Let it be known: I attended Maryland Deathfest 2014 as a fan, not a music “journalist,” so this isn’t some comprehensive recap, but more of a snapshot of one guy’s experiences. After all, when so many amazing bands are playing, who wants responsibilities? Not me, I don’t mind tellin’ ya.
MDF was a test in endurance, and not just mentally and physically, but musically. Because bands played simultaneously at different venues, and back-to-back at the main outdoor spot, there is a constant need to reset one’s capacity to take it all in. A deeply cathartic moment may have ended one set, but quick, no time to reflect, because that other band you love just hit Stage B.
Poisons were picked, prioritizing those bands of which I had long been a fan, and skipping certain industry buzz bands (missed Bölzer twice) or stuff that wasn’t quite my style (sorry, Uncle Acid) in the interest of catching someone else, grabbing a bite, or merely saving energy. The result was one of the craziest and most unforgettable weekends of my life, and the following list details my top musical moments of MDF 2014.
So here we go…
10: THE RUINS OF BEVERAST – I RAISED THIS STONE AS A GHASTLY MEMORIAL
The Ruins of Beverast was likely a fans-only experience at MDF, but for four songs and about 45 minutes, their doomy blackness was an unsettling, hugely heavy, and otherworldly experience. Closing with the opening track of 2009’s massive Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite was not only appropriate and thrilling, but draining, right as the outdoor fest was starting to ramp up.
9: IMMOLATION – OF MARTYRS AND MEN
Simply put, any death metal fan who has not seen Immolation live is doing it wrong. There is simply no one like them, period. Part of that is Bob Vigna’s stage presence, with his twitches, robotic gyrations, and frantic up-picking. Watching him do this while the band seemed to speed up one of the craziest tunes of their career? Mind boggling.
8: INQUISITION- ASTRAL PATH TO SUPREME MAJESTIES
Their whole set slayed, so I chose the song that let me be Neddiest:
7: SARKE – TOO OLD TOO COLD
Live Darkthrone performed by half of Darkthrone. More, please. Even Sarke’s monstrous cover of “Dethroned Emperor” couldn’t match this surreal moment. And how does Darkthrone-of-the-last-decade translate live? Exactly how everyone predicted it would: in conquering fashion. Ted, get a touring band, and take this on the road.
6: TAAKE – NATTESTID SER PORTEN VID I
Black metal ruled MDF, and lordly among the ice peddlers was Norway’s Taake. With the band standing at the ready, the opening riff of the opening track of their first iconic album cut through the crowd. The band’s mix of majesty, violence, and malevolence chilled a sunny, late spring Baltimore day in wonderful fashion.
5: MGLA – WITH HEARTS TOWARDS NONE VII
The closing song on Mgla’s second full length is the type of climactic, intense, ultimatum-delivering track that could go nowhere but at the end of a set, which was exactly where Darkside, M., and their group of behooded blacksters placed it. At about 4:30 PM, on Friday, this delivered the first real sensation that MDF was going to be a particularly special event, with the band running past their allotted time because all 10 minutes of this epic are crucial.
4: AT THE GATES – SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL
At the Gates’ entire set was insane fun, but the title track of their landmark 1995 album wins because of a longstanding boyish desire to take part in that one perfect moment. Judging from how a good third of the crowd jumped the gun and screamed half a beat early, I wasn’t the only enthusiastic one. This was also the song that began the shredding of my vocal chords. I am not Tomas Lindberg. On that night, I thought I was Tomas Lindberg.
3: MY DYING BRIDE – THE CRY OF MANKIND
I watched My Dying Bride’s set more out of convenience than obsession, as I did not expect to be blown away. But blown away I was, particularly with “The Cry of Mankind.” Few things in heavy music are as beautiful as the song’s immediate build, from the first notes of the tapped motif that permeates nearly the entire song, to the addition of rhythm guitars and the moment when Stainthorpe’s voice cuts through the impeccable layers. Delivered beyond all expectations.
2: GORGUTS – NOSTALGIA
As far as complete sets go, Gorguts absolutely owned this festival. I did not want it to end. Going into MDF, Obscura’s epic, odd, and unsettling “Nostalgia” was the Gorguts song that I just had to hear, and it delivered in absolutely mind-bending fashion. More than just hearing the song was watching, as Luc Lemay’s acrobatics were on full display, finally confirming (as if it needed confirming) exactly the level of the man’s brilliance.
1: CANDLEMASS – UNDER THE OAK
After years of debating the supremacy of both the original Johan Längquist and Tales of Creation Messiah Marcolin versions, I finally heard “Under the Oak” live… with Mats Levén at the mic. And he just nailed it. But for me, the song’s linchpin is not its vocals, but the dual guitar harmony that plays after the chorus. With many beers in my system, after all those years of waiting to hear this one, perfect Candlemass song live, I just melted. As that simple melody drifted through my system, it was just me and those doomy old men from Sweden, having ourselves a time.