Portraits Of An American Metal Festival
Last weekend I was among the legion of ecstatic metalheads that had descended upon Baltimore to attend Maryland Deathfest. In its 10th year, the Sonar compound was bursting at the seams with fans from across the spectrum and around the globe, stoking a community that stays connected long after the outdoor stages on East Saratoga Street are taken down. Through friends and a callout on Twitter, I spoke to a number of MDF attendees to ask them really basic questions about why they love metal, how they got into it and what they do to support it. I think it's only fair that I turn the microphone on myself, too, so here goes nothing:
There's a deep vibration to metal that rattles my body and my soul. And because I was born mostly deaf in one ear, the sheer volume of metal in a live setting is as much a spiritual experience as it is a total physical experience for me. I can feel the music. My first metal record was Mortification's Post Momentary Affliction at 12, which I mostly bought because the cover looked cool. The music was terrifying and evil and I was allowed to listen to it because I found it in a Christian bookstore (I grew up in a Christian household). I detoured into hardcore, punk and emo in high school, but when I played Isis' Oceanic during a DJ shift at WUOG in college, I knew I'd found a kindred soul.
As much as I wish it were, my day job at NPR isn't writing about metal. But around the stuff that pays the bills, I try to share this music and community with an audience that maybe doesn't know what to think about metal. Metal is catharsis, metal is flooring it to "Love Me Like a Reptile" on an open highway, metal is a flailing mosh pit-punch to the eye (and the killer shiner afterward) and, when in the throng of tens or thousands of headbangers, metal is where I find my brothers and sisters, horns up and ready to scream bloody gore.
Language Advisory: These interviews contain words that some listeners may find offensive.
Jack Crank; blogger and festival attendee; New York City, N.Y.
"I really got into metal when I moved to London for a year," says Jack. "And then as a joke, I was like, 'Oh, I'm in London! I can listen to Iron Maiden now! It'll be sweet!' And then I listened to Iron Maiden and I was like, 'You know, this is actually kind of good. This Iron Maiden, there might be something to this.'
"We went over to see DragonForce as a joke and I'd realized that everybody at DragonForce shows were having a way more fun time than kids at the Agnostic Front show in New York where they're all like, 'Oh, yeah! I'm gonna go to the show and get in a big fight, beat people up! It's gonna be sweet, bro!' I was just not into it. The more and more metal shows I started getting into, the more I realize that you listen to this heavy, brutal music and everybody's smiling."
Linda and Todd Haug; brewers and festival attendees; Minneapolis, Minn.
"Pop music is Miller Lite. I want more challenge," says Linda Haug. "I know that I don't always like the metal that I listen to, at first. But then I listen to it a bit more and I'm hearing more complexity. It's something that's grabbing me. It's actually engaging more of my brain than just a simple pop song that, to me, is just basically throwaway. I know the technical skill that a lot of these musicians put into it. It might be heavy and brutal, but they're really, really good musicians."
Mike Scheidt; musician, Yob; Eugene, Ore.
"If you look around this festival, there's so much testosterone here," says Mike Scheidt. "There's a lot of beautiful women, too, you know. But there are a lot of big dudes who, on any given day of the week, people would walk on the street and might walk on the other side. But there's no friction. None. There's a lot of hugging, there's a lot of hand-slapping, there's a lot of fists in the air together. It is a community that I think is reminiscent of the great '60s music explosion. If there is competition [between bands], it's friendly. It's like, 'Ha ha, I got a 9 in Decibel, you got an 8!' But we're laughing, we're having a beer and whatever. It's not vehement even if so much of the music is.
"It's almost like the blues, right? The blues is happy music because people are expressing what it is in their nature — they're being sad. In metal — violence in the world, it's just a part of life, but in this music, that gets expressed. So we don't have to bring that here. We don't have to bring that anger here in our bodies, in ourselves. We can bring that in our music and then be actual, I think, pretty decent human beings."