Kill (or at Least Sweat) For Metal
(All photos by Frank Hamilton)
Our dirty little secret: We did not make it through all 33 bands spread across all three days of this year’s Maryland Deathfest at Sonar. With only slices of pizza and $3 Cokes on site for sustenance, our live report had to be tempered with periodic trips for vegetable-based food and occasional bathing and changing of shirts. (It was sweaty enough to leave each night feeling like deflated scrotum skin that had just been gingerly peeled from a sticky thigh.) So this inventory should be caveated with the fact that, while nearly everyone we talked to agreed General Surgery played the set of the festival, we were off huffing paint or napping or something. Our bad.
As old-school thrash fans looking for love in all the wrong places, rock-identifiable riffs, mucho energy, and/or a healthy sense of humor were the quickest ways to win us over. (T-shirt of note here: “Shut up and die so I can grind.”) So the opening night was a split decision between Piss Christ (an Australian politico-crust band whose mowhawked frontman threw himself at the barricades so often you worried he might crack his sternum) and Pig Destroyer (frontman J.R. Hayes’ head bulged with Jack Nicholson’s evil eye from The Shining). Special Friday-night note should probably be made about the vocal range of one-man-band Putrid Pile, who went from spoon-jammed-in-a-garbage-disposal low to whistle-only-dogs-can-hear high so effortlessly that it was even scarier than his music.
On Saturday, the hulking Gauls in Gorod and the four diminutive ladies of Japan’s Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation also gave good riff. But the festival’s highlight was, without a doubt, Ghoul from “Creepsylvania” on Sunday, the weekend’s most purely KISS-pleasurable spectacle. The four ghouls complemented their pitch-perfect–and nearly, gulp, catchy–mid-’80s throwback thrash/death metal with self-referential shouted choruses, a good deal of campy banter, unison stage moves, and ghostlike masks that made them look more like squids with bloody noses, earning the band the most thrown horns of the weekend. Second funniest (and most fun) band of the weekend was Birdflesh, three guys dressed in ladies muumuus who sang 15-second grindcore songs about evil cats and had their ultrastilted demeanors down until they sounded (and kinda looked) like three Swedish Borats.
Still, the real heroes of Deathfest are the fans, the shirtless dudes in the pit first thing on Friday night who were still there Sunday when we ducked out, the folks who traveled from across the globe (or just across town) to support a music that lives and dies simply by the support of its fans. To the hardcore who took it all in, every last double-bass breakdown and goregrind grunt, we can only salute you.