At this point in their career, it’s probably fair to say that metal fans know exactly what to expect from a new record from The Black Dahlia Murder, not that this is a bad thing. For the best part of this century, the Michigan-born melodic death metal band have been pumping out album after album of era-defining extreme metal music, having maintained a steady and healthy output of one record every other year since 2003. This hearty career may have ultimately seen very little variation in the group’s stylings since their debut with Unhallowed, but The Black Dahlia Murder have become such an iconic melodeath band that their untouchable blueprint for crafting concise but intense metal albums arguably has little reason to be changed in any significant manner. The group’s consistent release schedule has earned them a thriving fanbase, fortifying their position as one of the most commercially successful bands to fall under the extreme metal umbrella, whilst the fact that not one of their albums has fallen far short of the high bar that they have set for themselves with their most revered records has rewarded The Black Dahlia Murder with consistently gushing praise from critics. With bands such as these, however, it can be hard to avoid the question regarding for how long they will be able to keep churning out albums in their signature style without losing the magic that made their most highly esteemed material so remarkable. At least, this question would certainly be inevitable for most groups with such a background, but the fact that The Black Dahlia Murder have barely faltered once in coming through with a pithy, tightly-knit and rigid record of melodic death metal at its finest has resulted in the band essentially bypassing such doubts. Their previous project, 2015’s Abysmal, was the seventh studio album from the group, and yet their strong sense of melody, snappy compositional chops and nimble musicianship yielded another solid record, both dripping with The Black Dahlia Murder’s definitive musical identity and begging the listener for replays with its memorable songwriting. Another two years have passed, and now we have been presented with the next instalment in the band’s saga with Nightbringers. Once again, The Black Dahlia Murder have come through with a record that is steeped in the usual elements that furnish their widely celebrated stylings and, if anything, when compared to its predecessor, Nightbringers could even be said to trim some of the fat that was present on Abysmal in the form of some occasionally underwritten melodies. Ultimately, Nightbringers could simply be called another solid release from The Black Dahlia Murder. Does it offer anything that can be found nowhere else throughout the band’s discography? Not necessarily. Is it any worse as a result? Again, not necessarily. Going into an album by The Black Dahlia Murder looking for points of definitive artistic growth is not really how anyone should look at their music. The group has spent so long honing their sound and overall artistic identity that expecting any sort of significant change of pace would be a mistake, rather the enjoyment that comes with a new album from The Black Dahlia Murder lies in its compositional substance, given that the group’s songwriting style accommodates for such a diverse pool of potent melodies, killer hooks and stomping grooves. In this regard, Nightbringers is simply yet another success story for The Black Dahlia Murder and, at the end of the day, that’s the thing that matters most for the band.
For a long time, I have considered The Black Dahlia Murder to be the kings of conciseness in death metal. For an artist to be concise in their songwriting doesn’t mean that they exclusively compose short songs or that they try to cram as many ideas into as short a portion of time as possible, rather it means that they know precisely how to pace their pieces as to afford each motif exactly the time it needs to come into full bloom and leave an impression on the listener, whilst not overstaying its welcome or being relied on too heavily to the point of weakening under that pressure. With Nightbringers running for a tidy 33 minutes across nine tracks, The Black Dahlia Murder are left with little time to waste, and seldom is a single moment squandered. It feels as if each and every riff featured on this album was carefully crafted at a workbench by candlelight, with Brian Eschbach and new recruit Brandon Ellis delicately shaving off any protruding imperfections that may hinder the record’s blunt and brutal blows of pure melodeath muscle. With Matriarch boasting boisterous guitar-work that bounces between agile riffing and gritty chugging, whilst the opening track, Widowmaker, unleashes a hellish waltz of ascending licks and its follow-up, Of God and Serpent, Of Spectre and Snake, thrashes through a barrage of relentlessly battering and uber-melodic riffs that scarcely give the listener a second to breathe, the teamwork of Eschbach and Ellis across Nightbringers plays out like a carefully calculated bombardment on the listener’s eardrums. The record’s crushing riffs go off like bombshells, whilst the sharp, laser-focussed licks that seep from the searing solos on stand-out tracks like Of God and Serpent, Of Spectre and Snake and Kings of the Nightworld stealthily pick off any survivors with their deft and lithe melodic value. The guitarists’ pairing is perhaps at its most forceful during the introductory passage of As Good as Dead, with the swirling arpeggios of the lead guitar being contrasted against the punctuated bellows of the rhythm guitar, as its roaring power chords tumble and fall over one another in a way that completely contrasts the slick fluency of the lead melody. Given that Ellis is a new addition to The Black Dahlia Murder’s line-up, having joined after the departure of the band’s longest-running lead guitarist, Ryan Knight, the chemistry that his guitar-work demonstrates with Eschbach’s plays a huge role in holding the album together, so it should most definitely be noted just how well Ellis slots himself into the group’s pre-established style.
Of course, the combined forces of Eschbach and Ellis are made to be as vigorous as they are thanks to the incisive songwriting across Nightbringers, which puts these refined riffs to good use with its similarly concise nature, in that they are given all the room they need to exert their influence on the song and the listener, whilst rarely testing for how long they can be repeated before growing tired. With The Black Dahlia Murder’s style operating within a relatively orthodox compositional blueprint, the band could be said to be at their best when they line each section of a song with its own distinctive melody or groove that provides a significant enough change of pace from the surrounding sections, whilst nevertheless stringing the entire song together with some recurring motifs or musical themes. In the case of Nightbringers, although some tracks could be said to zigzag between sections for no other reason than simply because that’s what a song by The Black Dahlia Murder is meant to do, without much in the way of a consistent theme to provide the piece with some strong backbone, practically every track is nevertheless consistently fuelled by the well-worked contrasts that exist between each passage, with the group supplying the listener with more than enough in the way of swift and striking transitions to keep them on their toes. As Good as Dead is one of the most powerful tracks in this regard, with the thunderous and thrashing verse section being supplanted by the solid and steady groove of the chorus, whose soaring chord progression strikes a level of epic theatricality not far off from that which one could expect from a song by a group such as Ghost. Of God and Serpent, Of Spectre and Snake is successful for similar reasons, with the riotous riffage of its verse section building up some potent thrust, as both Eschbach and Ellis’ playing remains down towards the guitars’ low-ends, before finding release during the chorus, as these rip-roaring riffs finally begin to ascend the fretboard and pick up some sweltering steam.
The impact of these striking transitions is made all the more substantial when factoring in the trademark vocal style of Trevor Strnad. Not only do Strnad’s alternations between throat-shredding screams and gravelly growls add another layer to The Black Dahlia Murder’s sound in itself, but the vocalist will often alternate between using these separate techniques to bolster the instrumentation — by using growls when the guitars are sticking to their low-end and breaking out the screams for when they work their way up the fretboard — and by using them to do the complete opposite, in a way that provides an effective point of counterbalance to the tone of the instrumentation. Just this extra dimension to The Black Dahlia Murder’s stylings makes Nightbringers that bit more dynamic, which is effective in compensating for the fact that the sound of the record is nothing new for the band. Of course, this latter point is, however, the key area in which Nightbringers could do with some improvement. Whilst the fact that The Black Dahlia Murder’s latest record is steeped in their regular stylings is not necessarily an issue in and of itself, it could certainly be said to leave the album lacking in the depth that would make for an exceptional release. With the group’s bag of tricks being a relatively small one, some songs can blend into one another in retrospect, which has been an issue with previous albums from The Black Dahlia Murder, and some may argue that this is even true of their discography as a whole. Then again, Nightbringers is so consistent in pulling through with the riveting riffs, bruising grooves and all-round robust songwriting that it succeeds on the aspect of plain enjoyability alone, whilst the supplementary flourishes from Strnad’s vocal style or Eschbach and Ellis’ guitar pairing make for an album that also rewards subsequent listens.
With The Black Dahlia Murder having built up such a towering reputation for themselves, there comes a set of expectations when going into any new project by the band, and yet they continue to prove themselves more than capable of meeting these expectations time and time again, even amidst line-up changes and after a decade and a half of releasing full-length material. Nightbringers may not exceed these expectations in any significant way, but it unequivocally meets the very high bar set by The Black Dahlia Murder on some of their best records, bringing yet another fresh batch of killer melodeath anthems to the table. Even though the group aren’t necessarily innovating on their latest record, they certainly couldn’t be said to be stagnating, as the entire purpose of their infectious songwriting style is to craft death metal bangers that thrive on their catchiness and memorability, and to this end, Nightbringers presents the band at the top of their game.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10