Style: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: 17 Apr 2020
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Holy crap, it's been fourteen years since I saw The Black Dahlia Murder live in Tempe, which means they only had a couple of albums out at the time. I'm not sure quite how that warranted a slot on the bill above Exodus and Napalm Death, the bands that I was there to see, but they were clearly doing very well for themselves back then and have continued to thrive ever since. This is their ninth studio album and it's topping charts. Good for them.
Only two of the five members in the current line-up were with the band when I saw them: guitarist Brian Eschbach and vocalist Trevor Strnad, who are two of the founder members. And here's where I have to point out that I really, seriously, emphatically dislike Strnad's vocals and they're the reason why I can't call myself a fan of the band. If you happen to be one of their many fans, you should know that, without some major shift in his vocal approach, I was never going to like this.
Now, he does what he does well, but what he does is a hybrid of death growl and hardcore shout that ends up being more like a black metal shriek and it just grates on me like fingernails being dragged down a blackboard creates all the wrong shivers for other people. I've always thought of him as being like Martin Walkyier if the latter didn't bother with his amazingly vicious intonation and just settled for a monotone shriek. It doesn't feel right to me for such a limited vocal approach to sit on top of such intricate music.
While I don't like Strnad's vocals at all, I quite like the band behind him from a musical standpoint. They're all highly capable musicians and they've been able to carve out a rather unique place in the genre that's a lot more brutal than most melodic death bands but more melodic than most brutal death bands. I can't say that they'd be my favourite death metal band even if they ditched Strnad and elevated one of the guitarists who sing backup to a lead vocal slot—I presume one of that pair is responsible for the deeper, more traditional death growl on Child of Night and The Leather Apron's Scorn—but I would enjoy them a lot more than I do now and I still appreciate that they managed to find a unique place of their own on the death metal spectrum.
Joining Eschbach on guitar is Brandon Ellis, the new fish in the band, who's been with them since 2016, and this pair are easily the best thing about the album for me. They excel both in quiet and introspective moments—which are admittedly mostly confined to the brief instrumental interlude called A Womb in Dark Chrysalis—and fast and heavy ones, especially when they find a real groove like on The Wereworm's Feast. Max Lavelle's bass gets a few moments in the spotlight too, on songs like Dawn of Rats, as the mix is excellent.
That leaves Alan Cassidy behind the drumkit and, like Strnad, he's very good at what he does but what he does is something I don't enjoy very much. He's less interested in keeping a beat, whatever he might do to embellish it, and more interested in throwing out fill after fill as if that's all that a song might need. This takes away a lot of the coherence of the songs for me, so I hear whatever's playing at any particular time rather than a logical part of a song. A more traditional drummer would bring the songs more into focus for me, as indeed Cassidy does on songs like the title track.
And as most that surely sounds rather negative, I should underline that the Black Dahlia Murder do what they do very well and any rating that I give is reliant on my personal taste. At the end of this morning's review of the new Badge album, I recommended that anyone much younger than me drop a point off my rating. Similarly here, anyone without have my particular problems about this band can safely add another point on.