The Black Dahlia Murder: Miasma

Adrien Begrand

The young Detroit band have always had the chops, but can they keep things interesting for an entire album?"

The Black Dahlia Murder


Label: Metal Blade
US Release Date: 2005-07-12
UK Release Date: 2005-08-22
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

Ever since Elizabeth Short's mutilated body was discovered in a vacant Los Angeles, California lot in January, 1947, the mystery surrounding her still as-of-yet unsolved murder continues to fascinate Americans and surface in contemporary popular culture. And really, who can blame them? The Black Dahlia Murder... it's one of the coolest titles ever coined, immediately creating thoughts of beauty defiled, utopia suddenly shifting to dystopia, the strange link between sex and violence that society has always had an unquenchable thirst for. So when you assign such a handle to your band, you sure as hell had better create music that lives up to the moniker.

The Black Dahlia Murder certainly know what they're doing. The current American metal scene is without a doubt a healthy one, but the sudden flood of metalcore clones threatens to completely kill the movement just as things were starting to look up. Consequently, hearing the BDM's high-energy, slightly more traditional metal antics can be especially refreshing, after dozens of young bands who awkwardly chunk away at their guitars while hollering cliched nonsense in hoarse-voiced fits of suburban white boy rage.

Boasting a sound that owes as much to early '90s death metal greats At the Gates as to black metal champs Immortal, the Motor City quintet straddle both genres expertly. The line between metals death and black has been blurring more and more as of late, most recently by Poland's Behemoth, whose ingenious Demigod masterfully swipes characteristics from both sides to create a stunning hybrid, and The Black Dahlia Murder seem bent on pulling a similar stunt on their new album, Miasma.

Unlike Behemoth's grandiose, theatrical quality (a black metal trait), the BDM lean more toward the death side, characterized by highly technical chord structures and guitar harmonies, as well as more of a free-form approach to song structure, but their most interesting characteristic is the unique use of two contrasting vocal styles, as the band employs both a black metal screech, and a lower, death metal growl. Considering how metalcore bands tend to use vocalists who rely on the same old hardcore barking, The Black Dahlia Murder add a refreshing twist to the proceedings, and the fact that both vocal styles are provided by one person, in the form of the insanely versatile Trevor Strnad, makes it all the more impressive.

Miasma is a short, extremely condensed outing, the 33 minute album attempting to follow the lead of Slayer's timeless Reign in Blood, and while some may cringe at the thought of paying full price for a disc not much longer than an EP, making a compact album was a wise move by the band, because while the music is certainly unrelenting, even at little more than a half hour, the album does threaten to become repetitive near the end. The disc kicks off confidently, as the doom-inspired riffs by guitarists Brian Eschbach and John Kampainen on the instrumental "Built For Sin" move in like sky-darkening storm clouds, and by the time it segues into "I'm Charming", the skies open, the song catapulted by Zach Gibson's furious blasting and machine gun-like snare beats. It's the superb "A Vulgar Picture" that showcases the BDM at their very best, Eschbach and Kampainen delivering riff after pulverizing riff, punctuated by brief solos, the drumming closer to resembling classic thrash/speed metal than anything else, while Strnad screams and growls some of the most grisly lyrical content this side of Pig Destroyer. Two and a half minutes in, the band deftly shifts from pure speed to a highly effective midtempo breakdown, but a minute later, the song comes to an abrupt halt, leaving listeners catching their breath as the opening narration on "Novelty Crosses" begins.

Miasma is without a doubt one of the most intense American metal crossover albums of the year, but after repeated listens, it becomes clear that despite the huge amount of talent, The Black Dahlia Murder lack the kind of flair that all their heroes possessed. They seem have it all, the musicianship, the distinct vocalist, the grim subject matter, all but that one X factor: the songwriting skill. The album is impossible to hate, but the adjective "underachieving" seems to spring to mind a few too many times, especially when stacked against another strong American album from this past year, Darkest Hour's Undoing Ruin. Instead, Miasma sits in a strange purgatory, somewhere between above average and mediocre. It's up to this young band to make the crucial leap from merely "good" to "great" the next time out.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller

18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr

17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr

16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.