Everblack: Zen and the Art of The Black Dahlia Murder
Although it might seem to odd to categorize a death metal band as “zen,” that is exactly the way to describe The Black Dahlia Murder. Not only do they lack pretension, but they are totally un-self-conscious; unlike so many of their peers, they aren’t trying too hard to prove either that they’ve evolved artistically or that they’re still the same band they were ten years ago when they first started to break through. They just… are. When we think of vocalist Trevor Strnad, we might conjure images of him in shorts, shirtless, totally unashamed of distinctly not-Brad-Pitt-esque body, screaming his fucking guts out, and smiling in-between the shrieks. I have no idea what TBDM’s writing process is like, but I imagine it’s pretty much the group equivalent of that image of Strnad: just hanging out, having fun, and coming up with awesome death metal songs that they enjoy playing. Maybe there’s pizza involved.
In any case, they’re doing something right: Everblack is the band’s sixth full-length, and it’s as good as anything they’ve ever released. Strnad and guitarist Brian Eschbach are now the group’s sole remaining original members, but they’ve got this shit on lock. The band’s riffs always hit the sweet spot between brutal and infectious, and I’m not sure that they’ve ever gotten enough credit for their incredible sense of structure — they know JUST when to change parts, to speed up or slow down, to raise or lower the intensity just the right amount to create that thrilling DM equivalent of a roller coaster ride.
And they’ve surrounded themselves with other top notch talents worthy of helping to carry on The Black Dahlia Murder name. Lead guitarist Ryan Knight, now making his third album with BDM, seems at home more now than he ever has before. His solos continue to be fluid and epic and everything you want in a lead guitar performance on a metal album, and on songs like “Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn,” and “Blood Mine,” his parts are melodic in ways that seem like they might be at odds with the rest of the song, but actually compliment and elevate the music dramatically. I don’t think anyone was seriously worried about new bassist Max Lavelle (ex-Despised Icon) and/or new drummer Alan Cassidy (ex-Abigail Williams — talk about trading up!), but if they were, they can now feel at ease. The duo is especially impressive on “Their Beloved Absentee,” which might the album’s strongest offering; opening with what sounds like a drunken gospel choir, Lavelle and Cassidy’s throbbing rhythms, when combined with Knight and Esbach’s harmonized guitars, create a sound that’s heroic and triumphant. You won’t be able to listen to the chorus without double-fisting invisible oranges. And as a bonus, the track features the band’s most enthralling bridge since Deflorate‘s “Christ Deformed.”
All of the musicians, and the songwriting, are well served by the production and mixing. Working with the team at Audiohammer Studios — as they have on every album since 2007’s Nocturnal — the band has created what is actually their least-slick sounding release since Miasma, if not Unhallowed. “Human” is the general aesthetic; everything feels simultaneously warmer and less-perfect. It’s the exact opposite of what most bands are doing these days, and yet another element that sets Everblack apart from the masses.
It’s hard imagine any fan of The Black Dahlia Murder — or just good death metal — not enjoying Everblack. Maybe someday The Black Dahlia Murder will release an album full of material meant for mid-concert bathroom breaks, but this ain’t it.