The Black Dahlia Murder
The Black Dahlia Murder may be one of the world’s most popular death metal bands, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t taken their share of flack. Alternately tarred and feathered by “serious” metalheads as an At the Gates ripoff (they aren’t, though the influence is strong) and a metalcore band (they have no hardcore influence whatsoever), BDM seem destined by their age and short hair to draw the ire of older fans. True, these dudes are hardly the most original band in metal, but like so many of their better-respected peers, they’re content to execute old ideas with more than enough energy to make up for their lack of innovation.
And execute they do, with the help of yet another fresh member. Former Arsis guitarist Ryan Knight has stepped in for Joe Kempainen and lent a chunkier, more American death metal feel to many of these tracks. It may be his influence that’s led BDM to craft Deflorate, their punchiest, most aggressive album to date.
Unfortunately, that aggression doesn’t come through much in the album’s first tracks. Opener “Black Valor,” with its preponderance of choppa-choppa melodic riffing, throws a whole bucket of fuel on the ATG-clone fire and is a pretty dull song to boot. Follow-up “Necropolis” nearly shares its fate until BDM deploy one of their most useful tools: a retardedly catchy, Naglfar/Dissection-style blastbeaten chorus.
Much of Deflorate, however, manages to drag itself away from BDM’s bag of melodeath tricks and into decidedly more savage climes. “A Selection Unnatural,” “Eyes of Thousand” and especially “Throne of Lunacy” all feature impressively burly blastbeats that hit as hard as most recent Behemoth cuts; the same can be said of the pummeling grooves that distinguish “Christ Deformed” and closer “I Will Return.” The band’s predictable-yet-enjoyable melodic sensibility continues to hold sway on these tracks, but it’s rooted in a surprisingly dense and aggressive rhythmic foundation. Drummer Shannon Lucas puts some impressive speed and stamina on display here (especially for a dude who used to be in All That Remains). His driving, frequent blasts and kick-work push much of this album into far more brutal territory than it would’ve occupied otherwise.
But despite their first-tier execution and a gleaming Jason Suecof production, The Black Dahlia Murder remain a band of decidedly second-tier ideas. No matter how well these riffs are played, many of them sound exceedingly familiar—“Death Panorama” sounds cobbled together from leftover Nocturnal riffs. Needless to say, anyone who’s completely tired of the Gothenburg approach will run screaming from this one. BDM move outside the context of catchy, fast two-to-three-minute songs only once in Deflorate’s half-hour run time, heightening the vague sense of interchangeability that haunts this album.
Vocalist Trevor Strnad will likely also continue to be a sticking point for many. Though his mainstay shriek hasn’t changed, he’s moderated his delivery slightly, avoiding his weak low register and subbing in a mid-ranged bellow. What he’s not done is learn to shut the hell up. I personally find his voice entertaining and pretty distinctive, but the guy sings on virtually every non-solo part of these songs. Even though he can summon up some pretty impressive vocal hooks at times, Strnad’s more-is-more philosophy is just as overbearing as it has been for BDM’s whole career.
But even Strnad’s excessive presence can’t explain why this band is so reviled in some circles. There are equally derivative groups who enjoy incredibly warm receptions from metalheads (I’m looking at you, Slough Feg), so I can’t help but conclude that The Black Dahlia Murder get the shit-eye solely because of their appearance. Why some people are eager to rag on these dudes for having short hair and the wrong style of glasses but are willing to get down on their knees for a bunch of LARPers like Immortal is one of life’s great mysteries. But without resolving that mystery, I can safely say that Deflorate is an immaculately-crafted, surprisingly brutal melodeath album. BDM may not be tearing apart the conventions of the genre, but they’re drawing fresh young faces into the world of blastbeats and ripping riffage every day, and for that I give them my blessing.
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