Maryland Deathfest XI Part 2 Baltimore MD, May 23 to 26

Maryland Deathfest XI Part 2Baltimore MD, May 23 to 26
Melvins
Photo: Laina Dawes
This is part 2 of our coverage of Maryland Deathfest XI; you can read part 1 here.

Saturday at Deathfest started off bright and early, with Asthma Castle playing the Sonar's tent stage and Disciples of Christ taking on the Soundstage at 12:30 in the afternoon, but even the earliest sets played to healthy crowds. The crushing yet cerebral doom of Loss was an early highlight, the weight of their set at odds with the cool and sunny weather. North Carolina's sludge metal stoners Weedeater put on a hilarious set, with "Dixie" Dave Collins drinking more than a bottle of Jack during their set and entertaining the crowd between sets with his lazily hilarious drawl, all while Pepper Keenan of Down played the role of roadie throughout their set and even performed some impromptu backup vocals. The recently reunited Obsessed, fronted by the incomparable Scott "Wino" Weinrich kept the excellent doom flowing on stage 1, while hot on their heels Aosoth performed a searing black metal set inside.

The evening lineup was dominated by a series of heavy metal heavyweights, starting with iconoclasts the Melvins. Performing with two drummers, their set was driven and immensely fun, with songs like "Honey Bucket" and "Night Goat" stirring the gleeful crowd (though King Buzzo was characteristically reserved). The day's highlight was easily Norwegian composer and multi-instrumentality Ihsahn (ex-Emperor), performing at the Sonar's second stage, a solo artist currently backed by members of Leprous. His intricate, densely layered yet emotionally authentic pieces went over incredibly well live, and the set's tightly coiled and controlled energy was a marked departure from the party vibe of the rest of the festival. Southern supergroup Down also played a wild and whiskey-soaked set, commanded by Phil Anselmo's unmistakeable bark. After midnight at the soundstage, pioneering hardcore band Infest, recently reformed after breaking up back in 1991, played a set as hungry and fresh as if they had never been gone.

Sunday began with logistical problems: a farmer's market in the parking lot delayed access to the grounds, and confused security led to thousands of fans waiting well over an hour to get in, missing several of the opening bands in the process. Many metalheads were particularly disappointed that Denver's Speedwolf did not have the support they deserved, while over at the Soundstage, Baltimore's own Ilsa received a warmer welcome thanks to easy venue access. By the time France's Glorior Belli took the second stage at 3:30 p.m., playing their trademark intelligent sludge with smirking charm, most of the access issues had been worked out. Blackened speed metal band Midnight kept the blood and brimstone pumping, while Pagan Altar united NWOBHM energy with old-school British doom metal. Phoenix, AZ thrash and speed metal demons Sacred Reich impressed many with their energy and incredibly tight, blistering performance, while classic heavy metal legends Manilla Road put on a study in catchy, captivating songwriting. Their set was entirely engrossing, their music full of passion and their songs brilliantly composed.

Stoner metal giants Sleep took over stage one in the early afternoon, playing a sprawling, jammy set that was shot through with moments of brilliance separated by long stretched of drawling exploration. It was suddenly announced during their set that Speedwolf would have the opportunity to play a second set in the tent, turning the indoor stage into a speed metal maelstrom in sharp contrast to the vast, droning riffs out there and causing Speedwolf singer Reed to remark that the duelling performances were an example of "weed vs. speed." The latest incarnation of Pentagram performed next on the second stage, led by a frail and occasionally garbled Bobby Liebling. The set was lackluster and awkward, but with Leibling's health constantly questionable, any opportunity to see Pentagram perform is not to be missed. In contrast, inexpressibly influential metal gods Venom proved that have aged incredibly well with their powerful, devilishly precise set — in fact, it was easy to believe that Conrad "Cronos" Lent is not entirely human. Their set began (after a short delay and technical difficulties) with landmark track "Black Metal" and kept the momentum going right up until, mid-song, the legends unceremoniously had the sound pulled on them at 11 p.m. sharp. The ravenous crowd came dangerously close to rioting, believing Venom had been disrespected by having their set cut short, especially since Carpathian Forest had been forced to cancel their later appearance and so no one's set was being delayed. Those who left the Sonar unsatisfied, however, were able to walk down to the Soundstage to see late-night sets by grindcore/ powerviolence maniacs Citizens Arrest and a powerful, intimate set by metalcore wonders Converge. In all, the eleventh incarnation of Maryland Deathfest was a wild success, though as the festival expands, it is clear that it is also going through logistical growing pains.