Before all of these other new jacks (including their own California and Days of Darkness fests), there was Maryland Deathfest, the ultimate heavy metal festival in the U.S. The fest has evolved quite a bit over the years with the changes in location, but one thing has always remained true: its commitment to some of the best metal acts in the world.

MDF has played host to some of the best reunions and performances in heavy music over the past 20 years, including some bands that have broken out to become stars on their own. In the following piece, we will examine five bands that broke out and became icons of heavy music after their appearance at the festival.

UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS (2014)

Up until then, the fuzz-laden, Beatles-esque Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats had only played their native Europe, yet still released their near perfect Blood Lust LP and the follow-up, Mind Control. Their first appearance at MDF would prove to be a primer for a much bigger set of U.S. dates to follow, and the sugary sweet melodies covered in layers of buzzsaw guitars were an instant hit with the mostly METAL (note capital letters) crowd. Uncle Acid in 2017 is a much bigger beast, but MDF played no small part in that initial legend.

GHOST (2011)

By the time Ghost took the stage inside at Sonar on the last night during the last time slot, they were already the hottest thing at the festival. Photos of the band had circulated regarding their appearances, but it was this showing that really provided the baseline for what a juggernaut Ghost would become in the following years. Hell, even related band Repugnant — a ripping death metal band in their own right — were referred to by many in the crowd as “members of Ghost.” Their appearance was a highlight of the evening, with scores of the curious gathered outside of the exits, trying to get into the packed room. Wish that buzz could have also been passed onto the putrid and vile direct support, Last Days of Humanity.

BOLT THROWER (2009)

Bolt Thrower were, arguably, the best band in death metal (R.I.P.). So, when they reunited to play Maryland Deathfest in 2009, their first U.S. show in 15 years, it was already a massive deal to see them live. The band’s themes of war and destruction seemed so much more crushing live, driven by that Karl Willetts roar and the low-end attack of Jo Bench and Martin Kearns. While that set was one for the record books, the band played a SECOND set to fill in for Pestilence, who had to cancel at the last minute, and the whole of the “Bolt Thrower weekend” became the stuff of legend. Arguably, the whispers after the band’s appearances catapulted them from revered cult death metal band to the most important death metal machine of all time. And, frankly, those voices were right.

GODFLESH (2012)

The duo of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green, like most great bands, have always been a bit of a task to classify. Metal? Industrial? Trip-hop, in their early years? Shoegaze, in their later years? Regardless, their appearance at Maryland Deathfest brought out tons of new folks who may have avoided the festival previously, and help spur a full Godflesh reunion. The band would go on to do larger tours and even put out a new record to surprisingly huge acclaim.

MIDNIGHT (2013)

Always a bit of a cult band, Midnight are the metal band that punks love and the low-key punk band that metalheads also adore. Hitting that sweet spot between Venom, Motörhead, Celtic Frost and good old fashioned rock 'n' roll, this sleazy Cleveland outfit had mostly played smaller festivals and rare one-offs prior to their appearance before thousands at Maryland Deathfest. And their performance was nothing less than stellar. In a day filled with bands that all talk about brutality and death, it’s always refreshing to hear a band sing about the finer things in life — lust, filth and sleaze. In the coming years, Midnight would agree to a full U.S. tour with Obituary as part of a Decibel-curated set of dates. Now if only Nunslaughter would have gotten similar treatment …