Once described as a “blue-collar” band, known to be exceptionally hard-working and loads of fun, The Black Dahlia Murder are about to hit South African shores for a two-city visit. I don’t know about you, but there is something so satisfying about getting to see and support bands that hold no ego. TBDM are one of the world’s foremost death metal acts, how much due to their impressive history or because they’re such good people, it is hard to say. Nevertheless, their Wikipedia page boasts that they are “one of the most popular contemporary American extreme metal bands.” It is indeed an honour for my country to be hosting their next show, so let’s make it a good one.
Formed in 2001 in Michigan in the good old (dis)United States of America, they signed with Metal Blade Records in 2003 based on their EP and, presumably, never looking back since, having in that time released eight albums. While touring the death out of their music, they are also about to release their next album. Based on the progressive trend of just getting tighter, better and more sophisticated with each new release, their latest baby will surely be a banger.
The best news is that they will be debuting a few of their new songs here in South Africa this March during RAMfest (and let me just add, in both Cape Town and Pretoria, hallelujah). RAMfest has always delivered when it comes to impressive acts; I will never forget seeing one of my favourite bands, In Flames, right in front of my eyes in Cape Town, a sight I never thought possible. RAMfest have outdone themselves again, and we will be graced by TBDM on March 13th in Cape Town and March 14th in Pretoria, as well as some of the best South African bands, including Van Coke Kartel, back for a brief reunion.
Knowing the direction TBDM takes when it comes to their live shows, and being good-old-fashioned death metallers, this is going to be one brutal party. I got to chat with vocalist and founding member, Trevor Strnad, about a few things. He’s the kind of guy who probably has an exceptional meme game and it was an interview punctuated by a lot of laughter. Most importantly, Trevor is a seasoned interviewee and had quite a bit to share. Just read the following in a Michigan drawl, with his sardonic grin at the forefront of your mind.
Watch the music video for “Nightbringers,” the title track off of the band’s 2017 album:
It’s good to meet you, Trevor. So, South Africa... tell me about that!
Trevor Strnad: “Yeah, it’s our first time. None of us have ever been there before. It’s a huge honour. I feel like only the cool bands get to go there, you know what I mean, so, in a way, it’a measuring stick for us. I have only heard of a few peers who have gone. We are looking forward to it. I know we have a lot of fans down there. There seems like a lot of excitement about the announcement so far. I’m excited for it.”
These South African bands you’re playing with are pretty awesome. Do you know any of them?
Strnad: “I don’t! I only know two or three bands overall, but they are more from the extreme end of the spectrum. Vulvodynia and Bleeding Spawn. But I see there are people very excited for the other bands on the bill. So, I’m curious and I am definitely going to check them out. Yeah, I’m excited.”
It’s always great when bands from different sides of the world meet and love each other. I am really hoping you fall in love with some of them at least! I wanted to know if you are going to be releasing that album soon?
Strnad: “The album comes out in April and the first taste of it will be at the beginning of next month, the first song and the artwork and the big reveal of the name, and all that. Pretty excited about that; it’s been a long time coming now. I recorded vocals for the album in May. So, it will be like a year almost until it finally comes out. It’s been a long time to think about it, let me tell you.”
I was reading about how you now record in different places and you do a bit of home recording. How has this changed how you are creating your music?
Strnad: “It really hasn’t that much. We have been demo-ing songs and sending stuff via email for quite a few years. Really, we just cut out the middle man by having Brandon (Ellis, guitarist and backing vocals) produce the album at his house. It was awesome! He is a newer member; he came in right before the last record. But he’s been such an asset and he’s such a powerhouse for such a young guy. We trusted him with doing that. It was nice to keep things in-house until the last minute. We got to tweak everything we wanted to. It was very relaxing to record with someone you know very well. No reason to be shy.”
The Black Dahlia Murder’s eighth studio album Nightbringers was released on October 6th, 2017 via Metal Blade Records:
Are you still shy?
Strnad: “Sometimes. It is definitely weird to scream ’Bloody Murder’ in front of somebody for the first time.”
I wanted to ask you more about Brandon. He was really young when he joined the band. Has that changed how you produce and write music? Does this influence your music, the fact that he is from a younger generation?
Strnad: “He’s really an old soul, which is weird. His favourite bands are like Starship and Saga. He really loves progressive stuff and he is a definite ’dad rocker’ for a young guy. He’s not like other kids, you know what I’m saying? He has definitely brought us up. We are trying to keep up with him. He is like a prodigy. He is a guitar prodigy; he is an amazing songwriter. He has really taken the reins. He wrote a lot of great songs for the last record and he wrote even more for the new one. He marked a new era for the band. We are trying to keep up with him in the studio and on the stage. He is young and full of energy. He has definitely brought the stage show up a notch. He is a total monster and the band has given him the wings he was looking for. It’s wild!”
It must be such an honour for him to play with you guys.
Strnad: “I hope so! I feel like he could play for whoever he wants. I am kind of scared we are going to lose him to Rihanna someday. Got to enjoy it while it lasts.”
You just got to pay him well, you got to just keep him on the payroll and give him all the perks…
Strnad: “Everything is split five ways. We have always been that way. Everyone in the band works really hard. But it’s not a glamourous life, so, you know…”
I hear you guys tour really hard. But on your Facebook page there haven’t been announcements of anything lately, besides the South Africa stuff. Have things slowed down for the recording?
Strnad: “It’s just, you know, the end of the cycle right now for the last record. I am just trying to be a little quiet on that front so when all this new stuff happens, it’s just a huge wave of excitement. There will be a lot of social media to come in the near future. I am getting my typing fingers ready for that. RAMfest will be the first time that we debut a couple of these songs live. It’s just the beginning of a whole new era of three more years of touring and a whirlwind of Black Dahlia Murder, pretty much.”
Check out the music video for “Receipt,” off of the 2015 album Abysmal:
Is that a running theme, that you do three years of touring after every album?
Strnad: “It has usually been two and then a record. But it seems like there is just more demand for the band lately and we were able to tour another year on Nightbringers. Which was cool. I think that people were a little superstitious that we are not putting an album out on the odd year, and now it’s coming out this year… But we will take that risk. I don’t know if we are cursed now or what. The album… people were so excited for it, so we were able to keep going on tour. As long as demand was there, we had to meet it.”
You guys are such a big band in terms of fame and reach. Do you think you have grown in the right way in terms of your reach, the countries you’ve covered…?
Strnad: “We have tried to. We tried to think globally since the very beginning. It started with going to Europe in 2004, and Japan. It kept going from there. We want to be a lasting band, first of all, and we want to be a global band, definitely. The States is really where we do the best, still. But it is really coming up all over the world. It is really exciting to see. It is a huge honour to have people waiting for you in these faraway places. Very cool.”
Do you think the space for metal has grown? What do you think of the health of the scene?
Strnad: “I think it is at a really good place right now. There are tons of young people getting into it. From my personal standpoint, it feels like there is a lot more young people getting into it than from when I was in high school. I felt really alone at that time, as a metalhead, but now, I see so many young people getting into it. The internet has been a good ally to it. Whereas it’s not on the radio so much, or whatever, that has been the channel for people to find new music. I mean, the internet blew the doors open for me to explore metal in a whole new way. To check the annals of music history, as well as new stuff. And I think that the pro-tools era, too, has allowed so many bands to pop up. Maybe too many, actually. I mean, it’s kind of oversaturated, honestly, I would say, because now everyone can afford to have an album out. And you can use Bandcamp and different avenues to cut out the middleman that is a label. So, there is just a lot, a lot, of heavy music right now.”
Released way back in 2012, watch the music video for “Moonlight Equilibrium”:
Talking about your label. I think it is so cool that you landed a label almost immediately. You’ve been with Metal Blade for how long now...?
Strnad: “Forever… since 2003. We have been so lucky; they saw something special in us from the very beginning and that we were really hungry to get out there. I think Brian (Slagel) saw a little bit of himself in me, being like this encyclopedia of metal knowledge and kind of like a rainman for metal. A total nerd and just like, very passionate. We hit the ground running. They gave us the tools we needed to get out there, like money to get a van. We had to pay it all back and all that shit, but that definitely was what we needed; we needed a label to put something out. Back then all I wanted was to make one record, like to show my mom, you know what I mean, and it’s gone way past that. It has been an awesome ride to have somebody behind us this whole time. I see a lot of our peers that haven’t been so lucky and they have had to move around from different labels. That seems like hell to me. We have been so lucky to have this family aspect constantly.”
I have been really enjoying the interviews with you. You have spoken about how death metal has something to say. Is there anything that death metal should be saying right now, something it should be battling. Or do you think the politics should stay out of this space?
Strnad: “For me, the politics is always a battle against religion. For me, I see death metal as an atheistic music, a sort of… an answer to all that. I feel like religion is a big driver for a lot of wars, and bad things and negativity, and divisions between people and I feel like metal is on this whole other wavelength. It is in a secret pocket of the world. It feels like a hidden world, that once you find it, it’s a big revelation. When I was a little kid getting into metal, I was a little bit scared by whether I was going to hell for liking Slayer. And I remember making this decision, like, alright, I am just going to follow my instincts and go with it. This shit isn’t real and go with what I like. To me, that is the battle, as cliché as it is. As pounded into the ground as that topic is, I think that is really what death metal is trying to say.”
And do you think it is still relevant?
Strnad: “Yeah, for sure. I think it’s about empowerment. It is about empowering the little guy. The nerds out there. Finding some kind of inner strength in this music, like I have. For me, the creative process of writing songs as a villain is a very powerful feeling. It’s always a villain to Christianity. That is very much the lyrical theme… the overarching lyrical theme for the band.”
Upcoming South African Tour Dates:
03/13 - Hillcrest Quarry, Cape Town, SA (buy tickets)
03/14 - Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria, SA (buy tickets)