Every year, the end of May marks the return of Maryland Deathfest, the East Coast's most exciting underground metal fest. Now in its 11th year, Deathfest has a long history of bringing a wide assortment of heavy-music acts to the city, from large mainstream acts to obscure cult favorites and everything in between. On May 23-26, MDF returns to the former home of Sonar (407 E. Saratoga St.) and expands to take over even more of the street and parking area, as well as a satellite stage devoted to hardcore and punk, located at Baltimore Soundstage (124 Market Place). There will be dozens of bands performing but here are some things you shouldn't miss.
Pentagram and the Obsessed on the same bill
Once, it might have been common to find two of the area's legendary Doom Metal pioneers performing at the same event, but today you'd have to fly to Europe . . . or go to Deathfest. Both bands formed in the '70s (Pentagram in Alexandria, Va.; the Obsessed in Potomac, Md.), both are extremely influential, and both have iconic frontmen-Pentagram's troubled Bobby Liebling, recently featured in the documentary Last Days Here, and Scott "Wino" Weinrich of the Obsessed, as well as Saint Vitus and many other projects. There probably aren't two metal bands from the DMV that have as enduring a legacy as these two acts, and while they have reunited before, each tour has a "this could be the last time" vibe. (Disclosure: This author released two records by one of Weinrich's later bands, the Hidden Hand.)
One of the early and defining bands of the '90s powerviolence scene, Infest was a SoCal hardcore band with a reputation for great live performances, strong political stances, and a small handful of influential releases on labels like Slap-a-Ham and Deep Six. They disbanded in 1996, before the peak of their scene's popularity, so this MDF appearance will be many fans' first chance to see them play.
Exclusive U.S. Venom performance
Beginning in the late '70s, at the tail-end of the NWOBHM movement (that's New Wave of British Heavy Metal-never thought I'd write that acronym in the City Paper)-Venom was an extremely influential band (they coined the term "Black Metal," now a dominant genre), though arguably more for their use of dark, satanic imagery and over-the-top stage costumes and personas than for their music. This is their only U.S. show in 2013 and probably the foreseeable future, and should be a fun experience, if only for frontman Cronos' stage banter and showmanship.
Rare U.S. Bolt Thrower appearance
This is a rare U.S. show for the long-running U.K. band who is apparently reluctant to come to this side of the pond. Their two appearances at 2009's MDF (one announced, one by surprise) were the highlights of that year's fest-full of energy and fun. This will be audience members' only chance to see them on the East Coast, so I wouldn't miss it.
California stoner-metal band Sleep specializes in droning, meditative, weed-soaked Sabbath worship. Their hour-long set on Sunday is just shy of time enough to play their epic 63-minute song, "Dopesmoker." Here's hoping that the organizers will let them have three extra minutes to fit the whole thing in. Either way, this will be a set that stands out from most of the other acts at the festival.
For more information on tickets, a full running order, and more, go to marylanddeathfest.com.