The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal
In recent years, The Black Dahlia Murder have been enveloped by the “Death Metal Black Hole of Consistency ™” – a phenomenon where consistently excellent, crowd-pleasing releases are met with less and less hype for no apparent reason whatsoever. Justin Bieber (& co) could churn out the same faux-edgy record every two years like their lives depended on it and each one would go Platinum and no-one would really care that underneath you’re just getting the same old formulaic thing. In the world of pop music, the Black Hole of Consistency is the gold standard, as exemplified by the popularity of Motown back in its 80’s heyday or the same, tired Pitbull verses being unceremoniously draped on top of just about every song in the Top 40 these days.
For the Michigan-based definitely not pop group The Black Dahlia Murder, a genius and quite unreplicable aesthetic circa 2003-2007 is the same genius they display in 2015 – but it has always been the same; it probably always will be the same. For all their innovation in the early days (this reviewer remembers the slew of melodic death metal guitar riffs and brightly coloured splatter tees which reigned over whole subcultures in the mid 2000’s), TBDM have missed the boat on becoming something more expansive and surprising than the thirty minute assault of 2007’s beautiful Nocturnal. If you cast your mind back, it wasn’t so long ago that Bring Me the Horizon – a band on the verge of headlining the biggest UK festivals – were knocking out replica Miasma riffs like they were going out of fashion. Had Suicide Season been Count Your Blessings II, it’s doubtful the band would have moved forward in the huge and seemingly stochastic (but probably planned) way that they have.
For all their loss of traction over the past eight years or so, TBDM have, admirably, stuck to their guns and although it’s not necessarily cool to name drop the band these days, I’d argue that the music is as good as ever. For Abysmal, their seventh record, the band reincorporate some welcome elements back into their core sound and largely do away with the experimental edge which crept in on Ritual and Everblack. The benefit of this is that for all of Abysmal’s thirty seven minutes, the band play absolutely to their strengths and blend the faster, technical riffs of their early work with heaps of melody and the occasional bruising traditional death metal section to great effect. The record opens in strong fashion with Receipt, Vlad, Son of Dragon and the title track making up a triptych that’s as good as any across their seven albums, although maybe not as memorable as Nocturnal’s Everything Went Black, What a Wonderful Night to Have a Curse and Virally Yours. Despite momentum dropping off somewhat during tracks five and six, Abysmal ends in devastating fashion and delivers some near-perfect melodic death metal during its final ten or so minutes.
“Death Metal Black Hole of Consistency ™” aside, The Black Dahlia Murder add another peerless record to their growing collection of releases which is neither more nor less remarkable that what came before. Songs on this album remain comfortably within the three to four minute safe zone for the band and you could probably put this thing on shuffle and not lose any of its spirit. Abysmal is structured almost exclusively on momentum and whilst this is a feat in itself, it lacks the songcraft of a classic melodic death metal record like Slaughter of the Soul which bolsters its songs with interludes and more dynamics than are on display here. It’s perhaps unfair to criticise The Black Dahlia Murder for this – they’ve never been the most dynamic band – but I don’t think taking more risks would be a bad thing. They’ve certainly got the talent to develop their sound beyond what we all expect from them, and maybe now they have nothing to lose.
The truth is that this Michigan death metal band is excellent at what they do and reliably deliver a new, exciting collection of songs every two years which replaces the previous album in my ‘I’m in the mood to listen to TBDM, I’m going to put on….’ priority pile. Like Slayer before them, it’s hard to imagine the band sounding any different and to be honest, I wouldn’t want them to. There’s so much music available these days that bands can afford to pigeonhole themselves in a niche they’re experts at. For the same reason I don’t review classical music – sometimes it’s best to stick to what you know best. Overall, I would highly recommend this album to fans of melodically driven extreme music or to those with an interest in hearing a very talented death metal singer in action. For existing TBDM fans – you know the drill.
Words: Ben Armstrong