As a photographer, I often get the esteemed privilege of getting just a little bit closer than everyone else to some of my favorite musicians, if for a little while. Three songs and done per artist is often the rule of thumb, and then you’re likely to find us standing either stage right or left, watching the rest of the set from a profile view or with our noses down, whittling away all the blacked out and blurry shots we might have snapped. But this time it was different: no photo pit, just a barricade, bands, and fans. So when I planted myself center stage 20 minutes before the local acts began rumbling from the speakers, I knew that I wouldn’t be giving up that spot for the next four or more hours. It had been so long since I’d been in the midst of things, the welcome embrace of a true concert-goer experience overwhelmed me at times, and provided me its own weight in photo benefits and challenges. I’m happy that I was able to share it with so many others as we crammed close to the Fish Head Cantina stage on September 13 and witnessed one band after another deliver great performances.
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Inoculum was the first local Maryland opener, but one need simply listen to their EP Antigen to be blown away by not only the musical talent, but the production quality behind this act. Quickly the view that I had captured became far more crowded with another row or two of intrigued listeners and dedicated fans. It’s rare for me to see this sort of draw from a regional act, but the fact is that this group was truly impressive.
The first act had been a rather straight-forward display of metal music in terms of appearance, but the Sonic Creeps took it to a gothic, 80s post-apocalyptic extreme. Donning facepaint, gas masks, and other attire that would make the Misfits proud, the sextet unleashed songs such as “Return Of Ed Harley,” their new single, “Angry Red Planet.” An even larger crowd had gathered around me at this point, many seemingly quite familiar with this second regional group, singing along themselves.
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The high-pitched wail sounding from one of Striker’s classic tunes pierced my ears, but rather than coming from vocalist, Dan Cleary, it was being emitted by an enthused fan standing to my left and his ecstatic girlfriend. More than once, I had to stop taking photos to grab onto the barricade as tipsy fans pushed as far as they could to reach these five Canadians. And understandably so, as each member of the group was so outgoing, flexing their biceps, flipping drumsticks, and bringing the microphone up close and personal so that fans could add their voice to the mix. And honestly, for my musical tastes, Striker’s brand of traditional heavy metal (with just enough hair thrown in the mix) stood as one of the highlights of my evening, full of anthemic chants (backed up by bassist William Wallace), drum poses by Adam Brown, and crazy guitar solos by both Tim Brown and Chris Segger.
If I had to name one band that comes to mind when I think of modern thrash music, Warbringer would certainly make the cut. Touring in support of their latest album, Woe To The Vanquished, which was released earlier this year, the group have decided to play that album in their entirety. And they certainly did, shredding through “Silhouettes,” “Shellfire,” and the 11 minute, 11 second closing track, “When The Guns Fell Silent.” Throughout the performance, vocalist John Kevill carried an almost possessed demeanor, eyes twitching and hands floating through the air, seemingly casting spells upon the audience. His shrill shrieks filled our ears, accompanied by the dual-guitar attack of Adam Carroll and Chase Becker. They closed up with a request from the audience, ripping through our being once more with “Living Weapon” from Worlds Torn Asunder. By the end of this, I had to purchase a patch for my upcoming battle vest.
Touring in support of their late-2016 full-length album, Atoma, Dark Tranquillity took to a stage covered in the beautiful blue swirls of that album’s artwork, as well as a visual display, courtesy of an overhead projector. This essentially turned drummer, Anders Jivarp, into a living work of art as the patterns cascaded over his face. Being front and center meant that I benefit from plenty of great shots of vocalist Mikael Stanne, sometimes more than we bargained for, as his face contorted into sinister smiles mere inches from our own. Pulling largely from their recent release, Atoma, with healthy samplings of the previous album, Construct, and Fiction, fans seemed overjoyed at everything thrown at them. I, unfortunately, had to head out about four songs in due to an early morning, giving up my spot to a younger fan, much to his surprise and gratitude. If you have a chance, I’d highly recommend catching this tour as it comes through your area (featuring DT, Warbringer, and Striker only). Do yourself a favor: get that front-and-center spot. You won’t regret it.