TheBlackDahliaMurder-AbysmalLike every reviewer on the face of the planet, my first thought when seeing the title of The Black Dahlia Murder‘s latest full length was Wayne’s World: “Shitty Beatles? Are they any good?” “They suck.” “Then it’s not just a clever name.” To be honest, in the case of Detroit’s finest, I had a hard time believing that this was any kind of In Flames-esque “naming this record based on its meaning for the band” logic. That’s not really TBDM‘s style, and well, let’s be honest, even at the very worst these guys have always put out very good music that I consistently get into fights over.

That said, TBDM has laid the groundwork for some pretty high expectations around here. The thing with the last couple records has been watching them evolve and progress, moving from being a band cut very much from the At the Gates cloth to being something else, and frankly, something better. Their music has gotten darker, more varied, and more inventive; and with the addition of Ryan Knight’s writing from Ritual on,1 they’ve developed into a band defiantly in contravention of Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™. And if there’s a band deserving of an Amorphisesque renaissance, I think it’s definitely these guys. They’ve had a workmanlike productivity in their nearly decade and a half career, producing great non-emo melodeath at a clip of roughly every two years, despite internal turmoil and a grueling touring schedule.

Abysmal, however, seems like a throwback. That Miasma dropped 10 years ago is fitting, because in some ways this record could be described as Miasma II. While the production has better tone—though amazingly Abysmal is louder, clocking with a DR5!—everything about Abysmal is tight, fast, and well-paced. While The Black Dahlia Murder has never been known for having bloated songs or overwrought ideas, their later material hasn’t been the kind of blast-fest of thrashy melodeath that Abysmal is, with Everblack clocking in as the band’s most expansive work ever. Even if the record starts with two tracks—”Receipt” and “Vlad, Son of the Dragon”—that feature a nearly neo-classical turn, Abysmal is a lot more immediate than Everblack was.

Abysmal is a confirmation that what The Black Dahlia Murder does best is write songs. The tracks on here are sharp, hooky, frantic and driving—evoking the ’90s approach to melodeath carried on by scene defying loners like Mors Principum Est. So what do I mean by this? Well, let’s start by talking hooks: these guys write some of the most memorable riffs on the planet. “Asylum” has an intro that’s immediately recognizable, “Threat Level No. 3” shows them schooling bands on how to smoothly transition from an amazing neo-baroque melodic structure into an addictive verse riff. The album opens up with violins before merging into sick harmonies and Björriffs2 galore. “That Cannot Die which Is Dead”3 shows that even when they’re lacing together melodies, these guys can hook you with chug riffs.

TBDM 2015-web

But great tracks aren’t built from hooks alone—yeah, you heard me!—but rather they require pacing, variation, and smart repetitions to be successful. All of the songs on this album live up to these standards: ideas don’t overstay their welcome, but neither are the guitar duo guilty of not knowing what to do with what’s at their fingertips. These songs are instantly memorable and while—admittedly—there’s a ‘formula,’ it never feels like the band is playing it safe. The record starts strong with some of the record’s best stuff—”Vlad, Son of the Dragon” and “Abysmal”—and while that has the risk of making the mid-paced or chuggy material on the back end of the album seem worse by comparison, the album flies by so quickly that a listener just gets caught in the flow. Even with some deceleration “Asylum” is a burner, which pushes the album into its last throes with a “Miasma”-like intensity.

Finally, what I love about this band more now than ever is how ridiculously good the guitar work is. I don’t know if Knight is doing all the soloing—I can’t imagine he is, but I don’t get liner notes with reviews—but as I’ve said on multiple occasions, Knight’s addition popped the band up from “yeah, alright!” to “omg it’s Fretboard Jesus!” in one hop. Each of these songs sports next level guitar solos, and I’m always so impressed by the way a good song can become a great song with a truly interesting solo. As a listener it makes me realize just how bad obligatory solos have become when you get a band that just seems to knock out masterful solo after masterful solo. Furthermore, this inventive approach to the melody bleeds in throughout. Moments that once were good Björriffs reach the next level when one of the guitars starts laying in a sexy counter melody.

This album feels like a throwback to early 2000s TBDM… sort of. With increased classical influences, a shine and compositional brilliance the band simply didn’t possess when they were so young, Abysmal outclasses that material. It’s not a direct continuation of the direction of Everblack, but I don’t think every record needs to be about pushing the boundaries of their sound. Sometimes it’s OK to just write a bunch of really great songs, put them into the perfect order and hit the road. Abysmal is the perfect antithesis to a pretentious scene glutting itself on 80 minute records that can’t get out of their own way; it’s tough, fast, refined, and slick. And when it’s all over, you want to start it over again. Abysmal? Just a clever name.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps [CBR] mp3s
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: tbdmofficial.com | facebook.com/theblackdahliamurderofficial
Released Worldwide: September 18th, 2015

Show 3 footnotes

  1. I know he joined the band on Deflorate, but I have also been told directly by Trevor that Ritual is the first record he influenced the writing of.
  2. This is the official Swedish name for riffs that sound like At the Gates, and I support its usage.
  3. Winner of the “Most Tortured Song Name of 2015 Award”

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  • AndySynn

    My one complaint is that “Receipt”, though good, is probably the weakest opener in about… 4 albums?

    Small issue really though I suppose.

    • Kronos

      I think the closer is pretty weak too, especially with the half-assed MIDI instrumentation.

  • Patrick Colombo

    I saw them once on Summer Slaughter Tour a few years ago. They were great, but I don’t think I was familar enough with them at the time to really appreciate it. If I saw them now I’d probably lose my shit.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I remember seeing them headline with The Haunted in a tiny-ass “venue” in Arizona. There were maybe 100 people in this bar, the bands played in a corner of the room (there was no stage), they tore the fucking place apart, and then we all hung out the rest of the night drinking. Good fucking times.

      • Patrick Colombo

        Is “tore the fucking place apart” literal? I hope so.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Honestly, it was more of us listeners that tore the place apart. But I blame the bands. They encouraged it ;)

          • You’re a thug.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            I get that a lot.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Y’know, I was never sold on these guys. In this record, however, it seems that the riffs are in the forefront of the writing, giving it a straight-forward, no-nonsense, heavy feel to it. I’d give it a 3.5.

  • Jose Barajas

    When I heard the announcement of another BDM record, I was ambivalent about it. Something about Everblack just didn’t catch on for me. I see all their albums have come out within two years of each other. I just felt like Ritual was still fresh when Everblack came out. It just sounded more like Ritual part 2, which isn’t necessarily bad since BDM are awesome guys and put out killer music, but it almost started to sound formulaic. I honestly don’t think I’ve even listened to Everblack all the way through. Then Abysmal comes around like clockwork and I was very hesitant but my brother told me to give it a try and I trust him and I was glad I did. BDM again bring the hooks, the riffs, the influences, the creativity that I didn’t find on Everblack. I guess I’ll have to go back to Everblack and see how it holds up.

  • Meat Tornado

    Thanks for that first foot note AMG ;)

  • Wilhelm

    I don’t like the vocalist or the core breakdowns or all those riffs crammed into a 5 second window that add nothing to the composition. The talent is there though. I would classify this as technical metalcore (is this a genre?) rather than melo death metal.

    • Kronos

      [grabs popcorn]

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      I belive that barrel of monkeys was opened on a previous post with epic results. it may have even been the Everblack review. As I recall not metal core was were we ended up ;)

      • André Snyde Lopes

        As I remember it, neither person was convinced by the other’s arguments but AMG was fighting for “not metalcore” and so, because he’s a tyrannical dictator and this is his empire, “not metalcore” is the generally accepted result.

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          Yep that sounds about right, I think the main problem was the commenters ‘I can call it metal core if I like because they’re not that different anyway’ argument …
          I’m going with ‘not’ Metalcore best keep on the right side of history here :)

        • Kronos

          Damn straight.

        • Wilhelm

          I truly was not aware of The fact that there’s a debate over this. But saying that, it indicates that there’s some metalcore hiding in there somewhere. Listening to it again I guess it’s maybe a fusion of metalcore and modern melodic DM (?) I’m not trolling. This is my first experience with the band and I don’t like it (but then again I don’t even like much melo-death past the year 2000).

          • tomasjacobi

            So the proof that this is metalcore is that people are debating whether it’s metalcore?

          • Wilhelm

            I’m not saying this is proof, or that I believe this as 100% metalcore, but you have to ask yourself why the argument exists in the first place.

          • tomasjacobi

            How very Donald Trump of you :-)
            “I’m not saying he’s a Muslim born in Kenya, but you have to wonder where these questions about his birth certificate come from”.

          • Wilhelm

            Wow…Great way to avoid the argument, comparing me to a asshole politician criticizing another politician, what the hell does that have to do with this band?

          • tomasjacobi

            Just having fun :-)
            I do however think that it’s strange that people think “metalcore” when they listen to this band. Maybe it’s the production, cause it sort of sucks in the same way that metalcore bands do. But apart from that I don’t see it at all.

          • Wilhelm

            It’s cool, sorry if I flew off the handle but nobody calls me Trump and gets out alive lol

          • IBlackened

            Their looks in the past, maybe?

    • Monsterth Goatom

      I don’t think I’d classify them that way, but I too have had trouble getting into BDM. This release doesn’t move matters forward for me in any significant way, at least not at the time of writing. I’m trying to pick out the great solos AMG is talking about, but nothing’s catching my attention. I’ve only given it once listen, though.

      I do, however, very much like Mors Principium Est, and am not sure what to make of AMG’s comparison of BDM to them, though, to be fair, he’s talking more about a stylistic approach to music making shared by the two bands rather than the sound per se.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      I like those intertwining riffs, though. I think they add flavor but I
      also think they are not fleshed out to their full potential. Besides that, I gotta agree with your classification. In fact, that’s how I have them labeled in my music library.

      PS: The stigma against metalcore is mostly idiotic, in my view. Metalcore can be good, just as any other genre.

    • obvious troll is obvious

      • Wilhelm

        Doubtful, If I was trolling, I would say something like “how the hell does this get a higher rating than the new Maiden CD?”

        • Dark Lord Goose

          This is a way better album than The Book of Souls…

    • IBlackened

      My problema with them is the singer. He sings ALL THE TIME. There’s no break.

  • Kronos

    On the contrary, I think this is a good album but nowhere near as good as Everblack, which was less speedy and aggressive but I think, way more memorable, especially in the solo department; check out “Phantom Limb Masturbation” especially for a fantastic solo. Abysmal is a very consistent record, and very good, but it doesn’t hit me with the same weight as “Everblack” or even “Ritual.”

  • Kyle Smith

    I’ve listened to the sample song a few times. To my ears, the solos are way better than the riffs but the whole thing just relies too much on leading tones (the note/chord that lets your ears know you’re going back to the first chord) and the 1-2-3,1-2-3,1-2 rhythm. I feel like Through the Eyes of the Dead nailed this style down with a bit more rhythmic variation and more focused riffs that don’t try to cram too many notes into one passage. Even the best bands in this scene get a bit samey to my ears so I wonder if it’s just a case of “not my bag (baby)”…

    • Christopher McGrath

      Relies too much on leading tones? Listen to any of Mozart’s piano sonatas and stop thinking so hard.

      • Kyle Smith

        How about you listen to some grindcore and learn about the virtue of sliding power chords!

        • Christopher McGrath

          What a BUUUUUURRRNNNNNN!

          • Kyle Smith

            I wasn’t trying to burn you, it’s way too late for that to be a quip! I meant it sincerely, sometimes power chords are all you need for heavy music. And you don’t have to resolve every damn riff with that same major 7th interval!
            Plus, classical composers never used parallel 5ths aka one power chord after another so I’m not sure if Mozart really applies here.

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    You know, I never got into TBDM until I gave a good listen to Ritual – I think it’s the pinnacle of their career and it made me an instant fan of the band.
    With Abysmal, they’ve gotten a hat-trick since Ritual in that they’ve made some of the best melodic death metal I’ve ever heard. This album fucking slays. I especially love the lyrics in “Vlad, Son of the Dragon” and the part where Trevor screams “kill them all!” is bloody intense – the best use of that line I’ve ever heard.

    Oh, by the way, how fucking awesome is that album cover?!

  • RilesBell

    Overall I was disappointed with this album. I found it to be less memorable than the last 3 with only a couple of stand out tracks. Maybe I’m getting burnt out on them? I really don’t know. After 4-5 listens I just wasn’t feeling it as much as the last few. I still bought it and will continue to give it some love until it clicks – hopefully. Gets a 3/5 from me.

  • dduuurrrr dddduuuurrrr

    Metalcore

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’m waiting / interested to see if anyone want’s to wade in on AMG’s “and frankly, something better” comment re ATG…
    Also I’m waiting for the crazy trve guy who appears every time ATG get mentioned…

    • Gabriel PérezMolphe

      “ATG is an overratet shitty band that are just known for their bad albums, they’re first where great, but STTS is garbage and I hate everything that sounds like that because is popular”
      -A crazy trve guy about ATG

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        They sold out when they changed their guitar strings!

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Great review! I thought a 4.0 initially, but I think that was due to expectations. More of a 3.5 personally, doesn’t seem to have the same replay value that Everblack, Nocturnal, or Ritual had

    However, I am no food critic… but DAMN those solos are tasty

  • You wot m8?

    Two 4.0 records in one day!? Where is the anger!? Where is the snide criticism!? Where is the snobbery!? Aaaarrrgggghhhh!

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      Outrage!

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Snyde here. My criticism is in a comment somewhere…

      • You wot m8?

        Regarding the snobbery, however…

        • André Snyde Lopes

          That’s in the website header, dummy.

          • You wot m8?

            Built in snobbery? I like it!

  • Levly

    The Fog is one of their best tracks ever. Diverse (goes Black Metal at some point), heavy, hooky, it has it all :). I enjoyed this record just as much as the last two, so consistently good.
    Great review!

  • Rob

    Say what you will. “Metalcore” is dead and shamed, but this this is solid as hell. risen above the din. Clean and fast intstrumentals, dirty blackened vocals. First I ever heard of BDM was their cover of Paint It Black on a sampler, and I haven’t followed them much at all, but when I hear new output I’m always pretty impressed.

  • UishidoX

    doesn’t sound like metalcore at all. just a bit boring….

  • IamRipper

    I think it’s their best album since Miasma. There’s no filler, and like the review said, when it’s over I’m ready to start it again. It’s one of those albums where you’re going to know every song on the album, because it’s not so long, bloated and boring that you can’t make it past track 5 without wanting to hear something else. It’s also not, and has never been “Metalcore”. There’s no whiny singing choruses, or one-note breakdowns. They always sounded like At The Gates on steroids.

  • Vice-President of Hell

    the fog sounds like a daath song (except vocals). really

  • surreptitious pounders

    I almost totally agree with this interview. Abysmal is their best since Miasma and in many ways comes across as a sequel of sorts. Miasma will always be my fave, but this one comes close. I like the return to more meloncholy sounds and introspective lyrics. I disagree with the Ryan Knight part, while this one showcases his best work I continue to miss John K’s more thematic solos.