For this episode, your intrepid metalhead Chris made his way down to Baltimore for MDF XII, and while mourning Spence’s absence, he drank in the synergistic vibe of the diverse crowd and hung out with Chris Dick of Decibel and Billy Gamble of Dig. The weather was amazing: sunny but cool for the leather-clad folks and that guy wearing only sneakers and a custom-made Death’s Symbolic Speedo. Billy was the only one of us who had an all-access pass, so he got to see Incantation, Asphyx, The Church of Pungent Stench, et al. at the smaller venues, while the two Chrises had to settle for the Edison lot only for the mainstage bands. Maybe the promoters will eventually have all the stages in one place, like a real festival! Special high-fives to Gordon Conrad, Sean Palmerston, Kevin Stewart-Panko, Ian Christe, and Magnus Henriksson! All the following songs were played live and are in semi-chronological order:
“Cold” from At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul (1995, Earache)
Arguably the most anticipated reunion of the year, these Gothenburg metal pioneers—the ones who put the “S” in NWOSDM—blasted through a treasure trove of gems to top off Friday’s events. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson missed some beats and dragged a bit through the first half of the set, but “Under the Serpent Sun,” “Windows,” “Blinded by Fear,” and “Kingdom Gone” were top-notch. Frontman Tomas Lindberg was nice enough to hang out with us while watching bands throughout the fest, too!
“Zombie Attack” from Tankard’s Zombie Attack (1986, Noise)
These German thrash stalwarts and self-proclaimed ‘Kings of Beer’ have released 16 full-lengths about brewskis since 1986—that’s more than one new album every 2 years! Much like Sacred Reich at last year’s fest, Tankard provided much comic relief in a set highlighted by “A Girl Called Cerveza,” “Ice-Olation,” “Die with a Beer in Your Hand,” and “Stay Thirsty!” Even funnier than the massive crowd sing-alongs were the choruses when frontman Andreas Geremia lifted his shirt and thumped his beergut with the mic to the beat of the tune. By the time of their finale, the eponymous “(Empty) Tankard,” we all wished for more…much more.
“Merciless Death” from Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends (1986, Combat)
What’s most amazing about these old-school L.A. thrashers is that drummer Gene Hoglan—who’s played in practically every band from Death to Dethklok—nailed every stroke and never broke a sweat. Since 1986’s Darkness Descends gets name-checked by lots of bands, the band stuck to that album (“Darkness Descends,” “Merciless Death,” “Perish in Flames,” “The Burning of Sodom”) with a few chestnuts (“We Have Arrived,” “Time Does Not Heal,” “Welcome to the Slaughter House”) in the mix. Word is that a new album is on the horizon, too!
“Neolithic” from Nocturnus’ The Key (1991, Earache)
Yeah, Nocturnus haven’t released anything since Ethereal Tomb, which resulted from a brief reunion in 2000. Original drummer/vocalist Mike Browning got this line-up together, but legally he’s not allowed to use the Nocturnus name, hence Nocturnus AD. Even though they were one of the first DM bands to incorporate keyboards, the tuneage sounded muddled as they chugged through The Key in its entirety. Browning was the original drummer for Morbid Angel, however, and after flubbing the first take, they successfully covered “Chapel of Ghouls” as their set closer. But does that mean they have to pay royalties twice?
“The Longships Are Coming” from Unleashed’s Sworn Allegiance (2004, Century Media)
The longship definitively arrived at MDF with the Viking visage of Johnny Hedlund at the helm. Unleashed gave us one of the fest’s strongest sets, though we’d’ve preferred to hear their older death metal; they played nothing from their 1991 debut, and only “Never Ending Hate” from 1992’s Shadows in the Deep. Still, “To Asgaard We Fly,” “Death Metal Victory,” and “Wir Kapitulieren Niemals” slayed as usual…but three cuts from Midvinterblot? Seriously.
“Sewn Mouth Secrets” from Soilent Green’s Sewn Mouth Secrets (1998, Relapse)
Soilent Green live? Aren’t they too busy between guitarist Brian Patton’s Eyehategod and frontman Ben Falgoust’s Goatwhore tour schedules? Guitar strings shredded and snare snaps buzzed as Falgoust worked the crowd in fine form with their frenetic swamp-grind lockstep. The manic hordes were treated to “Build Fear,” It Was Just an Accident,” “Antioxidant,” plus “Numb Around the Heart” from that forgotten 2006 Sulaco split. Eyes rolled back in sockets of kvlt fans as the band played the first few notes of “Slapf**k” from their debut…tiiiiiight!
“This Place Is Poison” from Graves at Sea’s This Place Is Poison (2014, Eolian Empire)
Frankly, seeing Graves at Sea on a mainstage kinda blew minds on Sunday. This Portland, Oregon-based band has only released splits and EPs—yep, zero full-length releases in over 10 years. Yet they completely perforated eardrums with their numbing Yob-like sludge/doom. They rumbled through both cuts (“Confession” and “Betting on Black”) from their split with Sourvein, “This Place Is Poison,” and “Praise the Witch” from their Documents of Grief EP. We would’ve loved to hear their recent Black Sabbath cover of “Lord of This World,” but we can/will wait until next time.
“Le Toit Du Monde” from Gorguts’ Colored Sands (2013, Season of Mist)
Seeing Gorguts live nowadays is amazing, but seeing Gorguts boasting Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston from Dysrhythmia is even more so. Luc Lemay and co. are still playing difficult tech-metal but doing it very well. The setlist stuck to selections from the remarkable Colored Sands album, though the band also threw in death classics “Orphans of Sickness,” “Inverted,” and a rousing finale of “Obscura.” Their #1 fan was the guy in the smartly homemade Colored Sands T-shirt, though.
“Solitude” from Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986, Black Dragon)
Obviously we haven’t kept up with doom originators Candlemass in quite some time, since Mats Levén was hired as the new singer after Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe was kicked out of the band in June 2012 due to poor live performances. Regardless, these Swedes had a tremendous stage presence and an eye-popping light show, and they stayed close to Messiah Marcolin-era material with “Mirror Mirror,” “Bewitched,” and “The Bells of Acheron.” With the exception of 2007’s “Emperor of the Void,” the rest were all late-‘80s selections, and man, does Levén have the pipes!
“She Is the Dark” from My Dying Bride’s The Light at the End of the World (1999, Peaceville)
During a head-scratching set from Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, a bold fan yelled, “Where’s the ‘death’ in Deathfest?!?” Our sentiments exactly! But My Dying Bride were due to change that. After 17 years, our favorite UK doom ‘n’ gloomsters finally played on American soil again, and the anticipation was electric. Frontman Aaron Stainthorpe walked onstage, wearing a shirt and tie and fake blood dripping down his arms. Ripping through a setlist of crowd favorites—“Like Gods of the Sun,” “Turn Loose the Swans,” “The Dreadful Hours,” “The Cry of Mankind”—the band efficiently floored the sparse audience that stayed around to see the final act. Shudder to think that MDB are the only crusaders of the Peaceville Three who’ve never strayed from the path!
Here are our Top 10 crossed-finger predictions for MDF 2015:
- Massacre – with a strong new album Back From Beyond, they should’ve played this year!
- Loudblast – see #1.
- Spazztic Blurr or Lawnmower Deth – for comic relief. Think about it; it would be brilliant.
- Bolt Thrower – where they actually play a main stage this time.
- Solitude Aeturnus – why not, since Robert Lowe’s out of Candlemass?
- Pitchshifter – playing only classics, with nothing older than, say, 1993’s Desensitized.
- Mindrot – special one-off set to perform 1995’s Dawning in its entirety.
- Botch – special one-off set to perform 1999’s We Are the Romans in its entirety.
- Dystopia – not a stretch, since vocalist Dino Sommese is currently singing for Noothgrush.
- Acid Bath –will probably never, ever happen, but we can still hope.