Are you torn between buying tickets and finding an exorcist? Don’t rush to judgment before reading this primer
Are you torn between buying tickets and finding an exorcist? Don’t rush to judgment before reading this primer (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Churchburn. Deicide. Emblugeonment. Pestilence. Blood.

No, this isn’t a an incantation for your deepest fears. It’s a few of the acts playing at the 17th annual Maryland Deathfest between May 23 and 26.

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Are you torn between buying tickets and finding an exorcist? Don’t rush to judgment before reading this primer:

Wait, though, what’s Maryland Deathfest? Am I going to die if I go?

No. At least, that’s not the point. Maryland Deathfest is among the country’s biggest music festivals dedicated to extreme music. That’s a catch-all term for various subgenres at the most severe fringes of rock, including black metal, hardcore, doom metal, grindcore and thrash. Organizers Evan Harting and Ryan Taylor built the Deathfest brand up over 17 years, from the first Maryland festival in 2003 to a Memorial Day weekend staple that attracts heavy rock fans from all over the world.

They’ve since taken the brand international, with affiliate Deathfests in California, the Netherlands, Quebec and Scandinavia. Harting said that the festival, which used to feature outdoor stages but now takes place at Rams Head Live and Baltimore Soundstage, attracts around 2,500-3,000 people on any given day.

So it’s for headbangers and goths?

Don’t jump to conclusions so quickly. You might not hear most or any of these acts on the radio, but they boast loyal followings who cross every manner of identity and geographic boundaries. The multi-platinum success of bands like Metallica, as well as the digital revolution, helped heavy music overcome moral panics about Satanism and delinquency while pushing it further out of the underground.

Today, you don’t need spiky hair, a studded leather jacket or occult leanings to love this music. Harting said that Maryland Deathfest’s increasing regional visibility invites people beyond the black-clad stereotypes into the fold.

“Even if you haven’t been, a lot of people, especially if they live in Baltimore or downtown, have heard of Deathfest or seen the hordes of people in black t-shirts,” he said. “That's made them interact more with people they otherwise wouldn't have, and realize that metalheads [and other heavy music fans] are friendly and polite most of the time. People bring their kids. It can seem intimidating, but it’s really a friendly environment for everyone."

Besides, the more than 70 confirmed bands boast enough stylistic diversity to prove that not all extreme music sounds the same.

“One reason why Maryland Death Fest has gone on for as long as it has is because you don't see these kinds of bands together all the time,” Harting said.

Prove it. Give me some examples.

Sure thing. Consider the following artists, including two DMV acts, that represent different generations and styles of heavy:

Inhumation, a death metal band from Frederick:

Rippikoulu, a doomier ensemble from Finland:

Ampallang Infection, a grindcore act from Washington D.C.:

Hummingbird of Death, a fastcore trio from Boise, Idaho:

Many Maryland Deathfest line-ups feature bands who haven’t played U.S. shows in at least a few years — or ever. Harting mentions a few examples of such bands on this year’s roster, including European death metal vets Benediction, Unleashed and Pestilence.

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Alright, that shreds pretty hard. How much are tickets?

They range from $33 for individual dates at Soundstage to $249 for four-day passes. In addition, tickets for a pre-fest party at Ottobar on Wednesday, May 22 cost $23. Harting’s co-founder Ryan Taylor said that these tickets will be available at the doors, pending availability. Visit the festival’s Eventbrite page to purchase tickets.

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