The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous Review
Posted by jEX on
One of the few things in life you could always count on, aside from death and taxes, was a new Black Dahlia Murder album with a three-syllable name every two years. This had been the case since the band first released their debut, “Unhallowed”, in 2003, and following this pattern, they were due for a new release in 2019.
But the year came and went and there was no new Dahlia music. Perhaps this was the first sign of terrible things to come in 2020.
Thankfully, the band did finally announce their ninth LP titled “Verminous”, set to come out April 17th on Metal Blade Records. The band’s last outing, “Nightbringers”, was the first to feature new virtuoso guitarist Brandon Ellis, and was, in my opinion, their greatest work to date. Needless to say, its follow up was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020.
I’ve always been a fan of the gothic, dark fantasy cover style TBDM first used on Nocturnal (in blue), and again on Everblack (purple) and Nightbringers (red). This time, the dominant color is green, which fits the “underworld” vibe of rats, slime, and sewers that seems to be the theme of this record perfectly. It calls to mind the Undercity from World of Warcraft.
The Music and Lyrics
In my opinion, The Black Dahlia Murder’s last album, Nightbringers, hit a new benchmark for the band and set expectations high for its follow-up.
Overall, Verminous is pretty good, but not nearly as good as Nightbringers was. You’ll notice that’s a running critique in this review, but when you put out something exceptional comparisons will be made.
Verminous does continue with the improved sound found on their last record, and as such, ranks high in their catalog, but overall I didn’t find myself drawn to these songs as much as I would have liked.
The first single and title track, “Verminous“, is probably the best song on the album and only one that really reaches the heights of Nightbringers. It starts off with a slow, dark melodic riff that is just pure Black Dahlia, and transitions into a faster pace, with vocalist Trevor Strnad coming in with his tried and true delivery.
The lyrics conjure up the same imagery seen on the cover art, serving as an anthem for the legions of sewer-dwelling vermin.
Our millions shall be one,
In cess and filth,
The Verminous live on!
Strnad sounds wonderfully repulsive on lines like “we are the ones that times forgotten, beneath your revolting heaven rotten“. There’s a brief but goosebump-inducing solo at the midpoint and then it’s back to the breakneck verses again. Brandon Ellis does a really cool slide pick technique at the beginning and end that I’ve never heard before and originally thought was a post-production effect but later confirmed to be live playing.
A few of the songs, namely “Godlessly“, “The Leather Apron’s Scorn“, and “The Wereworm’s Feast“, are enjoyable listens, but feel sort of bland and don’t really get stuck in your head like a lot of the band’s other songs do. On “The Wereworm’s Feast” in particular, Trev alters his voice in a way that sounds more like punk yelling than screams or growls. I appreciate the attempt to try new things but it just sounded weird to me.
“Removal of the Oaken Stake” is one of the better songs and has the sort of groovy riffs in its verses (which I assume are all Brian Eschbach) that are immediately likable and get your head bobbing, as well as catchy melodic leads driving the chorus.
The second single, “Child of Night” slows things down a little, and has a cool song structure that makes it feel like two songs tied together. I especially like the great melodic guitar lead-in before the main solo. It wasn’t a song I immediately loved but it grew on me.
“Sunless Empire” is my favorite non-single track and could easily become the next single. Brandon Ellis absolutely goes off on this one and melts faces during the solo. It’s probably the closest to being a “Kings of the Nightworld” for this album.
The opening riff on “How Very Dead” is immediately attention-grabbing, and there are some mean sounding, sliding power chords in the verses, but the rest wasn’t as memorable.
Track 9 is an acoustic interlude called “A Womb in Dark Chrysalis” and I loved its dark medieval feel. I can’t recall too many times when The Black Dahlia Murder have featured acoustic guitars – maybe they feel it’s too soft – but honestly, I’d love to hear more of this on future releases.
That short instrumental leads into “Dawn of Rats“, which is a nice closer, and one of five key tracks I think are the main highlights on this record. Sort of like “The Lonley Deceased”, this one manages to evoke a melancholic feel in its guitar melodies. It ends with the squeaking sounds of rats scurrying around.
For the most part, this is another solid album for a band known to consistently put out solid albums. As with the rest of their discography, there have been some albums I’ve taken to more than others. My takeaway this time is that the songwriting, although still technically impressive, didn’t have me wanting to repeatedly listen as much as I did with tracks like “Widowmaker” or “Matriarch” off Nightbringers.
Pretty much my only complaint with Nightbringers was its mix which caused the vocals to be overpowered by the guitars. In headphones, it sounded alright, but on speakers Trevor’s voice just felt distant and in the background. I get that this is a metal band and the guitars tend to be the focus, but Trevs writing was so good on that record he deserved to be heard more clearly.
Fortunately, Verminous is mixed much better and strikes a much better balance.
Verminous doesn’t quite reach the heights of TBDM’s last outing, but there’s enough quality work here that’ll have you head banging and throwing devil horns up in the air.
- Good vocal mix means Trev isn’t buried under guitars like he was on Nightbringers.
- Brandon Ellis’s lead guitar work does not disappoint.
- The use of acoustic guitars is great but too short.
- No songs are bad, but many fail to really stand out.