Published May 24, 2014By Friday (May 23), Maryland Deathfest XII was up and functioning as a fully armed and operational battle station. Black metal and post-hardcore experimenters Castevet kicked things off with a weird, grim set in the early afternoon at the Edison lot, belying the cheery sunlight with their haunting and complex sound. That was the theme of the afternoon: strange, bleak and blackened sets that managed to conjure incredible weight and intensity in the bright, outdoor environment. Poland's Mgła performed a pulsing, urgent set full of tight hostility and a clawing ache, their faces covered in tight-fitting black masks. The Ruins of Beverast conjured an incredible grandeur and dignity in their performance that was at once stately and unexpectedly vicious.
Berlin's black and death metal villains Necros Christos played their first ever set in the United States, in a set that overflowed with energy, like magma or bubbling pitch, driven forward by melodies that fused the gravity of liturgical music with Middle Eastern song structures. Iceland's Sólstafir brought the physical intensity down a notch, but compensated with a vibrant, shimmering emotional authenticity that was an aural palate cleanser.
While there were many worries about whether they would make it into the country, Norwegian black metallers Taake performed a blistering set in full corpsepaint and clothing that appeared to be rotting off their bodies, bringing the grim and sepulchral to the hot and sweaty. Their presence and command of the stage were breathtaking. The recently reunited, three-piece version of Cancer took a more straightforward approach to their death-infused thrash, with a wildly energetic and deeply cathartic set.
Venerated lords of blackened folk and doom Agalloch performed a twilight set that was unquestionably the most moving set of the festival so far. Primarily drawing from their most recent material, especially their opus The Serpent and the Sphere, they played with an all-consuming passion that bordered on the sensual. They allowed the energy of their set to gather aching tension and then unravel into moments of exceptional sweetness, marred only by an unfriendly mix that turned their bass up far too high and muddied some of the more delicate guitar passages.
After that, the triumphal march of At The Gates' set had the air of denouement, as their stomping, fist-pumping set was first beset by technical problems and then flat sound. Still, it was a very strong showing for the first day at the primary venue, while other bands raged at the Baltimore Soundstage (it was reported that Impaled's set featured four vocalists) all day and late into the night. Meanwhile Bolzer, Enthroned and Incantation raged late into the night at the Ram's Head.