Champions of the Underground - The Black Dahlia Murder
The Black Dahlia Murder set the bar high during their 2017 campaign for their widely-acclaimed Nightbringers album. It would become the most successful direct-to-consumer record in the history of Metal Blade Records in addition to garnering unanimous critical praise. Three years later, the band would be faced with the arduous task of meeting the lofty expectations set by Nightbringers with the added hurdle of succeeding while the world was preoccupied with a global pandemic.
This meant a few things. Traditional promotion their ninth record, VERMINOUS, was gone. Tours were all canceling. There would be no listening parties. There would be no in-store events. Traditional points of sale were all closed. BDM wouldn’t be on the road to sell the record either. The deck was certainly stacked against the band.
What should have been a less than stellar showing for a first week release saw the band earn the 4th spot In the charts for the best-selling records in the country. This wasn’t specific to genre, this position reflected pure album sales. To give you an idea, the Michigan death metal stalwarts were nestled in between names like Fiona Apple and The Weeknd. It’s a reality that wasn’t lost on frontman Trevor Strnad. “It’s pretty amazing especially with everything that is going on. I mean, stores are closed and we aren’t on tour to actually sell physical copies either.”
It’s that kind of connection with fans that affords the band to confidently toe a very fine line in maintaining their roots as underground veterans while scratching at the surface of widespread appeal. It’s a metric of success that Strnad has always valued. “At first I just wanted us to be taken seriously as a band by the long-haired, leather-clad conglomerate. I never thought we would be accessible enough.” Over the course of two decades The Black Dahlia Murder has made a career of not only winning over the skeptics, but christening them into the band's rabid fanbase. “We’ve always been in this weird genre fight that has given us life outside of being a death metal band. It’s allowed us to do some higher profile stuff. More than what I ever imagined.”
As the band approaches twenty years of decimation, VERMINOUS proves that their creative drive is as prolific as ever. While it would be safe to repeat the formula of the previous success, the band continues to evolve in a way that not only satisfies their longest fans but earns new ones with each release. Strnad explained, "This record definitely feels like a new creative era for the band. We’ve incorporated a more classic heavy metal sound and the record as a whole is more dynamic.”
Tasking guitarist Brandon Ellis to take on the production and a bulk of the songwriting, the result is a durable death metal record that fits in line with the greats of the genre. A potent mix of old school brutality with modernized, polished production and delivery, it's evident why fans flocked to grab the record the first week they could. Strnad detailed how crucial Ellis has been in the equation. “We had so much confidence with what he did on NIGHTBRINGERS, We trusted him to handle the production and the recording for us. He really inspired us all. He’s been a huge asset.”
As for aging gracefully among the discerning death metal ranks, The Black Dahlia Murder work to avoid getting stale. Without having to repeat themselves or compromise their sound, the band has been able to push their creative limits without ever alienating their base. Strnad attributes that dynamic with a very earnest fact. “We’re fans first. We all love this music. That allows us to create our own sound which is a Frankenstein.”
While the theme of the record is more a commentary on the counter-culture and prevalence of the underground community, it’s tough to ignore some of the obviously tangents that are applicable during these uncertain times. Aside from the thematic elements, Strnad agrees that the appetite for heavy music and the social climate are aligning. “Considering the state of the world, in the face of this virus and with life moving at the speed of zero, Verminous definitely feels right.” Pivoting off that point, Strnad saw a silver lining given the circumstances. “It’s actually a blessing that we had the album drop right now. So many other people are just stuck. This at least gives us the opportunity to connect with fans on Twitch or Instagram. We got nothing but time right now and people still need to entertained.”
Among the few certainties that lie ahead, VERMINOUS is a collection of songs that will marinate well. In fact, if the forecast of a year away from the stage pans out, these songs live will still feel fresh whenever The Black Dahlia Murder are allowed to hit the road again. There just aren’t many bands that can endure for two decades and still offer something new. This is part of what The Black Dahlia Murder remain not only media darlings but championed by fans the world over.