REVIEW: THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER – “Verminous”
In these fickle times of disease and dismay, there are few artists out there with the capacity to be reassuring of a dependable status quo as Detroit’s The Black Dahlia Murder. Breaking their album-every-two-year-cycle was cause enough for fans to fret after 2017’s winner Nightbringers. However, the blast fiends are back to tuck us in and pat us on the forehead with their newest rodent-infested record, Verminous.
As a longtime fan of the band who takes their artistry as gospel in my own songwriting attempts, 2015’s Abysmal left me wanting. While still a solid record by any yardstick, there was something that didn’t resonate with me on Abysmal and I began to worry if TBDM had played all the cards in their deck. However, with the departure of their lead guitarist Ryan Knight (ex-Arsis, The Knife Trade), the introduction of Brandon Ellis (also ex-Arsis, ex-Cannabis Corpse) breathed new life and 2017’s Nightbringers slapped to hell and back. Anyone who has listened to any song/record written by TBDM since 2007’s subgenre defining Nocturnal know what to expect from new material and Verminous seems to follow more in the tracks of Ritual and Nightbringers than Abysmal or Everblack. Yet it is nigh impossible to assert that every TBDM record hasn’t incorporated elements from previous records into a grotesquely beautiful collage of their own catalog.
An audio sample of a dripping rat-laden sewer, because you know, vermin-ous! and we’re off to a great start with single and title-track Verminous. The main verse riff is more thrashy than melodeath and skirts close to Revocation material, which is by no means a bad thing. To dispel illusions that Verminous cannot be fast-paced, Godlessly contrasts the title track by having a high-octane intro riff, before settling into a tremolo-picked catchy melodic arrangement which screams Deathmask Divine (off Nocturnal). The second single of the record Child of Night is a change of pace, focusing on long drawn out arrangements which are more restrained in its all-out brutality and has the potential of turning fans of heavier, faster tracks away, yet it is masterfully written. In particular, it showcases the artistic brilliance of harmonized riffs between Esbach and Ellis more so when their harmonized sections are displaced from each other by a bar or two, lengthening the arrangement with the right amount of flair without relying on writing entirely different riffs overlaid over each other, a trend, unfortunately, plaguing tech-death bands who eschew songwriting for riff and note-counts. Also featured on Child of Night is easily among Brandon Ellis’ best solo work to date, and Verminous as a record is better for allowing him more room to noodle to his heart’s content. Furthermore, if Child of Night was an appetizer, his solo on Sunless Empire is bombastic, technical, and yet instantly memorable.
Verminous differs from Nightbringers by dialing back on the overt teeth-bared brutality for longer mid-paced tracks with smatterings and spatterings of blast-beat lined riffs before settling back into the mid-tempo groove, as seen on The Leather Apron’s Scorn and How Very Dead focusing on having key melodies or sections which can be recognized from each of the tracks. Through that lens, the record is successful, but fans who crave all-out carnage may be disappointed by Verminous, although there is a case to be made that brutality has a shelf life, well-written tracks stay with listeners longer. That isn’t to say tracks like Godlessly, Sunless Empire, The Wereworm’s Feast and Dawn of Rats have lost any of their face-ripping potentials, but is it enough to keep the rabid blast fans satisfied?
The Black Dahlia Murder is characterized by their superlative musicianship balancing technicality, melody, brutality, and maturity and have become industry standards spawning numerous copycat bands and inspiring an entire subgenre of technical melodic death metal which is rapidly gaining popularity over recent years. Rhythm guitarist and band backbone Brian Esbach is as integral to the sound and identity of TBDM as vocalist Trevor Strnad and it is almost impossible to imagine a record without trademark Esbach riffs. This is also the second record to feature lead guitarist Brandon Ellis who carved his way into the TBDM sound on Nightbringers and was clearly more comfortable with a larger songwriting contribution this time around with the extended and extremely well-written solo arrangements as well as inserting neo-thrash elements into the traditional melodic death metal sound in efforts to keep every record fresh. Bassist Max Levelle also feels a lot more settled in with his solid bass lines this time around, and drummer Alan Cassidy (also in Slugdge) has removed every possible doubt that he was the best person to fill the immense shoes of former drummer Shannon Lucas. There’s not much that can be said in praise of vocalist Trevor Strnad that hasn’t been said before. On Verminous has adopted a grittier raspier register to his vocals, adding “dirt” to his shrieks and growls, seemingly drawing inspiration from the new onslaught of old school death metal bands that have been rising to prominence over the past few years. It sits perfectly well in the overall tone trying to be set on Verminous and is a win in my book!
Verminous is a great record, but so was Nightbringers, Everblack, Ritual, Deflorate, Nocturnal, and every other record in their large catalog. Not as much as a failing of this record in particular, but more as the general commentary of the TBDM machine, the longevity of their “sound” is begged into question, especially when labels like The Artisan Era are signing new melodic tech-death bands like Inferi, Mordant Rapture, The Odious Construct, Symbolik, Aethere, and so many more, which are nothing but hellspawn borne of TBDM’s bosom, any of whom make TBDM sound old and tired. Idle musings of a longtime fan who fears of the kings being dethroned in the foreseeable future.
Verminous is everything we know and love about The Black Dahlia Murder: catchy, techy, brutal, gnarly, and blasty melodic death metal, this time with a veneer of grime encasing a great finished product!