You’ve gotta get ’em whilst they’re young is how the saying goes. The same could be said for Detroit’s Death Metallers The Black Dahlia Murder. Hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since the band first took flight in 2001. Having cut their teeth in the world of the underground slowly but sure the band have risen up to be seen in the highest regard and arguably the leaders of this new Death Metal era. Now on the eve of releasing Nightbringers, what will be their biggest record yet, with preorders flying out the door, the band are arguably one of Metal Blade’s biggest assets. With a revitalised line up, the fire has well and truly been lit beneath these immortals for what might be their biggest achievement in their career so far.
Having had some problems with line up in the past, following the release of 2015’s Abysmal the band announced the departure of guitarist Ryan Knight. Secretly enlisting the help of one Brandon Ellis, little did we know that he would become a new full time member of the band, The Black Dahlia Murder forged forward once more.
“It was a really natural smooth transition. We’ve got to thank Ryan Knight for orchestrating this whole thing, when he decided to step down from the band, he was cool enough to tell us, a year and a half in advance just to be as “bro” as he could and help us segue into the next phase. We kept that to ourselves and started to work quietly on getting the new guy in. He chose Brandon, we asked him “Who’s it going to be man?” He listed a few people but Brandon was the very first one. You know who the shredders are out there, I knew who he was for sure. Its just been a perfect fit! He had a year to kind of practice, not that he needs it, he’s incredible he could have waltzed right in. By the time the time that we had him on stage with us it was just like a glove.
For us to change a member its a big deal, we don’t like to straight up announce it. People get butthurt and they start freaking out. We just kind of do it shady for a while, take the new guy on tour and let people figure it out! We did the same thing with Max and we did the same thing with Alan. I think it started with the DVD’s. I think that people got really attached to certain members of the line up, its definitely a lot trickier for us to change members than what it used to be. Its high profile when someone leaves. Its been really cool.
He’s really young, he’s just turned 25. I’m 36 if that puts anything into perspective? I’m the old man haha! He’s brought a lot of energy into the band, us old guys are having to keep up with him up there. He’s an incredible writer, I want to call him a prodigy of the guitar I would say. He’s the most musical dude we have ever had in the band. He wrote music for the album, its the first time that he has ever had his own music on a legit record. He’s solo’d on a ton of albums and filled in for a lot of bands but this is the first time that Brandon’s own music is going to be out to the world and god DAMN is it good so I’m pretty excited about that.”
Known for their technical ability, The Black Dahlia Murder aren’t ones to skimp on the technical aspect of their material. Even in their infancy, riffs had an arachnid like nature and tested even some of the best players in the game. Coming off the back of Ryan Knight’s performance on Abysmal, you would have to have some serious chops to compete. Luckily choosing his replacement to be Brandon Ellis, the man can not only solo to his hearts content but has brought an entirely different take in the world of The Black Dahlia Murder beginning yet another creative chapter for the band with Nightbringers.
THE IMMORTALS CHANGE THE GUARD
“As Good As Dead” thats one of his songs, he’s a definite rock guy at heart and there are some definite rock shit in that song. We’ve never gone that hard into the Rock territory, its got that kind of Drums and Bass lock up in that chorus. Its a little Megadeth swagger I wanna say. Its cool, I really like what he’s bringing into the fold. Thats just one example of what he is bringing to the record. When I first heard that, that beginning part with the sweeps and shit, it sounded like it was the end of the world so I said “Shit I have to write this about zombies” So it was a zombie song. “
Not one for the classic concept album, The Black Dahlia Murder are more insistent on capturing the fury of small tales. Similar to the style of a Tales From The Crypt, Strnad pens short but sweet, ghoulish tales that will make anyone’s skin crawl. Though with Nightbringers, the man really has outdone himself. Mirroring the musical aptitude, the man delved into the deep catacombs of the subconscious to unearth some REALLY horrific stories for their new offering, featuring what Strnad quite proudly labelled as one of his most violent lyrics to date!
“I wouldn’t say that its a concept record by any means but there are a couple of concepts that are retreaded. We’ve had a constant overarching theme of this Nightworld thing. Creatures of the night, bloodsucking vampires, being immortal, this is a constant theme in BDM. The song itself Nightbringers, is your standard rejecting religion kind of song. Its about embracing yourself and free thought and not being worried about some kind of cosmic spanking. I guess that “Matriarch” would have to be the most violent track. Its about this is woman, she goes a little kooky and then she starts stalking this other woman, a pregnant woman in the hopes of cutting the baby out of her stomach which she does eventually. Still Death Metal!
Thats part of it man, theres a lot of blood and guts on this record. I kept it away from the kind of “woe is me, its the end of the world” lyric. There was a lot of that on Abysmal and a lot of more emotional venting I would say. I ramped up the macabre for sure. The last song “The Lonely Deceased” is about a morgue attendant that gets frisky with the corpses. Then there’s “Catacomb Hecatomb” is about these two guys who are spelunking, they’re explorers and they happen upon this queen. Its like a skeleton and she’s embedded in cobwebs . She comes to life and all these spiders come out of her crotch and eat the two people. Hahaha! I felt like a super big responsibility to honour what we had done in the past in that regard. It seems like the more extreme I go with the lyrics, the more it resonates with people. The more those songs get considered to be classics I think. I really felt like lets make a Horror album.”
A LOVE OF THE MACABRE
This fascination with the macabre hasn’t been an overnight fling but more of a long standing romance between Strnad. Starting when he was very young, Strnad was immersed in the world of Horror. Citing the classics the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday The Thirteenth. Couple this gruesome ideal with what is brought forward in Metal and its really a no brainer.
“Its been my entire life. It started with seeing Horror movies at too early of an age haha! When I was really, really young I was absolutely terrified of blood. Like three or four more or less. By the time I was seven or eight I was watching Friday The Thirteenth, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Night of The Living Dead. My friend Mark he was my key to the world of Horror. He and his dad had all of these movies and we just used to watch them over and over. I was drawing people getting their heads cut off when I was in second grade, portably a little earlier than most hahaha!
Metal just totally came naturally to me after that. I guess role playing also fed into my wanting to check Metal out. I was in the record store and I saw so many parallels between D and D, Horror movies and shit on Metal. I was like this must be for me! For me, Death Metal in particular is just synonymous with Horror. The bands I consider the most classic, the stuff that really got me into it, were the gory bands. Cannibal Corpse, Broken Hope and that kind of three minute Horror story aspect. Each song is a kind of isolated tale from the crypt I think that is a kind of trickle down from Cannibal Corpse’s influence.”
Becoming what could be seen as a Death Metal tastemaker, Strnad’s finger is firmly on the pulse. Perhaps responsible for the band’s musical popularity, its this inherent understanding of elements that make up the best Death Metal bands. Think of Strnad as an (insane) chef if you will, bringing together the most macabre cake in the world of music. But what are his ingredients?
“Its a lot of things you know? Its a cool sound. Something threatening, its sounds dangerous. Its cool artwork, violent themes or dark themes. Its really all the same stuff I liked and that turned me on when I was fifteen. I try to apply all of those things to what we do at least for lyrics and visuals for the band. The album covers, I still am obviously on the hunt for new bands all the time. I get the same kind of thrill of finding new music as I always have. I realise that we are often a gateway band for young dudes to get into more extreme music maybe? Be the first blasting band that they have heard, they make me want to represent what I like. A lot of it is the “terrible place” album cover.
To me its just so classic man. All my favourite records have that. The Left Hand Path, its just a kind of weird fantastic world. Thats the way I look at Death Metal, its an escape from reality for people. People from the outside probably see it as the most negative thing on earth. Its about death, its about the macabre but you know, really to me its about bringing people together its about a show of like minded people and forgetting their woes for a second. We’re just weird, we just like something else. Not the usual stuff that people like, we like skeletons big deal!”
Appealing to mass amount of fans, The Black Dahlia Murder have also been seen as somewhat of a gateway band. Enlisting younger fans to be worshippers of the dark one, there seems to be something about this Michigan quintet that younger fans gravitate towards.
“Part of being called all of these different genres is that we get to exist in all these different scenes, with all these different kinds of people. At the end of the day, when we play a show, theres hopefully a full crowd! I’m thankful for that. I don’t care if they think we are a Deathcore band, I don’t care if they think we’re a Ska band. I’m happy! Us being kind of an oddball band, me being a nerd and I guess the way that we carry ourselves, with a little bit of a comedic tip on stage, in videos and photos, that made us kind of stick out too I think. For us it was about “Man I don’t want anyone to see pictures of us, this sucks!” It was kind of like a necessary evil.”
NOCTURNAL – TEN YEARS ON
Announcing that they would be celebrating the ten year anniversary of Nocturnal, might not have had a direct impact on Nightbringers but more of a subtle resonance. Not wanting to make a pastiche out of what was already made, The Black Dahlia Murder instead wanted to honour the passing of Nocturnal in a way that those who would have the more beady of eyes would surely notice.
“The record was entirely done before we even came up with the idea pretty much. I guess the anniversary in itself kind of brought some ideas full circle for me. Doing a tried and true Black Dahlia theme for the album name. Returning to kirstian Wahlin he was the first painted cover we had. He was the first good album cover we had. The first two looked like crap. We couldn’t afford anything better at the time. It was the first time that I got to do what I wanted and it was so liberating. I have been trying to keep people on their toes ever since. Do different artworks with different artists and kind of have a surprise for the fans. I see how much they care for the artwork. When it goes right and you have a decent album and decent artwork paired together, that works so well to get people excited. I take it really seriously. I thought it would be kind of a surprise to go back to someone we had already done that they wouldn’t expect, something old and something new together.
I like to have an overarching kind of colour that represents each chapter in our legacy. Obviously, glaringly red this time.”
Though you could argue that the recent performance of Nocturnal in its entirety, to commemorate its ten year anniversary, could have inspired the band’s want for a return to their former days the artwork for Nightbringers actually has hardly anything to do with their blue tinged predecessor. Well, thats not entirely true, wanting to remain in the same realm the Dracula / Castlevania style landscape of Nocturnal, there was a certain return into the macabre world.
“I thought it would be cool! We haven’t done it in a while, definitely blood, definitely red. The thing I was kind of nervous about was I said “I want it to be red but I also want it to be nighttime. Its gotta be both.” Hahaha! I told him that I wanted a mountainous scene, I wanted it to look a little like Nocturnal, like it could be in the same territory, you know what I mean? Not to say, hey we’re just going to rehash all of our shit. Just kind of a nod to anyone that has been paying attention really.”
THE BIGGEST PREORDER EVER
One of Metal Blade’s biggest bands of late, The Black Dahlia Murder surpassed expectations with their recent preorder status, earning the status of being the most preordered record in Metal Blade’s history. Of course there are various reasons for this, though few would have been more responsible for this kind of help that the real knights of the underworld that are The Blast Fiends. What was a kind of unofficial fan club, was taken under their wing by Trevor to become a real hub for anything BDM related.
“Man it seems like there is more mania for the band than ever. I want to say that the fan club, the official unofficial fan club, The Blast Fiends page on Facebook has been largely responsible for creating this sort of intense collecting culture for our stuff. Its really come into full swing, this last album cycle. Before I started posting the page myself, they had like 500 people, now its like 10,000 or something. They’re the most hardcore fans out there. They’re largely responsible for this insane preorder fever that is happening for us now. Its very cool, they’re kind of leading the charge.”
Having been a fan of the band since their early beginnings, yours truly can confirm that this record could well be the bands most vicious offering yet. Wasting no time, the band have cleaved off the fat, gutted the nonessential elements to streamline tracks to be exactly what is needed. Nothing more, nothing less.
“It has a lot of attitude and thats something that he brought into the fold more than ever and I think that it kind of lit the fire under the rest of our asses to just make it the most gritty and kind in your face thing that we have done. In a way though, a lot of it has been pulled back too. I don’t think there is quite as much blasting overall as there has been? I think there is a lot more rhythmic variety than before. Thats something that we have been inching towards in the last few records. It started around Ritual where we were like “Ok I think we know how to write a Black Dahlia song but how do we write better ones.” Realising that very small details are very crucial you know? You’ve gotta have some build ups, some dynamics, you’ve gotta put out a lot of feel. Thats the most important part, that you have something that creates a feeling and resonates.”
NIGHTBRINGERS – THEIR FINEST HOUR
Though just as the record might be the bands most ferocious, don’t think that this has sacrificed the bands creativity. Ironically returning to their heyday the album tends to have elements that are more akin to their early incarnations yet with the addition of new blood Ellis, owing to the lads background present some of the most forward thinking songwriting of the bands career. Something which, no doubt a lot of fans wouldn’t have been expecting and arguably one of the reasons Nightbringers could be one of the strongest additions to The Black Dahlia Murder‘s incredibly intimidating back catalogue.
“I agree. We were saying earlier about “As Good As Dead”, we’ve never done something like that before. Its a very rockin’ track. Thats Brandon man! The kid is 25 and his favourite bands are like Chicago and Toto, he’s not like any other kid that you have ever met. He’s a really old soul. He loves Winger, he described some of what he did as sleazy, Death Metal, Winger riffs.
He definitely put his stamp on the record on a huge way. Most of the songs are Brian’s. Five of the songs are Brian’s, four are Brandon’s. Brian always steps his game up, every two years when we come back to write, that kid blows me away. What I’ve done on this record is just my own excited reaction to what they’ve done. I thought “WOW, these songs are fucking sick!” We still have a lot of enthusiasm to create, we’re not done. I don’t feel like we’re treading water, there’s still a lot to do. I consider the band to still be young, we started as kids and I think everyone thought “Look at these kids, they’re going so fast!” Obviously we’re not kids anymore. I see people half my age or less in the crowd now. I feel like we still have tons to do and tons of good albums to write. I could feel it in the air when we were making this, like wow this is cool.
When Brandon came into the fold and started offering up his songs I think Brian was like “Man, fuck this kid hahaha” So he stepped it up too! More so than ever. We wrote everything together so fast, they would send me three quarters of a song, I would write lyrics to most of it. Then sometimes they might change parts from what I did because I had just got my shit done on time for once! Same thing with the drums, Alan definitely put his stamp on the album in a way that he hasn’t before. He always adds his flat to things. He took the song, it has guitar, bass and drums (fake drums from Pro Tools) he’ll take that and rewrite the shit out of it. Then he’s like just send me the song with just guitars then he starts from scratch and programs everything meticulously, every fill inside out and out. To a level that guitar players can’t handle. We really came together more so than we ever have. I think its a more professional album.”
As the leaves begin to turn yellow and the most ghoulish of festive seasons approaches, The Black Dahlia Murder will open up the veritable portal into hell. Nightbringers is truly like nothing the band have ever done before, experimental, streamline and ultimately absolutely sensational the path is paved for these Death Metal prodigies. Despite their incredibly extreme status as a band, to see the likes of Metal Blade need to rush for a second pressing of vinyl editions truly is a testament to not only the quality of the band but the fierce loyalty of their fans. A band brought together by their love of all that is undead and unburied, fans brought together by their love of Death Metal, Nightbringers could well be The Black Dahlia Murder‘s finest work to date and there’s no sign of them stopping anytime soon.
I always think of the band as an evolution. I think that each album is a photograph from a time. We’re still growing, I definitely want to keep this thing going until I’m in the ground or until they take the mic out of my hand haha!