INTERVIEW: Trevor Strnad – The Black Dahlia Murder

THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER have enjoyed one of the most fruitful careers in 21st century death metal. With their eighth album Nightbringers already smashing records with it receiving the largest numbers of pre-orders in Metal Blade Records history, we spoke to frontman Trevor Strnad about keeping things fresh and his deep love affair with death metal’s morbid traditions.

This is the eighth album now from THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER. Is that a weird thing to consider?

Trevor: Definitely. There was a point where all I wanted was to make one record. To have one real CD on a label that I could show my mom. This has gone a little further than that which is awesome. I still feel the same excitement, maybe even more so now that it’s taken on such a life and had such continued success, and it’s looking like this could be the biggest slice of the story yet.

The album’s done exceptionally well already with it having the biggest pre-order numbers in Metal Blade’s history.

Trevor: Yeah that is exciting as hell for us as you can imagine. For right now we’re just kinda revelling in all this.

THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER have been on such a great run of form now for so long, you’ve just been performing 10th anniversary shows for Nocturnal which some people would call THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER’s breakout album and really the ones before that are good too. Do you ever worry that the well is going to run dry?

Trevor: I don’t feel like we’re in danger of running out of creative juices necessarily but the pressure of having hit with so many albums that people liked in a row, it does mount. There are people out there that think we have a perfect track record so that’s a lot of pressure to live up to. I don’t look at it from that standpoint but it’s there. Usually I’ll have a minor freak-out at the beginning of every writing process, I’ll think about all the eyes of the world being on me, and desperately try and think “Is there anything horrible left to say?” Then I shake free of it and that’s it. It’s quite inspiring though too to have people waiting to see what you’re gonna do next, it’s a good problem to have.

You’ve been pumping out albums pretty much every two years and they all share that core THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER sound, but they’ll have their own flavours. What would you say is the key characteristic of Nightbringers?

Trevor: I think that it’s really Brandon coming into the fold. The solos are quite different I think, he wrote a handful of the songs and injected some different elements. He’s got some neoclassical stuff with Matriarch, As Good as Dead has a bit more hard rock to it than we’ve ever done, and that’s him. He’s a sleazy rock god at 24. He’s just a baby but he’s a monster musician and has put his stamp on this thing.

Obviously THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER are a death metal band so it’s always going to be aggressive, but this one and Abysmal together as a pair really feel like they never really pause for breath and instead just constantly come at you.

Trevor: That’s why we keep the albums short, because they’re so dense. We don’t want to nail someone into the ground necessarily, I want them to make it all the way through the album and think it was a cool ride. We’ve always approached it from that Reign In Blood standpoint. I never really shut up which is the other problem, as the singer I always react to what I’m hearing and feel like I have to put vocals everywhere over the songs. I realise I can be kinda polarising in that way. We just try to keep it with no fat.

What are the lyrical ideas you’ve got going on within Nightbringers?

Trevor: It’s definitely a macabre album as you’d expect. I really tried to ramp those elements up in a huge way here. There’ll usually be one song that takes the crown as being the creepy song on the record and I guess in this case it would be Matriarch. It’s from the viewpoint of a woman who is on a mission to carve a baby out of another woman because she can’t have one herself. It was cool to write from the viewpoint of a woman, I haven’t done it that many times, and it’s kinda flipping the tables a little because it can often be more misogynistic with male characters torturing women.

D’you know a band called VENOM PRISON? Their album cover with the rapist being castrated on the front is certainly a striking image.

Trevor: Yes, they’re definitely bucking that whole thing and that’s cool. They’re picking up a lot of steam, I hear about them all the time now. We played with them once actually, it was Brandon’s first show with us when we played in the UK.

Are there any recent horror movies or stories that have inspired you in some way?

Trevor: I wouldn’t say inspired but I did see a couple of movies I liked recently which is rare for me, I don’t really check out too much modern horror. I saw Get Out and thought that was cool, I saw It Follows which was cool for a movie with a meagre budget. Influence-wise I mostly look to old horror, I look to the past of death metal. The topics I’m doing have all been done before but I love tradition and the traditions of death metal. I love colourful graphic artwork.

When you were describing the lyrics of the song Matriarch earlier, it can draw to mind things like CANNIBAL CORPSE’s Butchered at Birth artwork.

Trevor: That was one of the early slices of death metal I saw and I was hella afraid of that album! I got it and it made me sick. I read the lyrics to the title track of that album and for the next week I was losing weight, I couldn’t eat much. The stuff that really brought me into death metal was so gore-fuelled. It was CANNIBAL CORPSE and BROKEN HOPE, and that put me into that mindset of songs being short stories with a real shock factor. Now the world has changed, and the internet has largely desensitized people, so you really have to try to shock people. For me, I like to take it into a psychological realm. A necrophilia song is one thing but if you can explain why that’s creepier. I like ones where the lines are blurred, where the character can’t tell if his lover is dead or alive.

There’s that AUTOPSY lyric, “There’s a difference between fucking and making love. Maybe some people fuck dead bodies. I make love to them.”

Trevor: There you have it. When I first got a glimpse of telling that kind of story in a romantic way it just blew my mind as a kid. On Hating Life by GRAVE, the very first song is about this guy who is gonna kill this woman he wants but can’t have, and that struck me so hard and was so much creepier than SLAYER’s Necrophiliac which is basically “Yo I need to nut in a cold one!” There’s a song on the new record actually, The Lonely Deceased, which is told from the perspective of a morgue worker. He really likes to work alone because he fucks the corpses, but it’s because he’s very sad and lonely. He spoons them on the slab, he’s different. I wanted to make this album just more monstrous than ever, to have songs with really memorable and gruesome characters. The song Jars for example is about a guy who lives somewhere where it gets dark for a lot of the year like Alaska and it’s made him a little crazy. He kills people and he pickles their meat and keeps them in jars in his cellar, where he goes down and eats from the different jars remembering the nights where he killed each person in kind of a masturbatory thing for him. I dunno, I enjoy pushing the boundaries. There’s not really much left to cover in the world of gore but it’s just the way you do it. I try to put my own style on things, I guess a poetic spin, but half the people aren’t going to read the lyrics anyway!

Would you say that there’s a real loyalty in death metal fans where there will be long-lasting relationships between fan and band as opposed to in other genres which can be more fickle?

Trevor: Definitely. I feel like there are maybe more lifers in Europe and Canada than in the States where there’s more turnover, but overall as a genre sure it’s way more dedicated than my sister is to her radio stuff. You don’t buy a record and then throw it away because it’s been outdated by some other bullshit, it’s an investment, it’s a collection. It’s a hidden world almost. Once you rip off the top off and get down into the underground, you can’t come back up.

Being in line with that community spirit, you’re someone who is seen as a real flag-waver for death metal with your Metal Injection column and performing quite a few guest vocal spots for bands who are maybe smaller and less successful than your own, for example you’re on the new track from THE KENNEDY VEIL. Do you think that’s an important part of being in this world?

Trevor: For me it is. It was great to realise how easy it was for me to give something back. I’m already doing the homework and hunting bands all the time anyway, it’s been that since I was 15. All I had to do was write a few words and I could put that out there and show people these cool bands. I saw a huge hole in metal media for the bands I actually like, especially brutal death metal. It’s as big as it’s ever been right now and a lot of publications just want to remain blind to it, so I just felt the responsibility I guess. I think it is important to show that you care. There was something Kurt Ballou from CONVERGE said that if you want your band to stick around, you have to get involved in other facets of the scene and show them that you give a shit. He has his studio, Jacob Bannon has his label, and I totally agreed with that. I can put a band in that column and they’ll tell me in a week that there’s been 10,000 hits on it and that’s not a small thing, that’s cool in underground terms. I realise in a lot of cases that we are a gateway band for young people getting into death metal, so I try to paint the picture of death metal as I like it with THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, with the artwork and the themes.

In regards to the guest slots, is there anyone in particular you’d like to do a guest slot for or anyone who you’d like to come on a THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER track?

Trevor: We never really have guest vocalists because I don’t want to disappoint people when it comes to reproducing it live. There are tonnes of people I’d love to have if that wasn’t a concern. Martin van Drunen from ASPHYX, Chris Reifert from AUTOPSY is probably my all-time hero in death metal and a huge lyrical influence, King Fowley from DECEASED is another massive lyrical influence. Sometimes I dream about doing a track which on purpose has as many guest vocalists as possible and make it into some kind of play or something. As for me doing it, it’s just another way to give back, and I only do it for bands that I like. I do it for free, it’s an act of friendship. It’s good press for the band and also good press for us, especially if we’re off cycle it can help us stay omnipresent and relevant. It was a big honour to be on BENIGHTED’s track because I’ve been a huge fan since before we became friends. SOREPTION was really cool, BROKEN HOPE was amazing because they’re like legends to me.

Does it feel weird having newer bands looking up to you and citing THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER as an influence?

Trevor: It is weird. It’s really flattering that this band has in any way shaped people’s perception of death metal. I feel old when kids come up and talk to me like I’m an old wizard! It’s funny because at one point we were a kid band, “look how young these guys are!” was a selling point. I see myself at 15 though out in the crowd every night. A little nerd kid with a bowl cut, wire glasses, looks like a total introvert. That was me, and I pay extra attention to that kid.

How does it feel being able to co-headline or even play above really influential classic bands like NAPALM DEATH or SUFFOCATION?

Trevor: It does but there’s also that part of me that thinks we’re not deserving of that. How the hell could we play over SUFFOCATION? In terms of my respect for them I don’t want to, but it’s a numbers game.

Last time THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER were in the UK you headlined Tech-Fest which isn’t traditionally a death metal festival, nor are you guys a band who are exclusively defined by your technicality. In London last year too you played with ABBATH and PRIMORDIAL which is obviously more of a black metal show. How do you feel about being in this position where THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER can fit on so many different kinds of bills and why do you think that is?

Trevor: Tech-Fest was cool, it didn’t seem weird at all. We were on the more aggressive end of the spectrum but ABORTED were there too so we had some kindred spirits. I thought it was a cool fest though, and a cool idea that you’ve got all these different flavours of music but under that umbrella of technicality. I think it started though right when we started to come out, with the way we were perceived. We came out during metalcore’s height so there was a lot of being called that, then deathcore came along and all of a sudden we were being called deathcore, and we’ve been a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Anywhere on the internet where we appear, in the comments a genre fight will follow. Some people can be really guarded towards us because of the way we’ve been painted at some point or another, but every album I think we grab a few more of them. At first I was upset that people didn’t seem to think we were a death metal band when that’s all I wanted to be, I was wondering what we were doing wrong, but now it has allowed us to do all these different things and move past death metal’s glass ceiling almost.

Nightbringers is set for release on October 6th via Metal Blade Records.