Review: The Black Dahlia Murder 'Abysmal'

THEY are amongst the most revered of extreme metal acts, and they have delivered consistently since they formed and in 2013 The Black Dahlia Murder released the outstanding ‘Everblack’, an album of fierce intent and outstanding ferocity. Now, in 2015 can they top that?

Sit down, source your inner metal demon and listen to ‘Abysmal’ – one of the most ferocious, yet balanced extreme metal albums in a long, long time. Raw, angry and perfect to rip up lifetimes of pretentious shit you have had to put up with.

The title track alone will induce neck ache as you impulsively bang your head and cause jaw ache as you try to comprehend what The Black Dahlia Murder have achieved here.

“Once the record started to come together we knew it was going to be something special,” said vocalist Trevor Strnad.

“It’s more urgent, it has more dynamics, it’s a more emotive record, and it has a more raw, angry sound to it. It’s still million mile-per-hour death metal, but when you invest so much thought and emotion into what you’re creating you end up with a record that does stand out, and we can hold our heads up high and say yeah, this is our best work.” This really is 100% melodic death metal, ferocity married with a sense of what can be achieved through arrangements and balanced guitar and rhythm work. But that is not to say that the band has remained shackled by past glories.

“I still love Everblack and everything we achieved when touring it, and in fact going into that record we faced a massive challenge in following up Ritual (2011), which had also been huge for us,” said Strnad. “Having two records in a row connect with fans in such a way was amazing, but definitely piled on the pressure going into this new one, because we don’t want to let them down, and we don’t want to let ourselves down. But we learned a lot in making those two records, and we brought that into Abysmal.

“We know we can take people’s heads off playing super fast, but that doesn’t always give listeners something to really chew on. We’ve learned to focus on creating some drama, interesting dynamics, and most importantly really investing time in thinking about how different parts of songs will make you feel.”

We have to confess when we read the PR blurb and quotations like those above our initial response was that cynical Northern Ireland “Aye, dead on!” In this case we were wrong, because this is an album that has sheer brutality in every aspect of its songs.

The likes of ‘The Fog’ and ‘Threat Level Number Three’ show case the type of metal that needs – yes needs – a wider listenership.

Drummer Alan Cassidy, who joined the band in 2013 combines with Max Lavelle (bass) to give it a live vibe that some had doubted the band could ever achieve again.

Brian (Eschbach, guitar) performs at a level that TBDM have always promised and taken that to the next level in combination with Ryan Knight’s six string heroics. The level of riffing is at times extraordinary. Check out the opening of ‘Asylum’ and pick your jaw off the floor.

What makes Knight’s work all the more impressive is that for every shred there is subtlety that harkens back to the NWOBHM.

Just as Everblack tested the boundaries of blasphemy this time out lyrically they challenge perceptions of an afterlife – and the current age – by exploring hell on literal and metaphorical terms. In this sanatised society which other genre would tackle the topic of the issues facing a rapist/molester – chemically castrated – talking to his inner demons as he tries to assimilate back into the real world. This is uncomfortable listening, but it is a societal issue that the ‘talking heads’ chatter about while the tabloids pontificate about.

Hell is not a one-dimensional Biblical story here – hell is a complicated personal journey and a phantasmagorical fantasy landscape. ‘Vlad, Son Of The Dragon’ touches on the Stoker tale of Dracula, while recalling the brutal history of Vlad The Impaler.

But, amidst this controversial back drop there is a defiance, a fuck you attitude, a stand that says we are who we are. Closer ‘That Cannot Die Which Eternally Is Dead’ is a single finger salute to the doubters: it’s a declaration that this band are going to keep on delivering and keep on the metal path.

What impresses more is the very sound – no sampling, no over dubs, no post-production pissing about. This is metal as it should be – people playing metal and playing it with an intensity that deserves listening to.

At this stage in the game, with typically modest aspirations, Strnad is more interested in maintaining their longevity than shifting records, and if the band never gets any bigger than they are right now he will “die happy a hundred times over”. However, this does not mean there is anything even vaguely resembling an end in sight. “We’re still young at heart and I feel like the evolution of the band still has a long way to go. I don’t see a ceiling on what we can do, and there will be no end. It’s just going to be a constant ongoing fight to make better music and be a better band, and it’s always going to be time to kick ass.”

If this is what The Black Dahlia Murder can achieve in 2015 we cannot wait until the next 10 years of this band.

Review by Jonny

A lifelong Metalhead and prolific reviewer, Jonny is a part of the team here at Devils Gate Media. Since 2006, Jonny has been the owner of BELFAST METALHEADS REUNITED.

Check out Jonny’s blog for more album and gig reviews.


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