by Carina Lawrence/ Dark Art Conspiracy
The Black Dahlia Murder are one of the most well-known death metal bands and they have cemented their place in the genre since their formation in 2001. Now in 2017, they are gearing up to release their eighth and most defining album yet, ‘Nightbringers’ which is unleashed October 6th via Metal Blade Records and is already doing well, as they have achieved the biggest pre-orders in Metal Blade history which is quite the accolade and shows how far the band have come. So I caught up with frontman Trevor Strnad to discuss their latest offering, their origins, touring and more before they hit the road to support ‘Nightbringers’.
So looking back to 2001, can you tell us a bit about your formation?
I would say it was pretty typical, a few nerds found each other through the local scene and the internet as well and we were kind of outcast in the scene I would say, so we definitely gravitated towards each other, and in the early days we had a hard time being taken seriously locally, but we did kick around for about three years here in Michigan just playing tonnes of local shows. We used to play this place Ypsilanti in Michigan called Mr Mugs, and there was really no kind of death metal scene that we could really find pulse off, so we kind of just existed in the hardcore scene, and there was a lot of metal creeping into hardcore at the time, like your Unearth’s and Red Chord’s, and a lot of different cross breeding. We definitely came up in the hardcore scene in Michigan, but the first three years were pretty grim I got to say. Basically we did a demo in 2001 then we got signed to a small label in 2002 called Love Lost Records, we put out an EP with them, then we used the EP to get reviews and get the info out there, eventually with the idea that we would appeal to all the record labels, make a package with them with some new songs and a bio sheet, where we basically talked in the third person about how awesome we are, one of those things…but it worked! Thirty rejection letters later we got signed to Metalblade.
How did you decide on the name The Black Dahlia Murder?
I was looking for something that was going to be shocking as it’s a death metal band, and that’s always been a big thing for me, one of that parts of the appeal is a visceral shock value, so I wanted something that was going to resonant with people and being a metal head since I was a kid, since around thirteen or fourteen there wasn’t much that was shocking me out there that I could find, nothing that would make my skin crawl, but I learnt about the crime black dahlia murder and all the weird shit surrounding it and it just seemed like the perfect band name, I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been taken at the time. The story is there’s a young girl, she comes to California in 1947 with stars in her eyes, she wants to be an actress and then she is brutally murdered, cut down and no one knows who did it still and her body was left in the street to be found on purpose…it was cut in half, drained of blood and she had like a smile carved onto her face, so very blatant message was trying to be sent by this person, and it signifies in a way the darkening of times in the states and the death of the American dream you could say.
How much do you think you have evolved as a band since you started out and how different do you think the metal scene is now compared to then?
Our personal evolution has been tremendous, I think that when we started we were very green, we were very young, we hadn’t left town before we had been signed, so there was a lot of growing up to do on the road and a lot to learn and then as musicians and players I think we have gotten extremely better over time. It started with ‘Unhalllowed’, we could barely play some of that stuff as we were laying it down, we were really reaching beyond our capabilities, so that record was a little bit sloppy in retrospect, I still love the material and the ideas but it’s a much more professional thing now but at the heart of it I feel we have kept the same mission statement, to be a melodic death metal band with elements of black metal and thrash, and more brutal elements too but largely we have stayed the course, we tried to be recognisable with each song as Black Dahlia Murder, we wanted to be instantly like you know who it is, but also over time we have been incorporating new ideas. It seems like more of a microscopic level now, like we the basic formula of the band but it seems like we are putting in more dynamics, more small details that make the music pop, and just getting better with song writing over time and absorbing information throughout the years, trial and error. We have survived through a different kind of evolution, the scene turning from all physical copies to being this preference for streaming and digital now, that was definitely an interesting time, we’re still riding through that, it was something that even when they told me about it I still couldn’t believe it, it seemed so farfetched but now here we are. Also we have been around during the comings and goings of some transient heavy music, I feel like we first reared our heads when metalcore was at its height and we were lumped in with those bands at the time, your Killswitch Engage and Unearth and other bands like that and the prominent ones in the magazines and that was a good thing for us to break into the press there and then deathcore reared its head and we were lumped into that for a while, so this band genre-wise has been a lot of things to a lot of different people…it’s always been a death metal band to me but I think ultimately its given us this ability to transcend this glass ceiling that’s on death metal’s popularity, it’s afforded us to go on a lot of different avenues and places that not every death metal band would go, liked Warped Tour for example was a good experiment for us, we were going out of our elements to play somewhere else and largely to reach new fans which we definitely did, so it’s just realising how we are perceived by other people and kind of playing to all those different genres and trying to be everything that everyone likes us.
So your new eighth album ‘Nightbringers’ is released October 6th via Metalblade Records, how excited are you for the release and what has the reaction been like to the new material so far?
I’m very excited, I feel like it’s definitely our best album and it’s a big jump in quality from what we have done before actually. The guitar player that we brought in, Brandon Ellis on lead, he lit a big fire under our asses creatively and injected a lot of youthful energy into the record and we all responded as a band individually to his contribution. The excitement level while making this record was tremendously high and special from the ground up, so to see the fan reaction has been so ridiculous so far, it feels tremendous and it’s almost been unanimously good for the two songs we have put out and the pre-orders are staggering…we have the highest pre-order in Metalblade history for the entire label right now so that’s no small feat, I mean we are up against Amon Amarth, Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse a lot of the big guns so to be peers to those guys is just amazing and to see the fans showing this insane frenzy in what we are doing is just awesome, especially as it’s so hard to get people to buy records but the fans have made this call to arms for us right now to get us on the charts and really show people how big this band is. I feel like if you have ever liked the band at all, then this is the ultimate manifestation and what we have been heading towards all this time, so it’s very exciting.
What was the recording and writing process like for ‘Nightbringers’?
It wasn’t really too atypical for what we have been doing lately, we have guys spread out across the country so there’s a lot of email trading and phone groups and stuff like that, but we have been existing in this pro tools demo era for a while now, so it’s not unnatural for us to be doing that kind of thing. The recording itself was recorded in a few locations here in Michigan, our old bass player Ryan Bart Williams oversaw the recording of the drums, the rhythm guitar, the bass, then Brandon tracked himself at home doing the solos, then I did my vocals here at my house with Joe Cincotta who does sound for Suffocation and Obituary, he came out here and recorded me in my closet so I got to wear my ninja turtle hammer pants and just be comfortable and let loose, that was really nice, then we sent the whole thing to Denmark to be mixed by Jacob Hansen who is killer at what he does, he put a really awesome sound on the album and I think it was really smart of us to go to a European guy where we largely sound European as a band, as a lot of our influences are from Scandinavia so it was cool to finally do that and get that special sauce on there, so I feel like that was really a missing piece of the puzzle and I think the record overall is better for it.
What is the meaning behind the new album and are there any main lyrical themes?
There is an overarching theme of rejecting God, rejecting religion that pops up in almost every single song. Nightbringers itself the theme I would say is, a continuation of an ongoing theme since we have had from the beginning of the band which is that we are vampiric creatures that rule the night world and that we exist freely without the bonds of religion and we reject the Christian good which I associate with the daytime and metal is just a villains music, it is equated with Satan ever since it became a thing and to me its rebellious music and that rebellion is the shackles of religion and religious thought. To me, it’s about self-realisation and empowerment and not living your life afraid of some kind of fictional consequence. We only have one chance to do anything with these bodies and it’s here while we are alive so I think that you need to realise the human animal that you are and just go with it.
Where do you draw influence from musically and creatively?
It’s a lot from the past of death metal I feel like we are a band that is steeped in a lot of traditions, you know instead of being the weirdest band or the most mind-bending band we like to incorporate all these things that we want to hear in metal, that we like about metal, so it’s definitely staying the course in a way, but the band is a melting point of certain sounds, it’s melodic death metal, it’s thrash, it’s black metal. When we were young there were a lot of melodic death metal bands that we looked up too and they starting turning towards a more commercial avenue and we really vehemently rejected that and were embittered by that, by like In Flames going down a more nu-metal route and Soilwork as well and Dark Tranquillity at the time were doing a lot of clean vocals on their albums and things and we felt like “screw this, let’s make it more intense” and just totally buck that…I guess that was kind of our sweet spot that spoke to people.
So to support the new album you are heading out on tour from October in the US and then you are heading to Europe/UK early next year (2018), what can attending fans expect from your live shows?
Intensity in ten cities! We really try to break down the wall and get people on stage to stage dive and get the microphone in people’s faces to sing, I want to see crowd surfing, I want to see beer spilling, I want to see smiles from front to back and people just having a good time and forgetting about how shitty life is for an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s a dark music, it has dark themes and seeped in the macabre but it’s still about togetherness, it’s still about a scene and an overarching family thing I feel…it’s a hidden world metal, it’s an important thing in my life definitely.
Are you looking forward to playing some new songs, and what songs do you enjoy performing most?
I like playing everything, the older stuff is easier for sure and I like hearing it fully realised with all these great players that we have now and our experience and chops have gotten sharper over the years so I think the old stuff sounds better than it did in the early days, but I love the challenge of playing the new stuff and I feel like it is more satisfying on a lot more levels, it’s more dynamic, it’s more emotive so it puts out a more emotional response, so it feels good to play that kind of stuff. We are playing four new songs on the next tour and also probably carry over into the euro and UK tour as well, so we will be playing the opening track as well as the three songs we will be previewing, two of which are out now, but there will be a third just before the album’s launch, it’s called ‘Kings Of The Nightworld’ that will be out, so those four and a good mix of classic stuff, so yeah I look forward to it and playing that many songs headlining is definitely a physical challenge to play that fast for over an hour and to play eighteen songs in a row just like “bam, bam, bam”, there’s something really addictive about it, it’s kind of masochistic in a way, it hurts, it’s brutal but it’s very cathartic and when you’re done you feel like “wow, I just drained myself, I just rung myself out like a rag for these people”, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love to give my all and I believe in our music and I just love metal, it just excites me at a very primal level, so I just revel in that whole live situation. We literally picked the hardest music you could play, there is music just as technical across the board but we try and be an exciting live act who moves around a lot and we encourage a lot of carnage.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the ‘Nocturnal’ album, so you headlined the 2017 Summer Slaughter Tour and performed the album in its entirety to celebrate this, how was it for you and what was the reaction like to this special set?
It was cool, the fans loved it obviously, as I think that is the fan favourite overall, it was pretty obvious to us that was the album to choose in this kind of situation and it was nostalgic for me, as we were on Summer Slaughter ten years ago because of ‘Nocturnal’ and that was a huge jump for us and a huge opportunity that we were headlining over Vader, Cataclysm, Cryptopsy, Aborted, just all these bands that were like my favourite bands, it was a huge honour and huge jump in popularity for us. I feel like that was just the right record, we hit everything on the head between the music, the sound, the artwork and the songs and I think that was people’s first Black Dahlia Murder record so it’s just a really important record in our catalogue and it was cool to acknowledge it’s anniversary and it was definitely fun. We also debuted the song ‘Nightbringers’ live, the title track so we ended the night on a new note, that was cool to represent the old and the new in one blast so yeah I enjoyed it.
Looking back at ‘Nocturnal’ and your first few albums, how do you think the new album compares to your past material?
I feel like it is the next step and it’s on the course of evolution that we have been on this entire time, I think definitely since ‘Ritual’ is the time we really started to focus on the dynamics on the album and working with different rhythms, ideas and tempos and tried to make the songs individual to another power and that’s when we started incorporating other instruments, acoustic guitar, little keyboard flourishes and samples and then started to reproduce that sound live too, so that was a big empowering moment in our catalogue so, so that was worth a mention, since ‘Ritual’ we have been evolving down that road and tried to be more various in what we do and make the songs have more identity and I feel like this is the ultimate statement so far…I feel like we almost skipped an album, it just seems like it’s gone up in quality so high, and it’s not for nothing, there was a lot of extra effort put in by all parties and Brandon’s excitement that he bought into the fold which helped shaped the record and make it the best album that we have done to this point. I feel very proud, I’m just trying to revel in all this excitement right now, because the future who knows, we have been very lucky to be on a constant upslope, but it’s a big jump and it’s something I have wanted to take this band to another level, yet still my dream is not over, as long as the fans are here and they want to hear what we are doing then we are excited to do it and we are going to keep on trucking.
As well as touring early next year, what else do you have planned for 2018?
More tours…we haven’t seen that far ahead but I believe there is another US tour we are trying to put together in spring but we will just be hitting it for two years or more, just trying to maximise the potential of this album. We are not ones to say no to opportunity so it’s going to afford us a lot of cool tours, and I think once the album is out in the first week its getting out in the press and the results of the first week could even afford us opportunities beyond what we have dreamt, you know hopefully opening for Dimmu Borgir or Slayer, Behemoth or someone that is bigger than us, it’s still a goal, you can’t have too much pride to do that but you got to hope you have those opportunities to get in front of new fans, so hopefully we will see something like that happening but I feel like the future is bright for us and the next couple of years and that we have set ourselves up for victory with this record.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just thanks for sticking with us guys and please pre-order the album while you can, it comes out October 6th and there will be a third new song coming out just a few days before then, if you haven’t been tempted enough already by the first two and we appreciate your support we will see you out there very soon with Cannibal Corpse!
‘Nightbringers’ is out October 6th via Metal Blade Records
Check out the official video for the title track ‘Nightbringers’ below: