Apparently the members of THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER didn’t get the inter-scene memo about needing to wear makeup as thick as the riffage on their new album. The only stuff going on these dudes’ faces is plenty of sweat-but they’re keeping blood an option, as well.
Story: Amy Sciarretto
Photos: Matt Alvarado
The Black Dahlia Murder are doing their part to keep metal dirty. The members of the Michigan-based band aren’t wearing skintight, low-rise jeans that show their respective ass cracks, and they certainly aren’t slathering on the eyeliner. What the anti-glam Murderers are doing is making sure metal stays gritty and dangerous while adhering to the genre’s long history-a history, for all intents and purposes, written by dirtbags.
“All the stuff we are influenced by was played by a bunch of scumbag dudes,” says thoroughly crusty vocalist Trevor Strnad, sporting a pair of thick black serial killer specs that make him look like a demented Clark Kent. “It’s not about the way you look with scumbag bands: The music does all of the talking. It’s a wild time right now because fashion and appearance have become so important in this genre. Then there’s our band, which is not about that at all.”
According to Strnad, the ’bags who helped shape Nocturnal, BDM’s third effort for Metal Blade, are the same ones who birthed the extreme metal sound of the ’90s. “I think of Jeff Walker from Carcass as a huge influence,” the singer says from his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a metro Detroit suburb, where he is relaxing a day after shooting the band’s new video for "What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse." “Dudes who weren’t afraid to wear their influences-punk, hardcore and different shit-on their sleeves. They weren’t trying to meet expectations, visually. They were just trying to hang out, I guess. Like us.”
Like that quick genre rundown, Nocturnal is a metal melting pot, rife with fast, thrashy riffs, Swedish melodic-metal guitar melodies and full-bore screaming. The disc has a dark-metal edge, employing the type of nihilistic speed often reserved for the grim, frostbitten black-metal bands. Clearly, Nocturnal is not for the weak of stomach and faint of heart. (“We have a little bit of a lot of different things,” Strnad says. “There is blackness, and a lot of Swedish influence. We are into old In Flames, At The Gates, Dark Tranquility and American stuff that’s tougher-sounding, like Morbid Angel or Malevolent Creation.”) While BDM knew from the get-go they wanted to make blackened, American metal records for a living, it hasn’t been easy. The band’s membership has been a bit revolving door since their 2001 inception; even Strnad himself left the band for a hot second after the 2003 release of the band’s debut, Unhallowed.
“We were having intra-band problems and personality problems,” Strnad candidly recalls about the difficult times in BDM’s formative years. “Early on, we were traveling together on the road, and our drummer at the time [Cory Grady] was a problematic dude. He was just one of those negative people. It’s hard to go camping full-time when someone is bitching your ear off all day. We had a blowout, and I left the band for a short while. It was just growing pains. I wanted it to work out. This is a dream of mine, and I am glad that I didn’t let it go up in smoke right then. That little break wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it would be if it happened now.” Strnad, who majored in English at Oakland University in Michigan and put his education aside when the band got the call from Metal Blade, says things couldn’t be better in Camp BDM-now made up of Strnad, guitarist and remaining co-founding member Brian Eschbach, bassist Bart Williams, drummer Shannon Lucas and guitarist John Kempainen. Despite the numerous lineup problems and close calls, the band never went down in flames. In fact, what hasn’t killed BDM has only served to make them stronger and more viral. The chaos certainly contributed to the band’s sound on Nocturnal, as well as their live show, which Strnad admits was “something we were never able to tap perfectly on record.”
One thing the band have been able to tap into successfully is their love of gore, prerequisite subject matter that rears its blood-soaked face within every realm of metal. (As if naming your band after one of the most gruesome murders in American history will get you confused with, say, Boys Like Girls.) While song titles like “I Worship Only What You Believe” and “Deathmask Divine” should say enough about what factors heavily into Nocturnal’s stomach-turning lyrical content and fodder, we’re pleased to report that Strnad didn’t have to do any field research into his subject matter. He simply looked to his first love; namely blood-spattered horror movies, specifically classic ’80s slasher flicks. [See sidebar.] Not surprisingly, Strnad felt no reason to reinvent the wheel.
“Lyrically, it’s a tried and true death-metal record,” he admits. “Yeah, it’s pretty typical shit. The song ‘Virally Yours’ is about a man who works at a hospital because he likes to be there, because he liked the smell of people dying around him. He’s, like, a mutant, basically, and the song is about living the hospital life. We’re looking at the human race and seeing how we are animals and how no one knows any better than anyone else.” As for the gross-out parts of the lyrics, Strnad chalks it up to liking an old-fashioned scare. “It fits the music. We’re trying to give people the creeps, like old horror movies give viewers the creeps. It’s the same concept, but, of course, for entertainment purposes. For me, that is a lot of the appeal of death metal and extreme music, that macabre aspect. I have always been into Halloween and that time of year since I was a kid. You know, watching horror movies when I was 5. Me and my friends used to watch A Nightmare On Elm Street, draw pictures of zombies, and then our stereos had heavy rotations of metal. It was like, once I heard metal, songs about skeletons, horror and metal went hand-in-hand for me.”
While nobody was disemboweled or decapitated during the making of the new album, Nocturnal’s natural chaos has to do with the fact that it was written during a time when the band went into panic mode at the end of 2006. New drummer Lucas didn’t join the fold until February 2007, exactly two months before the band entered the studio to record and the label was waiting for a record. “We didn’t have a drummer for a few months, and we were combing the sands looking for one, trying out different dudes, watching videos of drummers, and this was a time of turmoil,” Strnad recalls. “Of course, the label was like, ‘Where is that record, guys? You gotta record soon, and here are the dates we want you to record.’ We were like, ‘Shit!’” BDM had no songs and no drummer, but they managed to gather themselves and do pre-production, writing demos on ProTools before entering New Jersey’s Trax East studio. “That was first time we did that as opposed to recording with a boom box. Brian saved the day. He wrote the music, said, ‘Show me how to do ProTools’ and he wrote the record. He was definitely “the Dude.” Every band has ‘the Dude’ who has the most responsibility and the last word, and Brian is the BDM Dude. This record is his brainchild.”
While Nocturnal may be Eschbach’s game, the band is both Strnad’s and Eschbach’s baby. As the sole original members, they’ve fostered the BDM sound into what it is today. While Eschbach relishes his role as “the Dude,” it’s a role he slightly begrudges. “I do the shit no one wants to do,” the soft-spoken shredder says with a hint of sarcasm. “I have always been the one going to do the stuff that needed to be done, since the band started.”
While it may appear that Eschbach is the responsible one in the band now, it hasn’t always been that way. During the Murderers’ 2004 stint on the side-stage of OZZfest, Eschbach stripped down to his birthday suit and walked around, interacting with the second-stage crowd. The full-frontal display promptly got him arrested, something he looks back on with a laugh. “I had nothing to do that day but get arrested,” he recalls. “At OZZfest, you do nothing all day except play for 30 minutes. We were done playing. I was drunk. It was OZZfest, where the production staff give you cases of beer early in the morning [to] work against your sobriety!”
Such stories-as well as an ass-stomping new disc-certainly help the Black Dahlia Murder stake their place in the metal universe (they’ll spend the rest of the year rocking the faces off of headbangers in Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia before invading Europe with labelmates the Red Chord and Job For A Cowboy). Eschbach hopes BDM’s commitment to all things dirty and heavy will help steer the genre’s ship down a different course.
“Metal isn’t supposed to be pretty,” he resigns, “but glam has crept its way back to the rock, and it’s everywhere and it sucks. I don’t have to spend that much time doing something to my hair or spend that kind of money on women’s jeans or clothing.” ALT
ALL YOU NEED IS BLOOD
Black Dahlia Murder singer Trevor Strnad grew up on slasher flicks, with murderous, bloodthirsty anti-heroes like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees haunting his daydreams. “I am into old horror movies, but I prefer ’80s stuff, like all the cheesy American movies,” the horror buff reveals. But he also makes it clear that while gore is good, it’s not the be-all, end-all. “Some movies are all about the gore, and that is what’s good. But it’s not necessarily fulfilling, plot-wise. A good, cheesy plot and some characters you don’t care about make for the best horror movie.” Here’s some of Strnad’s all-time faves.
“They are so awesome,” Strnad says about the Stephen King anthology. “They are campy and have the comic book feel, and the movies have that vibe. Each movie has four or five short movies contained within. It’s funny since they use the same voice in every skit, so the monsters all sound the same.”
SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
“I am talking about the original, not the sequels. It’s about a mute girl who goes to camp. People and counselors die, and there’s a twist in the end, which is totally ’80s camp. Let’s just say the end has a hermaphroditic twist! I am left to wonder why does anyone still go to camp after seeing these movies.”
“They just re-released it. It’s about a creepy dude who kills women, cuts off their scalps and puts them on mannequins and collects them. It’s heinous. He talks to them after he kills them. Crazy stuff.” [AS]