Music

The Black Dhalia Murder: Into the Everblack

The remarkable quality of the sounds coming out of these disparate personalities is so cleanly divided that each song seems to benefit from the sonic quality of two entirely different lead singers as opposed to the reality of one, who is obviously possessed.


The Black Dhalia Murder

Into the Everblack

Label: Metal Blade
US Release Date: 2013-06-11
UK Release Date: 2013-06-10
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I deliberately went in cold to my first Black Dhalia Murder experience. I drew a chalk circle on the concrete floor of my basement and, as I mumbled through a spell of ancient words and throat-singing (why not?), the vapour rose from my mouth and swirled into vines and sharp spires before taking the ghostly shape of the new disc by the Black Dhalia Murder, Into the Everblack. I had conjured up one hell of a fast metal record, as it turns out, and one which refreshingly comes right to the point.

After a few quick seconds of rainfall sounds, the entire band engages in a brief but dramatic intro over a sample of someone saying “The Lord's Prayer”. Rather counterintuitive for a song called “She Waits For Me in Hell”. Of course, religious iconography is a rather obligatory metal trope, and so my expectations were already being set fairly low. Before Trevor Strnad announced himself with a high pitched angry wail and really set the tone for the 45-minute assault which followed, I might have mistaken it for just another inconsequential metal record. It isn't.

The band has two tones, each verse broken into parings of Trevor’s high pitched pterodactyl-like screech and answers from his co-vocalist, evil Dark Lord Trevor, who originates in his bowels but through some anatomical marvel shares the same larynx. The quality of the sounds coming out of these disparate personalities is so cleanly divided that each song seems to benefit from the sonic quality of two entirely different lead singers as opposed to the reality of one, who is obviously possessed.

“Goat of Departure”, for me, begged the question: what have goats really done to deserve their common association with Satan? Grown horns? Really? But if you drop below the surface and actually look at the lyrics you realize that the band shows an impressive thematic songwriting skill. The words could very well be read from a stone tablet or stained in blood on a human-sized slab of jagged shale. Sure, “Embrace the glory of the goat / Worship the one who burns below / Heretic liberation of the soul” might seem a little on the snout, as it were. But consider, “Azazel the damned ibex / Swath of scarlet ties his neck / To the desert banished yet / Our curse lives on." You really have to appreciate that this is not your run of the mill angst or adolescent rebellion against the holy order of your parental curfew. The lyrics of these songs, despite being barely discernible even after many listens, are delivered seriously, without a hint of irony. If the themes of struggle among the characters in the Christian bible didn’t already seem so trite in 2013, this might be scary stuff. I suspect fans won’t really care about that though -- and they shouldn’t.

“Phantom Limb Masturbation”, which again doesn’t seem to be delivered with even a hint of irony, is a demonstration of what this band does well. Alan Cassidy’s drumming is played with clockwork timing and relentless rapid-fire blasts. The snares seem to beat so fast they sound like a droning ride cymbal. The guitar is thick and meaty, taking full advantage of all that modern metal music production has to offer. This is the sound of death metal with a melodic flow which isn’t overused or cheesy. There’s a verse in “Blood Line” about midway through where the song structure moves from a fairly typical metal banger to an undeniably catchy chorus and then straight into a musical guitar solo. These guys are talented musicians, and that prowess gets displayed very powerfully and very often through extremely tight time signature changes and easy transitions that keep the listener compelled to keep their horns in the air.

Despite having a former member roster that reads like a kill list, the band has also managed to keep its sound relatively consistent. Both Alan and bassist Max Lavelle are making their debut on this record, which may account for some of the raw energy it exudes. From start to finish, this record has the straight-ahead hardcore sound of Sick of It All combined with the sophisticated structure and guitar work of the best that the genre has to offer. It’s a record that should be required listening for anybody who wants to freak out their bible-thumping folks or simply to delight in dark, angry demons summoned forth and thrashing around within in its notes.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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