Metal Machine Music
“We’re all Black Flag at heart, right?”
In most settings, a drunk slurring these words into a cranked PA system would get a quizzical stink eye from anyone in earshot. When Eyehategod frontman Mike Williams pronounces it from the stage at Sonar during the band’s set on the first night of Maryland Deathfest, there are cheers, nods and, of course, index-finger-and-pinkie metal “horns.” If there’s any place in North America where deep identification with a gnarly, contrarian hardcore band makes sense, it’s here.
For 10 years, Deathfest has been luring metalheads from everywhere to Baltimore for what is now four days jammed with sets from dozens of bands from all over the extreme-music map: death metal, black metal, hardcore, stoner/doom, etc.
Among those enjoying the veritable buffet of brutal volume and blastbeats are scores of guys with long hair, sleeves of tattoos, and severe glowers. Almost everyone wears a black T-shirt bearing a band logo—no Mötorhead or Metallica here; Bathory or Cannibal Corpse are more like it. Among the outliers is a graying, beefy guy in khaki shorts who might be your accountant or your local deli counterman, only wearing a Goatwhore T-shirt. There are women here too, but they seem outnumbered about 2-to-1.
Four diminutive, black-clad metalheads with the dark skin and high cheekbones of the Andean back country wait on the baking concrete outside the portable toilets for a fifth to emerge. One man wears a chicken suit, flailing his grimy yellow wings in the mosh pit in front of the stage as Chilean death-metal band Pentagram pummels one of the outdoor stages. During Japanese band Church of Misery’s set, a slim young man with flowing blond hair, concave eye sockets, and a white cane taps his way toward the titanic riffs.
Past the happy violence of the pit, though, there are tons of where-ya-been-bro hugs and nary a single fistfight. A tubby young African-American from Louisiana cuts in front of several folks in the beer line only to turn around and bubble with enthusiasm to anyone in earshot about his first Deathfest, how awesome the bands are, how friendly everyone is. He grabs his Flying Dog, sticks out his hand, and says, “Thanks for being cool,” and all is forgiven.
It’s lunchtime at Calvin Rodwell Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore as hundreds of young scholars in maroon-and-white polo shirts invade the cafeteria. They take seats at long, white lunch tables as they do every day, but this isn’t any ordinary lunch period.
A new salad bar with sleek curves sits at the front of the room. Brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s one of 10 donated to city schools by HBO, Whole Kids Foundation, and Global Tap in an attempt to combat obesity.
Governor Martin O’Malley has joined students for lunch today and, with spork in hand, he's ready to lead by example.
“Thank you for being leaders,” he tells the students. They watch wide-eyed as the governor sits among them with a horde of cameras close behind. O’Malley passed over the fresh strawberries and grapes at the salad bar and filled his plastic bowl mostly with leafy greens. Tie loosened, sleeves rolled up, he digs in.
The students love the fuss over their salad bar, but they’re even more excited about what the rest of their day has in store: a movie. They’ll skip afternoon class to watch a new HBO documentary on childhood health, The Weight of the Nation.
But first, it’s time for lunch.