(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by The Black Dahlia Murder, due for release on April 17th by Metal Blade Records.)
If I were forced to select one word to describe The Black Dahlia Murder’s particular brand of high-stakes, high-adrenaline Death Metal that word would undoubtedly be… anthemic.
After all, one of the band’s defining features has always been their ability to conjure up a seemingly endless series of contagious, crowd-friendly choruses and red-hot hooks to balance out their molten metallic mayhem, with much of this burden often falling to lunatic-larynxed frontman Trevor Strnad, whose distinctive delivery – part predatory preacher, part Death Metal drill sergeant, part crazed carnival barker – is an inimitable part of the group’s sound.
The band’s last album, 2017’s superb Nightbringers, in many ways felt like the apotheosis of this, with songs such as “Kings of the Nightworld” and the titanic title track featuring some of the catchiest, most bombastic material the group have ever written.
The thing is… once you’ve peaked like that, there’s almost nowhere to go but down. So the big question now is whether or not Verminous is going to be a victim of the band’s success, or whether the gang have found a way to escape the curse of diminishing returns…
Suffice it to say that, if you don’t want to learn any more about the album before its release you can stop reading at the end of this paragraph safe in the knowledge that Verminous neatly (and cleverly) sidesteps the potential pitfalls involved in following in the footsteps of its incredibly successful predecessor, and, as a result, is one of the band’s best releases to date (top three at least).
Whereas previously one could (and many have) criticised some of the group’s albums for providing the Death Metal equivalent of a sugar-rush – fast acting, hard hitting, but not necessarily long-lasting – Verminous feels like it has a lot more meat on its bones.
It’s perhaps not as instantly addictive as previous records, but it has a deeper palette (the band themselves refer to it as their most dynamic, and most dramatic, record yet) and a more persistent flavour, and seems destined to become the true connoisseur’s album of choice.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its fair share of crowd-pleasers – both “Removal of the Oaken Stake” and “Sunless Empire” are guaranteed future-classics – but overall Verminous is less reliant on the band’s established inventory of patented tricks and tropes, and more about providing a richer and more rewarding, albeit still wickedly enjoyable, listening experience.
One subtle, but important, part of this is how much it feels like less pressure has been placed on Strand’s ever-versatile, always visceral, vocals to carry the day this time around.
He’s certainly still on top form, spitting venom like a pissed-off cobra and growling like a hellhound with terminal halitosis during caustic cuts like “Child of Night” and “The Leather Apron’s Scorn”, but it no longer feels like the band are relying solely on his performance to give their tracks, for want of a better term, a voice.
Not that they always were before of course, as many of their most famous numbers are defined as much by their riffs and solos as they are by their vocal hooks, but Verminous really kicks this aspect of the band’s sound up another notch, to the point where most of the tracks featured here (particularly the opening title-track, as well as late-album highlight “The Wereworm’s Feast”) build their identity around the guitars first, and the vocals second.
In this way Verminous actually reminds me a lot of 2009’s underappreciated Deflorate (which I suppose is fitting, considering how Nightbringers often felt like a direct sequel to 2007’s Nocturnal), as both records find the band pivoting towards a more technical and layered version of their signature sound.
And while it may sacrifice some of the stylish simplicity which made previous efforts so cunningly catchy, tracks like “Godlessly” more than make up for this in terms of attention-grabbing intensity.
This pivot was a smart move to make back then, and it’s an even smarter move now, especially since it allows the band to expand beyond their traditional “At the Gates meets Carcass meets Dissection” template (though I ‘m still really feeling the Carcass influence this time around) to incorporate new types of riffs, new rhythms, and new melodies which might otherwise not have gotten a look in.
Of course, there’s bound to be a few “fans” bemoaning what they might perceive as a lack of stand-out singles (although, to be fair, these people probably wouldn’t appreciate a real deep cut if it severed their hamstrings) but, in my humble opinion, Verminous is one of the sharpest, smartest, and most consistent collections of songs which The Black Dahlia Murder have produced to date.
THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER: