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Near Deathfest Experiences

Maryland Deathfest, May 23-25, Sonar

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Dead (left) and Fuck...I'm Dead (bottom), thrash and growl at Maryland Deathfest VI at Sonar.

By Christina Bumba | Posted 6/4/2008

The Maryland Deathfest has been the pinnacle event of the Baltimore metal community for six years. And every year it feels that this juggernaut not only offers bigger bands on the bill but also welcomes larger numbers of fans.

The three-day bash was unlike all the others, exceeding the standards upheld in previous years. Fans, some traveling from as far as France, New Zealand, Portugal, and Australia, came ready to support the bands, sporting shirts from former fests. More than 30 bands fleshed out the lineup this year, with sponsorship from Revolver and Terrorizer magazines and Relapse Records. This year's fest was also recorded for a planned double-DVD set to be released by the fest's organizers later this year. And Deathfest introduced several new elements this year: Two onstage megascreens ensured that those too timid to line the pit could remain safely in the back without missing anything; wonderfully greasy festival food was sold outside along the closed street; and some big-name vendors such as Willowtip Records, Warlord Clothing, and Paragon Records provided any imaginable metal-related need.

Poland's Squash Bowels, on its first U.S. tour, provided the room with precisely delivered grind Friday night, followed by technical breakdowns from Canada's Martyr. The crowd swarmed and branched around the pit to hear the first double-bass drum kick from Sweden's Grave, the night's last band, which pummeled the room with blast beats and sick riffs.

Saturday's lineup was intricate enough to eradicate boredom for those fans who made it out early, but the crowd was in full fury later on during Fuck I'm Dead. It was Monstrosity, however, that woke up any lethargic fan with breakdown-enriched classic late-1980s death metal. Moshers made sure ferocity and respect reigned, energizing the crowd and collecting the fallen from the floor of the ever-expanding pit. Crowd surfing and sombrero stomping ensued as a fierce group of girls terrorized the pit and made their way atop the hands of fans to the edge of the stage, only to be gently pushed back by security. England's Annal Nathrahkh closed the night right with thunderous drums and exceptional vocals, which were unfortunately difficult to hear at times.

Uniform-clad Impaled set Sunday's stage by entering with a guitar engulfed in flames, sending fumes of butane backstage. Veteran Deathfest act and Maryland's own Dying Fetus provided pure, unadulterated grind, playing its now classic "Kill Your Mother/Rape Your Dog," which sent the room into a frenzy. The night ended with the bluesy riffs of Nuclear Assault, whose music enticed the pit, and its political preaching on future voting decisions and the Iraq war toward the end left the crowd stirring.

This year's Deathfest carnage ran seamlessly; each band played 30- to 45-minute sets, leaving ample time to set up in between acts, and each smooth transition allowed the crowd to refuel. Sonar was the perfect venue for the event: the sound was generally superb, and the club's cavernous layout made it easy to forget how many people were there until they filed through the main-stage doors to smoke outside. Maryland Deathfest's organizers' passion and professionalism were on display throughout the festival's weekend run, and with its underground buzz growing, it's no question this event will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

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