Interview: Trevor Strnad of THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER
Words/Interview by Steve Jenkins
Verminous is The Black Dahlia Murder's most dynamic, rousing and emotional release to date, and it achieves this without compromising one iota of heaviness. The telling signs that this is a new phase for The Black Dahlia Murder is apparent as the compellingly filthy opening title track rumbles to life, and the album remains gripping for each of the nine tracks that follow. We were able to discuss the new album with the frontman himself, Trevor Strnad, as he talks about the evolution of the band, the current climate we're living in and how it's affecting the industry, his love for underground metal and much more.
Hey Trevor, how are you doing with everything that's going on right now?
Ah well you know man it's different, I've never dealt with anything like this obviously. I'm in New York where it's really bad and there's been over a thousand deaths here in the city and then there's like almost a thousand police officers infected with it. It's just bad here man, it's a little bit extra scary to be here compared to anywhere else in the country. But yeah otherwise I've just been laying low, listening to lots of music obviously, promoting the hell out of the album right now and doing lots of interviews which is kind of keeping me sane. It's good that we can still do something positive for the band in lieu of all this crappiness. Our tour with Testament is not looking good, you've got some guys in the band that actually have the virus which is just terrible for them. Chuck Billy seems to be doing better which is good, but I'm pulling for those guys to make a full recovery and come out on top of all this. It hurts to lose the big tour that was going to be synced up with the album release, so the first weeks album sales are probably going to suffer in that regard because we won't be there on the road promoting it and giving the people at our merch booth the puppy dog eyes in the hope that they buy it. Also people won't be able to go to the store to pick it up on the street date, so that's also going to hurt. But some good news, the pre-sales have been doing very well and we're breaking previous records that we set at Metal Blade. We're demolishing our previous record in that regard which is really cool, so I still have high hopes that this record will make an impact. The pre-orders are now starting to hit peoples mailboxes, we sent them out a little bit early in preparation for if the mail got shut down in a few days. So yeah, it's definitely an interesting time to be releasing a record but if people get it in their hands now then they'll have nothing but time to listen to it. The fact that it even has some plague type themes throughout it is very timely and I think that will make this record leave a lasting impression on those who listen to it.
Yeah exactly, and there's no better time than the present to support your favourite artists and musicians by purchasing a shirt or a CD because a lot of you guys heavily rely on touring and playing shows to make an income, which right now isn't happening at all for who knows how long.
Yeah it's definitely going to be a big blow and it was going to be one of the biggest tours we've ever done. You know, it was a huge honour to be considered a peer to Testament, so that really is a big blow, but financially this tour was going to be a big chunk of our income or this year. So now we're kind of scrambling, some guys are doing lessons on Skype to try and generate some income, and I am trying to break into the world of streaming on Twitch. My handle is TrevorStrnad, just my name with no space and I've gone live a couple of times recently just playing Nintendo games and talking metal shop with all the fans. So far it seems to be going very well, I'll be able to monetize it pretty quickly here which will be good. But yeah man, it's interesting times for us, we're still thinking ahead, we're hoping to honour our European Summer dates, we had a couple of outdoor festivals lined up like Hellfest and Bloodstock, those big ones. We're hoping that this will blow over by then, and also to try and make up for our most recent cancelled tour, we're securing a big headliner for the U.S right now for the fall. Just thinking ahead and as soon as we're allowed to we're going to hit the ground running basically.
Absolutely. Let's talk a bit more about the new album 'Verminous' - which is why we're here. It's an absolute monster of a release. The song writing is some of your best in many years I would have to say which is funny because I thought Nightbringers was outstanding and then you go and make something even gnarlier. Was the formula or process any different this time around?
Thank you very much. This time the process was approached very typically for us, there was no discussion about what we were going to do differently or anything. I think for us we've been gravitating towards being more various with our song styles. With Brandon our lead guitarist, his creative juices and being prominent on this record, he's just like spreading his wings, he's really realised his role in the band and he has taken it to the next level. He's written some great music for the record, he had a lot of great ideas while he was producing the album for us, and we're just kind of seeing what he can do fully now you know? He made a really good stamp with Nightbringers and it felt like a new era for us with that new lineup and creative high. I love Nightbringers still and I'm really proud of it, but I see that creative spark being taken so much further with this record, and in terms of dynamics, it's just a more ambitious album for us. It has a lot of different styles coming together, we're mining different corners of metal influence than we have before. You have a song like "Where Worms Feast" for example which is a very King Diamond-esque song, musically. That's new territory for us, a bit more "rocking" territory for us at times which is definitely Brandon's kind of love for rock and early metal creeping in there. It just feels like a special record from the ground up, I think we're just so in tune with each other right now, we have such a great personal vibe in the band and we're such great friends that this is the results of our bond getting stronger. Taking what we learned from the Nightbringers era and just pushing it even further. I do feel like Nightbringers was a hair more extreme than this album, I think what we learned to make our record a little more various it to like step back and relax with few parts. Really work the dynamics and the rise and fall of the songs, and in turn I feel that it makes the extreme parts sound more extreme if you have some parts where you relent. We just played with a lot of different tempos, a lot of different rhythmic ideas, there's a lot of groove in the record which is new for us. We just took what we know in tried and true The Black Dahlia Murder formula but spicing it up the best we can and kind of meeting our own creative and selfish needs to make music that's more complex and more involved. This is all in hopes that this record becomes more epic than Nightbringers, it's more colourful, more emotive. We've just been trying to be better at what we do, so we took that formula that we're known for and just put some new life into it.
Yeah and it's those little bits of variety that you mentioned which makes the listener sort of stop and recognise and say "What was that? That's cool and different." Even with yourself vocally, it's a real showcase of what you're capable of these days, like on the track "How Very Dead" - you've made it entirely your own but you've also incorporated that classic Cannibal Corpse-esque guttural vocal alongside your trademark highs which is awesome.
Yeah thanks for the compliment, I did try to be more various with my vocal range on this album. I did a couple of new voices for the record, like in "Godlessly" the versus have sort of a Tompa from At The Gates kind of voice, and also "The Wereworm's Feast" has more of an early Slayer kind of vibe to the vocals. You know, I tried to mix it up a little bit in the hopes that the songs would have a little more identity of their own. I also tried to be more conscious about not singing too much, I tried not to suffocate the songs with so many syllables and vocals, but instead giving some songs room to breathe and letting some instrumental passages happen. There's definitely more open parts on this record, more parts where the music can just breathe and it just wide open and more accessible to the ear I think, rather than just blazing at a million miles per hour. It's a culmination of just wisdom and age, and also this younger energy that Brandon has brought to the table, he's definitely inspired us all to push our song-writing abilities and he's definitely become a real asset to the band.
You have a massive collection of band shirts, we got a little sneak peak of them recently on a MetalSucks video. Which made me think, if for some reason you had to flee the city and you could only grab a couple of shirts and leave the rest behind, which ones would you take with you?
It would have to be the Cannibal Corpse "Butchered At Birth" shirt that I was actually wearing in that feature, that's one of my few old shirts that still fits me. I have a Grave longsleeve from like 1993, also my original Entombed "Left Hand Path" shirt, those go for a few hundred bucks now. I have a Megadeth shirt that's like my favourite design that they ever did, it has Vic's head with the scythe's next to it and it has the band members heads on the back of it and it glows in the dark and shit, so that's a pretty cool shirt. It's definitely one that has a certain nostalgia for me, Megadeth was like my first love in metal and back in school I had like fourteen Megadeth shirts and I would wear one everyday. People would make fun of me, they would call me "Megadeth" you know, but I loved it (laughs).
You're a huge advocate for extreme music which is really cool, seeing you promote and support underground bands in the metal scene. Being such a huge fan of brutal death metal, grind and all of those extreme sub-genres, have you ever felt like you could perhaps one day break off and start your own side-project? Or is The Black Dahlia Murder enough to satisfy your own creative outlet?
You know it's hard to say, on one level there's part of me that would love to branch out and do all types of different bands within the metal spectrum and try that out. So, when I do try an do something outside of The Black Dahlia Murder, I feel so intimidated trying to write vocals, I'm just so used to our band and what we do, I'm so stuck in that zone and I find it really intimidating to branch out in that way. TBDM is definitely a melting pot of all different styles of metal that we like you know, so it scratches a few different itches for me in the regard. But I'd love to be in a brutal death metal band as well dude, that would be amazing. I have no guttural skills whatsoever, like my voice compared to the modern BDM guys, they're like way deeper than I am. But yes I am a very big fan of that whole scene for sure.
You guys have toured Australia quite regularly and the tour package is always awesome with bands such as Aborted, Putrid Pile, Psycroptic, Unearth etc which band would you like to play with for the impending 'Verminous' Australian tour that hopefully happens once everything goes back to normal?
Oh man, I really want to tour with Defeated Sanity, they're my favourite brutal death metal band, they're the kings of the genre in my opinion. I really would love to play with them. We have been talking about coming back to Australia again already, so that's exciting for me. Hopefully we can get back there sooner rather than later.
We hope so as well man. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today Trevor and congratulations once again on 'Verminous', another incredible release from you guys. Here's hoping you come out of this pandemic stronger and ready to show the world the new record.
Right on man, thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you like the record. Thanks for the support as always and I hope to see you crazy Aussies for some shows soon.
Verminous is out April 17 via Metal Blade Records.
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