The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous Review

As our illustrious leader1 recently counselled me, “expectations kill.” Don’t I fucking know it. Hot on the heels of the fantastic Nightbringers, my hopes for the latest from The Black Dahlia Murder could not have been more detached from reality. Of course, those expectations couldn’t and wouldn’t pan out… but not how you might expect. If Nightbringers saw a wizened The Black Dahlia Murder reflecting on Nocturnal and their launch into outer space, then Verminous ruminates on Deflorate, Ritual, and Everblack, the records that kept them aloft among the stars.

On first listen, “Verminous” sounds as old and reliable as ever, from tablature to master. However, the deeper you dive into its murky waters, the clearer it becomes how wrong that take is. Gone are the directions composed solely of airy, melodic fluff that star vocalist Trevor Strnad and fret-monster Brandon Ellis dragged along by chorus and solo. Instead, excluding second-slated “Godlessly,” TBDM mete out kinetic beatdowns sparingly in favor of letting their tracks’ guts and backbones do the heavy lifting. Verminous navigates away from the hook-laden highs of its predecessor and into the dirtier, danker climes of Everblack, served up a la Deflorate/Ritual. Ellis and Brian Eschbach take control here, writing monstrous riffs and looming atmospheres that serve to build a compelling experience as much as avoid retreading Nightbringer’s jetpack ethos.

Despite the lack of headliner singles, Verminous does alright for itself in the jam department. “Removal of the Oaken Stake” has all the stench of death, culminating in a fat riff and fatter vocals in a highlight midsection. “Sunless Empire” clod-hops through your mushy skull with a vintage TBDM stomper. “The Leather Apron’s Scorn” goes lower, moving as far down the death-metal scale as you ever see from the melodeath mavens. Max Lavelle shakes the earth with his trundling bass lines, and the way Ellis and Eschbach manipulate their central riff without losing its identity or your interest is a skill many trve ass death metal bands need to learn. Even Strnad gets in on the action, rolling out his darker, less frenetic side early and often. Alan Cassidy’s drum work is more essential than ever, as his kicks and cymbals ensure the scaled-back sound doesn’t lose its sense of urgency. Any of these tracks could have appeared at various points in TBDM’s catalog, and elements of each pop up throughout the listen. However, together they lend to Verminous a cohesion and identity that makes its whole more than the sum of its parts.

It should surprise no one that a band this polished can produce solid material, but I’m surprised that solid is the extent of it. Under closer analysis, stronger tracks like “Child of Night” aren’t immune to too much repetition, even if it is of its best elements. Further, the LP suffers a few clunkers and would sport a couple more if not for TBDM’s salvaging skills. Those aforementioned well-meted beatdowns save “The Wereworm’s Feast” from being a total bore, unlike “How Very Dead.” Closer “Dawn of Rats” earns points for the attempt at something different, but the writing lacks development, and the execution falls down when Strnad and Cassidy overshoot Ellis and Eschbach in pace and tone. A less top-heavy tracklisting might pave over the album’s back-half potholes, but that couldn’t beef up a 36-minute record already barely making weight. Compared to the fleet of animals slaughtered at their previous buffets, one could make a case for Verminous as TBDM’s worst post-Nocturnal album, though Abysmal and its lack of identity still hoist the belt in that ring in my semi-professional estimation.

As awesome as another album full of scythe-sharp riffs and shout-along choruses would be, TBDM tries to play it smart. Verminous could never swing with Nightbringers blow for blow and they know it. Instead, they ensure Verminous will not rank as the best record in their catalog, or the darkest, or the most technical, but it also won’t be the weakest. They also have time on their side, as my estimations of Verminous have only improved with each new listen. “Grower”, rather than “shower,” sounds much closer to the intended target. The one thing I won’t do is pronounce this the beginning of the end, that The Law of Diminishing Returns has finally come for these fiends who long defied its grasp. If anything, Verminous suggests that any crash back to earth will be at most forestalled and muted. As long as The Black Dahlia Murder continue to approach their career with eyes as wide open as they have on Verminous, they’ll rip and tear with the best of them for years to come.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 270 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Who was going to double on this review until he oops’d the release date—we wound up with the same score in the end.
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