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.