I originally wrote this for Brooklyn Vegan but haven't seen it posted yet. Once Fred gets it up I'll add a link, but until then, enjoy the madness that went down.
MDF isn’t just a concert, it’s an event, as any of you who have made the pilgrimage down to Baltimore to bask in the glow of this heavy metal mecca can attest. “America’s Biggest Metal Party of the Year” has been besmirching the perpetually befouled streets of Brawltoscore for almost a decade, and this year’s edition (the eighth!) boasted the kind of lineup that had heshers the world over popping sweatpants boners. Headlined by the freshly exhumed death metal gods Autopsy and packed with top-of-the-line bruisers like Entombed, Incantation, Pentagram, Watain, EyeHateGod, and literally dozens more, this year’s incarnation might have been the best yet. Now if only they’d managed to get Bolt Thrower back here…
So on Thursday, May 27th, I packed a couple friends and way too much booze into my little white car and headed down a day early to catch the preshow. we’d seen PLF and Gride brutalize a house show in West Philly the day before, but decided we couldn’t stand to miss Birdflesh or General Surgery. Best decision that could’ve been made! We rolled up right as PLF stalked onstage and pierced the sound barrier with their don’t-give-a-fuck Texas grind, then caught Iron Lung’s always killer, hellaciously heavy two-man powerviolence assault. Bouncy grinders Birdflesh left their usual summer dresses and makeup at home (bummer) but they made up for it by donning silly hats and kicking copious amounts of ass. The highlight of the night was definitely General Surgery; their attractively blood-splattered butcher ensembles complemented their gory Necroticisms like fine wine. Plenty of bands rip off Carcass, but I’ve yet to see one that does a better job of it than General Fucking Surgery!
Day 1 of the actual fest served as a warmup for the chaos that was to come. The main event (fucking Autopsy!) wasn’t for a good long while, but my party managed to drag ourselves into the sunlight in time to soak in some of Brooklyn’s heaviest, the blackened downward spiral doom of Tombs. Then a quick dash outside to check out a few songs from cryptic Aussie black metallers Nazxul, who made their US debut with the sun beating down on their berobed shoulders and melting corpsepaint (poor chaps).
Due to flight disruptions both Sadistic Intent and Possessed (well, same thing) were forced to fly in the next day, so a little reshuffling ended up placing Watain inside. I got down with Malignancy’s caveman NYDM for awhile but missed Watain (preferring to keep the memory of their first blood-drenched US tour fresh and morbid) and apparently missing out on seeing the surly Swedes thoroughly beat down Harald, the high-spirited bassist of crossover legends D.R.I, when the latter ran onstage during their black metal rites. Dick move, guys – we know, you’re grim, WE GET IT.
I did catch some of the revitalized Gorguts lineup, and while I personally could care less about widdly technical stuff, the legions of fans pressed shoulder to shoulder against the barricade and screaming their lungs out clearly begged to differ. For many people, this band was their sole reason for attending, and thankfully, LeMay & Friends put on a killer show for them. The band debuted some new material as well, which got more than one tech geek’s panties wet! The band I personally came out to see that day was Coffins, who slowly and joyfully (judging by frontman Uchino’s perma-grin onstage) laid waste to the stage with slabs of fetid, doomy, creeping death metal. I’d have killed to see them play again, but was luckily spared the homicide conviction when some crusty handed me a flyer for an aftershow with Coffins, Massgrave, and Oak. Fuck yeah!
D.R.I. picked up the pace with their vintage punked-out thrash riffs, hauling out the hits and spurring on a neverending circle pit. seemed to have recovered nicely from his Watain encounter, and the whole band just radiated energy – you could tell they were having a good time, and so were we. The medley of classic covers they ran through was the icing on the cake – “Master of Puppets,” “Into the Void/N.I.B.”, Iron Maiden’s “Running Free, and“Holy Diver” and “Heaven & Hell” for our dearly departed Dio.
Once the shouty security guards had herded us all out of the parking lot, I collected my crew and headed off to the aftershow, which ended up going down in a squat at the top of three rickety flights of stairs. The organizers of the show were running pretty “punk-tual” so shit ran mad late, with Coffins playing to a sparse but ravenous crowd as the sun rose behind them (I am trying so hard not to make a “Land of the Rising Sun” joke here). Massgrave ground us into a pulp and Oak brought the blackened hammer of doom down hard, but the night (and morning) belonged to Coffins.
Day 2 was stacked so hard it made Jenna Jameson look flat. I somehow made it in time to catch a few songs from Mexican death squad The Chasm (so underrated; look them up) then ran in to catch my beloved Jucifer, who, even with a much smaller setup than usual (I only counted about six amps!) managed to absolutely overwhelm an entranced crowd with choice cuts off their latest record, Throned in Blood. I spent all day running around like a maniac – lots of conflicts and near-conflicts, but I managed to at least wander through almost every band I cared about. After Jucifer’s set, I peeked in on Sadistic Intent. A few rehashed proto-death riffs later, and I was over it; Jeff Becerra came out halfway through to do some Possessed songs (they did a “combined” set) but I was long gone by then, ensconced inside the venue getting my groove on to the mighty Impaled, who are one of the most consistently fun/brutal live acts I’ve ever seen. Aussie grind’n’roll terror squad Blood Duster swaggered onstage and promptly spat out a rollicking set of corpse-raping classics like “Knee-Deep in Menstrual Blood,” “Piss Stomper,” and “Kill Kill Kill,”, pumping up the crowd and giving the least fucks of any band that weekend. Wicked.
Fifteen minutes before Melechesh were due to hit the stage for their first-ever US performance, I passed by mainman Ashmedi in the hallway, stopping to give him a quick hug and tell him I was stoked to be seeing them play again. “Fifteen minutes?! Shit, I’d better get onstage,” he sputtered, hurrying off. Turns out the whole band were running a bit late, which wasn’t helped by the seemingly endless intro music that blared out at the rapidly sunburning crowd. Once they were on, though, they were ON, as their trademark slithery Middle Eastern melodies wove through viciously blackened riffs like poison asps. Melechesh threw down a memorable set and got a good reaction, though their lollygagging cut their set short enough to get ‘em yanked offstage before they could play “the hit” – the criminally catchy “Rebirth of Nemesis.” Bummer! Cozying up to the stage for Incantation right afterwards soothed the pain, though, as New Yawk’s heaviest hauled out riff after time-honored riff of down-tuned, pummeling old-school death, unveiled a new song or two, and stopped to pay tribute to two deceased legends with Death and Dio covers.
Grind gods Repulsion were all business, tearing apart Horrified like a pack of rabid wolves. Marissa Martinez from Cretin came out to shred on a couple songs, and hearing “Festering Boils,” “The Stench of Burning Death,” “Maggots in Your Coffin,” and “Black Breath” blasting across the entire festival was an unholy revelation. They even played a fucking Venom cover! I’ll never listen to “Schizo” the same way again. Repulsion were an incredibly hard act to follow, but Asphyx forged ahead, laying down track after track of vintage Swedish death (the brutal way) and leaving plenty of aching eardrums in their wake. And really, how can you not love Martin van Drunen? Everything dude touches turns to black gold. I bailed on their last few songs to fight my way through the gathering horde and get a spot near the stage for Autopsy. This band was a major draw for damn near everyone at the fest, myself included, and to our great relief and inescapable glee, they DESTROYED. Chris Reifert is a masterful frontman, even from behind the kit, and that sound – that fucking sound. Many try to sound like Autopsy, but no one comes close to replicating the sheer primitive genius behind songs like “Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay,” “Embalmed,” “Severed Survival,” “Slaughterday,” “Ridden With Disease,” Service for a Vacant Coffin,” and world-ending closer “Charred Remains.” Far from seeming tired or mechanical like so many other reunited bands do, Autopsy were on fire, enlisting the tall man Danny Lilker to hold down the low end, and Reifert’s immortal gurgle is as nasty as ever. They recently announced plans to record a new record and play more shows, so it’s really true – Autopsy have risen!
How do you follow Autopsy? You cover Dio, I guess. , Deceased covered “Stand Up and Shout” during a characteristically ornery and fast-paced set. King Fowley was as over the top as ever, pretending to maul his cohorts between chestnuts like “Night of the Deceased” and “Shrieks from the Hearse.” Reunited by grime and crust , the Swedes of Wolfbrigade stormed the stage with their raging d-beat assault, breathing new life into the flagging circle pit and sending bodies flying with “Hour of the Wolf,” “No Future,” and “Basic Urge to Kill.” Up the punx!
Portal were the last band to darken the stage that evening, and darken it they did, swathed in black robes, masks, and hangman’s nooses. Their oppressive, twisted take on bottomless black/death was even more intense and suffocating live, drowning out everything else around them and laying a blight upon all who listened. I still think they sound like Conqueror on downers, but ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. A hellish way to end a long, hot day.
Day 3 was brutal, in more ways than one. I made it back to Sonar just in time to catch what I thought would be the last few minutes of Rompeprop’s set. They inexplicably played an extra half hour, though, which gave me ample time to bounce around and circle it up for everyone’s favorite Dutch pornogrind goofballs, absurd toilet flush vocal effects and all. These dudes are literally the most fun live band I’ve ever seen – and you can’t argue with lyrical poetry like “I Am the Dolphon Blowhole Fucker” and “Dislokating Purple Stoma.”
Crucifist were, musically speaking, as tight, dirty and mean as always, but their stage presence could use a little work. Ditch the robe, panda paint, and crucified cat skeleton, dudes – just keep grinding out those sweet black/thrash/punk/filth riffs and leave the dressup to the Scandinavians,. Speaking of which, the Somberlain-loving Swedes in Necrophobic played outside, which meant their leather daddy getups and corpsepaint looked way sillier than their razor-sharp melodic black/death metal deserved. Black metal just doesn’t work in the sunlight.
Distorted Delta blues, on the other hand, holds up just fine, as veteran sludge warriors EyeHateGod cruised through a loose, murderously heavy set of classic cries for help from Dopesick/Take As Needed For Pain , throwing in a new jam or two to remind us that they really are working on new material (I swear! They promised to have it out by spring!). Mike IX was in high spirits and Jimmy Bower’s face was lit up like a Christmas tree as they and the boys proved once again that EyeHateGod are fucking back, and they ain’t goin’ nowhere.
I ignored Pestilence because they are boring (truth hurts) and bummed around ‘til it was time to ping-pong over to Pentagram (with Victor Griffin back on the axe) who gave us what we wanted, slow and sleazy. “Forever My Queen,” “Relentless,” “20 Buck Spin,””Sign of the Wolf…” oh yeah, baby. Even if it was the exact same set they’ve been playing for the past year or so, Bobbly Liebling’s still alive, which is an impressive enough feat that I don’t feel like I can hate on ‘em.
I also caught a glimpse of Nirvana 2002. Technical difficulties shortened their set to a half hour and I still don’t see what all the hype was about (sorry, BBG) but what they did (old-school Swedish death), they did well. Entombed were a bit of a letdown as well, going through the motions as they knocked out a bunch of their so-so “death’n’roll” songs before closing with the essential “Left Hand Path. Obituary, on the other hand, proved they’ve got plenty of mileage left in their swampy Florida death grooves, pulling out a lot of new material alongside the eternal “The End Complete” and “Chopped in Half” and a pointless drum solo (seriously, stop it) before ending with the one-two punch of “Slow Death” and “Slowly We Rot..”
The three and a half seconds I caught of Magrudergrind sounded pissed as usual, but the considerably longer span of time I got to spend with Capitalist Casualties gave ‘em a run for their money. Fast, hard, relentless, and punk as fuck, Cap Cash tore it up and burned it down. I’d never heard of crusty hardcore OGs From Ashes Rise before MDF (sorry, BBG) but ended up being well impressed. They somehow managed to wake up a roomful of hungover, beaten-up metalheads, get ‘em to throw all their energy into one last circle pit of death, and closed out the show on a sky-high notes. D-beat uber alles.
See you next year, Sonar. Let the recovery (and detoxing) begin…