For Fans Of
Reviewing a Black Dahlia record is always a difficult task. This reviewer is firmly of the opinion that the band has never released a bad record, and that some just happen to be better as a whole than others. After all, the band has one of the most consistent and successful discographies in contemporary extreme music, and a reputation for executing melodic, catchy and thoroughly devastating death metal. But the thing about The Black Dahlia Murder is, you can usually tell what you’re in for thematically without even hearing a record, just by counting out the sequence and seeing if the newest addition is an odd or even number. Now that may sound like some borderline, Rain Man-bullshit, but hear us out.
2009’s ‘Deflorate’, the band’s fourth studio album, was a casualty of member changes and came across as dull and uninspired after 2007’s excellent, and fan-favourite, ‘Nocturnal’. 2011’s ‘Ritual’, which saw the band reinvigorated and in absolutely phenomenal form, was a record that experimented with different tempos, atmospheric moods and vocal effects, to produce a haunting and technically engaging effort. 2013’s ‘Everblack’ saw the group once again enter the Billboard Top 200 in the U.S. – a feat that remains impressive for such an unashamedly heavy band – but, much like the aforementioned ‘Deflorate’, this album too suffered from a lack of cohesion and failed to produce any stand-out tracks with lasting impact. Thankfully, ‘Abysmal’, true to this pattern, sees the band once again at their peak, and presents an exciting and crushing entry into their back catalogue.
‘Receipt’ kicks off the record with an eerie string section intro, before launching directly into the cacophony of frenetic blast beats and furious melo-death riffs the band is known for producing. Tracks like ‘Re-faced’ and ‘The Fog’ showcase the interplay between rhythm and lead guitarists Brian Eschbach and Ryan Knight, who seem to be in a constant state of one-up-man ship, egging each other on with intricate riffs, melodies, harmonics and mind-bending solos, the latter becoming more and more prevalent with each new Black Dahlia record. The newest members to the team, drummer Alan Cassidy and bassist Max Lavelle, who both joined the band shortly before recording began on ‘Everblack’, seem to have benefitted from more time in the fold, now being able to fully stamp their input across this record, with a thunderous rhythm section that sports thick, grimy bass notes and interesting, complex drumming that pushes beyond the typical, “How FAST can you BLAST, BRO?” wank fest.
But perhaps the most notable element and a veritable trademark for the band, are the scathing and corrosive vocals of Trevor Strnad, and across ‘Abysmal’, Strnad comes out swinging with his full arsenal of screams, gutturals, shrieks and growls. Lyrically, the record is directly influenced by tales of evil & Hell incarnate, and finds Strnad spitting stories of people twisted and consumed by thoughts of damnation on ‘Stygiophobic’, exploring the violent machinations of a famous medieval killer in ‘Vlad, Son Of The Dragon’ or crafting a manic, demented dialogue with a convicted rapist in ‘Threat Level Number Three’. Returning to producer Mark Lewis (Arsis, Whitechapel, Cannibal Corpse) for ‘Abysmal’ is a clear win for the band, with his production and mixing helping each instrument to sound loud, aggressive and more urgent than ever, without any hints of the lifeless, mechanical aspects that have become so pervasive on modern metal recordings.
If The Black Dahlia Murder are a band possessed, then ‘Abysmal’ is their exorcism. It’s fast, raw, angry and, above all, enjoyable death metal, with many tracks that are sure to become live staples. If you really enjoyed records like ‘Nocturnal’ & ‘Miasma’, or got your horns up for ‘Ritual’, then ‘Abysmal’ is for you.
2. Vlad, Son of the Dragon
5. Threat Level No. 3
6. The Fog
9. The Advent
10. That Cannot Die Which Eternally Is Dead