Formed in 2001, The Black Dahlia Murder have done a fantastic job of walking the dangerous tightrope that sits between mainstream acceptable and extreme metal credibility, frequently grazing the Billboard charts with each successive album and yet never giving in to the temptation of wider acceptance. Over seven albums, TBDM have continually honed their sound, carefully introducing just enough melody into their relentless battering to keep their music memorable as well as ferociously aggressive, and ‘Abysmal’ is arguably the peak of their achievements, with its raw, in your face production and well-rounded song-writing. Offering up ten tracks in just thirty-seven minutes, ‘Abysmal’ is one of those rare albums that has been ruthlessly pared back and there is not an ounce of filler to be found amongst these brutal anthems of the damned, TBDM clearly aiming for maximum impact and minimum interruption.
Opening with ‘receipt’ TBDM tease with a horror-movie-style intro before tearing into their gruelling brand of death metal. Ryan Knight has the opportunity to deliver a heroic solo as the track crushes all in its path but the real star of the show is Alan Cassidy whose clattering performance is as inventive as it is heavy. Far shorter is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘Vlad, Son of the Dragon’ which is a potent brew of piss ‘n vinegar riffing and guttural vocals delivered in a manner reminiscent of vintage Cradle of filth, a feeling further reinforced by the pseudo classical sounds that underpin the chorus. It’s a taut exercise in brutality that doesn’t quite reach the three-minute mark and then we’re into the hyper-speed battering of the title track. Delivered with the restless energy of a band hitting the studio for the very fast time rather than the veterans that they are, it’s a vital statement of intent from the band, guaranteed to get heads banging everywhere, and the epic solo that concludes it cuts cleanly through the mix, allowing for one of those Beavis And Butthead moments for anyone that way inclined! Upping the pace a notch is the furious headfuck of ‘Re-faced’ which is spat out like a mouthful of venom and then ‘threat level No. 3’ is unleashed, with vocalist Trevor Strnad tearing his throat to shreds in the name of heavy-fucking-metal over a riff that just seems to keep getting heavier the longer the song progresses. This is what extreme metal should sound like and, with its raw production and demonic delivery, you can’t help but feel that TBDM fully deserve their brushes with the mainstream.
A slower, more atmospheric number, ‘The fog’ has a powerful, chrome-plated groove to it which echoes hints of Dimmu Borgir, albeit shorn of the orchestral excesses, and it is also noticeable that despite their short run time, the songs are so densely packed that they feel longer than they actually are. Keeping that darkly atmospheric feel, ‘Stygiophobic’ opens with some thirty seconds of creepy ambient noise before the band return with a brutal trudge that ranks high amongst the heaviest tracks TBDM have ever written. In contrast ‘Asylum’ has a blackened feel with its whirlwind guitars and tortured screams underpinned with Alan’s crushing blast beats. It’s a track that perfectly combines stunning technical proficiency with that raw, primal fury that makes extreme metal so exciting and it only gets better with repeated listens. An imperious track with a hint of Kataklysm, ‘The advent’ simply rides roughshod over the competition, before the album closes with the lumbering might of ‘that cannot die which eternally is dead’, a mid-tempo beast that arises from its dark slumber via a weird, synth-driven interlude to once and for all stamp the name of The Black Dahlia murder into the hearts and minds of all extreme metal fans.
One of the most remarkably consistent bands in the US underground, since 2001 The Black Dahlia murder have delivered album after album of melodic death metal, but with ‘Abysmal’ they’ve clearly upped the ante. It’s not that they’ve radically changed the formula, rather they’ve honed it to such an extent that all that is left is a single, razor-sharp point. Few extreme metal albums this year have been so impressively visceral, so carefully edited and the result is near perfection. In short, ‘Abysmal’ marks the high water mark in an already glittering career, and The Black Dahlia murder are once again poised to make a lightning raid on the Billboard charts. Highly recommended, this is a brutal, intelligent and inventive death metal album that will leave all but the clinically dead gasping in its wake, and it deserves to see TBDM gaining ever more fans with its short, sharp anthems of destruction.