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Maryland Deathfest: 10 Dark Horse Bands to Check Out This Weekend

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By now, anyone headed to Baltimore for the tenth anniversary weekend of Maryland Deathfest (May 24-27) has already sewn fresh patches on their denim vest, salted their livers, and said goodbye to their loved ones.

Star attractions such as Napalm Death, Saint Vitus, Suffocation, Brujeria, and Morbid Angel promise a solid assault on the senses from three stages for three days. But intrepid metalheads and lurkers enjoying the blizzard of forthcoming YouTube uploads from home, would be wise to seek out some of the historic fare appearing in fine print of the extreme marquee.

Despite the name, the secret of MDF’s success is its diversity, bringing together fist bangers like Anvil, sludge lords Eyehategod, and the infernal 1970s sounds of The Devil’s Blood-plus exclusive performances by legends such as the following. So guard your timetable well, pace yourself, and keep an eye out for one of these dark horses to steal the entire show.

Demigod

MDF has presented the cream of the Swedish death metal crop, and now with Demigod the fest turns towards Finland’s intense and technical scene. Like their dizzying countrymen Demilich, this longstanding force combines imaginative structure with monumental brutality. Don’t fall in love, though-the band claims Deathfest will be its second-to-last-show ever.

Noothgrush

Revived after ten years of slumber, California’s Noothgrush reclaims its stake in slow, ultra-heavy and powerful crusted doom. Though little-known on the East Coast during the 1990s, the band coexisted with fast, spastic powerviolence acts and held its own on splits with Japan’s Corrupted and many others. They’re likely to crack the columns and rupture a roomful of eardrums, and they’ll take their time doing it.

Bethlehem

Beloved suicidal German nutcases Bethlehem combine dark metal and death rock in sublime and morbidly funny doses, and are as near a template for what Sweden’s beloved Shining are doing as you can imagine. To my knowledge, the group has never appeared stateside, and given their erratic nature there’s no reason to think they will ever make it again. This one is not to be skipped.

Nasum

The 2006 tsunami death of Nasum frontman Mieszko Talarczyk left the entire Swedish grindcore and death metal worlds shellshocked. The grind sphere never fully recovered. To mark what should have been the band’s 20th anniversary and bid farewell to fans, Nasum’s core has recruited Keijo Niinimaa of Finland’s Rotten Sound for a final burst of shows in 2012.

Confessor

Though only traveling to Baltimore from North Carolina, Confessor has traveled one of the longest, strangest paths to Maryland Deathfest. After emerging in the late 1980s with a grueling, tightly-wound progressive sludge sound combining Watchtower and Celtic Frost, Confessor signed to Earache Records, only to be lost in the swirl of early 1990s death metal. Now rebooted after losing a member to cancer, Confessor faces a world that might just be ready for its thickly-wrought combo of higher math metal and emotion.

Morbid Saint

Wisconsin’s wicked high-speed thrashers Morbid Saint made little splash outside the Midwest during the 1980s, but time and revived interest in classic thrash metal has required the band’s resurrection. Their only effort, 1988′s Spectrum of Death, has found its way into new hands via the cassette corners of online auctions, luring a fresh rash of bangers towards Morbid Saint’s tight mania and frantic shrieks.

Artillery

One of Europe’s finest classic thrash acts, Denmark’s Artillery followed Lars Ulrich, King Diamond, and Mercyful Fate out of the gates of speed and darkness in the early 1980s. Despite a slew of classic albums, they never attracted an audience the size of their Stateside or even German brethren. Make no mistake, Artillery are not an obscure addition to the Deathfest bill. Their professionalism and endless tasteful riffing will send bodies flying rapidly through the air.

Winter

Eternally slow American doom act Winter has been inactive since the dawn of the 1990s, yet their appearance in 2011 at Holland’s Roadburn Festival should have foreshadowed a booking at Maryland Deathfest. Taking Celtic Frost to a deeper extreme, Winter were like early Cathedral standing as a bulwark against the frenetic speed and blasting of 1990. Like others mentioned on this list, they should bring a masterful original take on somewhat familiar sounds.

Rorschach

Along with Converge, New Jersey crew Rorschach are credited with introducing Slayer riffs and unison guitars into 1990s hardcore. Their already abrasive sound grew more dissonant prior to their 1993 breakup, presaging the direction that hardcore as a whole has since taken. Though they reformed briefly in 2009, their Thursday set at Maryland Deathfest offers a rare glimpse at heavy history, channeling the forces that set today’s metal-agnostic hardcore scene in motion.

Pentagram

Operating in Chile during the military dictatorship period in the 1980s, Chile’s Pentagram were the best-known of scores of deathly intense thrash acts in their homeland. Thanks to the famous tape-trading underground of that time, their desperate cries were heard around the world, and this Pentagram was woven into the fabric of the burgeoning international death metal scene. They will step onstage not to summon demons, but strains of the birth of death metal. And that’s the purpose of this annual festival in the first place, to celebrate the big, bad world of metal in all its fast, slow, ancient, progressive, and unlikely dimensions.

For more information on this weekend’s Maryland Deathfest, head over to their official website. See you there!

Ian Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and the publisher of Bazillion Points Books, home to modern classics like Swedish Death Metal, Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries, and Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter.

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