Published May 23, 2014Over the course of its 12-year history, Maryland Deathfest has steadily built a reputation for being one of the best (if not the best) heavy metal festivals in North America. As the festival's popularity has steadily grown, MDF has begun to experience expected growing pains; last year, it was clear from extremely long security lines and other organizational disarray that it had outgrown its previous embattled venue, and draconian enforcement of noise bylaws that saw Venom's sound cut off mid-set, mid-song, proved that more indoor space was required. In order to accommodate more people and longer/later set times, MDF XII sees the festival split across new locations.
Before the festival even began, however, a new set of difficulties began to emerge: band cancellations. On May 19, Tryptikon announced they were pulling out. Then, after the festival had officially started, both Aeternus and Mitochondrion were unable to cross the border into the United States. Finally, while MDF has yet to formally announce the withdrawal, Italian grind and hardcore band the Secret stated on their Facebook page that they would not be coming.
Despite the hardships, the performances at the first night of the festival were unquestionably excellent. Taking place exclusively at the Ram's Head Live (a multi-level venue with great sightlines and excellent sound), a sludge-laden and heavily distorted line-up started the weekend off on a profoundly heavy note. A389 sludgesters Seven Sisters of Sleep developed a great tone but performed with a tense, nervy energy; Melbourne-based grimy doom and drone band Whitehorse made ample use of weird noise samples and also came across slightly awkward. North Carolina's Sourvein dug the pit of sound even deeper, conjuring a gut-rattling bass tone and exuding a filthy, oily confidence.
Their set also brought out the crowd surfers, including a fan wearing a rubber horse head (other costumes included a duck, a bed sheet superhero, and the infamous Chicken Man). Florida's Torche fought through lingering feedback problems to deliver a blistering set in a completely different flavour of sludge, full of sweet, hot sunshine and bubblegum stickiness.
Japanese necromancers Coffins developed an evil, spine-gripping tone that was shockingly visceral. The sound they produced was at once ghostly, the stuff of evil spirits, and repulsively physical, the sonic equivalent of ectoplasm — abject and not of this world. Their set conjured a sense of immense, stomping menace, like the ghost of Godzilla was ripping apart the venue.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, legendary New Orleans sludge gods Crowbar took the stage. Their story: When some new, ultra-heavy element is discovered, a heavy-metal scientist must campaign to have it named Crobarium. Absolutely no other group was able to conjure the sheer sense of musical weight that Kirk Windstein and company are able to generate, apparently effortlessly. At once deeply comfortably on stage, Windstein was able to perform anguish like no other, bellowing out his agony in in torn roars that sound like his heart was in the jaws of a demon. By the end of their set, the first night of MDF had been crushed into oblivion.