Taking extreme metal into the 21st century with their strangely accessible yet still rabidly violent sound, The Black Dahlia Murder marry wide-eyed technicality, macabre Poe-esque poetry and blood dripping hooks for a craft with each foot planted firmly in both the new and old school. Taking on an ever keener progressive edge in recent years, the band are often denounced by knuckle dragging elitists for their refreshingly upbeat (and therefore not metal, of course) live show, although in reality the Michigan quintet are consistently indulging in artistic creativity whilst remaining perhaps the most thoroughly metallic and murderously heavy acts in the game.
Forming in 2000, the band’s career has come off the back of a rather simple story of obvious talent and dogged perseverance. Consisting of what will turn out to be The Black Dahlia Murder‘s only steady members, Trevor Strnad (vocals) and Brian Eschbach (rhythm guitar), Metal Blade Records quickly snapped them up with the evidence of a few early demos and live shows doing enough to vastly impress.
Debut full-length ‘Unhallowed’ was quick to follow, and with its vicious take on the Scandinavian blueprint and more traditional Tampa-born death metal zest, the album was not only the perfect antidote to some of the more sugary metalcore beginning to take a commercial strangle hold, yet also saw the band begin a career as tenacious road hogs which they remain to this day. Going out with the likes of Arch Enemy, Terror and Napalm Death, The Black Dahlia Murder proved to strike a chord with audiences across the metal spectrum, thanks in no small part to a fun loving stage presence and an embracing of all things hilarious, which is in rather stark supply with a scene that is all too often tediously po-faced.
2005’s ‘Miasma’ delivered something of a more dynamic affair, not only in its developed structure and spin on a dime tempos, but the lyricisms of Strnad took a slight deviation from the slasher flick horrific to a more personal flavour, the band’s recent success inspiring the singer to explore issues a little closer to home. He confessed; “The road has been what really made ‘Miasma’ what it is. Much of the content here is a direct result of our experience in the band. It’s quite a bit more personal lyrically, ranging from anthems of cheap sex and drug use to more classic The Black Dahlia Murder horror style. I’ve tried to reinvent TBDM lyrically here. It’s still dark. It’s still really evil shit.” The release also saw the sole documented performance of drummer Zach Gibson, who replaced founding member Corey Grady just before recording and subsequently left when the album was little more than a year old.
And so, the introduction of some fresh blood, percussionist extraordinaire Shannon Lucas (nabbed from metalcore darlings All That Remains) and bass player Bart Williams, marked a creative turning point for the band. The release of ‘Nocturnal’ in 2007 saw The Black Dahlia Murder on searing form, a white hot meld of majestial darkness and audacious melody, born from the fact as Strand proclaims, “We’ve never had such a sick rhythm section. Bart and Shannon have really stepped up and added an extra punch to this beast of a record. I don’t think the pretenders will be able to match this one. It’s fucking over the top.” Indeed, an upping in the technicality stakes and with the horrifying lyrical themes back with aplomb, many still argue that ‘Nocturnal’ is yet to be, and still unlikely to be, topped by the band.
Continuing the outline of releasing a full-length every two years, more touring was followed by 2009’s ‘Deflorate’, with yet again a line-up shift thrown into the mix. Welcoming six-string deity Ryan Knight in place of long-time lead guitarist John Kempainen, the band’s sound reaped the rewards of what was another top tier technical wizard in their midst. His potent lead work, both dazzlingly melodic and impressively dexterous, injected a satisfying dynamism and instrumental charisma, the progressive edge of monumental closer ‘I Will Return’ only hinting at Knight‘s upcoming dramatic impact.
‘Ritual’ is undeniably The Black Dahlia Murder‘s release closest to competing with the immense malice of ‘Nocturnal’. The most wide reaching and dynamically varied as anything in their canon, the record took these flesh flaying progressivisms and married with an awesome concept (each song details a common theme of occultism, black magic, ritual murder, etc). ‘Ritual’ was not only a masterstroke but a statement, a testimony to the band’s thoroughly modern outlook on their craft and willingness to experiment, whilst retaining the core macabre themes which display that beneath it all a death metal heart is still pumping.
The revolving door membership continued to be busy, with the stepping down of Shannon Lucas and Ryan Williams (replaced by Alan Cassidy and Max Lavelle respectively), yet The Black Dahlia Murder machine has showing no signs of slowing down with the release of this year’s ‘Everblack’. A swirling tide of trademark riff work and enveloping darkness, the album retains the expansive outlook of ‘Ritual’, yet perhaps sees a return to blackened umbrage of ‘Nocturnal’. Currently touring the globe once more, perhaps what displays The Black Dahlia Murder‘s assured position in the scene is a spot on this year’s Vans Warped Tour, even managing to escape the fashionable stigma of America’s most envogue traveling festival to espouse their metallic bile to a audience of hip young scensters. Able to appeal across the board despite their furiously unrelenting craft, it seems that through an ongoing canon of stellar material and non-stop touring, The Black Dahlia Murder are simply unstoppable.
Check out our playlist below, compiled with what we think are some of the best The Black Dahlia Murder tracks in the band’s catalogue, both for newcomers to the band and already firmly established fans.
Below is our choice of the most accessible The Black Dahlia Murder records. With such a choice of acclaimed, lauded, stylistically evolved music, it may be a tough choice to know where to begin. Leave it to us to pick the three essential LPs below.
Released: June 16th, 2003
Although understandably surpassed by future releases in their catalogue, ‘Unhallowed’ established The Black Dahlia Murder as forerunners in the burgeoning US metal scene a decade ago. Hailed as heirs to At The Gates‘ melo-death throne, the likes of ‘Funeral Thirst’ and ‘Elder Misanthropy’ are lessons in full throttle brutality, all blast beat led venom and rapid fire riffing, whereas ‘Thy Cosmic Horror’ leans on the guttural violence of the band’s old school American influences such as godfathers Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. It’s all thoroughly exciting stuff, a youthful intensity and a metallic know how shining to mark the band an vastly exciting prospect, and expected to become the heavyweights we now know they have flourished into.
Best tracks: Funeral Thirst / Closed Casket Requiem / Contagion / Thy Cosmic Horror
Released: September 18th, 2007
With a new-found blackened flavour and a razor sharp songwriting focus, ‘Nocturnal’ perhaps remains the jewel in the The Black Dahlia Murder‘s crown. Featuring tracks such as the Castlevania inspired unrelenting nightmare that is ‘What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse’ and the rabid intensity of lament to necrophilia ‘Deathmask Divine’, ‘Nocturnal’ is a feverish journey through Gothic horror imagery with a penchant for all things bloodthirsty. Inject some of the most punishingly infectious instrumentation in recent history, and what we’re left with is a joyous exploration of the underworld.
Best tracks: What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse / Deathmask Divine / I Worship Only What You Bleed / Everything Went Black
Released: June 17th, 2011
The closest The Black Dahlia Murder have come to producing a full blown concept record, ‘Ritual’ is a feast of dynamics. From the grinding drudge of ‘On Salted Seas Of Stirring Blood’, ‘The Window’‘s melodic wanderings and the rhythmic clout of ‘Malenchalenments Of The Necrophere’, these tracks espouse tales of occult malice through brazen technicality and progressive structure which proved the band to be, if ever proof was needed, so much more than block headed deathsters (some orchestral strains work marvelously in opener ‘A Shrine To Madness’ and closer ‘Blood In The Ink’). Not only this, but guitar geeks especially will appreciate Brian Eschbach and Ryan Knight‘s performance in what is one of the six-string albums of the decade.
Best tracks: The Window / Blood In The Ink / Moonlight Equilibrium / On Stirring Seas Of Salted Blood
Written by Tony Bliss