Monday, June 3, 2013

Review of "Everblack" by The Black Dahlia Murder

Buy this album
(links coming June 11th)

1. In Hell Is Where She Waits for Me
2. Goat of Departure
3. Into the Everblack
4. Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn
5. Phantom Limb Masturbation
6. Control
7. Blood Mine
8. Every Rope a Noose
9. Their Beloved Absentee
10. Map of Scars

Having dropped five genre-defining albums The Black Dahlia Murder have made it impossible to discuss melodic death metal without mention of their name. With Everblack, they once again demand the respect of peers and followers alike. "We've always tried to create something that's rooted in classic death metal but at the same time offers something fresh and new, and Everblack is everything that we collectively love about the genre," asserts vocalist Trevor Strnad. "To us, the challenge is always in wanting to make something better than what has come before, and something that will really excite the fans. But I think with all those albums behind us we have become the band fans can depend on, and we couldn't be more proud of what we have achieved with this new record."

By far the most dynamic, melodic, and fully realized of their works to date, 2011's Ritual was a huge hit with the band's diehard fan base, and touring it globally both as headliner and as support to Cannibal Corpse and Amon Amarth drew in waves of new converts. Faced with the task of writing its successor, Strnad admits that initially he was quite intimidated by the prospect. "In writing Everblack we had to face the monster that was Ritual. It was the biggest and most thought out thing we had put our names to, and it really advanced our sound, but once we started working on Everblack it became a monster of its own. It's just awesome riffs, it's more melodic than ever, and I think it's more digestible too - not in the sense that we've mellowed out at all, but the songwriting is better, which reflects our desire to take everything to the next level." This is apparent across the album's ten tracks, each of them hitting home with sledgehammer force while drenched in the kind of chilling hooks and macabre atmosphere the band have long excelled at. At the same time, this represents the next stage in the band's evolution without at any point veering away from their instantly recognizable sound, and founding guitarist Brian Eschbach views the record as simply the band doing what they do best. "Anything we do is always going to have the Black Dahlia style, but we try to ensure every track we write has a personality of its own, so that it can stand out amongst what's now a six-album catalogue of songs. We're not going to start throwing curveballs, we're not going to pussy out, and no one's ever going to say y'know what would be cool right here? A fucking Meat Loaf part! We are what we are, and we're proud of that."

Rich with the kind of brutal yet dexterous riffs and blistering lead work that have dominated all of their releases, Eschbach and fellow six-stringer Ryan Knight also upped their game this time out, making their highly technical style and capacity for writing razor sharp hooks seem almost easy. Further bolstering the record's visceral impact their shredding has never sounded better. "A lot of the solos on this record were improvised," Eschbach states. "There were some ideas that had been worked out beforehand, but most of the time we'd roll tape and see what happened. We'd stop when someone would say that was amazing. Don't touch that, leave that alone, and I think that spontaneous feeling really has an energy of its own." Eschbach continues, "Without a doubt in my mind, this album will be Ryan's step into the guitar god lime light. He is such a humble guy in person, but he speaks volumes with his solos on Everblack." The album also features the recording debuts of Max Lavelle (formerly of Despised Icon and Goratory) and Alan Cassidy (formerly of Abigail Williams), who respectively filled the slots vacated by bassist Ryan "Bart" Williams and drummer Shannon Lucas. Strnad knew that bringing new guys into the fold would mean they had a lot to prove with Everblack, but both stepped up. And then some. "We've known Max a while, and he's such a positive guy to be around. He has an intense stage presence that just ups the game for the whole band, and he brought his dirty, growling bass sound to the album that makes the heavier parts so much heavier." Asserting that he believes that the twenty-three-year-old Cassidy to be a drumming prodigy in his own right, Strnad says that his excitement, enthusiasm, and abilities behind the kit made him a perfect fit. "His performance on the album is great. He's really creative with his playing, and he brought a really definitive style to the band, which is going to stand out." Though no longer actively playing in the band, Ryan "Bart" Williams remained involved in that he handled production duties when the quintet headed into the studio, and is an important facet in the album's weighty sound. "Having Bart in there overseeing things really helped. I see it kind of like a Beach Boys operation, where the band is bigger than just who goes on tour. His contribution to me is important, and I'm thrilled to still have him be a part of what we do."

Lyrically speaking, the album sees Strnad weaving together more of the vivid and sickening horror-based narratives that have long been a powerful part of the band's appeal, without ever rehashing old ideas. Likening the best death metal to a car wreck in the sense that "it's gruesome, but you can't stop looking at it" Strnad revels in the thrill of creating fear through such imagery, and the titles of "Phantom Limb Masturbation" and "Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn" - which references seminal horror movie Evil Dead - let the fans know what they're in for. Additionally, with opener "In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me", for the first time Strnad directly tackles the infamous unsolved 1947 murder case that the band drew their name from. "There's been allusions before, but this is the first time we've gone at it full on. It's written from the point of view of Elizabeth Short's killer attending her funeral anonymously to kind of get his jollies, and reflecting on his relationship with her. She's his trophy in a way, and really the murder itself is symbolic of the death of the American Dream. She was an actress who moved to California with stars in her eyes, and her murder was so brutal and perverse, and brought so many seedy underground elements into the light. It really signifies the darkening of the times in the States, where a more violent era was ushered in. I loved the imagery the first time I ever came across it, and I think fans will be really excited by this song." Collectively, the songs are united under the title of Everblack, a reference to the absolute coldness of death with no afterlife to look forward to, and the unshakeable reality that comes from knowing that ultimately everyone finds themselves alone in a pine box. This is very much reflected in the unsettling yet beautiful artwork of Nicholas Keller, who has helped truly root the album in the annals of old school death metal. However, for Strnad the title has a second distinct and equally valid meaning. "It's kind of a reference to the staying power and the re-energization of the band having had these new guys come in, because they're so hungry and excited to be here. It's saying we're still here. We're still The Black Dahlia Murder, we're the band you know and love in spite of any changes. We are and will continue to be Everblack."

That the release date of the album falls almost ten years to the day the band's 2003 debut Unhallowed hit record stores is particularly meaningful to Strnad, who admits he never could have imagined such an anniversary. "All I wanted was to have one CD in my grubby hands and now this band has gone worldwide. It's fucking amazing to be able to look back and see that this is the same band born from the brotherhood Brian and I forged, and we've always been thankful for everything that has come our way." It is also apparent that they have no plans to quietly bow out any time soon. "For Brian and I this band is a necessity at this point. We have to do this, and we want to be a band like Cannibal Corpse or Napalm Death, when you can turn around and say you see those guys right there? They're lifers. It's been such an awesome ride to where we are now, and that hunger for more is perhaps the strongest it's ever been."

The album starts with the track “In Hell Is Where She Waits for Me,” where you are greeted by a nice heavy melodic riff and it picks up after that. The fact that this track has a melodic feel but with an evil touch the guitars create is incredible. It isn’t happy-go-lucky melodic, but more so groovy demonic melodic. The solo is also great. The drumming in the next track, “Goat of Departure,” is heavy and thrashy and there are great technical bits in between melodic riffs. The snare roll and chugging guitars accompanied by the chanting of “six six six” was badass, especially with the solo after. The song takes a black metal turn after that which is amazing to me and was something I wasn’t expecting from these guys. The guitars on “Into the Everblack” are powerful and have a lot of brutality put in them, with the ambient keyboard added to the gruelling atmosphere of this track. With lines like “descent imminent bladder and bowels into pants” and “your weak religion dies with thee” it makes this track a great mix of death and black metal topics.

“Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn” brought catchy melodic and technical parts. For being a track about being pregnant, as well as being raped by thorny vines, the guitars seem a little too melodic but if I didn’t have the lyrics up I wouldn’t have guessed how gnarly they were. The next track “Phantom Limb Masturbation” is all about the brutal death metal and with a track title like that, I’d expect nothing less. I’m not entirely sure what the lyrics mean, but from what I gather I think it’s about a guy getting sexual pleasure from having his limbs amputated and then maybe masturbating with those limbs, but don’t quote me on that. I enjoy how nasty the lyrics are, it makes the tracks even better. The guitars have a great mix of heavy and dirty riffs as well as nice melodic bits and an awesome solo. Keeping with the great brutal riffs and catchy melodic is the next track, “Control.” My favourite line has to be “animated fuckdolls, warm bodies with holes,” I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that. The guitars take a groovy turn about half way through and the solo after that is good with another one after a melodic bit.

The next track, “Blood Mine”  seems to be all about the heavy melodic and solos which is fine by me. The way they pull it off keeps me entertained and a little break from brutality isn’t too bad. I got a blackened death feel from “Every Rope a Noose” with the drums never letting up as well as the way the guitars and vocals flowed. It is a overall demonic track and definitely has to be my favourite track, as it shows off the drums potential as well as one of the best guitar solos on the album. The speed and melodic capability of the guitarists on “Their Beloved Absentee” are really and the blast beats are beastly as well. A slam style bit about a little over half way through, with a solo to follow it up were awesome. This is a nice rounded track, with all the great aspects this album has shown so far. To end the album we have probably the greatest lyrical content I’ve seen on the entirety of the album. “Map of Scars” is about two girls without fathers and with deadbeat mothers who seem to be lovers and also self mutilators, what more do you want? The guitars are very menacing but also have a melodic touch which is also quite dark sounding, definitely the best way to end an album.

Having not listening to The Black Dahlia Murder in quite some time, I was not sure what I was diving into. To my surprise they were more brutal than I was expecting and also had a hint of black metal influence which also had me interested. The album from start to finish is a masterpiece musically and lyrically and they definitely left me wanting more. This is an album that I will play every day for the rest of my life and it made me want to keep my eye on The Black Dahlia Murder from now on.

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