The Black Dahlia Murder

Any band that has earned an army of devout followers through dropping seven killer full-lengths - and touring their collective ass off for sixteen years - could perhaps be forgiven for thinking they could take it easy as they wade into their eighth release. But that's just not The Black Dahlia Murder's style, and Nightbringers is testament to that. Having released their most accomplished, aggressive, and emotionally diverse music to date in the form of 2015's Abysmal, the Michigan quintet have once more pushed themselves to new heights, and the 34 minutes of searing melodic death metal that comprises Nightbringers is riveting listening. "I always feel a responsibility to the people who support this band when we start making a new record," asserts vocalist Trevor Strnad. "The pressure that comes from people being excited to hear what you come up with next can be intimidating, but it's so exciting that those people love you so much for just doing what you do. It makes you want to honor what you've done in the past, but also excite them with where you go next, and that definitely drove us on 'Nightbringers'. When we started writing I honestly didn't know we had this album in us, and I feel really proud of it. It's a great moment for us."

Rather than meticulously plan things out or stick rigidly to any kind of template, when it comes to writing, The Black Dahlia Murder prefer to let things happen organically. In the hands of guitarist Brian Eschbach - who co-founded the band with Strnad in 2001 - and new recruit Brandon Ellis (Arsis, ex-Cannabis Corpse), Nightbringers is rich with dynamic riffs that are at once fresh and classic TBDM, resulting in a collection that shifts through many moods and effortlessly incorporates various elements of extreme metal. With guitarist Ryan Knight having amicably stepped down in 2016, the addition of twenty-four-year-old Ellis to the band's ranks has helped usher in an exciting new era. "He's very professional for his age, I think he's skilled far beyond his years, and his live energy is exceptional. When Max (Lavelle, bass) joined the band he challenged a lot of us on stage to raise our personal bar, and Brandon's pushed that even further," states Strnad. "Brandon coming into the band and writing a bunch of songs was an awesome surprise too. He really took the reins, and this record is also the most involved that Alan (Cassidy drums) has been too. The way that we were doing the demos and bouncing things back and forth he had a lot of room to do what he wanted to do, and I think it's definitely a more colorful album for that. I also think as we get older the emotional content goes up. I think we better realize how to grip the listener. Personally, I try to write lyrics that are going to match each part, and kind of ramp up those feelings that we're putting across." Strnad's statements are vividly borne out by every moment of Nightbringers. For fans attending 2017's Summer Slaughter tour, the first taste of of the record came with the inclusion of the title track in their set, which has an undeniable immediacy to it, rich with hooks and boasting a "circusy, evil and playful" air. By contrast, "Catacomb Hecatomb" is suffused with tragedy, the mournful tone of its slower passages deeply affecting. This too is dramatically different to "As Good As Dead", which has some swagger to it that Strnad likens to Megadeth, or "Matriarch", described by Eschbach as a "wild, neoclassical romp" and stands as one of the most cutthroat and all out aggressive tracks in the quintet's arsenal. Upon first hearing the latter, Strnad was intent on matching its visceral intensity. "I felt inspired to write very violent lyrics to it. It's told from the perspective of a woman who is trying to have a child and not having any luck, and she goes kind of crazy and stalks this other woman who is due to have a child. She finds her moment to take it from her, cutting it right out of her stomach." While Strnad explores a variety of themes and ideas with his lyrics, they are united by the album's title, which embraces a tenet that has been central to The Black Dahlia Murder's output since the very beginning. "Death metal and nighttime are synonymous to me. We are the rulers of the darkened hours that the Christian good fears. A lot of archaic ideas that are still upheld - such as marriage and monogamy - came from Christianity, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, and to me, death metal has always been bucking that. It's 'being-the-villain music', because we're the enemy of Christianity, the enemy of all that is good and traditional. Death metal is for free thinkers, it's for showing people the path to inner strength and operating on your own will, instead of being told what to do and living in fear, and songs like the title track and 'Kings Of The Nightworld' are about leading a legion of awakened minds into battle." Following this theme also motivated Strnad to forge into ever-darker territory, even when this meant tearing things up and starting over. "I felt I needed to rise to the occasion to make as much of the blood and guts and heinousness as possible, and there was actually a couple of points where I rewrote some songs. I just didn't feel like they were dark enough, or violent enough, so I was really trying to ramp up the monstrous aspects of things - the grizzlier the better!"

Rather than decamp to a single studio, the members split off when it came time to start laying down the songs - all well versed in how to get the best out of their individual performances. With former bassist Ryan Williams once again assisting, the drums were tracked at The Pipe Yard in Plymouth, Michigan and rhythm guitars and bass in the band's practice space in Warren, Michigan. Ellis then recorded his many blistering solos in his home studio, while Strnad opted to record at his home in Auburn Hills, Michigan with Joe Cincotta (Suffocation, Internal Bleeding) of Full Force Studios overseeing his sessions. For the unique and haunting cover art they turned to Kristian Wahlin, aka Necrolord, who has designed seminal artwork for the likes of At The Gates, Bathory, Emperor and also TBDM's 2007 release, Nocturnal. "I think he's the most prominent artist when it comes to classic releases in the melodic death metal genre, and kind of bringing things full circle with it being the ten-year anniversary of 'Nocturnal' felt right. By now people probably wouldn't have expected us to go back to him, so it's kind of a surprise, but at the same time it's a very classic cover too." With the band celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the aforementioned album by playing it in its entirety on Summer Slaughter, it has given them a moment to reflect not only on the road that has led them to here but also that which lies ahead. "When I think back to when we started the band, I feel very proud of everything we've done, and I also see a lot of improvement over the years," says Strnad. "In the early songs, I can hear us as kids, and then segueing into our adulthood as musicians and writers, but sixteen years in, I still feel young as a band. I feel like we have a shit ton left to do, and I think we're sitting pretty with the best lineup we've ever had. I also think 'Nightbringers' could be our finest hour yet. I feel very strongly that it will affect people, I want to get all of these songs in people's ears, and I want them to check out everything we've got on this record. There's so much variety and so many great ideas, and I think that this could take us to another place."

It's been sixteen years since Goatwhore reared its menacing head from the swamplands of New Orleans, Louisiana — a city rife with urban tales of voodoo curses, witchcraft and hauntings by souls of the damned. Spawned by former Acid Bath/Crowbar guitarist Sammy Duet in 1997, their winding legacy follows a dramatic, at times traumatic, sequence of personnel changes, fatal injuries, paranormal activity, natural disasters, and a collection of other misadventures large and small. They say what doesn't kill you… whether driven by an unwavering commitment to their craft, pure insanity, the divine powers of Satan or perhaps a combination of the three, Goatwhore forever perseveres, inadvertently establishing themselves as one the hardest working, consistently punishing live bands of the 21st century and a true institution of heavy music.

The Goatwhore journey commenced with the primitive rumblings of the "Serenades To The Tides Of Blood" demo and subsequent "Eclipse Of Ages Into Black" debut. Then a five-piece comprised of Duet, Soilent Green vocalist Ben Falgoust, guitarist Ben Stout, bassist Patrick Bruders and drummer Zak Nolan, the band's stanch DIY work ethic, relentless tour schedule and the battering, fuck-all approach of songs like "Invert The Virgin" and "Desolate Path To Apocalyptic Ruin" helped spawn a maniacal cult following. By 2003, Goatwhore had harvested a legion of disciples possessed by the band's unrepentant Celtic Frostian rhythms and corrosive black death bayou swagger.

Second full-length, "Funeral Dirge For The Rotting Sun" transcended far beyond the traditional constructs of black metal. Lyrically dense and impossibly heavy, "Funeral Dirge"… was a slower, broodier, more introverted composition with Falgoust's and Duet's high-to-low vocal exchange punctuating its looming atmosphere. The record trailed a near-fatal van crash that left Falgoust temporarily paralyzed and the future of the band uncertain. Against all medical odds, Falgoust regained use of his legs and the band, now a four-piece with Duet taking on full guitar duties, quickly returned to the road. Seemingly plagued by bouts of disaster, "A Haunting Curse" found the revised Goatwhore lineup of Duet, Falgoust, drummer Zack Simmons (ex-Nachtmystium) and bassist Nathan Bergeron, fleeing the ravaging flood waters of Hurricane Katrina. Delayed but determined, Goatwhore's first Metal Blade production proved their most vicious yet. Relentless in speed, precision and brazen hostility, and fittingly crowned "down and dirty, heavy and blasphemous," (Sputnik Music) the band's rabid blackened death thrash hybrid fully embraced their long-avowed Hellhammer and Venom devotion without pirating it. Six years later, "Diabolical Submergence of Rebirth," would make its way to HBO award-winning drama series, Treme.

By 2009, Goatwhore dropped the nefarious craftings of "Carving Out The Eyes Of God" upon unsuspecting ears. A behemoth offering in sound, mind and spirit, the record ranked among the year's most worthy metal albums by fans and critics globally, debuting on the Billboard Hard Music chart at #33, the Billboard Top New Artist (Heatseekers) chart at #16, and the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart at #34. No small feat for a blatantly non-mainstream band. Decibel Magazine crowned "Carving Out The Eyes Of God", "the band's tightest, most guitar-driven offering to date. An unholy smorgasbord of rigid tempo shifts, gargantuan hooks, blasting black mass anthems, and Falgoust's soot and venom snarl…," Outburn likened it to, "a modern day, 'roid-injected sword fight between Celtic Frost and Venom," while MetalSucks proclaimed "Carving Out The Eyes Of God" "the catchiest album Goatwhore have ever released." Additional conquests included a spot on the 2010 edition of Ozzfest and two performances at the annual SXSW music conference enabling the horned collective to deliver their sadistic canticles of religious treachery to an even broader sect of listeners.

For the next two years, the band maintained an unyielding tour cycle, reducing cities throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Australia to rubble with their devastating live takeovers. Further educating the potentially unversed, unofficial Goat' anthem, "Apocalyptic Havoc," appeared on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 game soundtracks for "Splatterhouse" and "Saints Row 3," while the video for the song was featured in an episode of Last Call with Carson Daly. Closing out a near perfect run of riotous adventures, Goatwhore was named Best Hard Rock/Metal Artist of 2010 at The Big Easy Awards, a deserving honor based on performance throughout the year.

Resting only long enough to conjure more audio chaos, the band unleashed the chart-topping "Blood For The Master" long player in 2012. Now featuring Duet, Falgoust, Simmons and bassist James Harvey, who joined the cloven-hoofed ranks in 2009 following the exit of Nathan Bergeron, the record found Louisiana's notorious metal horde at their most unified. Boasting a ruthless onslaught of fist-pumping, heathen anthems, and rhythmic obliteration bedecked in the enticingly unhallowed prose of Falgoust who succinctly dubbed the record, "evil rock 'n' roll." The record further raised the eyebrows of media outlets both stateside and abroad, nabbing the cover of Decibel Magazine, who gushed, "Five albums in, Goatwhore still hold the crown as the hardest-working band in metal. With "Blood For The Master," all of their sacrifices have finally paid off." Craveonline.com proclaimed, "If somebody could capture the speed of the harshest winds in the Antarctic they might come close to understanding the high rocktane insanity of Goatwhore," while About.com added, "There may be other bands who tout this black/death style, but very few can make it both catchy and devastating. Goatwhore have been getting better as the years wear on, and this album established them as a metal band not to be ignored." Surpassing the success of their previous opus, Blood For The Master debuted on the Billboard Heatseeker chart at an impressive #4, the Current Hard Music chart at #12, the Hard Music Chart at #21 and the Top Independent Albums chart at #31 as well as ranking in at #19 on the iTunes Rock chart upon its first week of release.

Enter the diseased hymns of 2014's "Constricting Rage Of The Merciless." Captured at Mana Recording Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida with audio magus, Erik Rutan at the helm, "Constricting…" serves as the band's first studio effort to be tracked to two-inch tape. A more challenging approach that demands performance over pro-tooled perfection and leaving little room for error, the ten-track, 37-minute offering marks Goatwhore's most well-executed, sonically devastating manifestation to date, its warm, organic production harnessing the thick, monolithic, war-ready tone and energy of their live performance in a way previous recordings have not.

"If we went to someone else, it would be a total disaster," Duet recently told Decibel Magazine of working with Rutan, who, having recorded the band since 2006's A Haunting Curse, has become as much a fundamental asset to Goatwhore's apocalyptic sound and vision as the band members themselves. "He understands what we want out of an album instead of coming away with something that shiny, polished, sterile, digitally manipulated and completely fake and false."

"To record mostly to analog was incredible and the results exemplify that," said Rutan, who hadn't worked with tape since Hate Eternal's "I Monarch" and Soilent Green's "Confrontation," both recorded nearly a decade earlier. "Amazing tones and performances. This is the real deal! It takes a lot of guts to record an album to tape in a day and age of metal where conformity and sterility are more commonplace then originality and vibe. I cannot wait for everyone to hear this album. It has been an honor to work with Goatwhore once again and I thank them for bringing out the best of me."

A multi-faceted recorded that traverses a broad range of moods and emotions both musically and thematically, "Constricting Rage Of The Merciless" reflects the duality of its creators, adopting a more punishingly urgent, ominous and reckless vibe than its predecessors. "Emotions clash when we write," reveals Falgoust, "Every person involved in this band has different things going on in their lives through the course of writing a record. From the point of Sammy creating a riff, to how Zack perceives the riff for his drum duties, to the way James adds in the low end to fill out its essence to when I take it all in and make my own assessment of how the vocals will intertwine. In all those stages feelings twist and turn in each individual to create the final work that envelops the culmination of that entire emotion."

"It was definitely cathartic… a release of some very negative vibes that were pent up," admits Duet of the riff-writing process. "I feel like the last one was more you know, 'let's drink a bunch of Jack Daniels and start a bar fight.' This album is a lot more psychotic. It's more like a serial killer's murder spree." Still lush with the charred, sub-nuclear riff incursions, rhythmic battery and infernal Falgoust/Duet vocal collisions for which the band has become synonymous, Duet speaks in terms of overall atmosphere. "There are parts that will make you very sad (witness the miasmic bone chill of 'Cold Earth Consumed in Dying') but there are also parts that are very angry ('Externalize This Hidden Savagery.' That's we're trying to portray with this record: The total evil of the soul. This album definitely has a darker mentality to it."

"The title represents a person or persons being pushed into a corner too far until vengeance is born, but then again it also represents the failing mercy behind organized religion," relays Falgoust, whose traditionally well-scripted psalms of death, debauchery, religious provocation and the improbability of life-after-death explore a more cerebral realm of self-development.

From the combatant onset of "Poisonous Existence In Reawakening," and the tense, hammering momentum of "Unraveling Paradise," to the punkish urgency of "FBS" and the fiendish cascades of "Schadenfreude" (literally meaning the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others), Goatwhore spew their unadulterated, subterranean metal as channeled through the historic likes of Motörhead and Bathory, with the insatiable hunger of a pack of wild boars. These are true requiems of revolt, at once predatory, epic, hate-fueled and sadistic. Due at least in part to the sheer synergy that comes from living in a van together for weeks on end, "Constricting Rage Of The Merciless" is razor sharp in musicianship literally writhing beneath the weight of its own sonic enormity. Duet's thick, gnarled guitar tones and bestial vocal accents coil seamlessly around Simmons' and Harvey's, brash, chest-heaving rhythms. It's all punctuated by the imposing voice and cynical prose of Falgoust who literally ran laps around the studio before taking to the mic to summon a more frantic, rasping edge to his signature tirades, now more enunciated than ever before. When Falgoust howls, "WE ARE COMING TO SMASH YOUR IDOLS!" (in traditional metal rager "Baring Teeth For Revolt"), souls weaken, forests die, planets implode. In a saturated metal landscape where sub-genres spawn sub-sub-genres and the very definition of "metal" seems repeatedly distorted by cross-pollinating madness, sacred are the bands who to stay true to their proverbial roots without repeating them.

"Constricting Rage Of The Merciless" will make its final decent upon North America on July 8, 2014 via Metal Blade Records.

Iron Reagan

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Technical/progressive death metal band based in the US.

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