Published Jun 03, 2010The sweltering heat of downtown Baltimore set an appropriately suffocating atmosphere for what has become North America's premier metal festival, Maryland Deathfest, a three-day onslaught of all things heavy that this year boasted the most diverse line-up yet.
Day one at the Sonar grounds began unassumingly, with the first clear highlight being U.S. death metal act Malignancy's assault of pinch harmonics and hilariously drunken onstage banter. Following a surprisingly subdued performance from Watain, the recently reunited Montreal tech-death outfit Gorguts set a high standard for the rest of the weekend to follow. Featuring new members from Behold... The Arctopus and Origin, the revamped line-up proved to be fully up to the task of translating their notoriously complex arrangements and song structures to the stage.
The second day wound up being arguably the strongest, with current Brutal Truth member Erik Burke's Sulaco project throttling the audience awake in the morning with their unique brand of techy grindcore. Mexican black/death unit the Chasm, in a rare appearance, were slightly compromised by mediocre sound on the outside stage (a reoccurring theme for the weekend), but no lackey soundman or bloodcurdling heat could hold back Blood Duster's positively devastating show, which inspired a crowd reaction involving glowsticks and inflatable penises that had to be seen to be believed.
Repulsion's long-awaited return to the stage consisted of just about every track the group has ever penned, delivered with the intensity of a rampaging hippo. And no attendee was left unmolested by the one-two punch of Autopsy and Portal - the former making their anticipated return to the stage to bury Abscess once and for all, the latter closing the day out with a draining hour's worth of warped, Lovecraftian death metal.
Sunday did its best to match the prior two day's intensity, and certainly was no slouch, with ex-Discordance Axis front-man Kevin Chang's Gridlink playing their entire new record in its entirety, and Eyehategod turning in a rare appearance that came across more cohesive and focused than many of their studio recordings. Entombed's lack of a second guitar and haphazardly chosen set list was slightly disappointing, but they were more than made up for with Converge giving it their all for the first time since the Jane Doe tour, shredding their way through a fair bit of new material and some older standards with a rigor and enthusiasm not seen since their early days. Closing out the evening was a rare set from melodic crust mainstays and supposedly defunct From Ashes Rise, keeping things refreshing and energetic until the weekend's bitter end.
Despite a truncated set from Possessed and the cancellation of Circle of Dead Children, Maryland Deathfest remains not only the best organized metal fest on the continent, but also one of the only ones that isn't merely a place where every band on tour at the time meets up and plays - every single act that performed was there because the organizers wanted them to be. The quality control was unparalleled, and the atmosphere - barring some sketchy security guards and the aforementioned outdoor temperatures - as inviting and pleasant as three days of death metal could and should ever be. The intensity of both the artists and the unrelenting sun left a barrage of blistering scabs on every last fan in attendance.