ALBUM REVIEW: The Black Dahlia Murder extends its legacy with ‘Verminous’

There’s a reason you’ll find The Black Dahlia Murder shirts at Spite and At The Gates concerts. The Michigan export’s consistent output of quality melodic death metal simultaneously taps into contemporary and orthodox developments within the extreme metal umbrella. Time and time again, Black Dahlia freshens up its sound and wins over the metal community at large all over again. Fans know what they’ll get with a new release and newcomers find something to love in it.

The Black Dahlia Murder
Metal Blade Records, April 17

Verminous delivers the goods, but it also sounds like The Black Dahlia Murder members still push themselves as musicians and songwriters.

The opening title track could bring a smile to any metalhead’s face. Out of a sewer pipe field recording come Brandon Ellis and Brian Eschbach’s harmonized leads, Alan Cassidy’s unrelenting drumming and Trevor Strnad’s intense vocal rasps. It’s everything a melo-death fan could want.

What continues to set the band apart is its balance of catchiness, brutality and evolution. Four time signatures go by in 30 seconds of “Child of Night,” but the infectious riff is what counts—before blast-beating brutality breaks your sternum. Ironically, it seems that The Black Dahlia Murder doesn’t have to change its wheelhouse, because the band’s wheelhouse is engaging, satisfying metal music.

A thrasher like “Godlessly” bursts at the seams with angular rhythms, shreddy riffing and inexorable energy. Nine albums into a 19-year career, the sheer fun exuding from “Sunless Empire” is unprecedented, frankly.

The bewitching solos, rousing leads and drum fills are executed with precocious taste. Even the screams demand your attention like you’ve only just heard At The Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. Add to that some head-banging grooves and pleasing syncopation—I’ll be right back, after I start a mosh with my quarantined family.

The Black Dahlia Murder’s crossover appeal lies in how it blurs genre lines. A cut like “Removal of the Oaken Stake” packs chugging brutal death, prog rock arrangements and blackened death atmosphere, while “The Leather Apron’s Scorn” contrasts speedy hammered notes with a primitive bass-driven breakdown. Through the tremolo-picked melodies and airtight arpeggiations, the band ultimately likes playing what feels good. Every harmonic layer, rhythmic development or tempo shift is as calculated as it is visceral. 

Though a major influence on the metalcore and deathcore movements, Black Dahlia has yet to bow before any such trend. The band’s method is rooted in the European melo-death tradition, expanding a time-honored template rather than watering it down. There’s an evocative atmosphere present in a cut like “How Very Dead,” beyond the barbaric madness. Those switches from lightning fast deathrash to meaty backbeats are impossible to ignore.

Even Max Lavelle’s bass tone retains a prevalent place in the mix. “The Wereworm’s Feast” is a great example. He not only beefs up the low end, but helps pronounce melodic lines. This particular cut benefits from each player choosing precisely when to fire on all cylinders. Blistering guitar solos, mosh-worthy half-time beats and overwhelming sonic surges all happen exactly when they need to. The band’s chemistry remains its most potent attribute, pushing and pulling each other with graceful power.

On most metal albums, any classical acoustic guitar interludes feel tacked on. But the evocative playing on “A Womb in Dark Chrysalis” emphasizes the underlying key to The Black Dahlia Murder’s continued success: atmosphere. It’s easy to appreciate each song in all of its aggressive splendor, but closer “Dawn of Rats” goes the extra mile in terms of emotion.

The tremolo-picked melodies and choice of chords function as more than bodacious raised devil horns music. It paints a picture in the mind’s eye, crystallized by the ominous squeaking at the end—presumably carnivorous varmints finishing off the corpses left in the wake of this sonic onslaught. Verminous comes from a band that understands exactly what metal music is all about, whose approach transcends scene, genre and fad. As long as there’s an appetite for heavy music done right, The Black Dahlia Murder shall remain.

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