The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous: Album Review

The Black Dahlia Murder serve up a death metal album rammed full of grit, zest and venom.

Released: 17th April 2020

Label: Metal Blade Records

Format: CD / LP / Digital

While the cynics out there could call The Black Dahlia Murder’s ninth studio album, Verminous, a little play safe, the death metal that lurks within is rammed full of grit, zest and venom to more than just counter argue that. Indeed, even if it does at times hold the genre’s blueprint closely, its execution makes it nothing but joyously virile. For music this heavy and brazen, you’ll struggle to find another band who make the genre sound this fun.

Since guitarist Brandon Ellis joined the fold in place of the outgoing Ryan Knight, bringing his scintillating lead chops to 2017’s Nightbringers, the band have greatly benefitted from this injection of new blood. Ellis’ playing, virtuosic but melodically focussed and intelligent enough to imbue his parts with a tasteful flamboyance, there is something so fresh and engaging about the way he peppers his personality across this record, which takes the template of the record’s predecessor and keeps on running with it.

On both the opening salvo, the title track Verminous, and the grating velocity of Sunless Empire, Ellis’ searing and soaring lead passages make for a stunning counterpoint to Brian Eschbach’s chug heavy rhythms. A guitarist who has always managed to create very rhythmical yet very hummable riffs, the band’s co-founder seems inspired here as Ellis acrobatically weaves in and out of him; harmonised trills coalescing with double bass drum flourishes, as all the while Trevor Strnad’s scratching, bewitched vocals cut through at the top of the mix – it makes for a thrill ridden listen.

On How Very Dead, meanwhile, Ellis takes more of a front seat. His sumptuous lead playing, laced with elements of classical and doom metal in equal measure in its opening moments, acts the flag bearer for a song amass with an aggression that his leads do well to lighten and enliven.

But it’s not just his playing that is helping propel a band with nearly two decades in the scene forwards. Whilst the drums were recorded in Plymouth, Michigan by long time studio collaborator Ryan ‘Bart’ Willaims, the large bulk of recorded was completed at Ellis home studio, with the guitarist ultimately shouldering production duties alongside the rest of the band. Suffice to say that environment, one where the band could tweak and refine these tracks at their leisure, has had a huge impact on the band.

Right out the gates The Wereworm’s Feast, defined by slithering lead melodies and its slow, descending and devilish chorus, feels like classic Black Dahlia. Its occasional bursts of pace add more fire and ferocity, whilst closer Dawn Of Rats, pushes the extremities of their heaviness with its incessant and unforgiving blast beats and demonised vocals. Yet there are twists and turns throughout, where they take their foot off the gas momentarily for Eschbach’s slow, grunting low end is glazed with Ellis’ highly melodious and harmonically rich layering to spin the song into more vibrant pastures. It ends the album in the same stylishly savage manner as it began; coupling crushing death metal with class and completing a record that, 17 years on from their debut effort represents a band with more fire in their bellies than ever. 

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