People that aren’t from Baltimore typically associate it with The Wire (which every touring band seems to bring up at least once when they play here), or Maryland Deathfest. But if you have yet to visit the city for yourself, you may not know that it is host to a lot of great bands. Living in the nearby area has given me the chance to see plenty of great touring acts, as well as watch a lot of local talent grow and explore a wide range of metal and punk genres. My intention with this series of articles is to spotlight some of the better bands Baltimore has to offer, as compared to regional scenes like Richmond I feel like we sometimes fly under the radar. This is by no means a “best of”, but here are five groups I think you should pay attention to, with more to come in future articles. –Chris Dahlberg
Musket Hawk’s a great example of a Baltimore band that’s able to pull together a little bit of everything metal and punk into a heavy hitting mixture. Though their primary style falls somewhere between fast paced grind and bottom heavy sludge grooves, the instrumental work is always unpredictable. Their newest album ‘Desolate’, which came out earlier in the month Unholy Anarchy Records, is a perfect example of this. What might start off as an all-out grind rager might give way to sludge without warning, and songs like The Grove even incorporate some black metal tonality and guitar leads. Add in the dual vocals of Gary Fry and Marty Spiro, and you’ve got a destructive combination. Marty handles the lower end, hitting some extremely low growls that remind me a lot of grindcore and powerviolence, while Gary’s got the abrasive higher screams and shrieks covered. Not many groups can run almost the full spectrum of metal and punk and still have songwriting that stands out, but that’s where Musket Hawk distinguishes themselves.
You’ll probably notice as you make your way through the rest of this list that I’ve used this first article to spotlight some of the Baltimore bands on the more experimental side of the spectrum. Snakefeast definitely fits that description, and if you ever have the chance to see them live I’d highly recommend it. As soon as you put on the group’s debut full length ‘The Pythoness’, which came out last year, you’ll notice that these guys are doing something genuinely different. Utilizing bass, saxophone, and drums, they channel elements of black metal, sludge, and jazz fusion style grooves. While the bass delivers these rumbling grooves and the saxophone squeals away with its jazzier feel, vocalist Phil Doccolo hits you with an incredibly distorted scream that sounds genuinely evil and unsettling. It’s both catchy and abrasive, and I can assure you that Snakefeast manages to make metal that sounds different from pretty much everything else out there. Plus Phil is the co-owner of Grimoire Records, who continues to put out some of the best talent from this region.
Corpse Light has been on my radar for a few years now, originally starting off as Ophidian before transforming into the band they are today. Their debut EP ‘Without Form’ came out last year on Grimoire Records, and showcased just what they’re capable of. If you’re a fan of type of doom and post metal that groups like Neurosis have inspired over the past couple of decades, you’ll definitely enjoy what Corpse Light has to offer. Like some of the best, they build up layers of instrumentation slowly, letting them expand with darker, bleak tonality until they reach an almost suffocating level at their peak. The equal use of sweeping, somber melodies and absolutely crushing instrumentation works to their advantage, and vocalist Jim Webb has a tortured scream/howl that instantly grabs your attention. ‘Without Form’ does a fantastic job of capturing what makes this band so special, but if you’re ever able to see them live I recommend it as these layers of dense sludge/doom have even more of an impact when they’re washing over your entire body.
Baklavaa is another band I’ve followed since their early days, mainly because I went to high school with their singer/guitarist Ted and have kept up with his musical projects over the years. Baklavaa isn’t a metal band like the majority of this list, falling closer to the noise rock end of the spectrum with some additional post hardcore and punk influences coming through. Their newest album ‘Dane On’ showcases just what they’ve been developing over the past few years, and it’s a record filled with off-kilter hooks and genuine weirdness. Like some of the best Amphetamine Reptile noise rock bands, the jagged edges of the guitar and bass work come through perfectly on the recording and regularly throw you off balance. Ted’s vocal work ranges from softer singing to deranged sounding screaming, which is reminiscent of both noise rock and some of the weirder 90s alt-rock bands. It’s weird, noisy as hell, and most importantly has some real substance that will keep you wanting to come back for more.
I hope you’re ready for more avant-garde insanity, because that’s exactly what my last pick has to offer. Elagabalus is a duo that has been around for about two years now, and their debut full length ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ was one of the most interesting metal records I came across last year. Since that time they’ve released a new EP titled ‘_’ which is just as out there. The best way to describe what Elagabalus does is experimental or avant-garde black metal, as the instrumentals incorporate synths and guitars that have a spacier, almost Blut Aus Nord feel and then run them through a free-form no-wave filter. There’s something about the guitar and synth tone that makes it sound genuinely otherworldly, and there are so many changes happening from one song to the next that it can be hard to keep up with. Add in vocals that have a bit more of a sludge or noise rock feel than black metal, and you have a band that can’t be lumped into one particular category and seems to be continually pushing the boundaries with each new release.