So another two years have passed, and yep! you guessed it, The Black Dahlia Murder are about to release another record. Once again emerging from the fray of their clockwork-esque, biennial album cycle, the death metal powerhouse will this time be offering Nightbringers, their ninth full-length effort and successor to 2015’s Abysmal. Despite their frequent releases and extensive back-catalogue, they are a band that always seemed to effortlessly evade the stereotypes surrounding death metal, namely that as a genre, it has the potential to feel unvaried, and become somewhat wearing. In true style, TBDM have defied this repeatedly, delivering consistently impressive and entertaining material. However, in the build-up to each release, one question seems to invariably loom in the backdrop: ‘When will this remarkable run come to an end?‘ As always, there’s only one way to find out, so let’s take a closer look.
As if to question why there was any doubt to begin with, Nightbringers explodes out of the traps in classic, ferocious Black Dahlia fashion, with opening track “Widowmaker” boasting the full package of devilishly fast blast beats, prominent and busy riffing, and a typically mind-bending display of vocal prowess from the eminent Trevor Strnad. This opening track certainly puts to rest a degree of apprehension, and does everything we want from this band (and more). Contributing to this in abundance is new arrival Brandon Ellis on lead guitar, who offers a thoroughly impressive first solo of the album, and proves instantly to be a fitting replacement for his predecessor Ryan Knight. This quickly becomes somewhat of a theme, with tracks such as “Matriarch” and “Kings Of The Nightworld” in particular offering fantastic guitar work throughout, and arguably the best solos on the album. Even though The Black Dahlia Murder‘s back-catalogue is full of quality songwriting and subsequent success, it may be fair to speculate that moving forward, Ellis will be the key to providing a conceivably much-needed and refreshing sense of variation.
Offering a welcomed pinch of balance, Nightbringers is also able to consistently offer vignettes of melody, which serve to prevent the general pace and intensity from becoming overwhelming. Whether this be through vocal hooks, catchy riffs, or popping bass-lines, it seems that this aspect has been fine-tuned to near-perfection. A solid example this of this comes from “Kings Of The Nightworld”, which consists of Strnad belting the title of the song in his signature high-pitched exhale style, with a melodic riff layered underneath. The hook riff in closing track “The Lonely Deceased” seems to serve the same purpose, adding a clear sense of melody among the peripheral chaos, and is repeated several times, enabling the song to appear more memorable. This is something that many would consider vital in fleshing out a body of heavy and technical material, ultimately allowing it to come across more naturally digestible. Whilst The Black Dahlia Murder have always been relatively successful in doing this, it appears that the approach has been further refined and perfected over time, and Nightbringers is arguably the optimal product of that.
Also highly noteworthy is the production value of this record, which proves to offer a tight, crisp and detailed listening experience. The mix is balanced and punchy, and each component is able to shine exactly as it should, with no single instrument outmatching another. Particularly pleasing in this regard is the bass tone, which is thick and crunchy, and often cuts through the mix when it’s needed, adding another dimension to Nightbringers overall sound; something that’s been lacking in the past. On this subject, Strnad’s fantastic vocals have also clearly been done sufficient justice in post-production, his incredibly expressive and well-projected screams sounding prominent (yet not overpowering), and being perfectly able to contrast tastefully from the instrumentation.
To offer some broader sentiments, this is certainly another fantastic album from The Black Dahlia Murder, despite it lacking in certain areas. The overwhelming impression this band has given me over a long period of time, is that the formula feels very much set-in-stone, and tends not to vary too drastically with each release. This is somewhat bittersweet; what they do, they do proficiently of course, but there seems to be little inventiveness and variation across the board, and unfortunately that’s something that persists with Nightbringers. However, this isn’t to say that things aren’t changing in other ways, and that the future doesn’t hold much for this band. As aforementioned, the recruitment of Brandon Ellis looks to be a great move: he’s already managed to produce some of the best guitar work (solos in particular) of TBDM’s career, and his influence and talent is palpable. One would suspect that this will continue in the future, and could potentially represent a refreshing change for the outfit.
What Nightbringers represents is, as expected, a ninth display of dazzling complexity and merciless brutality from The Black Dahlia Murder. Everything they’ve done well in the past has been done just as well, if not better, on this record, and that’s certainly a desirable trait for any artist. In addition, the already incredible guitar work has taken a turn for the better, with Brandon Ellis stepping in and instantly working his magic, whilst also painting a great picture of the future for the band. Regardless of this, though, the record is still lacking that extra edge that’s been needed from this band for a while now; the structure and content have become very much formulaic over the years, and little has changed in that regard. All things considered, this is a great album, and from the neutral perspective there doesn’t seem to be anything overtly wrong with it. However, for long-term followers of the band, there simply isn’t enough progression and variation at play for it to be considered a perfect release.
Notable Tracks: “Kings of the Nightworld”; “The Lonely Deceased”; “Matriarch”
FFO: Allegaeon, Gorod, Inferi