Every Black Dahlia Murder Album Ranked From Worst to Best By Trevor Strnad
“I think I’m ready to tear this apart,” says Trevor Strnad. Though the vocalist and founding member of modern death metal legends The Black Dahlia Murder has spent much of his adult life performing with his shirt off to huge crowds, and is now gearing up for a spring tour opening for Meshuggah, there is a certain edge to his voice that could be either dread or excitement. Ranking one’s own band’s entire back catalog, as we’re asking him to do, can be overwhelming, no matter how many songs about Lovecraftian horror and murderous satanic rituals you’ve written.
Thankfully, Trevor has done his homework, and arrives to his interview having done plenty of personal research on his own professional history. When it comes to judging Black Dahlia’s albums, though, he refuses to act impartial, injecting plenty of emotional memory into the mix. And when it comes to the albums he likes less than others, he’s incredibly quick to turn the lens inwards.
“Most of the stuff I don’t like about the records is my fault,” he laughs. “There are none that I flat-out hate. Even with the first record [on this list], it’s not our Cold Lake. We’ve been one of those bands that’s super intent on staying the course in a Cannibal Corpse sort of fashion. From day one, we made it the plan to stick to this sound, and not stray, in the hopes of being a recognizable band.”
With his notes carefully organized, Trevor dives into his own past. First, starting at the bottom, there’s…
8. Miasma (2005)
“A lot of the problems on this one are my fault. I was in charge of the themes, lyrics, and artwork, and I feel like those are the biggest messes of the record. I had this vision of having the artwork done by Aaron Turner of ISIS, and it was gonna be so gorgeous, and…it didn’t really pan out. We ended up sending a guy to Vegas to take pictures of the strip. It was supposed to look like a drunk dude, like looking through the eyes of a drunk or someone drugged out, and…I don’t know, it just didn’t really come across in that way.
“Lyrically, it wasn’t as macabre as Unhallowed, and it has a lot of songs about real life. There’s a song on there about tour, for example. At the time, we were on such a high from Unhallowed. There was so much success coming our way, and it was a really exciting time, but I feel like that led to us being less discerning when we should have been. It’s just not the most focused thing we’ve ever done. Listening back, I don’t like how it sounds that much — it feels kind of plasticky. It was the first time we played to a click, and I remember Brian [Eschbach, founding guitarist] and Zach [Gibson], the drummer, were beefing about the first song. This was back when we used to make boombox demos. We weren’t as prepared as we would be for the albums to follow.”
7. Deflorate (2009)
“This is another case of us coming off of a really successful album in Nocturnal, and having to follow it up. I feel like we always strike really hard with every other album. Whether it’s the material itself, I don’t know, but in terms of popularity, it’s that way.
“Overall, I think we were getting too technical for our own good. We didn’t realize that we weren’t giving the deliver any dynamics — it was a constant barrage, and that can kind of become static after a while. One of the biggest takeaways from that was that we wanted to slow it down and give the listener some dynamics. The opening song is cool, but it’s not really set up as an opening song, with a big intro — it just sort of starts. The first song is really important for setting a pace, you’ve got to have people excited for the first moment. Also, on this album, the guitars are a little quiet, which was such a problem. They’re so necessary for BDM songs. They do the singing — I’m just there.
“I think some of the biggest problems were again on my end — the artwork was a bit of a mess. I feel like I was giving the artist, Tony Koehl, too many directions. I’ve learned that its better just to give him a paragraph of what you want and then step back and let him do his thing. I was trying to reference a lot of those death metal covers from the ‘90s, and I sort of wanted it to be a death metal Powerslave. I always go back to that ‘terrible place’ artwork — YOU DON’T WANT TO GO TO THIS PLACE, BROTHER! It also made me realize how important it is to have an album name that’s understood from moment one. If you’re right out the gate confusing people on the fundamentals of the album, that’s not a great way to start. So yeah, I really regret not having a sticker on how to pronounce deflorate.”
6. Abysmal (2015)
“I DO like this record, I definitely do, but it was a difficult one for me to make personally. Looking back, the mix is the most disappointing part. Initially, we had this really, really killer mix, and it was raw, we were definitely going for a more raw approach. Alan [Cassidy, drums] is a good drummer — it’s an insult to him to just slide everything perfectly on the grid. We were thinking about, What makes these old albums from pre-2000 sound so much better than everything that’s out now? And we thought, They’re just natural-sounding. That was the impetus there.
“We loved it, we thought it was so huge, but we sent it to [Metal Blade Records head Brian] Slagel, and…I think he expected a really slick album. Lots of production has gone that way in the last seven years. He did not like it, at all, and definitely stuck his fingers in the pie. It was heartbreaking at the time, for him to shoot us all down. So we entered the world of compromise. But we did the best we could, and that’s what you hear today.
“Writing the album, too, there were parts where I was hitting a wall and getting frustrated. I started getting in my head, and started thinking about fleeing to Canada. This is around the time that the pressure really started to mount. I was feeling the eyes of the world on me, which is awesome in the right context. Receipt and Abysmal in a way came out of necessity — that whole freaking out about the album, those songs came from a real place of darkness. In a way, it was cathartic to write. And people have come up to me and thanked me for writing those songs and helping them.”
5. Everblack (2013)
“This is the point in the scale where I like the albums, from here on out! We’re in the good zone now!
“Everblack got made during an interesting time, because we had a new line-up in tow, and we had eyes on us because of that. Losing Shannon [Lucas, drums] and Bart [AKA Ryan Williams, bass] was a big deal, even more so because of the DVD we made. People are so attached to that specific line-up — even today, we’re dealing with that. People were bummed to see those characters leave, because they felt like they got to know it. But we knew we had a good line-up with Max [Lavelle, bass] and Alan, and we knew that we had a good record on our hands.
“That’s the first time we hit two in a row, successfully. Following Ritual was hard to do, but Everblack really did it. Listening back, I like the production — Jason Suecoff was at the helm on that one, and I thought he did a really good job. And it’s the album where I wrote the song about the actual Black Dahlia murder — that’s cool. That’s probably my most proud lyrical moment in this entire band, honoring the actual crime. That was something I was very apprehensive about doing up until that point. I wanted to do that legacy proud. THAT’s the kind of intro you need for an album: a real monolithic intro.”
4. Nocturnal (2007)
“This is obviously the fan favorite. A lot of people came into the fold as fans on this third album. I think people might be surprised that it’s not higher on my list, but a lot of my choices are based on what I did with lyrics and patterns. Like Deflorate, I struggled somewhat on the most technical of the music. Now when I look back, there’s just some stuff that’s just juvenile. It seems nonsensical to me. But it’s not to the fault of anyone else — I like the songs, and I like the songs we play live.
“Everything Went Black is a killer opener — the lyrics for that song are influenced by this episode of Duck Tales…no, really, though! They have this golden goose, and everything they touch with it turns to gold. Someone winds up with it — let’s be honest, probably Scrooge — and eventually, the entire world turns to gold. I took that, and made it this black goo, or this void, swallowing the world in a way you can see from space. The point was to start at the end — to use an apocalyptic song at the beginning.
“We wrote that album largely without a drummer. We got Ryan Williams involved, who’s still very involved in our writing process. That was one of the biggest artistic choices we ever made. The vocals are probably the screechiest of the era. After that, I wanted to be…less annoying!
“I still feel proud of this album. I feel like it was us coming into our own as a band. It was a meteoric kind of rise for us at that point — we headlined Summer Slaughter, it’s when we recorded the Majesty DVD…it was amazing. It was probably the best time in the band, that I can think of.”
3. Ritual (2011)
“Ritual was another one where you could feel the ebb and flow. Deflorate wasn’t received how we wanted it to be, so we wanted to come back hard. It was the first time we had conversations out loud like, ‘What do we have to do with these songs? Why is Deflorate not resonating?’ And what we realized was some of the stuff I mentioned earlier — we needed to slow it down at times and work with different rhythmic ideas.
“This was the first time we started to use samples during the songs — a little piano or acoustic guitars here and there. And since then, we’ve learned to make that work live. So we started incorporating these small, little things, that took this album to the third direction. That was really the focus, then — take the formula we knew, but give it more staying power, more to chew on. It was a bit more varied than anything we’d done at the time. I was a bit apprehensive about putting On Stirring Seas Of Salted Blood third because it was this slow, Morbid Angel slimer of a song, but it’s become one of the staples of our set.
“That was the beginning of putting way, way more elbow grease into things. Conceptually, it was one of the most tight records we did, with all these ritual aspects in each song. The artwork was a bit different for us, because it wasn’t the evil place, but Metastazis killed it. My biggest regret on the album was all the typos on the CD version! Malenchantments Of The Necrosphere was misspelled Malenchan-ments, without the first T. I didn’t realize it until our publicist was like, “Dude, what do you think of a video for Malenchanments?” I was like, What? For all the work we did, I feel like I did the band an injustice. Brian, specifically, wanted to strangle me.”
2. Nightbringers (2017)
“Look, if the new record’s not your favorite, there’s a problem. Why bother, if you just think, ‘Oh, we’ll never top that?’ We’re always looking forward — we don’t want to be a legacy band. We’ve definitely fallen into that, where we did a Nocturnal tour and an Unhallowed tour, which is totally the flavor right now. But we don’t want those to be the laurels we rest on.
“Brandon joining the band, not just as a lead guitar player but as a creative force, has been amazing. I don’t even know what I’m as good at, as he is at playing guitar. Maybe jerking off? It’s insane to have this little genius come into the band. He’s very versed in the studio, he actually took the reins of the mix for a lot of it, he knew what he wanted out of the guitars…so we just stepped back and let him do his thing. And that made the album even stronger. So now, we’re realizing, fully, the manimal of what this kid is. He gave us a real shot in the arm, and the fans really took to him right away.
“I feel like the songs are really strong. We’re always trying to be more varied, but it’s kind of a weird line to straddle, because we’re always trying to be Black Dahlia Murder. The biggest reaches we took this time were, like, As Good As Dead — that song has some straight-up Queensryche rockin’ riffs in it. And that’s definitely Brandon. Brandon is a rocking dude. And lyrically, I went more macabre. I had to ramp it up as much as possible. That’s how it’s always been when we’ve been most successful. The artwork, too — going back to the same artist as Nocturnal, as a nod to the 10-year anniversary. It’s meant to take place in the same world as Nocturnal.”
1. Unhallowed (2003)
“I don’t think I realized I was going to put this here until I was challenged to do this list. There’s a lot of shit on Unhallowed that makes me cringe, because we were very green. We hadn’t even toured, or left the state. We got super, super lucky to get signed off of a demo, and we were really reaching to play some of the stuff on there at the time. We were not that good. We eventually caught up to where we were supposed to be, going out on tour and getting better players.
“I really like the songs, and…it was just such a magical time! To get signed by Metal Blade and meet Brian Slagel, who I’d been following since I was a little kid. They welcomed us with open arms. It was a mutual excitement — they were really excited to has us. I remember kind of being disappointed overall at the end of recording it — wishing we hadn’t gone to a local studio, and thinking that when we had more budget, we’d do something better.
“But I like it! I like the way it sounds. It’s raw, it’s real…it’s a bunch of kids! And I feel like it’s a Polaroid of us, of that young energy we had. That whole transition to being a touring band, that was it. A lot of what I love is the memories surrounding it, but when we did the whole album all the way through semi-recently, I thought it was a joy. To hear every song at its maximum potential, perfectly in the pocket — we were doing everything we were reaching to do at that point. I don’t know, man, I think it was a special album. It was just the right thing at the right time.”
In honour of World Dracula Day, we count down the 29 vampiric songs that suck the hardest
Jerry Cantrell gives Kerrang! an exclusive insight into his new solo album Brighten, and what we can expect from a record that has been – at points – decades in the making…