WORDS: Henry Jones
Few bands make it to their sixth album. Fewer can achieve six releases without stagnating into disrepair and repetition. And even fewer still can claw past their sixth album as a death metal band. It’s often easy to forget just how long THE BLACK DAHLIA MUDER has been strutting the scene because of the band’s appeal to a much wider, younger audience than most death metal bands. However, Abysmal marks the band’s sixth studio album, and they certainly aren’t merely clawing past the benchmark, as has befallen other notorious names in the scene. No, this is a breakneck sprint.
If there is one thing THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER can be relied upon for, it’s consistency. They have never failed to deliver an album every other calendar year, and with each release, they have honed and defined their signature sound into something iconic. Unfortunately, this has propagated a distinct “don’t fix what isn’t broken” quality to fester with their more recent output. Abysmal, one can surmise, is an answer to the question of what weighs heavier in the mind at the stage of a sixth studio album, trying something new, or simply further perfecting a sound perfected. This album is a curious case, proving devastating and volatile in its own right, while continuing to be more of the same from the band. While it succeeds in every way its predecessors did beforehand, one can’t help but wish THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER would take a few more risks with their music.
Musically, this is the height of THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER’s craft of technically taxing melodic death metal. The first thing to be noticed is the noticeable increase in tempo compared to the band’s previous two releases, Ritual, and Everblack. Gone are the churning low-register riffs of the preceding albums, with the band opting for a high-octane, blast beat orientated assault akin to Deflorate and Nocturnal. This newly discovered boost in energy one can only attribute to drummer Alan Cassidy finding a more natural place within the band’s sound with another release under his belt.
This is perhaps the best THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER has ever sounded. Every defining element of their sound has been captured in meticulous and visceral detail. The guitar-work has rather inexplicably taken a significant step up from previous releases, which was already exhibited on a virtuosic level. The riffs are more punishing and vibrantly disparaging than they ever have been, displayed in particular by the harrowing attack of Asylum’s introduction, or the neoclassically constructed chorus of Receipt. Whereas before, Ryan Knight’s solos seemed to be mind boggling exercises of complexity, Abysmal sees far more proficient writing and structuring, which in turn has resulted in far more driven lead performances. Meanwhile, frontman and death metal icon Trevor Strnad continues to prove that he is one of the most convincing vocalists in the business, routinely shuffling between soaring highs and murky lows and everywhere in between, a talent to which few could hope to compare.
This is a band that clearly knows its trade. But is it perhaps possible to know your trade too well? While it is undoubtedly one of their most admirable qualities as a band, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER’s unwavering consistency and punctuality has begun to mar their repeatedly brilliant offerings. While this album is an expertly executed offering of the most viscous components of melodic death metal, it exemplifies the need for the band to experiment and further their scope within the genre. This is perhaps a rather tragic case of a band perfecting their sound too far. While the album is passionately crafted and achieves everything it sets out to achieve, it will only faintly surprize the veterans among the fans of the band. And, at the sixth album benchmark, wouldn’t a surprise be welcome?
Alas, the band won’t fix something that isn’t broken. Abysmal delivers the very best elements of the band’s signature sound in a new, refined, and overtly violent package. While it does suffer slightly due to the back-catalogue of a familiar sound floating in the background, this is the best THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER has ever sounded.
Abysmal is set for release on September 18th via Metal Blade Records.