Monday, June 6, 2011

Maryland Deathfest 2011: Back in Black and Unleashing the Noise

Woody & Mike of Corrosion of Conformity, all Cat Rose Photos.

By Cat and Andy

We knew we were in the right place when our taxi pulled up to the Mount Vernon Hotel in Baltimore on a recent Friday afternoon: six long-haired guys were lounging and smoking cigs on the front steps, wearing their thoughtfully chosen, black death-metal shirts of the day.

Bring it on. 
Reed & Woody of COC, notice the killer rings of fan in front.

As a bonus, one kind dude broke out from the pack to help us with our bags, saying, "Have a nice day!" Will do, sir.

About an hour later, we were trudging in the 80-plus-degree heat toward club Sonar for the Maryland Deathfest IX: "America's biggest metal party of the year." With directions from our trusty hotel clerk firmly wedged in our heads, we made our way to the promised land along with a smattering of black-shirted metalists following the same route down the East Saratoga Street hill.

After chatting with a pair of locals, who sold us cups of tasty homebrew out of the back of their truck, we headed in to survey the scene.

We spotted buddies Reed and Woodroe from Corrosion of Conformity at their outside merch booth, said hi and beelined it inside the club to cool down before checking out Aura Noir, COC and Neurosis on outdoor stage No. 1 later. (We attended two days, May 27 and 29, of the four-day fest, and saw 16 of the 63 bands offered.)
COC rolls through its set.

* Aura Noir from Norway featured Apollyon (Ole Jørgen Moe) on bass/vocals, Blasphemer (Rune Eriksen) on guitar and a young mystery drummer who kept the double-bass-drum action going full steam.

"We are the ugliest band in the world," Apollyon informed the crowd. When he stuck out his tongue, Gene Simmons-style, that comment was confirmed.

Their Venom-influenced tunes satisfied the crowd, including two headbanging, fist-pumping girls near us ... one Lemmy-looking mustachioed dude calmly smoked his cig while the chicks raged next to him. To our other side, a youngster sporting a Simply Red-singer, curly hairdo seemed bored with the metal... but maybe that's the way he expressed his joy.

During the set, a police helicopter passed by, but the cops didn't pluck anyone from the well-behaved crowd to send to the pokey.
Aura Noir: Apollyon, top, and with Blasphemer, below.

* Next up was COC, and the "Animosity" lineup roared from start to finish with songs from that album, the "Technocracy" title track and a handful of new tunes, including the Trouble-esque "Your Tomorrow." They even tossed in a bit of "Seven Days" and a verse of "Vote with a Bullet" for good measure. Look for a new album soon; the guys promise it will wail.

Carrie worked her way into the crowd to snap some great pictures, while Andy passed a beer to her every so often to reward her for a job well done. Drummer Reed spotted Andy from the stage and told the crowd, "Hey, Andy Nystrom's here," as the crowd looked around blankly. (Andy did take a pic of Woodroe and a fan later backstage during Neurosis' show.)

* Speaking of Neurosis, their set was delayed about 45 minutes after the skies opened with ferocity, soaking the throng and making the promoters wonder if it was safe to continue with the possibility of lightning strikes.

About an hour earlier, COC bassist/vocalist Mike Dean told the crowd with a chuckle, "The sky looks ominous ... that sounds like something you should say at a deathfest."  

As we packed up COC's merch to move to the safety of their van, the storm blew over and Neurosis pummeled through an impressive set. Reed especially dug the band, and Carrie noted that they also sounded killer (maybe it had something to do with the outside setting and being in a vacation mood, since we weren't as into their recent uninspiring gig at Neumo's in Seattle.)

That was the end of the evening for us, but we returned Sunday to check out a worldwide lineup of bands, some actually in the death-metal vein: Nightbringer (Colorado), Bad Acid Trip and The Bastard Noise (California), Dead Congregation (Greece), Repugnant (Sweden), Malignant Tumor (Czech Republic), Citizens Arrest (New York), Orange Goblin (England), Nuclear Assault (New York) and Coroner (Switzerland). (We also saw a few songs from Italy's Cripple Bastards -- a Youth of Today-type band -- on Friday.)
Repugnant's G. Grotesque.

Here's a rundown of Sunday's action:
* Nightbringer performed during the day, but inside, so they were probably OK with that. However, singer Naas Alcameth seemed annoyed every time the side door opened and brought in rays of light. He stared with evil eyes at the doorman, as if he was worried that his corpse paint might run ... and he might melt away like the Wicked Witch of the West in the "Wizard of Oz."

* Bad Acid Trip gets points for having the most unoriginal song of the fest: "Crucified Porn Star." Well, they got the death part right, anyway.

* Dead Congregation was one of the bands we were set to see (Death Breath was another, but unfortunately, they canceled about a month before), and the Athens men are about as good as it gets if you're into Cookie Monster screaming vocals, chugging guitars and heavy-as-fuck drums. Our eardrums are still paying the price.

* Repugnant? Well, the Swedes won't get away with it if they happen to commit a crime like crucifying a porn star or stealing a case of beer or Twinkies. They soundchecked with normal faces and then came back to perform in corpse paint ... we know what you look like, guys. They got the crowd riled up, though, with a wild set.

* Malignant Tumor were all jean jackets and fake wigs and beards. Motorhead supreme, and some good tunes while we waited in the food line.

* The Bastard Noise are as far from death metal as you can get. Male and female vocals, electronics, bass and drums ... harsh experimental music to a T. During one point in the set, bassist Eric Wood (from original band Man is the Bastard) laid down a stunning solo that had both loud, soft and some unidentifiable sounds spiraling about the room. Listeners had their ears pricked up and wished they could pull that shit off too.
Orange Goblin: Martyn Millard and Ben Ward.
More Goblins: Chris Turner on drums and Joe Hoare on guitar.
* Back outside, England's Orange Goblin earned band-of-the-day honors from the There's Something Hard in There staff (of two). Singer Ben Ward looks all tough guy, but is a joyful fellow while playing some killer doom metal alongside guitarist Joe Hoare, bassist Martyn Millard and drummer Chris Turner. The crowd was with them the whole way -- both the folks in the pit and those watching freebie-style on the other side of the gate. Ward hoisted a few beers to the crowd while the Goblin dudes rocked out. Just right.
Ward gets the crowd going.
Coroner's Tommy T. Baron on guitar; City Hall in the foreground.
* We stuck around for Coroner, as well, just a few songs to cap off the night and send us home to sleep tight for our early-morning train to Boston. Dry ice covered the Swiss men as they marched through their metal -- with elements of thrash, prog, jazz and industrial -- to the appreciative crowd. We could still hear them playing as we marched up East Saratoga Street toward the hotel.

* When not at the Maryland Deathfest, we enjoyed the confines of the iconic Mount Vernon Hotel: ordering stellar cheesesteak sandwiches from Never on Sunday, explaining Deathfest to some non-metal, 50-something guests and having our death-rest interrupted by yelling metalheads returning to their rooms at 3:30 a.m. all weekend.

We also chowed down at Dangerously Delicious Pies, visited pal Tony Pence of Deep Sleep at his Celebrated Summer Records store (with our Black Flag flyers posted within), watched a piano man play yacht-rock tunes (example:  Player's "Baby Come Back") in a waterfront restaurant and roamed the Walters Art Museum. The museum featured a death-metal appropriate portrait of Philadelphia artist Dr. John Meer (pictured ca. 1795), who was also a civilian caregiver during the outbreaks of yellow fever that gripped Philadelphia in 1793, hence the skull. Portraitist Rembrandt Peale also "may have adapted this composition from Renaissance prints in which a courtier points meaningfully at a skull to emphasize the futility of worldly pleasures," according to the portrait caption.

Baltimore worldly pleasures:  Metal, munchies, friends, etc. A solid trip, for sure.

Who likes death metal? This guy.

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