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NOT QUITE A REVIEW OF 40% OF THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER’S DEFLORATE

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Yesterday Metal Blade sent out a digital sampler containing four of the ten songs which will appear on The Black Dahlia Murder’s upcoming Deflorate (out September 15). While this obviously isn’t nearly enough to write any sort of credible review, I did want to give my thoughts on what we’ve now heard.

(Quick note: the four tracks in question are “Necropolis,” “A Selection Unnatural,” “Denounced, Disgraced,” and “Throne of Lunacy.” We’ve actually heard two of these songs before in some form or another – the band has been playing “Necropolis” live all summer, and streaming “A Selection Unnatural” for over a month. Still, this is the first time we’ve gotten to hear the studio version of “Necropolis,” so 75% of the included material still feels new.)

We interviewed BDM vocalist Trever Strnad at Mayhem two weeks ago. Vince (very cleverly, in my opinion) asked Strnad to describe Deflorate without using the words “better” or “heavier.” The irony is that these four tracks suggest that Deflorate will, in fact, be The Black Dahlia Murder’s heaviest release to date.

But Strnad rose to the challenge and said that the band were now “more accomplished” musicians, and he’s right – these four songs also suggest that Deflorate will be the band’s most technical album yet. That might be why my initial reaction to “A Selection Unnatural” wasn’t quite ecstatic; these aren’t really songs you can just have on in the background and still get stuck in your head, the way, say, “Deathmask Divine” is. They demand more of your attention. BDM haven’t made radical changes to their sound, because they’re not that kind of band – they seemed more focused on evolving by way of getting better at what they already do, not by making radical shifts in their basic template – but it definitely took me a few spins of these songs to get into the flow of things. And three or four listens in, I started to fall pretty hard for these new tracks.

How much does new lead guitarist Ryan Knight have to do with the direction of this material? Strnad was emphatically insistent that the band is already happier with Knight than they were with his predecessor, John Kempainen (of whom I personally was a big fan), but I don’t have enough of a sense of the songwriting process within BDM to know what the differences (if any) of the contributions from Knight or Kempainen are/were. I will say this: Knight shares Kempainen’s fine sense of balance between shred and structure, and that’s about where the similarities between the two guitarists end. Knight’s guitar tone is far warmer than Kempainen’s ever was, and his playing is far more fluid; if Kempainen’s fingers danced along the fretboard, than Knight’s seems to glide up and down it. But the time he ended his solo on “Lunacy” (so far my favorite of the new songs) with a dive-bomb, any fears I had for the loss of Kempainen were completely erased. (Of course, Knight’s former status as guitarist for Arsis pretty much always suggested that those fears would be unfounded.)

So while it’s possible that the other six songs on the album will suck, I find these four tracks to be really encouraging. We should get to hear the rest of Deflorate before Labor Day. I can’t wait.

-AR

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