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Ratscape: an interview with the founders

Baltimore recording engineer Mike Franklin thinks that Baltimore is essentially one big family that just hasn’t met yet. He hopes his festival, Ratscape, a celebration of underground local music which he organized with his friend Josh Schleupner, could be one way for all those talented “family” members to get to know one another.

Josh Schleupner and Mike Franklin, founders of Baltimore's Ratscape Festival. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

Josh Schleupner and Mike Franklin, founders of Baltimore’s Ratscape Festival. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

Held July 19-21 at The Hour Haus studios at the corner of North Ave. and Howard St., Ratscape is only on its second year — festival infancy by Baltimore standards. Ratscape occurs the same weekend as the city’s infamous Artscape, which is billed at the America’s largest free arts festival. And while folks at Artscape will be jamming to the sounds of more well known national performers,  Ratscape festival goers can listen to music from more than a dozen different and obscure subgenres, representing just a just a tiny slice of the artistic depth of the region. For $5 per day, Ratscape features 47 bands. In keeping with the DIY spirit of the day, the event is also BYOB. So other than the extra cash you’ll want to bring for band merch and one of those exclusive Ratscape t-shirts, Ratscape is a musical bargain.

I spoke with Mike and Josh the other night about their philosophy behind the fest, who is playing, and what to expect. So pop on some headphones and click play on the link below. Set times for the bands for each day are listed below. Watch this space in the coming days for links to music samples from every group performing.

RATSCAPE 2013 running order and set times

2pm – 2:30pm———- Eze Jackson
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Something Complex
3:30 – 4:00pm———- Seaglass
4:15 – 4:45pm———- Expert Alterations
5:00 – 5:30pm———- Matrimonials
5:45 – 6:15———- Choke Motel
6:30 – 7pm ———-Hot God
7:15 – 7:45pm———-Nice Guys
8:00 – 8:30 ———-Pleasant livers
8:45 – 9:15 ———-USSA Pleasuredome
9:30 – 10:00pm———- Special People
10:15 – 10:45pm ———-Shining Mirrors
11:00 – 11:30pm ———-Raindeer
11:45 – 12:15am ———-Arboretum
12:30 – 1:00am ———-Flying Eyes
1:15 – 1:45am ———-Sterling Sisters

Saturday, July 20th

2pm – 2:30pm———- Dead Whale Ramblers
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Blood Horses
3:30 – 4pm ———-Et Al
4:15 – 4:45pm ———-Voodoo Pharmacology
5:00 – 5:30pm ———-Gutterhooks
5:45 – 6:15pm———- Foghound
6:30 – 7pm ———-Lazlo Lee
7:15 – 7:45pm———- Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers
8:00 – 8:30pm ———-Wet Brain
8:45 – 9:15pm ———-Hollywood
9:30 – 10:00pm ———-Ravagers
10:15 – 10:45rpm ———-Advlts
11:00 – 11:30 ———-Christopher Nobody & The Nothing
11:45 – 12:15———- Slow Jerks
12:30 – 1:00am ———-Hard Dads
1:15am – 1:45am ———-Baklavaa

Sunday, July 21st

2:pm – 2:30pm ———-Neverthought
2:45 – 3:15pm———- Last of the Vallorians
3:30 – 4:00pm———- Disorder
4:15 – 4:45pm———- Pallid
5:00 – 5:30pm ———-Phantom Lanterns
5:45 – 6:15pm———- Mountainwolf
6:30 – 7:00pm———-Big Mouth
7:15 – 7:45pm ———-Nude Massacre
8:00 – 8:30pm———- Urine
8:45 – 9:15pm ———-Sexgender
9:30 – 10:00pm ———-Barbelith
10:15 – 10:45pm ———-Melungeon
11:00 – 11:30pm ———-Cemetery Piss
11:45 – 12:15pm ———-Rukut
12:30 – 1:00pm———- Noisem


INTERVIEW: Old Lines among must-see hardcore acts at MDF

One of the new features at the 2013 Maryland Deathfest is the addition of a second stage at Baltimore Soundstage for punk and hardcore acts.  One of the bands I consider a must-see at this stage is Baltimore’s Old Lines, who will perform on Friday, May 24.
Combining heavy with hardcore, Old Lines is able to strike that perfect balance that makes their music stand out from the pack. Add to this some crusty vocals, d-beat rhythms and political themes and you have band that sounds simultaneously classic and brand new.
Old Lines

Old Lines

Old Lines is Mitch Roemer, Jake Berry, Matt Taylor and Pat Martin. Pat and Matt  thoughtfully answered my standard MDF questions.

What will be the official lineup for Maryland Deathfest?

Pat:  The lineup will be the current version of Old Lines. Me, Matt, Mitch, and Jake. Nothing out of the ordinary over here, haha.
What do you consider to be one of your band’s most essential
Pat:  Well, haha, we only have one record out, our LP that came out back in January. That’d be our only, and for sure most essential recording this far. It’s also streaming on our BandCamp page all the time, so if you wanna check it out, that’d be awesome. We only have a few copies left, so if you like it, don’t hesitate to mail order one!
How does your band feel about playing Maryland Deathfest?
Pat:  We’re all pretty excited! Being a newer band, it’s really cool of those guys to ask us to be a part of such a rad weekend. Also, not a ton of local bands play it, so it’s a pretty special thing.
Matt: So stoked! MDF is something I look forward to every year, and I’m so excited we can be a part of it this time. Mega-thanks to Evan and Ryan for giving us the opportunity.
What other bands playing MDF do you hope to see perform?
Matt:  Oh man, there are so many:  Abigail, Carcass, Hellshock, Loss, Tragedy, Evoken, Pallbearer, Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Midnight, Pagan Altar, and of course… fucking Infest!  It’s really cool to see more punk bands playing this year, and I think the idea of having a punk/hardcore stage is super rad.  I’m also stoked that Ilsa is playing since they are our homies, and Rotten Sound is going to kill.
Pat:  I’m pretty pumped on seeing a ton of the bands on our stage. Weekend Nachos, Ilsa, Citizens Arrest, Gehenna, DOC, Tragedy, and Infest, for sure. Infest was a band I thought I’d probably never see, so it’ll be pretty cool to see them for the first time. I’m gonna be the dude smashing everything when they play Sick-o, haha. Seeing Pig Destroyer, Integrity, and Midnight over on the main stages should be pretty cool too.
Will you be doing other shows as part of your stop at MDF or is
this appearance exclusive?
Pat:  We’re only gonna be doing the Friday night of the fest, at this point. We kind of had a discussion about trying to do a short tour around it, but it wasn’t really feasible with everyone’s schedules. It’s entirely possible we might try to squeeze another show in right after it, but right now, it’s just the fest.
Will there be any unusual or special merchandize you will be
selling while at MDF?
Matt:  No, not really.  I think the special Pagan Altar patches they made are really cool though since they have “MDF 2013” on them.  I don’t know, maybe we’ll have a new shirt design or patch or something. Of course we’ll have records too.

Pat:  I’m not sure, we haven’t really discussed doing any special merch for the fest yet. We have beer koozies, that not a normal piece of merch, or maybe it is now, but whatever, haha. Gotta keep those beers chilly!

Is there anything else you want people to know about your band?
Pat:  We’re trying to stay busy over the summer. Me and Mitch are about to start writing songs for whatever our next release/releases are gonna be. We probably aren’t gonna play a ton of shows around town, and focus on writing the new jams. As far as touring, we just got home from our first tour about a month ago, which was really awesome, and a ton of fun. I think we’re going to try to go out again in the fall? We’ve chatted with the Ilsa dudes about maybe doing some weekends, but that’s just been bar talk so far, haha.
Matt: Big thanks to Ryan and Evan for putting us on the show, and thanks so much to everyone for checking us out. See you soon!

INTERVIEW: "Scruff" Lewty of Hellbastard says crust punk label doesn’t apply

The group Hellbastard are among the pioneers of what is known as crust punk. Yet, they are much more than that, blending melodic metal guitar riffs with intelligent and intelligible lyrical content. 
As I mentioned in my previous band profile of Hellbastard for the 2012 Maryland Deathfest, I am somewhat smitten with the group. Their sound takes me back to my college years when I listened to punk and dark wave and lots and lots of Killing Joke. I wanted to find out more about them so I sent lead singer Malcolm “Scruff” Lewty some questions via email. He took the time to respond just before they departed to hit the PouzzaFest, a punk festival in Montreal on May 18, 19 and 20. 
If you watch video of live performances of Hellbastard, you can tell Scruff is an energetic, in-your-face kind of person. But even in writing, Scruff is a colorful character. I have decided to run the entire email correspondence with little editing. The parts in bold are my questions. Note: in some instances my name is spelled Maery. This is normal.
Hi, Are you heading to North America soon? Here are a few questions to get started. I will assume you, Scruff, are answering unless someone else wants to provide a reply. Please confirm the current touring lineup.

Hallow there Maery. The current HELLBASTARD line up, touring or recording is Josh “Budda” Harris (Drums), Tom Mc Coombe (Guitar), Paul O’Shea (Bass) and myself (Malcolm “Scruff” Lewty) Vocals & Guitars.

What recording material will you be focusing on for your set list?
Oh, we play loads of old stuff, and some of the new stuff will be played for the first time, too. It is a mixture, we try and please ourselves first, then anyone/everyone else. We have our own soundman for these shows coming up, and we are going to try a few new things for Hellbastard, just a few things we have never done before. Hopefully it’ll all go according to plan. We will play stuff from the early demos and material from every album too!

What do you think of the term crust punk? How does it apply to Hellbastard?
I don’t think it does….certainly not in the context that it is “in” these days. I am not a fan of labels, it is easy to neatly classify something and then be done with it. We are a lot more than the average band from the aforementioned genre. Great “politics”, bland and “samey” music, isn’t that usually how it works? It has become another fashion. The POLITICS behind the terminology of “crust” are valid, now more than ever. The actual term “Crust Punk” is just the same as “Hardcore Metal” or whatever, it is a label and nothing more, nothing less. The real message and spirit lie waiting to be activated and thrust upon earth’s oppressors. The message is in the action.

Tell me about the part the band played in the UK thrash documentary “A History of a Time to Come.” How did you get involved in that?
They contacted us to be a part of it, it was put on hold for months and months and finally they came with big lights and cameras to blind us and ask us questions and film us. I seem to remember being really angry when being interviewed, we’ll see I guess. This film is going to be televised (so we are told) and that will be interesting.

You are using Twitter and Facebook (or the band is). How does that feel for an anarchist punk rocker?
You assume we are “Anarchist Punk Rockers” huh? I never ever called myself an Anarchist before, ever. Surely the only real and true anarchists are either dead or locked up. I don’t know about TWITTER (that is down to Tom really he loves all that stuff). Me? I can barely use Facebook. If it was possible I’d have us all go back to bartering again, you know – these BOOTS for that COAT kind-of-thing. I don’t think ANY of us are ‘anarchists’ at all. The rest of the band are certainly not ‘anarchists’ – although it IS the closest descriptive terminology for Hellbastard. From a personal standpoint, I don’t think many ‘anarchists’ would like what I really think. I don’t think many commies or marxists would either, nor any fascists or pseudo-nazis come to think of it. I am NOT being facetious here, so do please “excuse” my tone.

Are you doing any other shows or tours before or after MDF that you would like to mention? And if so, where and with whom? I see the festival in Canada. Anything else? What are you planning to do between the show on May 19 and the MDF show on May 26?
We are booked “exclusively” for POUZZA FEST in Montreal and MDF in USA. This was the deal, so to speak. We are not ‘allowed’ to play any other shows, though it’d be really hard not to perform an impromptu set at a basement show or ‘drinking hole’ in between the fests. I am assuming we will hang out and look for a place to call home for a short while…. we won’t be affording hotels because we are not rich enough,.so I am not sure. I guess the main thing will be to find a bed for the night for the five of us.

What special or unusual items will you have for sale at MDF? Will you have your new recording out yet to buy?

Unfortunately we will NOT have the new recording out to buy. This has to be released as a split side to a 12″ on Profane Existence Records first. The other band on the split 12″ is “Dresden” from Wisconsin. After this, the “Sons of Bitches” release will be out on different labels throughout the world.

Any special greetings for your fans? Anything else we should know? Is this what you wanted to be when you grew up?
We hope you come to the show and enjoy it. We are using a few things we have never used before so it should be quiet interesting… This is the first time HB will have played CANADA and we are really looking forward to having a great show and entertaining any souls that show up……………

None of us will ever grow up, especially me. I pride myself that, in the 33 years I have been involved with music I have kept my basic mischievious childishness. That is, except when I am in a foul mood.

I wanted to teach when I was a kid, and I did that and quit. Paul our bass player wanted to be a monk – (this is true, but he got too carried away with heavy metal and subsequently landed into HB.) Tom our other guitarist wanted to be a baker, but he can’t bake to save his life! Josh, our drummer, wanted to work in the agricultural industry and promote healthy organic farming, but he got carried away at the zoo where he works,……..and stayed there.This is the best thing I ever did, at least one of the most fulfilling things anyway. Certainly better than teaching secondary English.

Thank you Maery, thank you for the interview. It is odd. We are a “known” band all around the world and yet nobody knows who we are. Mysterious is always best!


Scruff. Hellbastard May 2012.

Here is something really old from Hellbastard. Circa 1986 I think.

Countdown to MDF X: (17) Coke Bust

 There are a bunch of sweaty teenagers down in the basement knocking into mom’s storage containers and stage diving off of the washing machine. Must be a Coke Bust show.

Coke Bust describe themselves as a straightedge hardcore punk band. And being from the Washington, DC area I would say they have some big shoes to fill in that arena, the nation’s capital being the birthplace of such iconic punks bands as Fugazi, Government Issue and Minor Threat. They seem to be doing pretty well though. And, no they don’t always play in basements.

Since 2006, when they put out their first demo, the group has released a little something –a cassette, a 7 inch split, an EP–every single year. They play consistently and are ready to go to Europe to play the Obscene Extreme Fest in the Czech Republic this summer.

Coke Bust is Nicktape (vocals), James (guitar),  Jubert ( bass) and Chris (drums). They play the 2012 Maryland Deathfest on Sunday afternoon, May 27.

Countdown to MDF X: (32) Hellbastard

The moment I first listened to Hellbastard, my heart began to race, and I had that eerie feeling as though I was hearing the voice of a departed loved one. That “departed loved one” was evidently my youth, misspent listening to crap. I felt sick and ashamed that I had never known of this UK band until now.

Founded in the mid 80s, Hellbastard set out from the beginning to merge the lyrical, integrity of 70s era punk with the balls-to-the-wall aggression of non-industry-approved heavy metal. Their earliest demo, Ripper Crust, possesses that deliciously fuzzy heavy metal guitar distortion, the frenetic drumming, some occasional feedback, and that forgivably low-fidelity audio production. The vocals, unlike black metal or “traditional” punk, are much more clear and shouted in your face. They are pissed off, and they want you to know why.

Later albums, such as the unbelievably Slayer-esque EP They Brought Death, reveal the fact that someone has thrown more cash into production, but the punk and metal spirits never wane. Hellbastard stay true to their prime directive: to rock you into submission. One source even described their sound as Crass’s political lyrics plus Slayer’s music, and I would say that’s spot on. Unlike a typical punk tune, which might be over and done with in about a minute, Hellbastard take their time with each song, enjoying the riff, building the rage, and letting the listeners experience full-on, head banging catharsis.

The current members of Hellbastard include founder Malcolm “Scruff” Lewty (Vocals/Guitars) with Tom McCombe (Guitars), Paul O’Shea (Bass), and Josh “Buda” Harris (Drums). The group’s history is bi-modal with one active era from about 1985 to about 1992 and then another from 2008 until now. Interest in Hellbastard was sustained in the interim by their inclusion on numerous complications representing the crust and grindcore genres.

Hellbastard has produced a 12″ vinyl split with American crust band Dresden and are slated to have a new EP, Sons of Bitches, out sometime by the end of 2012 or early 2013.  The song, “Arcadia,” below, appears on both. Hellbastard plays the 2012 Maryland Deathfest on Saturday afternoon, May 26. I’ll be up front, weeping and apologizing.

Countdown to MDF X: (33) Deviated Instinct

Deviated Instinct is credited with inventing the term “stenchcore,” another way of saying crust punk. The crust punk lifestyle, in case you were not aware, involves minimal bathing, living on the streets or sqautting in abandoned homes and of course, listening to this extreme anarcho-punk-metal. The crust punks have essentially carried on the “traditions” and lyrical themes set forth by the anarchist punks from the 70s and 80s: that is, the world is going to hell anyway, so why bother. Their sound is often compared to the earlier recordings of another pioneering British crust punk band Amebix.

Staying true to all that is crusty and brutal, this British band that started off in the mid 1980s, has barely changed their sound in 28 years.  If you liked the nihilistic songs from their first recording, Welcome to the Orgy, you won’t be disappointed by what they have to offer on the their later recordings. They enjoyed underground success until they broke up in 1991.

During the interim, interest in Deviated Instinct was maintained when songs appeared on compilations and also through guitarist Rob Middleton’s short-lived industrial Spine Wrench project. Reuniting in 2007, the current line-up includes original members Leggo (vocals), Rob “Mid” Middleton (guitar/vocals), and Snapa (bass guitar), as well as drummer Tony who started playing sometime in the 90s.

Deviated Instinct plays Saturday afternoon, May 26, at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. In June, they release a 12″ vinyl EP, Liberty Crawls to the Santuary of Slaves. Hopefully they will have some on hand for sale. The newest songs might be a little darker and doomier than the fast tempo songs they have played in the past. I have included a live set video from 2011 that includes one of the songs from the new EP, “Blunt Instrument.”

Worshipping the riff with Infernal Stronghold’s Gunslut

As part of my series on every single band playing at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest, I have also tried as often as possible to get a few comments from some of the bands. Usually, I send them an email and see what happens. Gunslut, drummer for Internal Stronghold, was kind enough to reply to some of my questions. Infernal Stronghold plays early in the day on Saturday, May 26. Gunslut’s real name, by the way, is Grzesiek Czapla. Here is something of a reconstruction of our email conversation.

What do you want people to know about Infernal Stronghold?
We’ve been making music since 2002 but started playing out live somewhere in 2005. We’ve always wanted to play black metal, and I feel like that’s the goal whenever we make a song, but it’s just not possible (er… extremely difficult) doing that while living in Philly. Punk and hardcore just easily crawls its way into the band. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
Do you have any new recordings in the works? 
The last recording we have is a demo of a new song (Flesh Totem) that we self-released with Absu in November of 2011 for our short east coast exhibition. We’ll also have a very small number of the split with Absu with us (for sale at the MDF). That song will appear on our next full-length LP, which we are working on now.
What about a tour?

We’ll be touring for around 45 days in the fall (Canada and the USA), and since our decade of existence coincides with MDF’s decade of awesomeness, I figured we should make it special. Not sure how just yet, but it will be cool and ferocious. I am reluctant to post dates because the tour is the still in the planning stage, but I’d say we have half of it booked.
One thing I really like about your band is that it seems you stick to that old school black metal vibe, as opposed to some of the bands from the NYC area who to be going in a sort of “noise rock” direction that I am not hugely fond of.
I really appreciate your comment about our particular style of black metal, which is odd to say really because it’s not really a particular style of black metal; it is black metal (kind of, sometimes?). These newer and atmospheric/noise rock/post black metal/weirdo bands that have been popping up don’t really seem to have any riffs, but dynamics, parts that build up, and emotional dirges within songs that lack balls. We just want cool riffs and fast as shit songs, no god damn fussin’ around with pansy songs.

Anything else?

Worship the RIFF.
And that, my friends, is excellent advice!

Countdown to MDF X: (38) Infernal Stronghold

Philadelphia’s Infernal Stronghold delivers unadulterated blackened thrash that neither apologizes for its no-holds-barred sound or blasphemous lyrical content. Founded in 2002, Infernal Stronghold somehow seems to have crawled out of the  same hellish void that spawned bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Bathory.

With songs like “Your Soul Stinks Like Shit” and “Crashing Trucks Into Churches,” there really is no question what you are getting into with Infernal Stronghold. Expect to hear some of the most extreme, punk influenced black metal that you will ever hear produced on American soil.

As described on their Facebook page, members of Infernal Stronghold include Gunslut: Baltic battery (that is, drums); Eddie Chainsaw: the voice. guitars; Abolish Yourself: guitars, Richie Rabid: ravishing Carpathia (that is, bass).

The most recent recordings from Infernal Stronghold were released in 2011 and include a 7″ split with Pizza Hi Five, which you can check out on Bandcamp here.

There also exists a 7″ split that Infernal Stronghold sold only at shows when they were on tour with Absu. Their last full-length recording, Godless Noise, came out in 2009. Both of the songs posted below can be found on Godless Noise.

Make sure you arrive early on Saturday, May 26 if you want to check out Infernal Stronghold at the Maryland Deathfest.

Countdown to MDF X: (39) Bloody Phoenix

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that this band Bloody Phoenix is also looking for a practice space on May 24-25 before their appearance at the Maryland Deathfest. If you can help, contact Jerry Flores at and put BLOODY PHOENIX in the subject line.

Remember punk rock? Bloody Phoenix does. This grindcore, punk, ensemble hails from Los Angeles, California. They have been churning out screaming chunks of punk-flavored goodness since the fall of 2001. Their songs are long enough to get the mosh pit going but short enough to make sure no one gets killed.

Bloody Phoenix might be the band The Ramones would have become, had they taken the left hand path. There is no denying the punk rock roots in a song such as “Marching Into A Bottomless Well,” but the eerie vibe and death growl vocals reveal the true motivations here. Some reviewers describe this band as thrash core. That’s an interesting term. They just seem like balls-out punk rock to me. In researching this article, I really liked the 20-track album Death to Everyone from 2010.

Members include Jerry Flores (guitars), Michael Karubin (drums), Vito Tagliente (bass), and Molly Scarpine (vocals). Saira Huff from Question/RØSENKØPF/x-Detestation will be contributing guest vocals.

In an email, Flores said much of their setlist will come from Death to Everyone.

“Songs will vary… Mostly from our Death To Everyone LP as well as our split 7″ with Question and some new songs made for a 4-way split LP that will be coming out later this year. Possibly a couple of older songs sprinkled here and there,” Flores wrote.

As for the merch available from the band during the festival, Flores said to expect the usual. “Shirts, CDs, some vinyl, and possibly some pint glasses,” he said. Wait a minute… PINT GLASSES? WANT!!
So prepare for a raucous start to a long, long list of bands crushing through Saturday at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. Get there by noon, as Bloody Phoenix takes the stage first. 

Countdown to MDF X: (45) Unsane

As a child of the 80s, punk has and always will hold an honored position in my musical heart. Therefore I am happy to report that defining noise rock band Unsane will perform Friday, May 25 at the Maryland Deathfest. Formed in New York in 1988 when the members were still in college, only original member Chris Spencer  (vocals, guitar) remains in the trio. Other current members include Dave Curran (bass/vocals) and Vinnie Signorelli (drums).

Presently on tour with The Melvins, Unsane is credited as being one of the pioneers of noise rock, infusing elements of punk, hardcore and even rock-a-billy and blues into their songs.  The unrelenting backbeat, in your face vocals, and often times twangy and distorted guitar riffs will set them apart from most acts at MDF X. No corpse paint and spiked gauntlets here.

Unsane swaggers through each song with impressive violence and grace. Their sound has barely changed over time. They have maintained their brutal punkish roots for nearly 25 years, unbowed to the trends in music around them. This is a good thing. They are like a rough roll in the hay* with a familiar lover, you know exactly what to expect, but you won’t be bored and you’ll leave thoroughly satisfied.

*that is, fuck 🙂

Here’s something brand new from Unsane….

And something from their first self-title recording….

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