Maryland Deathfest featuring Neurosis, Ghost, Kylesa, Skinless Sonar, Baltimore MD May 26-29

Maryland Deathfest featuring Neurosis, Ghost, Kylesa, Skinless Sonar, Baltimore MD May 26-29
In its ninth year, Maryland Deathfest has become an annual pilgrimage for metal fans across the United States, Canada and more distant locales. With upwards of 60 bands performing more than 40 hours of extreme metal over four days, the well-organized festival is more than any one person can take in without the aid of time travel, astral projection or superhuman feats of endurance. Pacing yourself and being selective is key, but the wide genre representation makes this easier unless you're a (rare) devotee of every kind of metal on offer.

Opening night, though running for more than eight hours, felt more like a long concert than a full-on fest on Thursday, with one stage operating indoors until the early hours of the morning. The lineup, ranging from Noisear to Flesh Parade to Miasmal, was capped off by three bulldozer performances by Buzzo*ven (messily intense), Tragedy (melodic, hard-hitting and tight) and Cathedral. The farewell North American set by Cathedral was an awkward goodbye, featuring an idiosyncratic selection of tracks and barely comprehensible banter (frontman Lee Dorrian's accent didn't cut through the sound system), but they owned the stage for well over an hour, closing with a two-song celebratory encore.

Day two got off to a similar late-afternoon start but added two outdoor stages and vendor tents to the indoor attractions. Sweden's Marduk headlined the day's lineup, following a neck-whipping, drum-dominated set by Exhumed and the hypnotically heavy Kylesa (complete with a psychedelic ceiling projection). But Friday belonged to "outside stage 1" with the self-deprecatingly crusty black metal of Aura Noir, vintage Corrosion of Conformity and, best of all, a rare performance by the doomily atmospheric Neurosis -- nearly prevented by the onset of a short but dramatic thunderstorm.

Day three began much earlier with bands like Mammoth Grinder (strong punky death metal) and Cretin playing indoors. The outdoor stages started up a few hours later topped off by vintage Exhorder, the dry hate-everything humour and black metal grind of Impaled Nazarene and a solid hour of Canadians Voivod, who finished their razor sharp set with their cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" and a dedication to fallen guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour. Indoors, Friday's lineup concluded with the trippy organs of Acid Witch, the ominous death doom of Hooded Menace (who, except for the drummer, actually performed in hoodies), and Inquisition's gravely two-man black metal attack.

By Sunday, many festgoers seemed to have found their stride -- an absolute necessity since the day was packed with not-to-be missed sets, like an original Skinless delivering a rowdy goodbye performance, the stoner groove of Orange Goblin, and the classic thrash of Nuclear Assault. The last performance of the night, and the fest, was the masked Ghost -- arcane melodies and mysterious stage persona in nostalgic Voivod-meets-Mercyful Fate kind of mix.

An aberrant security confrontation that got out of hand might have tainted the festive spirit for those who stayed past the final moments, but until then, the atmosphere was mostly good-natured and fairly laid-back (and maybe subdued somewhat by the heat). The odd technical or performance glitch, and the sheer diversity of bands, meant that not every set was a gem, but as a site for metal fans to gather, eat, drink, shop and enjoy several days of loud live music, it was a manifest, if exhausting, success.