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Monday June 26th 2017

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Maryland Deathfest synopsis: Day Three

Sinister: it was worth frying under the sun to watch them.

And now for the final chapter: Day Three. This is unfortunately the point where your neighborhood reporter went flat-out derelict with the coverage, which is why there are several important acts lacking in review here. However, all the really big-name bands of the evening were caught, tagged, and documented– read on for the gory details.

Sinister: Those festival-goers who overslept to nurse their raging hangovers ought to punch their own bloated faces in for missing this devastating–and unmercifully rare–appearance by Sinister. Often touted as The Netherlands’ answer to American devil-worshippers Possessed or Deicide, Sinister’s first three albums are hailed by old-schoolers as a kind of Unholy Trinity, but many are cold on the number of faceless releases following. Consider also the baffling spate of personnel-changes and even instrument-switchovers, and it’s understood that no less than a supercomputer crunching an advanced algorithm would probably predict that this show would be a disappointment, maybe even to the 99th percentile. But nothing could be further from the truth! Granted, Aad Kloosterwaard is the sole original member–and just recently he’s made the bizarre leap from drummer to front-and-center vocalist– but this latest incarnation of Sinister delivered with a startling number of classic cuts, which were performed faithfully, to boot. “Cross The Styx”, “Sadistic Intent”, “Awaiting The Absu”: all these and more made the list.

Of course the band also felt the need to pull out some of their new material, which, albeit chuggingly-generic much like modern Scandinavian death, isn’t half-bad. In between every song, though, Kloosterwaard was constantly interrupted with nagging, desperate, psychotic pleas for “To Mega Therion”– a universal favorite off Hate. He merely grinned with tacit anticipation as he dutifully led through the play-order of the chosen set. Finally, when it was time to get on with the last song, Sinister indeed brought forth that promised anthem to The Dark One, and the pit just exploded into a tangle of ecstatic violence– fists flying out to choruses of “666!” Could it be that the best band of Day Three had already revealed itself so early on? This reporter is inclined to say yes.

Necrophobic

Necrophobic: As the band themselves were so chipper to point out once they got up on the stage, this was Necrophobic’s first time playing America. Seeing how they represent one of the earliest and best examples of blackened death metal with their 1993 debut The Nocturnal Silence, it should have been an overjoyous occasion marked by much sacrilegious and alcoholic merriment, right? Well, it would be, if it came at least 14 years earlier when guitarist and primary riff-conceptualizer David “Blackmoon” Parland was still in the band. To be fair, Necrophobic released one more good album without Blackmoon, 1997′s Darkside (which sounds like it has his fingerprints all over it, anyway), but that’s where their legacy ends as far as discerning fans are concerned.

Johan Bergebäck of Necrophobic

Necrophobic started off on a strong note with “The Awakening…”; the lunar mystique of this song played in the context of searing daylight made for some pretty weird cognitive dissonance, but it was undoubtedly amongst the songs that everyone wanted to hear. Unfortunately, the band followed it up with tons of new stuff– unlike Sinister who had destroyed the place just moments earlier, Necrophobic were not aware that the Maryland Deathfest is chiefly a gathering of old-schoolers who are immune to the simple-minded gallop of albums like Hrimthursum or whatever. In the middle of the set, they did pull out a selection from Darkside, but it was “Nailing The Holy One” which, with its faux-”Angel of Death” riffery and laughable chorus, is the dumbest track off an otherwise fine album. As a finale, Necrophobic chose “The Nocturnal Silence” off the aforementioned debut masterpiece, which carried them off in high spirits once again. So then…were we Americans just treated to our very first sighting of these Swedish legends, only to have them feast us a shod-sandwich?

Eyehategod: Missed out on these guys, which might have been for the worse: this band is probably one of the best and most honest purveyors of what is largely a dubious subgenre, sludge metal. But at the time, listening to heroin-sickened dirges of extreme cathartic Black Flag-ishness just didn’t seem like an attractive option, especially under the hellish afternoon sun. Pass.

Pestilence

Pestilence: Pestilence were notoriously barred from appearing at last year’s Deathfest because of Visa problems, so when frontman Patrick Mameli finally got up and addressed his throng of fans he was all smiles and apologies. To be quite frank here, their 2009 “comeback” album, Resurrection Macabre, is an egregious abortion, and presently there’s no escaping of at least a couple of these clunkers in Pestilence’s live set. But perhaps in an effort to compensate for their failure to make the stage last year, Mameli and crew brought out a generous fistful of classics– and, for Pestilence, “classic” invariably refers to the Martin Van Drunen-fronted material. Consuming Impulse was well-represented with “Process of Suffocation”, “Out of the Body”, and “Dehydrated” (the lattermost song undergoing an unwelcome amendment with “Dehydrated II” getting patched on at the end– it’s never a good idea to write a subpar sequel to a work of genius), and even “Chemo Therapy” off Malleus Maleficarum made the list. Van Drunen, wherever he was hiding at the time, must have been bristling with disgust, but speaking on a purely objective level Mameli handled his guitar and vocal duties very competently. He actually seemed reluctant to touch upon the material he wrote in the ’90s after acrimoniously discharging Van Drunen from the band, as only “Land of Tears” off Testimony of the Ancients was revisited for this show. This certainly must have come to the relief of the old-school and decidedly more red-blooded Pestilence fans, but this reporter was holding out for the underrated space metal of Spheres (perhaps it was for the best that this album was completely ignored). Overall, an unexpectedly praiseworthy performance if only for the faithful revivals of the old Van Drunen songs.

Pentagram: Even though this reporter harbors some familiarity and intrigue with a couple of Pentagram’s seminal works, this set was also passed up. But it must be said that a four-decades old vintage heavy metal band like Pentagram, whose repertoire bears many vestiges of early 20th Century rhythm-and-blues, comes off a little out of place on a mostly death metal lineup. You know what would have been awesome? The Chilean Pentagram! Well, there’s always hope for next year…

Nirvana 2002′s Orvar Säfström

Nirvana 2002: Florida death metal favorites Malevolent Creation were the ones originally slated for this spot, but they had to cancel due to guitarist Phil Fasciana undergoing treatment for his addiction to lysergic and chocolatey liquids. It’s impressive and still mildly shocking that the ancient, relatively obscure, demo-level Swedish death metal band Nirvana 2002 stepped up to fill the vacancy. Riding high on the “spike in popularity” that the internet has brought them, N2002 were briefly resurrecting themselves to do their old demos some well-deserved justice. But as aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy damningly preached, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”: when frontman Orvar Säfström got up on the stage, he had no guitar in his hands, because the one he was supposed to have brought over was confiscated by U.S. Customs. Finally, Scott Carlson of Repulsion came to the rescue with a properly downtuned Gibson that was borrowed for the moment from the band Black Breath, and N2002 were now ready to play. But then when Säfström made a few tentative djents on the strings, he realized that his amp had decided to be very uncompliant at the worst possible time. All he could do was shrug and get on with the show, and luckily he had Erik Wallin (of Merciless fame) to help out on second guitar.

Erik Wallin!

N2002 seemed to take it for granted that a good number of Deathfest attendees still had no idea who they were, because they interspersed their original songs with some high-profile covers. The first one was Kreator’s “Pleasure to Kill”, which of course went over well with the crowd. The second one was Entombed’s “Crawl”, which they interpreted with such pride and flair that they unwittingly dealt their own heroes–who were about to go on next–a pretty fatal blow. They had to leave the stage early due to all the technical difficulties they suffered beforehand, but before making his exit, Säfström held up what he claimed was the very last Nirvana 2002 shirt, and then threw the black wad of cloth into the crowd– people jumped at it like it was a godforsaken Apple of the Hesperides, and it resulted in a pathetic but really entertaining scuffle between a group of big guys who were literally rolling along the floor in a tugging frenzy. One of them finally broke free with the prize, and made a run for it while the others cursed and dusted themselves off. The shirt was reportedly a size Small (Säfström, you crafty bastard!).

Entombed: To herald the imminent arrival of these once-godly Swedish death metallers, the PA began playing some quaint old country bluegrass tune that happened to feature some absurdly satanic lyrics– ironically, it’s not too far removed from the witless death ‘n’ roll that Entombed fell into following the release of the tragically-titled and even more tragically-sounding Wolverine Blues; they’ve never regained their footing since then, though they have tried. Still, anyone in the audience who had a clue as to what real death metal sounds like was banking on the hope that Entombed would focus on their first two albums, at least for the night!

L.G. Petrov begs you for a cigarette

…But it’s not like it mattered whatever they played, because Entombed were totally plastered. The first thing that vocalist L.G. Petrov said when he approached the fore was, “OK, I’m really drunk. How about you guys?” Thankfully, most people shouted approvingly, because god help Entombed if their audience is sober: they might come under fire with unlaced combat boots and half-eaten burgers for their stumbling performance. They opened with a track off Morning Star and chased it down with more of the same, and though a surprising number of old songs were brought out (“Revel in Flesh”, “But Life Goes On”, “Crawl” [N2002 had effectively beaten them to the punch on this one], “Strangers Aeons” and so on), these were not played up to par. Added to this was Petrov’s homeless-man histrionics: he danced around while pouring beer on himself, and at one point even bummed a cigarette from an audience-member up front, which he had a security guard light for him. They finished off with–you guessed it!–”Left Hand Path”, which they mangled to bits; how Entombed even think they can function with only one guitarist runs so contrary to common sense that it’s not worth vexing over.

Obitu-hairy

Obituary: The most immediately noticeable aspect about this performance was just how good it sounded– the mix for the night was impeccably clear, with all instruments fitting neatly into their optimal frequencies. For a band like Obituary who made a name for themselves through the thickest and slimiest tone possible, this is no small accomplishment, because a lot can go wrong when everyone’s trying to dial in as much bassiness as they can. Aesthetic pleasantries aside, the actual performance herein was just very weird, and not in a charming way: vocalist John Tardy, though his voice sounded as powerfully wraith-like as ever, displayed a somewhat lackadaisical stage presence and sometimes even hid behind the drummer’s kit; he accordingly had very little to say to the audience besides some terse thank-you’s and so on. A sizable chunk of the setlist was devoted to the later-period works which are so insipidly groovy that they are painful to listen to, but it was almost worth enduring it all to hear some venerable, absolutely sternum-crushing Cause of Death tunes like “Chopped in Half” and “Dying”. While John bumbled in and out of the aforementioned daze, guitarist Ralph Santolla filled in the breaks with some technically-impressive leads that ended up being sort of tacky. Then towards the end of the set, there was a moment of sheer bafflement as all the band members got up and exited the stage, as they had planned an unnecessary and tastelessly-done “encore” that was part of their allotted timeslot anyway. But when they returned, they came out with “Slowly We Rot”, so they are partially forgiven for all their brow-arching antics. Now if only they had taken more advantage of their superior acoustics!

Some final thoughts: Congratulations, Ryan and Evan– you’ve done it again with another amazing lineup! As for the headlining bands themselves…well, to re-quote that irritable fan from the Gorguts show on Day One,

Play more of the old s***!!!

That is all.


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