The Black Dahlia Murder have been around long enough that a prolonged introduction about the genesis of their sound, lineup changes and history of stellar melodeath releases would be contrived and unnecessary. Instead of that, this opening statement is here for the purpose of cutting through a lot of the questions that casual Black Dahlia fans might have regarding their latest Metal Blade release, Abysmal. Is it heavy? Yes, of course, it’s fucking Black Dahlia. Are they doing anything new here? Yes, they’re not penning goth ballads yet though. And, finally, one for the rubber neckers out there, is it as good as Nocturnal? Yes. In fact, give this a year or two and this will be the album that fans point newcomers towards instead of that 2007 classic.
Many will cite Ritual as the Detroit death metallers most experimental venture and that’s easy to understand; they toyed with song structures more than ever and the prominence of creepy as fuck strings made for great discussion points. Fuck those people though. Abysmal is full of experimentation in rhythm, textures, tonality and tempo. Previous releases have seen tracks bleed into each other with little transition but not here. This is the first Dahlia album where every track has enough substance to be dissected individually, but as one long play can be enjoyed from start to finish too. The traditional galloping riffs that fans of the early material have come to miss are back, so is Strnad’s playful riffing on death metal vocals. Keeping things fresh are the ventures in layering Cradle Of Filth (the early years before Dani shit the bed) style operatic vocals under the razor sharp guitar work that Dahlia diehards love to shout about, not to leave out the blistering speeds at which the band operate on tracks like “Re-Faced” and closer “That Cannot Die Which Is Eternally Dead”; a track that opens with the most pleasing of 80’s horror synths. To go into each track and pick out its standalone moments would take too long. There’s simply too much happening on this record for one review to cover it all.
This being the second album with the current lineup, it’s clear to see that this unit is more tight knit than ever. Cassidy and Lavelle hit every note like it could be their last, staking their claim as the tightest rhythm unit alongside the everpresent Mr Eschbach. Riff after riff flies in, varying in attack, tone and feel. These are the riffs the world has been looking for and Black Dahlia have finally nailed the balance of lead and riffing. Ryan Knight is obviously a virtuoso performer, no doubt, but previous releases saw some of his leadwork fly in out of nowhere and sit slightly ajar from the rest of the track. No longer is that the case. “Advent” and “Stygiophobic” have solos that creep out of the dark and belong next to the powerful force of string and skin attack that they coexist with. The chords and scales that make up that trademark melodeath sound are utilized in a way that balances with the slightly bombastic nature of Knight’s leads; a feat some thought above the band. That just leaves the vocals to be picked at. This is an all time career highlight for Strnad as he screeches, growls, bellows and belches through classically tongue in cheek, dark material. Every aspect of his vocal performance is just a bit rough around the edges and it is what this material needs. He must be ecstatic with how his voice sounds alongside the rest of his crew.
It’s no mistake that The Black Dahlia Murder continue to tour the world on the back of exemplary death metal releases. The work that is put into this music shows and fans appreciate it, just as much as they appreciate the good nature of the individuals involved. The only thing they take deadly seriously is their music and they’ve nailed it this time around. Package everything with their sickest album cover yet and production that makes a beast out of the musicianship and songwriting and this is the end product. A band seven albums into their career and still keeping things fresh without ever sacrificing their attitude and direction. Abysmal is going to be on repeat in cars, headphones, radio stations and venues worldwide for the next two years until this band drop another banger on the undeserving public. Until then, count this as one of the best releases this year, from a band that has never stopped innovating in their own distinct way.
The Black Dahlia Murder’s Abysmal gets…