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Tuesday January 23rd 2018



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Maryland Deathfest synopsis: Day One

Danny Nelson of Malignancy

Your surly neighborhood reporter caught an early Friday morning ride down to seedy Baltimore’s Inner Harbor district, home of the Maryland Deathfest, which was to begin its eighth annual run. The next three days would be a whirlwind of denim, leather, whiplashed necks, spilled and sputtered beer, and of course, ear-splitting live Metal. Below follows a recount of Day One’s most notable acts, and the carnage that ensued…

Malignancy: The foremost flagbearers of New York Death Metal for this festival (since Incantation are technically based out of Pennsylvania now), Malignancy faithfully delivered all the deranged gurgling, ludicrous atonality, and gratuitous pinch-harmonic tomfoolery that fans have come to expect. While this band has only released two full albums during their lengthy career, they have a wealth of material from the sum of their minor recordings, and their setlist for the afternoon was correspondingly varied. Frontman Danny Nelson was entertaining enough on his own, following from his downright ribald sense of humor. Noticing the crossroad signs over the side of the stage, Nelson remarked, “Hey! We’re on North Gay Street!–how cool is that?” Needless to say, that was followed by anal-sodomy jokes aplenty, as well as a call for one audience member to perform his very best fellatio simulation. It was hard not to be charmed by these Yonkerites, perverse as they are (just don’t let them near your children or small pets).

Nazxul: Adrian Henderson (L), Luke Mills (R)

Nazxul: There were several factors involved behind this performance that should have forecast how boring it would be. One: Nazxul had to travel here all the way from Australia, which is nearly a grueling full day’s worth of flight-time. Two: Add insult to jetlag by having to take the stage at around 5 p.m., when the sunlight is still very much in abundance. Three: Their more recent material is somewhat heavy on the synthesizers, and it didn’t seem like the place had the best equipment to deal with the ivory-tickling types, so the keyboardist had to kneel down and monitor his tone via a floorside laptop several times during the songs, which looked ridiculous; his bandmates didn’t help the situation much with their anemic strumming and flailing, and the vocalist did not bother to address the audience at all (which, granted, probably fits in with their whole concept, but is still perturbing). Those readers who are planning to see them on the following U.S. tour should not be dismayed by this review, however: they just need to get used to this timezone, and they’re likely to sound great in a venue that is better prepared for them.

Watain were just a blur. (L) Danielsson, (R) Alvaro Lillo

Watain: …And then it was time to cram into the inside stage for a second serving of black metal, courtesy of Sweden’s Watain (by some odd circumstances, they were moved at the last minute from one of the outside stages to the inside one). Likely serving as a testament to this band’s growing popularity, the room was beyond packed with rabid fans–it seemed like everyone at the fest had suddenly milled in–and they were raging around so violently that it was difficult for anyone of non-Viking stature to get a good look at what in the blue Hell was going on up front. Frontman Erik Danielsson was actually on rhythm guitar, not on bass as he usually is. “I’m carrying my brother’s axe for today”, said Danielsson, in explanation for guitarist Set Teitan’s absence, who couldn’t tour “because of problems with the law”. Admittedly, this reporter is really only familiar with the album Rabid Death’s Curse, and they indeed played a few favorites off this one, but all the songs were performed with diabolic flair even if the newer ones sounded a tad uninspired and bouncy in form. A worthwhile live act, at the very least.

Possessed: Possessed were a no-show! Apparently, the band had missed their plane and couldn’t make it out for their scheduled slot. However, they still played their set on Saturday, which you can read about later.

Gorguts: Colin Marston (L) and Luc Lemay (R)

Gorguts: It goes without saying that Gorguts were one of the most heavily anticipated acts of the bill, second only to the great Autopsy who would appear on Saturday; the Canadian death metal legend Luc Lemay and his three newest bandmates had played at a few spots around Northeastern America prior to this Deathfest, but other than that, not a soul had seen Gorguts since the From Wisdom to Hate tour in 2001. They took to the stage on an unfamiliar note with an instrumental that’s presumably part of their upcoming album, and which left onlookers scratching their heads, unsure of what was going to come out next. But Lemay and crew were aware that they were playing to a crowd of old-school fans, and immediately flew out with some classics such as “Orphans of Sickness”, “Stiff and Cold”, and “Nostalgia”, the latter of which was perhaps robbed of some of its subtleties due to bassist Colin Marston’s preference for plectrums (it’s almost as absurd as using a pick to cover Iron Maiden basslines!). Lemay’s guitar also sounded like it was improperly mixed, which tainted the quality of a signature song like “Obscura”, in which clarity is key. And there were more sound problems where that came from!– Marston’s bass amp started burping up in the middle of the set. Luckily, Blacky of Voivod, who happened to be the sound technician, jumped on stage and fixed the amp, and then jumped off and disappeared into the crowd, Batman-style.

Though it was thrilling to hear the old Gorguts material revived for the live setting, Lemay and the new trio were also eager to show off their latest works, which were mostly instrumental in composition; it should be recalled that Gorguts already has a few famous non- vocally-guided tracks, but they were narratively focused and interesting, whereas the new songs featured that night were, to put it bluntly, really tedious meanderings. One disgruntled attendee, no longer able to withstand the wanking, finally cried out, “Instrumentals suck!”, which was followed by a kindred response, “Play more of the old s***!” What that outburst truly reveals is that the future is not bright for new-Gorguts.

Coffins: Koreeda (L), Uchino (R)

Coffins: It’s still kind of hilarious how the band that came on directly before speed demon thrashers D.R.I. was none other than Japan’s own death-doom plodders, Coffins (would the drastic shift in song tempos cause people motion sickness and vomiting? Sadly, no). But in all seriousness, this was an enjoyable performance, even to this reporter who only harbors some passing familiarity with this band’s older works. The band members seemed genuinely enthusiastic to be on stage in spite of the sluggish nature of their music and the fact that they just flew in all the way from Tokyo, and they were pleased to be able to showcase some of their newest songs (rest assured, they sounded like everything else they ever made). Disaster struck towards the end of their set, though, when frontman Uchino’s guitar went dead silent, leaving the drums and bass to continue on their own for a little while before the problem was fixed. Coffins just took the setback in stride and finished their performance to much applause, but the guitar amp problems would strike again once D.R.I. were to take the stage (actually, you’ll be hearing about plenty more guitar problems for the rest of the entire festival review!).

D.R.I.: Harald Oimoen (L), Kurt Brecht (R)

D.R.I.: Ever since guitarist Spike Cassidy made a full recovery from a bout of cancer, D.R.I. have taken advantage of their collective good health and have literally toured the living bejeezus out of the country in the past year (and they’re still not done yet!). As such, it’s likely that D.R.I.’s Deathfest appearance marked the second or third or fourth time that the audience members had seen the band since 2009, but it’s not as if these grizzled punks had to trot out any new tricks: their first two albums are absolutely eternal fixtures of art that will stay relevant so long as there is disillusioned youth, and the following albums are pretty damned cool, too. No surprises in the setlist (more later-period material than usual, though)– it was just another chance to circle-pit to some timeless anthems.

Unfortunately, the guitar amp shut off in the middle of the action, and it took a good couple of minutes before it was restored to working order. During the downtime, bassist Harald Oimoen engaged the restless crowd in some stream-of-consciousness stage banter that included some odd old stories from bygone gigs, random basslines from classic Metal songs, and of course some words of remembrance for Ronnie James Dio. Then finally, Spike’s guitar roared back to life and the band tore through a couple more songs before calling it a wrap. To this reporter, D.R.I. ended up as one of the highlights of the night, even in the face of some pretty hampering technical difficulties and a subsequently shortened set– that’s just how enduring their appeal is.


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