forth as we caught Adversarial, Gnaw Their Tongues, and Demoncy at RHL. Demoncy were phenomenal with an atmospheric performance. We jumped over to Soundstage to catch the live debut of Agoraphobic Nosebleed along with everyone else as the Soundstage was filled beyond capacity. Aaron and I stayed for about ten minutes or so only to jump back to RHL to catch Tsjuder, who were awesome.
We began Sunday with a meet up at Max’s Taproom with a number of friends, and then headed to Edison. We caught sets from Primordial, Winter, Skepticism, Demilich (a huge highlight), Neurosis, and Amorphis. We finished the festival at RHL, catching Impetuous Ritual, Knelt Rote (a pleasant surprise), and Portal.
Despite a few minor issues, Maryland Death Fest is a very well run festival with a consistently great lineup. Everything runs very smoothly from set times being adhered to, to great security, to the great crowd vibe. Now a veteran of three festivals, I will probably continue to attend MDF for the foreseeable future.
As always, though, the best part of MDF is seeing all of the great people that I’ve become friends with through the Internet over the years. Special thanks goes out to the following people: first and foremost, my regular posse of Aaron Lariviere, Robert Baggs, and Mike Rivas. We sorely missed Farhaad Esfandiary and Adam L. Murray this year, though. The Last Rites Crew: Zach Duvall, Jeremy Morse, Jeremy Witt, Marlo Reghenas, Konrad Kantor, Rae Amitay, Jordan Campbell, Matt Mooring, and Doug Moore. The Los Angeles Scene: Joseph Aprill, Kim Galdamez, Jason Thomas, Christian Liebling, Cris Giesbrecht, Anna Hummell, Alix Valecillo, Adam Sperber- Compean, and Jake Himelfarb. I was also grateful to see Max Rotvel, Kim Kelly, Joseph Schafer, and Enrique Sagarnaga. Cheers to you all, see you next year!
Here are a few random pictures and videos. I only had my iPhone 5 with me, and I didn’t really try to position myself for great pictures.
Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult
The t-shirt haul!
And, finally, some full-length reviews...