Described as the American Death Metal Mecca I was of course curious to check out what Maryland Deathfest was all about – even if I only could go to the first and last days of the festival. Still – MDF provided an experience that is never to be forgotten and speaks to the enduring power that heavy metal will have – that people will travel from different countries and sleep in their cars just so that they can afford to see these bands. What more could you want from the transcendent annihilation that Maryland Deathfest provides?
I ended up getting to the festival later than expected – which is fine – that’s just the way life goes. I would still see the four acts who I had hoped would define the night. Arriving to the legendary Rams Head venue is a treat in and of itself. Sure – Baltimore is a shitty spot and you see a lot of rats but getting to witness so many metalheads in one place – all gathered around in the name of doom, well, there’s few things that get better than that. Everyone who was anyone seemed to be there – and yet surprisingly enough MDF fosters a kind of anonymous democracy. Dudes who put out all of your favorite records are able to just blend in and dig the music just as much as anyone else.
Within minutes I had bumped into my old friend, Jon from Conan and we navigated the venue searching for a better spot to view the live rituals Jex Thoth are known to unleash. I had known about these guys for a while but never had had a chance to see them perform. As the band lit candles and came on stage with a sense of pomp I knew I was in for something special. Their was a sense of majesty and magic to what Jex Thoth bring in a live setting. It’s impossible to deny that this band have crafted something truly special. The way that Jex herself seemed to become one with the flame she held at the end of the set showed the otherworldly power of this band. Jex Thoth are indomitable – they dig to the heart of rock and roll and find the pagan roots of the music God hates. They have invoked something death defying and endlessly fascinating – the type of music that has dark vibes that leave the listener gasping for air.
Up next was Conan – this was my second time seeing them in a week and my fourth time ever. Suffice to say – I was beyond excited. When that first riff hit and Jon fell into his crushing headbanging we got a sense of triumph from the band, as if they have found their way in this strange new land and now have learned how to reign supreme in the fucked up American reality they have found themselves in. One of the most hotly anticipated acts of Maryland Deathfest they were able to quickly establish themselves and with every song set a new bar for heaviness. Conan have found a very specific sound and have mastered it – making it work in both a live and recorded context. Yet it is the sheer power of the vibrations and the aural desecration that makes them so much fun to see live. They give you a sense of something greater and never seem to get old. Heavy as all get out and seemingly born to create a new meaning of the word ‘heavy’ Conan are, if nothing else, a rising band to watch.
Now, I’d listened to Ufomammut before and I knew I was in for a good time – but I had fairly forgotten how good they are. Live they manage to invoke strange images, their video backdrop providing a refreshing glimpse into the overwhelming power that this band can bring live. Crushingly heavy and wonderfully unique Ufomammut seem dedicated to bringing a unique live experience to the table when they perform. Their stage presence and their comprehension of what it means to be truly and awfully heavy is impressive. You find yourself getting lost in the soundworld they have crafted and it’s hard to deny the bands raw dominance. Every moment seems precisely calculated and yet somehow simultaneously strangely organic – as if you are navigating a totally distinct soundworld, one that permits freedom and remains strangely violent. Ufomammut simply seek to guide you home, their music is the map to peace in a world of despair.
Suddenly the hour I had been waiting for had arrived – the almighty Yob took the stage to unleash doom metal destruction and show the path to greatness. Mike Scheidt seems better than ever, his vocals roaring out, even as he narrates the spoken word portions of Yob’s latest masterpiece, Clearing The Path To Ascend. Their set was exciting and dynamic, when Scheidts mic and guitar both failed on him he strode to the front of the stage, raised his fists and roared at the crowd – the absolute picture of a metal god. The punters ate it up. Yob have managed to tap into something grander, something more epic that speaks to the all consuming power that doom metal can have over the listener. It’s become impossible to deny the very visceral glory that Yob has. They free the listener and open their mind to all sorts of sonic triumphs that might otherwise go ignored. One of most exciting and potent bands in heavy music I think we’re going to have a hard time coming up with another band who hold themselves to the same bar of excellence as Yob are known for.
This first night of Maryland Deathfest had opened my eyes to the power this festival has, even if it’s only really mid sized by my snooty European standards. The thing is – music like this needs an outlet and these American fans seem to be among the most serious – even the headliners are pretty underground. Their songs are brutal, desecrations of what it means to live in this world and we need a place where we can be real. Thursday night at the Rams Head showed me the significance of doom in our world. Sure – a lot of these bands had similar vibes to what I witnessed at Psycho CA just last weekend – but that’s kind of the point, that’s what gives us a glimpse into the reality we so desperately need to understand if we want to continue to find out way through this fucked up life.
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