20 Years In, The Black Dahlia Murder Still Deliver the Goods

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You’re stuck inside and you’ve already watched everything worth streaming. You haven’t bathed in days. Your neighbors can smell your B.O. through the walls, and they aren’t happy about it. You can either sulk and wait for the world to end, or you can listen to some balls-out death metal.

Insane as it is to think about, The Black Dahlia Murder is rapidly approaching their 20th anniversary. A staple of American death metal, every album they release is an event. Years of relentless touring have honed their approach so finely that the question about a new album is not whether it will be good, but whether it will be excellent.

To answer that question: Verminous is fantastic. It will take more listens over the coming months to solidify where I slot the album with their earlier material, but as of now I think it probably bests 2017’s similarly excellent Nightbringers. Regardless of how it stacks up to its predecessors, Verminous is the kind of album the death metal genre aspires to—both unrelentingly vicious and fun all at once.

At this point the basic elements of Verminous should come as no surprise. Allan Cassidy gets busy behind the kit like there’s a gun to his head, while Brian Esbach and Brandon Ellis peel off insane riffs and leads behind Trevor Strnad’s always astounding harsh vocal range. Ellis is the relative newcomer, having only joined the band in 2016, but he steals the show on a regular basis, particularly on the solo midway through “Dawn of Rats.” Cassidy’s work is consistently impressive, and Max Lavelle’s bass provides a consistent low-end foundation for Esbach and Ellis to build on.

Like peak-era Children of Bodom, TBDM understand the concept of leaving the listener wanting more. With nine songs and one interlude, Verminous clocks in at 35 minutes, and the album feels shorter than even that relatively lean runtime. I finished my first listen not exhausted from the onslaught but eager to immediately start a second.

As with other bands that successfully release consistent material without falling into the AC/DC trap of releasing the same album every two years, the Black Dahlia Murder finds ways to expand their sound while remaining true to their original vision. Throughout Verminous it’s the tiny elements that stand out—the melancholy touches that peek through “Removal of the Oaken Stake” and “Sunless Empire,” the way that the guitar and drum arrangements are allowed to breathe. The songwriting feels to me more simplified than on past albums, and even when every member of the band is going ham at once they manage to make the effect exhilarating, rather than exhausting.

That said, “simplified” for the Black Dahlia Murder is still a complex soup of vicious double bass, wildly varied riffs, and Strnad’s constant mastery of the microphone. In truth most songs on Verminous straddle the divide, alternating between barely controlled chaos and a more deliberate species of destruction. Highlights include “How Very Dead” and the previously mentioned “Dawn of Rats,” but a convincing argument could be made for any of the songs on the album.

While the Coronavirus has thrown off the Black Dahlia Murder’s typical touring schedule, seeing these songs live whenever normalcy continues will have been well worth the wait. In the meantime Verminous is waiting for another play, or 20. And if you’re one of the assholes lucky enough to have secured a copy of the band’s roleplaying game, enjoy yourself and then go to hell.

4.5 out ov 5 Flamin’ Toilets

Verminous will be released through Metal Blade Records on April 17, 2020. You can pre-order a copy here.

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