Phew! After a week of literal non-stop editing, I finally have the time to reflect upon the whirlwind that was Maryland Deathfest XII, the most extreme weekend of the year that ran from Thursday, May 22, through Sunday, May 25.
This years Maryland Deathfest marked many changes including new and additional venues, four in total, and a foot torturing five total stages. Two stages were built in a huge parking lot converted into the main venue called the Edison Lot, one about 6 blocks away at Ram’s Head Live, another at The Baltimore Soundstage only two blocks from there, and yet another at the Sidebar about four blocks from the Edison Lot. If you planned on hitting everything, you were probably not going to be able to do it and the effort would extort a very high price on your little tootsies. In fact, by the second day my feet were already pretty severely swollen so I simply hobbled along the rest of the weekend trying to see as much as possible. All that walking/running from venue to venue and foot drama aside, if you were there you already know that it was worth it.
The new stuff:
First off, Maryland Deathfest graduated from those multiple, inch wide, uncomfortable plastic wristbands you had to wear all weekend to maybe one of the best inventions in concert going since cheap foam earplugs became readily available. New to the fest this year were small color coded cloth wristbands that were so comfortable, you didn’t even realize you had the thing on. Yeah I know, who cares right? Ok fine, but it’s the little things that you learn to appreciate when you have camera straps hanging from your wrists, dripping with sweat, pulling skin from your arm and generally being a big pain in the ass. Maybe you like looking like you had an extended stay in a hospital with all the crap on your wrists but I will pass on that when possible.
Ram’s Head Live was a really nice, air conditioned place with three levels, little side rooms for relaxing, multiple bars and a flat screen television seemingly at every five feet. Oh, and clean bathrooms. Not like the old Sonar at all. Not in the least. It was as if the Boston House of Blues and The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA had a forbidden love child and sent it to Baltimore. The stage lights were not used to their full potential leaving the stage awash in very dark monochromatic colors. I’m sure no one thought it was important to craft some big lighting production so this is just me nit-picking. The place was great!
The Sidebar is a small grungy dungeon style bar with a stage at the far end. It was free to get in if you had MDF tickets and bands played there each day of the fest. I was only able to limp my way there a couple of times to see a some of my New England brethren bands play but this seemed to be where the gauntlet of “crusties” that historically camped out in the parking lot at the former Sonar compound were entrenched for this years fest.
The Edison Lot. My first impression was just how enormous it was. The street in front of the old Sonar Compound in previous years would be crammed full of people jockeying to get from one place to another, looking for a small piece of curb to sit on or just standing in the baking sun. The new set up was fantastic to say the least with room to spare and benches to sit in the shade on. The lot has to be about at least five times bigger that the previous location. Again, it was just fantastic!
You want merch? There was so much to choose from this year. The merch area was comfortably spread out in an area the size of the entire outside of the former Sonar Compound of years past and all at the other end of the lot, keeping it from interfering with anything else. At the end of a wide aisle lined with individual vendor tents on either side was a huge tent with about 30 tables of just about anything you could think of. If you couldn’t find something to spend money on this year then you should just give up. There were shirts, patches, jewelry, books, tapes, CD’s, vinyl, magazines and even an assortment of (cough) glass wares.
If you needed some food or drink to get you through the day, there was a lot to choose from. Thankfully for me I found some grab and go items that I could scoff down as I was hoofing it from stage to stage. The chicken on a stick was handy but those vegan hot dogs were life savers. No, I’m not vegan, I’m not even vegetarian but those things were quite good and the turn around from ordering to having food in hand was so fast that there was barely any waiting around.
Security wasn’t really new, but more of a return to old. Many of the guards I recognized from previous years which meant none of the problems from last year. The security guards were great, end of story.
I can hear you saying, “Yeah, yeah that’s all well and good but what about the most important part Hillarie? Stop rambling on about the all the minutia and talk about the bands!” Well, I’m not going to review every band I saw but I will tell you about the highlights of the weekend.
It’s going to be hard to believe but not one band seemed to have what I would call a “bad” set. Not one. There were a couple of hiccups with sound for a few bands on the first day at the Edison Lot, but really, every band sounded like they were at the top of their game. Were there bands that I wasn’t into? Well, of course but each one still sounded good or great. A few bands seemed out of place either because of the time of day or just because they are better suited to small venues where they are literally in the crowd. Windhand comes to mind here. They sounded absolutely great but the singer seemed out of place on that huge stage separated from the crowd she likes to prowl through during their sets. I keep thinking there must have been some “bad” sets just by the law of averages but I truly can’t think of one, at least not one that I saw.
Unfortunately I couldn’t see every band, nor could I see full sets from the bands I did see which meant there were some key moments I missed. Some of the best ones I heard about were things like Nocturnus AD playing the Morbid Angel song, Chapel of Ghouls (damn it), Tankard bringing female audience members on stage to dance (double damn it), and Jed Simon, from Strapping Young Lad and Zimmers Hole among others, got on stage and played a song with Sacrifice (Ok, seriously? DAMN IT!). I also missed the Kirk Windstein, Crowbar, head kicking, show stopping rant but I did however, witness Ron Rinehart, Dark Angel, grab what I assume were guitar pics and run off stage in the middle of a song and give them to the guy sitting in the wheelchair off to the side of the stage. He then pulled a bracelet off his own wrist and gave that to him as well. That was really a great moment.
Some of the bands that I was never really that huge of a fan of but blew me away with what I saw or heard for one reason or another were Sacrifice, Misery Index, Candlemass, and Tankard. Others were as great as I expected or even better than I hoped. Dark Angel being number one on the list along with bands like Asphyx, Sarke, Solstafir, Bölzer, Soilent Green, Birdflesh, Victims, Unholy Grave, Nocturnus AD, Ratos de Parão, Black Breath, Agalloch (who I must say had the liveliest and best set I have ever seen them have), Enthroned and My Dying Bride. Like I said previously though, nothing was really bad somehow and I am sure I am forgetting a band or two there.
With the hard work and determination of the organizers, bands, techs and security, Maryland Deathfest XII seemed to go off without a hitch. Everything combined to create a superb fest and elevate it to the next level. You could just feel it throughout the entire weekend. Everyone was in good spirits and it was infectious. This was one for the record books and even though I am just barely recovered from the onslaught of sights, sounds and aches, I already can’t wait to find out what’s in store for next year.
Thank you to everyone involved for a truly great MDF. See you next year!
Too see the photos for Maryland Deathfest XII and all the rest of my Concert Photography, follow the links below or use the drop down menu at the top of this page under Galleries.
Maryland Deathfest XII – Day One Photos
Maryland Deathfest XII – Day Two Photos
Maryland Deathfest XII – Day Three Photos
Maryland Deathfest XII – Day Four Photos