Melodic death metal thrashers The Black Dahlia Murder have endured a swift rise in the extreme metal scene over the past few years due to their relentlessness touring and commitment to crafting some of the most brutal and uncompromising metal around. Ahead of their forthcoming Australian tour alongside Unearth, TBDM vocalist Trevor Strnad spoke to Killyourstereo about smoking weed, making budget music videos and the state of contemporary metal.
So what’s your name, role in The Black Dahlia Murder and the first concert you ever attended?
The name’s Trevor Strnad. I am the vocalist of The Black Dahlia Murder from Detroit Michigan. My first concert was New Kids On The Block when I was in third grade. My first metal concert was when I was 12. It was Megadeth on their Reckoning Day 95 tour. My dad and uncle took me to the concert.
Aside from playing shows alongside the mighty Unearth on your upcoming trek to Australia, what are you most looking forward to about this tour?
Eating some crazy food, partying with all the cool people, seeing some familiar faces (hopefully some from Psycroptic) hopefully some record shopping, and our other stops in Japan and Hawaii.
What can Australian fans expect in terms of your setlists/performance as a band since you last played here?
This time we’ll be playing a fan approved, fan voted set in Australia. The reactions stateside have been killer for the set and I hope to see just as much positivity out there. It’s getting harder to choose what goes in a set list, having four albums now under our belts. I can’t imagine how Cannibal Corpse chooses.
It’s no secret that The Black Dahlia Murder has undergone significant lineup changes and withstood tension caused by the departure of members in the past. Does the current lineup feel stable and are you happy with the state of the band?
Yeah, we are all happy in the band. It’s been really nice to have a drummer like Shannon come in and to just know that he’s the guy and that he’s going to be around. Ever since he came in and settled in, things have been easy for us. It’s been a big relief since then. Bringing Ryan into the fold has been equally awesome. It was a really smooth transition and Ryan is about as professional as you can get. He’s been in the band almost two years now. He’s really left his impression on the Black Dahlia Murder legacy in this time by being a kick ass player and a positive creative force in the band. We are still excited to see what he will bring to the fold with future albums.
With the band on the road for a decent part of the year, do you have any habits or hobbies outside of music that you undertake while on tour?
We have four weed smokers in our campaign. Well, I should say Ryan Knight only dabbles. There’s a lot of laughing and joking and snacking in our van. I also have a DS that I play a lot of old games on with some emulators. Nothing like getting high, listening to Code on your iPod and playing 3D World Runner at the same time. I am somewhat of a music collector, so I try to hit the record store out on the road whenever I can. My death metal collection is growing massively… I collect primarily old school death metal CDs. My most recent acquirement is Eternal Dirge "Morbus Acendit".
In the past, you’ve given bands like our Australians Psycroptic the thumbs up. Are there any other Australian bands that you are keen to check out when you make the trek here?
I wish I had the opportunity to see Blood Duster, Mephistopheles, The Day Everything Became Nothing, Captain Cleanoff or Portal while I’m there… it’d be killer but it’s not really going to happen. I met one of the guys from Blood Duster last time we were there. I used to be obsessed with them when I was 16. It was really cool.
While your music often contains references to quite serious subjects, you guys appear to be able to have a bit of a laugh at yourselves sometimes- as evidenced in the brilliant mix of death metal and bowling for your clip to “Necropolis”. Therefore, how important is humour in the band and do you think some of your peers take themselves too seriously?
I think the humour keeps us sane. I don’t think we would be able to straight face being a serious band all the time. In press and onstage and when talking to the kids, I’d rather be myself. As far as the videos go, a lot of what we are doing in our videos is just avoiding the pitfalls of having a low budget, low rent ‘headbanging in a warehouse’ video that we think is pretty played out. There really isn’t enough money to make a cool video that’s actually metal… chances are it’ll just end up looking like a The Darkness video. When they can record me in armour, singing while riding on the back of a horse in the midst of a battle whilst arrows fly all over the place… then we’ll talk. Some of our peers definitely take themselves too seriously. They don’t make any effort to talk to their fans and I think it they should.
You said that your guitarist Brian Eschbach took a lead role in the direction of your 2007 album “Nocturnal”, although the songwriting on your new album “Deflorate” was apparently a more shared experience. So how did you go about writing this album and were you at all surprised at the sound of the end product?
The writing process of the album was an exciting experience for all of us. I think Brian felt a bit relieved to have contributions from both Bart and Ryan, and fucking awesome ones at that. I think that with more minds at work, things turned out a bit more eclectic songwise. Having an album that is varied is important to us, and you really have to pay attention to the details if you want to keep people’s attention with a record that is predominantly fast throughout. With Bart’s song, "Christ Deformed", you’ll hear us playing in some new time signatures that we hadn’t really touched in the past- and a slight Meshuggah element in some parts- but it’s all still Black Dahlia at heart. We’ve always been trying to find the perfect balance between expanding our horizons and keeping the fans happy.
It’s fair to say that your music incorporates elements of metal from different parts of the world. Therefore, do you think that there will come a point where the differences between Swedish melodic death metal and American death metal will become indistinguishable? Or do you think that there will always be characteristic differences in sound between the two (and metal from any country for that matter)?
I think as long as there are bands like Nile, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Obituary, etc. there will always be a prominent American sound. I don’t see any of these guys going melodeath anytime soon. I do understand the point you are trying to make. There are thousands of bands in the States playing Swedish style riffs right now that don’t even know they are of European influence… they just heard As I Lay Dying do it and thought "Wow, that’s neat!" and started trying to play like that.
Being credited as forerunners of the pack, what do you think of the state of contemporary metal and in what direction do you see the genre heading in the future?
To be honest, I think that most metal fans I see out there are blind to what good underground music is. They take what is handed to them by Best Buy and the magazines and tend to not delve much deeper than the Sumerian catalogue. It can be frustrating. There is a whole world of underground death metal that is just amazing, not to mention the rich history of 90s death metal that I think blows away anything that comes out today. I see hundreds of kids at our shows that like horrible bands like Bring Me The Horizon or Suicide Silence and I just want to shake them. It has been frustrating that we are at times thrown into a category with mindless, swoopy haired bands like them. Sadly, for a lot of the youth out there, that is what extreme is to them… some played out ass breakdowns. We have nothing to do with that whole thing. Also, although necessary for our success as a touring band, it at times has been frustrating to have to keep our mouths shut and work alongside bands that we think are horrible. It’s called compromise. It’s a give and take. You try touring with different bands to try to reach different people. We aren’t out to be negative and attack everybody, we just want to be able to do our own thing.
You seem to have a pretty good relationship with your record label, Metal Blade Records. Those guys must treat you fairly well as artists?
We have had a very special connection with (Brian) Slagel (owner and founder of Metal Blade records) since he heard our band. He realized the potential of this band then and he still does now. Metal Blade has always been great to us and has helped us grow immensely, beyond our wildest dreams. I think we have an admiration for each other’s hard work. Around the time we signed with them, the label was under a pretty brutal dry spell. Then we came in with As I Lay Dying and Unearth and a new era of Metal Blade was born.
Do you have any advice for young bands starting out in the death metal/heavy metal any kind of metal genre?
Quit now while you’re ahead! (Laughs) Get good before you go out and tour. Also, make sure your drummer can play what he lays down in the studio live without a problem. I see so many shitty drummers out there.
I seriously dig your cover of “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones which you did a couple of years ago now. Any chace of you recording another cover like this? Perhaps as a bonus track on your next album?
Doing another cover song is always in the back of my mind since "Paint It Black" came out so cool. I doubt anything like this will happen again, we have a lot higher priorities than doing another joke cover… we barely have enough time to write original stuff as it is!
Although “Deflorate” came out only last year, have you guys been writing any new material or throwing around ideas for your next studio album?
I know that Ryan Knight has two secret songs that I constantly pester him about! I just want to hear them! Brian threw his back out pretty bad recently, so that kinda derailed him from writing for a bit. We will still have a lot of the summer off to get the jump on the next album. I am really eager to have something to put some lyrics over!
And before we wrap things up…
What band/album first sparked your interest in metal?
Megadeth "Countdown To Extinction". I saw the video for "Symphony Destruction" and it opened my eyes to the awesome world of heavy metal.
If you weren’t in this band, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be dead or hopefully involved in some kind of metal related journalism.
Best drink to get you absolutely shitfaced?
Ernest Goes To Jail – it’s a Jager bomb but with Sparks instead of Redbull. Guarantees total chaos.
The Black Dahlia Murder’s groupies are…
Fifteen-year-old boys. They are non- existent.
Favourite television series?
Welcome Back Kotter
Why should Killyourstereo users come out and see the Black Dahlia Murder live?
Because your computer needs a vacation too.
Good point. Thanks for the interview Trev.