The Black Dahlia Murder does not exactly seem like a band that's easily ritualized.
The face-melting Detroit quintet has made a career out of being unpredictable -- as well as unhinged, unclassifiable and unrepentant, all in the best possible ways. But with RITUAL, its fifth full-length album, the extreme metal troupe found fertile territory in the wide world of those prescribed practices that would seem verboten to a band that's always marched to the double-time beat of its own drummer. And in doing so it's come up with what frontman Trevor Strnad considers "the most focused Black Dahlia Murder strike of all time."
"The whole thread of the songs is more tied together than ever before," explains Strnad. "Part of it was kind of like, 'What can we do that's the most Black Dahlia Murder thing? What's going to be the most quintessential Black Dahlia Murder thing we can do?' That's kind of what we set our foothold in. And RITUAL, it just lends itself to that -- it's mysticism and magic and all of that. Everyone has an association with some kind of ritual, so we just thought it was the next logical step."
Following up 2009's acclaimed DEFLORATE, which brought The Black Dahlia Murder the highest Billboard chart positions of its 10-year career, RITUAL revels in both conceptual ambition and equally striking musical growth from a band that's pushed itself into more extreme and challenging territory on each successive release. Recalling the writing process that led to RITUAL's eventual 12 songs, Strnad says that "every song that got brought forth was exciting and more three-dimensional, more twists and turns, more surprises. There's more ups and downs and taking people on a journey this time."
Co-founder Brian Eschbach, meanwhile, credits the presence of fellow guitarist Ryan Knight, who joined the band for DEFLORATE, with helping to move things forward on this particular venture.
"It's been more collaborative than it's been in years," Eschbach notes. "The last two albums (DEFLORATE and 2007's NOCTURNAL) I wrote most of the music, and this one it's almost a 50-50 effort between me and (Knight). He lifted what we were doing on the last album so much from what we've done before, his different techniques and stylings that he knows how to wield. It's really exciting for us to have that be part of the band now." Strnad adds that Knight "is an educated musician, and he's brought that kind of aspect into the band, too. We came to him having higher expectations, and he's exceeded all of those."
This fresh input gave The Black Dahlia Murder room to broaden its soundscape and push the parameters of its dynamic attack. But no one need worry; its stock in trade is still the blistering fury of tracks such as "Moonlight Equilibrium," "The Window" and "The Raven," but there are new elements that only add to the drama and depth of the individual songs. Strings -- yes, strings -- open the album on
a deceptively soothing note before The Black Dahlia Murder unleashes the blastbeat ferocity of "A Shrine to Madness." A bit of piano lends texture to "Carbonized in Cruciform," while "Conspiring with the Damned" has a druid-like ambience fit for the "The Lord of the Rings" films -- or the more explicit "Game of Thrones."
But it's the album-closing "Blood in the Ink" that really stretches The Black Dahlia Murder we know and love in its most daring direction yet, though without losing its trademark ferocity or velocity.
"That's something Brian's always wanted to do," Strnad notes. "He's always appreciated classical music and the marriage of classic and metal when they come together. For him to be able to do anything he wants like that, I think it's gonna resonate with people."
Eschbach hopes he's right. "A couple of these songs feel like stuff we've always wanted to do but just hadn't done to this point. It's going to be fun and interesting to hear what a Black Dahlia Murder fan has to say about it -- even if everyone hates it!"
Eschbach can say that with a laugh; he knows that The Black Dahlia Murder's fans have been among the most loyal on the planet, a corps that's grown since the group released its first demo, WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO CURSE in 2001 and built a following with hard touring and key bookings before signing with Metal Blade and bowing with the unholy power of 2003's UNHALLOWED. The Black Dahlia Murder has been a constant on the road, touring with the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Children of Bodom, Skeletonwitch, The Red Chord, Goatwhore, 3 Inches of Blood and many more, playing key festivals and logging time on the Summer Slaughter Tour -- which the group will headline this year in support of RITUAL.
The Black Dahlia Murder has crammed quite a bit into its 10 years together -- five albums, three EPs and a DVD (2009's MAJESTY) -- and the group members themselves seem a bit surprised by what they've wrought. "Yeah, initially we thought we were going to get together on Sundays and try to put a song together every week," Eschbach recalls. "We never dreamed of being able to live off the band." But Strnad says it didn't take long to sense that they could.
"We had the vision that we wanted to take the band to more people, that we wanted to have something bigger than just playing at the crappy ass local bar," he explains. "Being a metal band, I think, is being an underdog. To play music you know is not digestible on purpose, to preach to a certain kind of depraved person...It's a lofty goal to have anyone want to hear what we have to say. We've been really, really lucky, but at the same time we're always looking to the future and trying to do what we do better and better.
"And I would say this time, with RITUAL, we really nailed it even harder than we have before."