There’s always a place within death metal for The Black Dahlia Murder. In a genre that can be so self-serious to the point of tedium, it’s always refreshing to see a band like those who’ve embraced the intrinsic fun that comes from making metal music, without having to sacrifice a lot of the darkness and violent imagery that comes naturally to their particular stripe of it. It’s not camp, per se, but with a name that sounds like a B-movie in its own right and a penchant for horror that tows the line between real horror and a more schlocky brand, it’s easy to demarcate the difference between The Black Dahlia Murder and a band like Cannibal Corpse; where both are very exaggerated in terms of doubling down on their theme, there’s a – for lack of a better word – lightheartedness to The Black Dahlia Murder’s approach that makes it feel more exciting in the long run. And all of that comes alongside the obvious knowledge that there’ll be consistent heaviness across the board, the securing factor in what’s made The Black Dahlia Murder among one of the best loved melodic death metal bands of the modern era. They’re always good, but there’s also an entertainment factor there that bumps them up from being just another band rigidly ploughing through a workable formula.
Of course, the argument could be certainly made that there’s no real need for variation in The Black Dahlia Murder’s sound at this point and that they’ve been playing towards that notion, but that would also denigrate a band who’ve at least been canny enough to keep their work fresh and avoid stagnation. That’s effectively the definitive statement when it comes to this band’s albums, including Verminous; the template is pretty much untouched on the whole, but the tweaks here and there combined with how naturally enrapturing the modern death metal sound is keeps a standard the most bands onto their ninth album wouldn’t be able to reach. It’s hardly a classic in any field, but neither is it a ding on The Black Dahlia Murder’s legacy; it’s about as solid as a continuation gets, and they continue to make it work extremely well for them.
And yes, it is worth noting that, despite all of that and vocalist Trevor Strnad’s assertions that this is their “biggest evolutionary leap” to date, Verminous is still more or less a continuation of The Black Dahlia Murder’s sound, albeit with their black metal touches that frequently appear feeling more blended this time around. The difference is slightly noticeable in lending a bigger sound to a song like Child Of Night thanks to its avalanching blast beats, but it’s not a dynamic that presents any huge shifts in tone. This is still very much The Black Dahlia Murder plying their usual craft, setting its grim atmosphere with the sound of scurrying rats on the title track and lyrical threads of receding to the dark underground where normality has no bearing. There’s definitely a sense of theatricality running through it all (no matter how underlying it might be), and to be fair, it’s that which proves to be the key engaging factor. Descriptions can come across as rote, and so can the material when the response is influenced by them, but The Black Dahlia Murder don’t feel at the mercy of that because they’re willing to channel a bigger mindset to keep moving.
It’s why Verminous is still a very good album even if it doesn’t move the needle much at all, and the techniques that The Black Dahlia Murder use still have the mileage to take them far. For starters, there’s a nice griminess to the production that keeps the guitars appropriately heavy and the drums slamming down with speed and intensity, but isn’t afraid to polish itself up just a bit for the sweeping guitar solos to come in for a more traditional-feeling touch on a track like The Wereworm’s Feast. It’s pretty much the ideal balance for a heavy album to have, especially when there’s still a good grasp on melody. There’s not suddenly any arena-metal hooks, but there’s a grandeur to the likes of The Leather Apron’s Scorn and How Very Dead that means they feel bigger and more imposing. It helps that Strnad has mastered the art of tailoring his throaty, necro shrieks to backdrops of that size, and when that’s matched with consistent levels of heaviness across the board (save for the acoustic interlude A Womb In Dark Chrysalis), it feels almost immediately clear where The Black Dahlia Murder’s longevity has come from. They’re simply great at what they do, and when that’s really yet to falter and they just seem to be sharpening their vision forward more with each subsequent album, they’re accomplishing some impressive feats.
Again, that could generally apply to any of this band’s albums without much hassle, but it’s still worth bringing up to show exactly how strong of a band The Black Dahlia Murder are. Verminous mightn’t be more than a slight step forward (something which can be slightly disappointing from a critical perspective, if not necessarily a fan one), but results as resoundly solid as these show that anything more isn’t really needed to, at the very least, keep the same amount of momentum rolling. Given how driven this band have regularly been, that momentum is sizable now to say the least, and Verminous is pretty much business as usual to ensure that it doesn’t dip. In those stakes, it’s a resounding success, serving as yet another monument to The Black Dahlia Murder’s consistency, and a showcase of how strong modern melodic death metal continues to be.
For fans of: Whitechapel, The Faceless, Skeletonwitch
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Verminous’ by The Black Dahlia Murder is released on 17th April on Metal Blade Records.