The Black Dahlia Murder
18th September 2015 – Metal Blade Records
02. Vlad, Son of the Dragon
05. Threat Level No. 3
06. The Fog
09. The Advent
10. That Cannot Die Which Eternally Is Dead
Detroit’s The Black Dahlia Murder have never put out a mediocre album, let alone an actively bad one. Though they are still a relatively young band, Abysmal is album number seven for them – they’ve been on an admirably steady release schedule of a new full-length every other year since 2003. Indeed, steadiness has been the name of the game for The Black Dahlia Murder all along: they found their niche within the modern melodic death metal movement and their signature sound right out of the gate. Since their breakout debut Unhallowed, TBDM have maintained course both without stumbling and with occasionally delivering outstanding albums.
Abysmal, then comes right on time in 2015. In terms of quality, it falls evenly between the very good albums Deflorate and Everblack, and the truly great Nocturnal and Ritual. Album opener “Receipt” teases in the intro with violins reminiscent of Fleshgod Apocalypse, but unfortunately after they serve their purpose they are not integrated in the rest of the song, and nor is that sound revisited throughout the remaining 36 minutes, save for a similar intro on the closing track. Indeed, for the most part there are few surprises on Abysmal. For some this will be a disappointment, but followers of The Black Dahlia Murder have not stuck around for 12 years for innovation and surprises – rather, it is because they are guaranteed ten new songs in a lean 35-45 minute package that is marked by polished writing and tight, technically demanding performances from each member.
Following the strong introduction, Abysmal is relentless in its pace and delivers powerful songs with Trevor Strnad’s unmistakable, inimitable shrieks and bellows commanding attention but never overshadowing the intricate guitar harmonies. In particular lead single “Vlad, Son of the Dragon” and second single “Threat Level No. 3” are as catchy as anything the band have ever written and are sure to become staples of their raucous live show.
While the vast majority of the time The Black Dahlia Murder maintain extremely fast tempos, some of their greatest successes have come when they have dialed it back dramatically and played with oppressive, crawling dynamics. Much like how “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” was the pinnacle of Ritual (and arguably of their entire catalogue), late album dirge “Stygiophobic” distinguishes itself through its bleak atmosphere and mirthless execution. The Black Dahlia Murder wear seriousness quite well.
Beyond that highlight, the latter half of Abysmal in general finds The Black Dahlia Murder experimenting a little more with their sound. Songs like “The Fog” have both neoclassical and black metal guitar elements that work beautifully in their context and do much to add diversity to an album whose songs do bleed together occasionally. In spite of the multiple strengths that Abysmal has, the singular fault is that the songs could stand to distinguish themselves more within the context of the album. Viewed in isolation they each stand strongly on their own merits, but listening to Abysmal in its entirety makes the affair appear somewhat formulaic.
Abysmal is the sound of The Black Dahlia Murder continuing to do what they do best: producing top tier melodic death metal. Maintaining the status quo is not a major strike against the band this time around, however it would behoove them to keep refining their core sound and pushing into new directions if they keep churning out albums like clockwork. As it stands, Abysmal is unlikely to garner the attention of those who have been uninterested in The Black Dahlia Murder so far and yet it is hard to imagine fans being anything but thrilled with the final result.