by Steven Tom Sawyer
by Steven Tom Sawyer

Steve is a former journalist who now works in game publishing. He spends his free time gaming, collecting records and hanging with Ebonie and their pets, Ewok and Cookie.

Let’s not fool ourselves – expecting the Black Dahlia Murder to release something resembling a bad album is a foolish errand. In that one regard, I have the rare opportunity to say I’m not a fool. So rather, whenever it’s time to start talking about another entry into the discography of Dahlia, it’s time to start talking about how good the record is in comparison to previous works. The Black Dahlia Murder is one of those bands that has enough of a body of work that they’ve entered into a precarious chunk of their career where they are elder statesmen road warriors of death metal, right up there with the likes of Cattle Decap and Dying Fetus. This also means that lots of fans have come to the band in different periods of time and appreciate very specific incarnations of their sound. If you ever want to conduct a little thought experiment, ask your local internet death metal community what their favorite Black Dahlia Murder album is. Can we at least say that there’s a fan favorite that emerges through that dissonance? As it turns out, yeah – kind of. Most of the time you’re gonna have the fan base zero in on Nocturnal. In more recent times there’s been a lot of love for Deflorate that didn’t seem to exist until the 10 year anniversary of the record.

So how does Verminous stack up against their former work? Very well actually, and it seems like an almost direct musical continuation of the new hellforged direction the band have found themselves on since the Nightbringers cycle. The opening track (and title track) is a massive swell of atmosphere from the beginning drawn out dismal riffs, to the introductory explosion that plows straight into familiar territory for seasoned blast fiends. Capitalizing on that kinetic energy, the album then chugs along into ‘Godlessly’ which is… fine. But then we get to ‘Removal of the Oaken Stake’ and it’s time for you to get punched in the face again. From here, a somewhat familiar pattern emerges for the band. The next few songs are great and blazing with blast beat driven riffs and Trevor’s insane trademark vocal duality.

The one thing I do appreciate about this record more than Nightbringers? Is just how fucking gloomy this thing is, as they nailed the atmosphere of the subject matter. The record is about death metal as a concept in some regards and how underground and revolted it is by the mainstream. In a sense, the fans of death metal are like rats, roaches, leeches, bats, and all the other creepy crawling vermin of dark and desiccated places. To say that Verminous nails that concept lyrically and musically is an understatement, for sure. You have what might actually be their most conceptually dead on record since well… Nocturnal. Adding some more fuel to a conspiracy that I only made up just now? The record would be a fitting crown to an unholy trilogy that looked something like Nocturnal, Nightbringers, and Verminous. These three records are now the most cohesive and well rounded of their collected output.

Nothing solidifies this more than the poisonous river of music that is the back half of the record. By the time you hit ‘The Wereworms Feast’, you’re on a freefall descent into a place where the bricks are coated in corpse grime and riffs. We get a nice haunting bit of guitar work that would not sound out of place in a Diablo game, and then light our torches to crawl straight through a ‘Dawn of Rats’. As we’ve come to expect, the closing track is a melter. It’s a little bit more haunting than their usual twilight tracks and it made quite the impression on me. ‘Dawn of Rats’ acting as the closer to Verminous is a big move for the album working as a whole. I genuinely believe the album would hit totally different if any other song was chosen as the closer. Upfront assaults of blast beats are one thing, but this song is on an entirely different comfort level than you with blast beats – I promise. But then we get into a very melodic, emotional chorus and a ghastly solo to follow. By the time the chorus repeats into the end of the song, we get a flurry of high notes and a big death blow to let us know that it’s all over as fast as it began.

Verminous passes every single test that I could think to throw at it, with some lingering thoughts. I feel like the Black Dahlia Murder is at a point in their career where they could keep building on these small incremental gains in their sound and they would be fine. Brian Eschbach seems to have a newfound fire in their songwriting process and they’re turning out stuff that isn’t splitting the fanbase as much as say, Everblack or Abysmal. At the same time I wouldn’t go so far to say that they’re pushing the envelope of their sound either. And they could choose to do that right now and it would be a respected move regardless of how it turned out. If, and when, the band decides to deviate from their predictably great output of top tier melodic death metal and does something super weird and experimental, I will be here for it. For now – I’m going to enjoy another solid record.