Maryland Death Fest IX Day Three: Exhorder, In Solitude, Hail of Bullets and More
Band Photo: Hail of Bullets (?)
The ninth annual edition of the Maryland Deathfest has grown into a four day affair, spanning Thursday night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Despite a last minute scare with Sonar possibly closing down, the even took place at Sonar, with the outdoor stages at either end of a closed off Saratoga Street.
This year, Metalunderground.com writer Emily Hingle (aka Buick McKane) was on hand for the entire festival (you can read her reports from day 1 and day 2) and Doug Gibson (aka deathbringer) was present on Saturday.
After an adventurous drive around the venue a few times trying to figure out how to reach the parking lot with Saratoga Street closed off, I finally arrived in time to see Creative Waste’s set. Sonar is a dark venue at any time, but entering from the afternoon sunlight, it seemed pitch black and took a few minutes to adjust.
Creative Waste took the stage and their sound was painfully loud. And they’re only a three-piece band, with a vocalist, guitarist and drummer - no bassist. The Saudi band described themselves as grindcore, but sounded more like a very hardcore influenced brand of metal. The music wasn’t my thing and the excessive volume that was not pleasant even with ear plugs sealed the deal for me.
Mammoth Grinder took the stage next, and I didn’t recognize them at first. The first few songs sounded a bit thin and reminded me of Prong, who while I enjoy, always had a weaker sound as a 3-piece. A few songs into their set, things got heavier and thrashier, evoking thoughts of Slayer. Then I recognized them as the band I saw at SXSW earlier this year. The remainder of their set was fast and heavy and made Mammoth Grinder the best band I witnessed on the inside stage that day.
Female fronted death metal band Cretin was up next, and like many bands featuring female growlers, you wouldn’t know it from listening to the music alone. The band’s lyrical topics as well as on stage banter was heavily founded in shock value, leaving innuendo at the door. It got some chuckles and interesting crowd chants (which I don’t remember specifically at this point), but after a while it felt a little sophomoric. This tended to overshadow the band’s music, which wasn’t particularly technical or brutal and seemed to be otherwise your typical death metal.
Nearing 4pm, the outside stages were about to kick off, and I headed outside to see those bands. No only did the bands interest me, but it was a beautiful day for an outdoor concert, with the temperature fairly comfortable under the cover of the clouds and just a little on the hot side with the sun out. But it definitely could have been worse (and probably was on the prior days of the festival).
At this point, concert goers needed to make a choice as to what bands they wanted to see. The two outdoor stages left just five minutes between alternating sets, all the while bands were playing the inside stage as well.
First up on the outdoor stage was Avulsed. The Spanish metallers are currently celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band. Having heard a couple of their albums, I had an appreciation for the groove element in their gore-spattered brand of death metal. Avulsed did not disappoint, playing a 40-minute set of fast-paced, groovy death metal. The band interacted with the audience well, as you can see in the video below, and had a decent mosh pit going. While grooves, growls, double-bass and blastbeats dominated most of the set, hints of European metal melody crept into a couple of songs as well. Overall, I was happy to experience this band live and came away with a greater appreciation for their style.
Cianide took the second stage next. The re-formed death metal veterans hung in the mid-tempos quite a bit and as just a three-piece, their sound didn’t do much to excite me. It was solid death metal, but not my thing. After shooting photos throughout the first few songs of the set, I took a much needed food and drink break. Fortunately I could hear the entire set while outside, however - I just didn’t see much of the performance itself.
After Cianide’s set was over, Nunslaughter soon took to the first stage. We were in for another treat of gory death metal, continuing where Avulsed left off, with plenty of speed, blasts, and grooves. The main thing that differentiated Nunslaughter from the other death metal was the cheesy banter between songs. The drummer had a mic in front of him, as he provided most of this banter in between songs, which primarily consisted of horribly cheesy one-liners delivered with a comically evangelical voice and crazed look in his eye. The talk usually acted as a segue into the next song, but most of it was so bad that it wasn’t really funny (possibly a little in an “oh god, really?” way), and the band could have done better without the shtick. Despite that, Nunslaughter put on a solid performance and had the mosh pit moving, helping Maryland Deathfest meet their quota of death metal for the day.
Back over to the other stage, one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was up: In Solitude. It was their first performance in the United States, as well. With some of the most direct sunlight of the day coming down on the stage, the band took it black leather pants or black jeans, with black shirts. Their image was retro, like their music, with a European touch. The fox skin hanging around the vocalist’s neck was quite odd and distracting as well.
But In Solitude was there to rock out and that they did. The band played mostly newer material off their brand new Metal Blade release, “The World.The Flesh.The Devil,” and announced that the show would serve as their unofficial record release party. In Solitude’s sound owes much to 70s rock and metal and often reminds one of a more up-tempo Black Sabbath.
The band sounded looser than on the album, bringing a little more energy and less restraint and atmosphere than found on the album. In the end, it was a wash, as a more energetic live performance is a good thing in itself. In Solitude also rocked out to a couple of older tracks, one of which can be heard below.
Overall, In Solitude’s performance was an excellent one, and the band left it all on stage for the fans, despite sweating their asses off in the direct sunlight in their all-black outfits.
Hail of Bullets is another band I was looking forward to seeing this day. They soon took to the other stage, engaging the crowd in some conversation before ripping into their first song. Compared to the earlier death metal bands, Hail of Bullets sounded both thrashier and more technical in their delivery of their war-themed death metal. Martin van Drunen’s vocals remind one of Obituary’s John Tardy live just as on their latest album, aiding in the extremity of their sound.
The band played songs from their three albums, but all I recognized was that off of their latest, “On Divine Winds.” They interacted with the audience often, hinting at the historical context of the next song, as if the fans cared to know it was anything more than war and destruction. The mosh pit was alive with its own war for nearly the entire duration of their set. The band’s delivery was tight and stage presence excellent. In fact, it was one of those performances that was so good that it moved me from interested onlooker to an actual fan, creating an emotional bond to the music that raises the enjoyment of listening to it even more.
Back to the next stage, Impaled Nazarene was up. Having heard their latest albums described as punk-tinged black metal, I was shocked to hear what sounded more like blackened industrial death metal coming from the Finnish band. The processed industrial sound was prevalent through the band’s entire set. The music was decent, but didn’t seem that have the same energy as some of the more violent death metal bands that kept the mosh pits going. The vocalist made a few rants between songs and had a heavy accent that sounded Russian. All I could think of was him saying “In Mother Russia...” one-liners.
When a balloon was being hit around the crowd, the vocalist taunted the crowd about what sort of festival this was (the specifics I do not recall exactly). He asked for it and when it reached him, he took it away and threw it off to the side of the stage. Again, all I could think of were “In Mother Russia” jokes, but without a good punch line or ending. At the start of the next song, the guitarist nearest the balloon threw it back into the crowd. Overall, it was an entertaining set in the end.
Exhorder was the band I came to see on this day. I had hoped for an Exhorder reunion for many years and as the rumors circulated, I became ever more hopeful. So when Exhorder was reported to play Maryland Deathfest, I was determined to make it this year just to see them. Just days after I bought my ticket, bassist Frankie Sparcello passed away. So I was all the more thankful that the band decided to still play this festival.
Exhorder broke into “Death In Vain” and it was immediately apparent that they sounded a little more southern-influenced than groove-heavy live. Perhaps it was the looseness of the band coming through, but it fit the music well. Emily (aka Buick McKane) commented that "Exhorder played the best I've ever heard them. Kyle's voice was amazing due to all the practice at his night job." I would have to agree they sounded great. Besides that, it was clear that he, as well as the rest of the band, was thoroughly enjoying performing live. New bassist Jorge Caicedo, who I met earlier in the day, fit in perfectly.
Exhorder played a range of songs off their two classic albums, “The Law” and “Slaughter In The Vatican” and also announced that they were working on a new album. “Desecrator,” the song that introduced me to Exhorder, sounded great and picked up the intensity quite a bit.
Their entire setlist was as follows:
Death In Vain
Legions of Death
I Am The Cross
Cadence Of The Dirge
Slaughter In The Vatican
After their set, I hung around to meet frontman Kyle Thomas. He seemed very down to earth and I was thrilled to hear that he’d noticed the support that Metalunderground.com has shown Exhorder for a long time.
The sun had set over the course of Exhorder’s set and Voivod, who was the day’s headliner and last band to play the outdoor stages, was now several songs into their set. I hustled over to get some photos before it was too late. Voivod never really grabbed my attention with their brand of progressive thrash, but it was good to finally witness them live for myself. Their show was about what I expected through: a lot of progressive “noodling” with some good thrash riffs thrown in for good measure. It was too mellow to get me excited - when it comes to thrash, I’m all about the aggression - but it was a fitting way to wind down the day.
While I didn’t know most of their songs, Voivod announced that they would play a yet-released new song, most of which I caught on video and can be seen below:
When Voivod was done, I attempted to make my way back into Sonar to catch the remaining two bands, Acid Witch and Hooded Menace, on the bill that day. I was disappointed, however, to find that it was completely packed in there - so much that I got just 10 feet into the room and immediately turned around and headed back out the doors.
I walked around, checking out the merch booths one more time, and, noting the time, decided to call it a day and embark on the hour long drive home at that point.
Maryland Deathfest has made great strides over the past few years in mixing up their lineups to appeal to more than just extreme death metal fans, and as a result has grown into an excellent festival. While death metal was well-represented on this day and all four days of the festival, there were plenty of bands outside of that mold to keep things interesting. Next year marks the festival’s tenth year and I full intend on attending once again.
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