Photo Credit: Dave Jackson
Picture the scene: it's the early 2000's, nu metal is still the biggest thing, Metallica are about to release St Anger, and the concept of streaming hadn't even been thought of yet - strange times indeed. If you did manage to make it to an extreme metal tour in this period, you may have seen 5 inexperienced kids take to the stage in Hawaiian shirts, and possibly be one of the first bands ever to play a death metal set with a smile on their face. You may not have known it - but you were witnessing an outfit that would go on to hold legendary status in metal.
The Black Dahlia Murder may not have necessarily looked ideal to fit the bill of death metal during the infancy of their career: but once they started playing that became much less of an issue. The Detroit Michigan five piece were almost an oxymoron, extreme metal (for the most part) had been an almost exclusively serious affair since its inception, to go against this grain was, at best, a roll of the dice - but what did they have to lose?
Vocalist Trevor Strnad is quick to acknowledge the band were aware of the wall they faced early on in the bands career, but they were always brave enough to push on anyway. "At first we didn't even wanna have pictures taken of us" he says, "We didn't want anyone to know we were just these weird, short haired, nerd kids - we thought that the music would be able to do the talking. I think in a way by us being these nerdy characters, we empowered a lot of kids to go and start bands, I think they looked at me and said 'hell, if that dude can do this, then why can't we?"
It was during the tour of TBDM's sophomore record Miasma that the band really started putting their personalities at the forefront. But it wasn't just risky shirts and naivety, the quintet had far broader ideas: "The promo shots we took for that tour [Miasma] had us punching each other in the face, nobody was doing that yet, everything was so serious. To me it was like a 'big 4' kinda attitude, Anthrax had some comedic aspects to what they did but they were still a serious band at heart. I think that was where we got the confidence to let our personalities hang out in that way."
Eventually it was this protruding personality that helped make The Black Dahlia Murder the legendary death metal icons they are today. While it was their 2007 barn-stormer Nocturnal that truly put them on the map musically, there's always been a relatable, teenage heart to the bands grooves - it has made them an outfit that tend to stretch across a variety of demographics in extreme metal, something Trevor later states the importance of.
TBDM's role as genre figureheads is one of the few things Trevor takes extremely seriously, though. You can sense the glee in his heart as he speaks about his love for passing on opportunities for younger bands crying out for a break. "There's so many young kids coming to our shows and looking at me like I'm an old wizard now" He chimes, "We've seen a lot of bands coming up that are influenced by TBDM which is just a huge, huge compliment, it's very flattering. We have such a high profile platform for an extreme band, and I try to use my voice to lift others up."
Trevor is more familiar than most with the concept of grinding yourself into financial, and mental obscurity in the hopes of band growth, but he uses his current platform to try and ease the burden where possible on newcomers. "It really began with the column I was doing at Metal Injection [The Obituarist], every month I'd put like 20/30 new releases up, and its evolved now into a Spotify playlist that I do every month. We're always trying to help out other bands, I think there's no room for being so selfish that you can't talk about another band, if you're too selfish to give your fans away: that's the wrong way to look at it. We're all in this together, I want the scene to flourish.. I want people to hear all the great music that's coming out, it's like a renaissance for death metal.
Heartwarming generosity, and positivity aside though, it goes without saying that Trevor's first and foremost concern is the success of The Black Dahlia Murder. With latest record Verminous, the band continued their lust for precise execution of extreme metal conventions, but this time with that little added dose of experimentation, and boundary widening craft. You'd never try to make the claim that the last TBDM outing wasn't an outright death metal record at heart, but listen closely enough and you'll pick up on flickers of the Michigan crew taking a moment of scope.
Despite all this though, when asked if he would struggle to not look back in regret had the band have sounded largely the same for most of their career, he's upfront in his answer. "No, I still look back very proudly at the back catalogue, I still like playing the songs. But I do feel like this is going to be something of a turning point to a more creative product. We've got our creative wings in a way with this record and I feel like we haven't stagnated, I still feel so excited about the band, and what we're doing. I see us as being in our infancy still in terms of what we're capable of as a band - I still see a long term for this thing."
It's no surprise that Trevor still sees a long term future for The Black Dahlia Murder, why wouldn't he? They're one of the few bands burning through their scene that have always maintained consistent growth. But sometimes longevity comes with a price, where does the musical line get drawn for TBDM where their fans are no longer comfortable with them crossing? For all its greatness - the extreme metal fan base can be an abrasive place, with fans often clamouring for familiarity over anything else.
Strnad is no stranger to the crossfire, but even with that said, he's not entirely sure why it exists. "I don't know, metal is one of the only genre's where people care about the past, and albums become legendary. In pop music, everything is flavour of the moment, and it's made to be disposable, it doesn't have that passion in it I don't feel. But we've felt backlash ever since the first record, we thought we were doing true death metal and some people just didn't see it that way, they didn't see it as us staying the course, and more like us bastardising what they like.
What's so startling about The Black Dahlia Murder is that it doesn't really matter which timeline you drop them in post 1980 - they'd have made an impact. Trevor is so happy with the impact they've made that he even admits that theoretically if the band stopped several albums ago he'd have been happy with their legacy, and it's not hard to see why. Standing atop the pyramid of death metal - The Black Dahlia Murder's legacy is set to have much more growth before it stabilises.
You can here the interview with Trevor in full on the latest edition of the Noizze Podcast: