Kelly M. Hudson
Despite all the recent social tensions, on this past Memorial Day weekend, Baltimore opened her arms, lifted her hands, and flashed the devil horns for the world to see. And it went down in a parking lot just under a couple of overpasses, on a mild spring Friday, a hot Saturday afternoon, and a scorching Sunday.
Maryland Deathfest celebrated over twelve years of existence just a few days ago and did so in its usually style, with a dash of grace and a whole lot of moshing. This was only the second year I’ve been able to go, and while last year’s line-up of bands was more to my liking (I’m more of a Black Metal and Doom guy than a Death Metal dude) this one was nothing to shirk at. From Death Metal masters Obituary to Doom greats like Goatsnake, there was a little something for everyone, including some Traditional Metal by the mighty Twilight of the Gods and Thrash by Canadian band Razor. There was blasphemy and beer, guys wearing horse heads, one dude dressed like a chicken, and the return of the fellow I’ve dubbed Speedo-Man from last year. And yes, this is a perfectly-sculpted man who walked around all weekend clad only in a pair of Speedo’s, grinning like he just won the lottery. More on him in a bit, though.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Deathfest was begun in 2003 and from its humble beginnings has become one of the most recognized and valued metal festivals in the world, and that’s saying something, considering all the goodness Europe brings us every year. This is without a doubt the premier festival in the United States and it is so professionally run that at times it almost feels unreal. The bands are slotted about fifty minutes each on stage, and with two stages, they are constantly rotating. When one is finished, within five minutes and a very short walk, another band is firing up. It can be non-stop metal for about twelve hours each day, if you so choose. There is also an area set up full of picnic tables and shade so you can take a break from the hot sun, and this is conveniently located to the side between the stages, so you never miss a note being played. The music runs like clockwork and in my two years of attending, I’ve not experienced one problem or delay. And that is amazing.
Did I mention the merch tents? Oh, dear Lord Satan, there is nothing quite like the merchandise at Deathfest. From vinyl to t-shirts to patches to books to bootleg music and dvd’s to hats and even hand-crafted jewelry, you can find just about anything to please your metal heart. There’s also a surprising variety of food trucks set up so you never go hungry or thirsty (there’s more beer than bands). And, on an additional note, the port-o-potties are some of the best I’ve ever been around. Yes, you read that right. Most even had handy hand-sanitizer dispensers in them. Now, over the course of the weekend, things can get ugly in there, but by and large, most of the metal folk are pretty courteous to one another.
There is one main venue, and that’s the Edison Lot, the place where I hung my hat for the weekend. But there’s more metal if you want it, and it goes down at the Baltimore Soundstage and Rams Head Live, where literally dozens more bands play before, concurrent, and after the Edison Lot. I’m not rich so I couldn’t afford a ticket to these other spots, but I heard great stories about these clubs, and they featured such bands as Jex Thoth, Conan, Yob, Ghoul, Napalm Death, Portal, D.R.I., and Melt Banana, to name a few.
For the most part, every band I saw was killer and if they weren’t, they were still pretty damned good. A lot of them were making their U.S. debut, even though many had been around for a long time. These bands would include Bulldozer, Vulcano, Primordial, Bloodbath and Arcturus, if my memory serves me right. And if it doesn’t, don’t hold it against me; my brain was rattled from three solid days of headbanging.
Some personal highlights for me: Triptykon was amazing, playing songs from the Celtic Frost days and some of their own tunes, as well as one Hellhammer song. Tom G. Warrior was incredible, and the lady playing bass stole my heart; so grim and brutal and yet so beautiful. It was great to finally see Primordial, Aura Noir, Vallenfyre, Twilight of the Gods, and Amorphis. And speaking of Amorphis, the event closers played their entire Tales From a Thousand Lakes album straight through. They were pretty damned incredible.
But it’s not just the bands that make the event, there’s also the vendors and the fans. I want to give a big shout-out to the Relapse booth for not only being so cool and friendly, but for also having some affordable vinyl for sale. You can’t find records for $15 much anymore, and they were slinging them like hash-browns. And a special mention should be made towards Hell’s Headbangers, as well, for also having affordable product, and tons of it. But you know, it wasn’t just those two tents that rocked, all of them did, really. When I was frantically scrambling to buy an Emperor t-shirt for a friend of mine on Saturday night, all the booths were helpful and cool, sending me to different vendors where they thought they might have spotted one.
In short, if you’ve never been, you should go. It’s fun, there’s lots of great people-watching to do (you could stare at all the different battle vests all day long), and music that will shake your testicles and your ovaries.
And what about Speedo-Man? Well, last year he strolled around, soaking in the attention. And to be honest, because I’m mostly a hateful person, he got on my nerves. Who was this guy with the sculpted, bronzed body, and where did he get off thinking he was so damn cool? When he showed up again this year, I rolled my eyes. Was I going to have to put up with his narcissism once again? And was I the only one irritated by his arrogance?
Turns out, I wasn’t. In a cheap shot that I will always remember, this muscular dude standing in front of me during one of the shows spotted Speedo-Man in the mosh pit and said loudly, “Not again!”
When Speedo-Man danced by, the muscle dude shoved him hard, sending him flying through the pit. Speedo-Man crashed to the concrete and popped back up with a skinned elbow. He ran at the muscle guy, got into his face, yelled the words “Not cool, man!” and flipped him the bird. Then he wisely backed off and disappeared for a while, thinking it best to preserve his pretty face and physique for a possible return to next year’s fest. Muscle guy turned around and said to me, “I put up with his shit last year and I couldn’t take it anymore,” and then stalked away. And while it was a cheap shot and Speedo-Man probably didn’t deserve it, the entire section I was in applauded when it went down.
Such is life at a metal fest.