(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:
Say, regarding this fine review I have a question, if you’ll allow me. For all the room allocated here to discuss where this album fits within tBDM’s discography, how would you rate this against the wider realm of death metal?
You mentioned a ‘sugar rush’ and that struck a chord with me as one who’s never been convinced by tBDM. I have always felt this band wasn’t ‘heavy’ enough in various departments to be taken fully ‘seriously’ (as death metal), kind of how I’ve never fully understood Childen of Bodom (not sure if I’m out of line, here)…
Hence my question
I would rate it just the same as I would any other Death Metal album, because TBDM are a very good Death Metal band.
Truth be told, they’re no more melodic, and no less heavy, than, say, Carcass, or God Dethroned, or The Chasm, or even Dismember (and I’m a big fan of several of those bands).
And while they’re no Immolation/Suffocation, etc, lots of Death Metal bands aren’t (although many are even heavier, which doesn’t lessen how great those two bands are), and I think a lot of people, with a slightly outdated (and inaccurate) view of TBDM underestimate their heaviness because of the version they have in their head, e.g.
Sounds like I need to leave some of my preconceptions at the door, then. Always good to be reminded of that. Truth be told, I had the same issue with Fallujah back when.
Not sure how anyone could really say they aren’t as heavy as other death metal. C tuning? Check. Chugs? Check. Guttural vocals? Check. Blast beats? Check.
Yes, yes, I got it, Im dead wrong. Im happy to learn from past transgressions, so tomorrow Ill dive into TBM’s back catalogue and see if theyre just not my cup of tea, or whether I was wrong in hearing a ‘light’ hardcore-y sound which made me not pay attention much anymore.
Not that anyone gives a hoot, but Ive gone through most of TBDM’s catalogue…I have to say theyre quite accomplished musicians and composers–but Ive never doubted that.
I like their Gothenburg debut quite a bit, but they largely lose me upon and after their transition into more melodic death metal territory, which Im not a big fan of in general and that includes the raspy vocals. And I’ll keep to my statement that the overall guitar sound remains Gotheburg-thin, if that makes sense.
I guess TBDM is just not the band for me. I enjoyed individual patterns in songs, and many of the riff transitions and also the solo’s and some complete songs (Kings of the Nightword!), but I was never bowled over (by brutality, ferocity, or speed, or vocal assault, etc.) Having said that, I do enjoy Booodshot Dawn and Allegaeon…Beats me if that makes sense.
Sorry but there is no way that this is in the top three Black Dahlia murder records. In fact, I’d say it is closer to the bottom three. This album does not have as many memorable songs as Nocturnal, Nightbringers, or Deflorate or Ritual. Frankly, it doesn’t even have more memorable songs that Miasma or Everblack. I also doubt that this will be the connoisseur’s album of choice. That place forever belongs to Nocturnal. This record lack memorable songs overall. The second half of the record is a mush of songs that don’t have explosive or catchy moments.
Also, the “fans” commentary is 100% assumption and a nonsensical take. I’d generally say those folks appreciate deep cuts like “Jars” or “A Selection Unnatural” more than the average person. They are “bemoaning the lack of a standout single” because this record doesn’t have one.
It’s Metal not Grammy’s, who gives a shit if a Metal band doesn’t have crowd pleasers?
Most Metal shows the past ten years are atrocious and not worth almost giving your all.
Everyone just nods, plods or looks at you like they’re waiting to be casted in a new The Walking Dead episode. Death Metal is the least likely to even be “catchy” enough for a standout single.
These days I’m amazed bands haven’t just done playthroughs of an album and called it a day.
The days of Metal fans appreciating innovation or bands working hard on their ethic are long gone.
Bands of this niche get less fans actually the longer they’re around, as most are elite posers thinking their taste are better than new bands.
It’s Metal not Grammy’s, who gives a shit if a Metal band doesn’t have crowd pleasers? Most Metal shows the past ten years are atrocious and not worth almost giving your all. Everyone just nods, plods or looks at you like they’re waiting to be casted in a new The Walking Dead episode. Death Metal is the least likely to even be “catchy” enough for a standout single. These days I’m amazed bands haven’t just done playthroughs of an album and called it a day. The days of Metal fans appreciating innovation or bands working hard on their ethic are long gone. Bands of this niche get less fans actually the longer they’re around, as most are elite posers thinking their taste are better than new bands.
Sorry had to reformat that, bands like TBDM are reformists – sometimes their efforts strike gold, other times unlucky.
If a Metal band needs a standout single, then they might as well sellout.