FESTIVAL REVIEW: Maryland Deathfest XIX Pre-fest Live at Baltimore Sound Stage and Ram’s Head Live

21 years. It has been 21 years since the first Maryland Deathfest, which I was fortunate enough to be at. I wasn’t much into death and black metal at the time, but time has changed me and now I cannot get enough. Back then it was a three-day event, but now in 2024, it is four days plus a fifth day for the pre-fest. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about, the pre-fest for Maryland Deathfest XIX!

Total Maniac started the day off and offered a perfect start – thrashy and fun, the band hit the stage (at Sound Stage) and knew they had a job to do. The band tore into their setlist and shredded for the crowd, which was comprised of mostly death and black metal fans. But it didn’t really matter, Total Maniac was too much fun, and they were the festival openers.

Moving to the Ram’s Head, Crypt Sermon offered the crowd some doomy riffs to bring the energy to a steady pace. The crowd responded with steady headbanging and stomping, and the pit opened up for the few dedicated fans looking for some physicality. This was a bigger venue and there were definitely more people. Crypt Sermon’s set quickly went by, and the crowd moved hastily to catch Molder at the Sound Stage.

Molder was the only band from the pre-fest that I had seen before, and the crowd’s speed was justified. Molder has something special to them, I can’t quite say what but it is pretty easy to see. They opened their set with a new song, Frothing, and pushed the crowed from the beginning to the end of the set. The Sound Stage was nearly packed from new arrivals and the pit held many of them.

For the rest of the night, I altered my plans and stayed predominantly at the Ram’s Head, as Midnight, Atheist, and Sodom were set to play there, and it was filling with people who weren’t going to leave before Sodom’s 90-minute set. Midnight was phenomenal, delivering relentless speed and thrash at a pace that only the band could keep up with. It was a thing of beauty. The crowd loved every riff, every song, and the band played each as though they were the biggest metal band in the world. The crowdsurfing hit a steady pace and the moshpit grew in size, sparing few fans.

Atheist was up next, and though their brand of jazzy prog thrash isn’t for everyone, everyone showed up for it. Atheist have a level of energy and a delivery that are something to be seen if you have the chance, and when you do see it you’ll realize that it is heavier than you’ve anticipated it to be. Not that Atheist is a notably heavy band, but the fluidity that makes prog, typically, seem light is not there. Atheist blew the crowd away and told us to expect a new album in 2025.

Sodom. 40 years and highly respected, Sodom came to deliver a 90-minute spectacle of some of their greatest hits and fan favorites. The crowd was ravenous, and the packed venue was only safe for people far from the middle. Tom Angelripper did not offer much in the way of banter, but he did hand a few beers to lucky audience members (including myself). The crowd did not want to hear much talk, they wanted songs, and songs they got! Sodom’s set was terrifically paced and the band offered the crowd an opportunity to unleash whatever they were holding it. Sodom is also playing a special set on day one of the fest, playing Agent Orange in its entirety, making this first set even more impressive.

I took quite a bit of damage during Sodom’s set and ducked out two songs early to save myself, but so that I could also catch the pre-fest closer, Melechesh. An Assyrian band by ethnicity, it was a special treat for everyone to watch a band that deals in Sumerian and Mesopotamian themes, and the crowd knew this, filling the venue one last time for the night. A blend of new and old school black metal, Melechesh powered through eight songs with showmanship and much love from the crowd, and played until the very last minute that the venue could allow them.

I walked out, shook hands with a few new friends, and smiled at the mass of people doing metal karaoke outside of the venue. Day one of the festival was less than 15 hours away and I needed to prepare for it, so I headed back to my hotel room to prepare.

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