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Maryland Deathfest 2010

A few recommendations for this weekend's upcoming eargasm

From the primordial dawn of today's extreme metal, D.R.I returns.

By Michael Byrne, Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe | Posted 5/26/2010


Sonar May, 27-30

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Baltimore's biggest music event is also its most potentially alienating. It has nothing to do with how the Maryland Deathfest is organized, where it is, when it is, or anything at all besides its bare definition as a massive, uncompromising celebration of extreme metal. And understand that there isn't a subculture in existence as rock-hard, true-to-the-faith, and, perhaps, difficult to penetrate as the punishing worlds of black metal, death metal, grindcore, doom, and the just as firmly bordered subgenres further down the metal tree: technical death metal, crust, symphonic black metal, and so much farther down the darkest rabbit hole you could about go on for days.

Good entries into this world are few and far between, honestly, and a great many of them have to do with a friend giving a friend a tape, or something like that--not dropping in cold to the biggest extreme metal event in North America. That said, what Baltimore natives Ryan Taylor and Evan Harting have forged over eight years is pretty incredible: 59 bands, three days, 2,000-odd black-clad people that could Jäger you under the table in less than $20. You couldn't find a sonically heavier place to be this weekend--in the whole world.

MDF has upped the ante even further in 2010 with the addition of a second outdoor stage, giving the fest three main stages. It's held true practically every year, but "our main goal was booking more and bigger bands than we ever have," Taylor says in a phone interview. "By the time we finished booking, it seemed like we had a lot more quote-unquote headliner quality bands. We had some stress last year making sure everything was going smoothly and we were making the curfews outside. [The extra stage] should make things really stressfree."

Below is a loose collection of City Paper's Deathfest picks, the prime "positive release[s] of negative energy," as Taylor puts it. (Michael Byrne)

Blood Duster Ever been traveling around Europe and run into five Aussie lads who could instantly take the utter piss out of anything? Give those five blokes an encyclopedic knowledge of metal genres/culture and an almost preternatural gift for butt-rocking grooves and you've got Melbourne's Blood Duster, which delivers more genuine glee than any band with "blood" in its name has a right to. Just don't mistake blunt insouciance--see: 2001's Cunt or "Rock N Roll Jihad" off 2007's Lynden Nå--as parody, for Blood Duster comes across as a serious band that doesn't suffer fools gladly. (Bret McCabe) May 29, 5:00 p.m.

Coffins Not sure how the hipster-metal wave of a few years back that sucked up Boris and Sunn O))) managed to miss Coffins. This Japanese trio has been cranking out doom-y death (or maybe death-y doom) for the better part of 15 years in one incarnation or another, and as last heard on 2008's Buried Death, its trundling midtempo tar-pit chug retains its timeless pummel. Plus, singer/guitarist Uchino has one of the best Cookie Monsters in metal biz. (Lee Gardner) May 28, 11:35 p.m.

Converge A scary-brilliant hardcore/metal band with the balls and intellect to evolve into the sort of pummeling yet ferociously technical unit of pure seethe demonstrated on last year's Axe to Fall. By MDF standards, this is mass appeal. (MB) May 30, 9:35 p.m.

D.R.I. It may be difficult for the modern-day head to imagine how unbelievably weird it seemed in the early '80s when hardcore punk suddenly got all metal. Now, it's a given--loud, fast, duh--but back then it was a mind-blower. The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles' short, sharp skater-thrash hybrid was one of the earliest fusions, and though various setbacks have kept their activity spotty in recent years, this is one of the deepest roots from which modern metal flowers. (LG) May 28, 12:30 a.m.

Entombed Left Hand Path. Clandestine. Wolverine Blues. The classic Swedish death metal/"death 'n' roll" band, still plugging away in a fashion pretty close to its classic sound and level of proficiency. Serious business and nothing but. (LG) May 30, 8:35 p.m.

Eyehategod Announced almost before last year's fest had even ended, this foundational reunited/recirculating band makes sharp-edged, antagonistic sludgecore with more to do with punk music than much of the inner-orbit black, death, and grind bands that form the base of MDF. And, fear not: Mike Williams still makes a great show of hating his fans. (MB) May 30, 5:10 p.m.

Gorguts Rockwriter pal Joe Gross once called Quebec's Gorguts the "Thomas Pynchon of death metal," and one listen to 1998's Obscura explains why. An extremely complex death-metal alloy hammered into a dense architecture of erudition? Yes. Able to surprise you with where that guitarsbassdrums skein is going next? Yes. Occasionally completely out of its fucking gourd? Yes. And given that Gorguts--founder/guitarist/vocalist Luc Lemay with guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and bassist Colin Marston (both of Dysrhythmia) and Dim Mak drummer John Longstreth--disbanded in 2005 and was only reorganized at the end of 2008, it's almost as hard to see in person. (BM) May 28, 9:40 p.m.

Jesus Cröst One Dutchman plays drums; the other plays guitar. Together as the duo Jesus Cröst, they play furiously paced grindcore--tracks hover in the minute-or-so range--with whiplash starts/stops that could fracture your neck. And on its recent 010, these JC superstars grind-on about, well, football (read: soccer). Think Ruins doing outright power violence. That's right: Nothing but net. (BM) Friday, 6:20 p.m.

Krallice After years of solo/duo work, Crom-tech/Orthrelm guitarist Mick Barr steps into a full-fledged band setting with Krallice. And in but two albums, this black-metal trio has smelted a rich, variegated landscape of primarily instrumental adrenalin, as emotionally rich as Godspeed You! Black Emperor at its most frenetically dissonant and as dynamically limber as the Flying Luttenbachers. Yes, this is metal that can appeal to squawking free-jazz/noise fans, but for once that intricacy is as visceral as it is intellectual. (BM) May 30, 2 p.m.

Magrudergrind This still-under-the-radar Washington, D.C. trio mixes up the grindcore basics with seemingly anything it can think of to make itself sound ever more ferocious and effed up--sludgy death-metal breakdowns, pure noise terror, sweaty punk aggro, whatever you've got. It usually works. (LG) May 30, 10:30 p.m.

Pentagram Arguably the first stone in the NoVa/DC/Maryland metal axis. Formed in effing '71 and led in some form by vocalist Bobby Liebling off/on ever since, Pentagram is a prototypical American doom outfit, and its '70s material--released by Relapse in 2002--reveals an outfit with a stately handle on the rocking thrills of taking it slow, a sound the group had all but perfected by the time it got around to recording proper albums in the 1980s, although it would be almost another decade before Sunn O))) et al. helped doom ooze out of the underground. (BM) May 30, 7:35 p.m.

Surroundings Native sludge overdriven into hardcore-qua-noise gnash, Surroundings are a potent local drug-brew of dark and fast. They're also part of the heavy-music future where rule-based genre music collapses. (MB) May 30, 1:00 p.m.

Trap Them New Hampshire's finest infuse the usual death-metal attack with punk agitation and a bit of rock flex here and there (e.g. a pig-fuck-y bass tone on 2008's Seizures in Barren Praise). Which is to say that Trap Them sometimes doesn't sound like a straight metal band, per se, but it's way too gnarly to get filed anywhere else. (LG) May 28, 9:00 p.m.

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