THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER from OUTBURN #51 (2009)
INTERVIEW WITH TREVOR STRNAD BY SCOTT ALISOGLU
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEREMY SAFFER
The Black Dahlia Murder closed a chapter in its history with the critically acclaimed and fan beloved Majesty DVD. After capping a period that saw the release of three blazing displays of melodic death metal (Unhallowed, Miasma, and Nocturnal), you knew that their next album would be a blockbuster. That album is Deflorate, and it is the sound of a band that has reached what vocalist Trevor Strnad has dubbed “the next level.” As one would expect, it is fast, brutal, and relentless. Yet it is also varied and dynamic, the songs both more memorable and individualistic. Helped in part by an injection of ideas and technical proficiency from new guitarist Ryan Knight (ex-Arsis), as well as a team approach to songwriting, Deflorate is a powerful statement from a band that settles for nothing less than excellence. On the last days of summer and just ahead of the new album’s release, we spoke with Trevor Strnad.
How has the Mayhem tour package been going?
We’re finishing up right now. It’s been pretty goddamn ridiculous to be honest. The lineup is packed with a lot of bands that are hot right now in the metal sector. It’s a really good lineup. Slayer is at the top of the bill along with Marilyn Manson, so it’s definitely a good opportunity for a band like ours to reach people that are just getting into metal or any kind of weird music whatsoever. We’re reaching a lot of new people every day. It was definitely a good move for us. We consider ourselves a live band more than anything, so we try to get out there and do the best form of advertising that we can, which is just playing in front of them.
Were there certain bands that you watched every night no matter what?
Cannibal Corpse. We have been really lucky having them as labelmates, because we’ve toured with them a lot of times, but I still watch them. They are death metal personified. They are just that kind of band. They transcend the genre. All these people come in droves to see them, and they have tons of hardcore fans here, too. It’s pretty sick. Slayer has also been very cool. I’ve checked them out a lot of times. They definitely still kick ass.
Do you prefer playing the club shows compared to these kinds of huge festivals?
Oh yeah, it’s a whole different thing out here. It’s like you know every day that the barrier is going to be so fucking huge that you can’t mentally reach the crowd. So, it’s a whole other obstacle for us. You have to learn how to project yourself in that kind of environment and to have a bigger stage presence that will reach more people. It’s trying to look at every single person in the crowd at least once. That’s my goal. There is still a lot of crowd surfing and still a lot of people going fuckin’ crazy. A good fest show in a way is still very unique and cool in itself, just seeing so many horns up in the air at the same time, that can be a trip, too. But we’re at home in the small clubs where I could stage dive if I found it necessary.
“HEY MAN, WE’RE JUST SOME ASSHOLES THAT GOT LUCKY. WE’RE NOT SPECIAL, WE’RE JUST SOME TURDS.”
Are you playing anything yet from Deflorate?
Just one song. We’ve been playing “Necropolis,” which is the first single for the album. We just want to whet people’s appetite for the new record, while still being cryptic and secretive about it, which seems to have worked so far. We had a complicated thing going on with the DVD coming out just a little while ago, and we wanted to give that time to have its own momentum. A lot of different albums were coming out on Metal Blade at this time, so we decided to wait to have our own time to strike. There has been a lot of anticipation for the album. We’re really excited. I think this is definitely the best thing we’ve ever done. But we’ve actually been selling a lot of DVDs at the shows. We just found out today that Majesty has gone gold in Canada. It’s a huge honor for us.
Majesty is a very enjoyable DVD, and it’s genuinely funny.
A lot of people have been checking it out, and I think there may have been people that were led to the band just by the DVD. We just wanted to give the fans a look at what it’s like, and say, “Hey man, we’re just some assholes that got lucky. We’re not special, we’re just some turds.” (laughs
Do you think it works as a capstone to the band’s first chapter in a sense?
Yeah, that was another thing, just closing the door with John [Kempainen], and…it was a perfect segue into this new era of the band.
You really were going nonstop over the course of those first three albums. Did the band finally get its footing with Nocturnal?
Yeah, it’s the first album that was completely us, completely the sound that we wanted, the production that we wanted, the songs that we were trying to play, and having the rhythm section going for us, too. We came into our professional era as a band with that album. We weren’t just kids anymore. Because we were just kids when we started out.
Are you pleased with the addition to the band of guitarist Ryan Knight?
Yeah, he’s done a lot for us. He came in and actually helped write songs for the new album. We knew he was a good songwriter because he had written songs for Arsis that we heard, and we’d seen him play because we toured with them for a few days. And we got the idea through it that he was a pretty down to earth dude and didn’t have an ego about his amazing abilities. So we thought he would fit in really nicely with us. We trusted him from the get-go. We had always been looking for this person that’s going to help us write. It has always been on Brian’s [Eschbach] shoulders. But this time we had Ryan, Bart [Williams], and Brian contribute songs. When it comes down to Brian, it has to go through his filter. Like he’ll take your song and fuckin’ put it on steroids. So it’s all us, but it’s more stacked than ever right now, and I feel so good about putting this record out.
Even the guitar solos stand out more.
That was a conscious thing with Ryan. That was part of the appeal, and we knew he was the one for us. He brought a whole new level of technicality and professionalism. He’s blown us away. We’ve had him for eight months now. We’re so fucking pumped that he’s playing with us.
The collaborative effort really comes across on Deflorate. Do you think the band has raised its game?
That’s what we’ve always been going for. Playing so fast and so brutally all the time, it’s like you really have to be smart to make it interesting for a whole fucking record. Variety can be a bad word for some people, but for us and our band, I don’t think it is. We’re very excited right now. The tour has been great, the DVD reaction has been great, and then the new the album, it’s boner status on our end (laughs). We’re just happy to still be around and doing this and still be relevant. It’s an honor. It’s cool because you see so many of our peers having a hard time, and the economy is a huge part of it. And just the turnover in music, because it’s going from a physical age to a digital age. And no one knows what’s going to happen now, and it’s kind of a wild time. It’s so cool that we can still be doing what we’re doing in spite of all these hard times.
Speaking of the economy, are you one of the few Michigan residents that can say you’ve got a job right now?
Yeah, holy crap! My girlfriend’s family is still up there, and they are fucked right now. If you had a car related job in Michigan right now could you imagine? Flint was like the first to go in terms of a graveyard, and now the whole planet is turning into a graveyard.
“WE’RE JUST HAPPY TO STILL BE AROUND AND DOING THIS AND STILL BE RELEVANT.”
You’ve also made a vast improvement in the vocals. Did you purposely make the lyrics more decipherable when you sang them this time?
That was on purpose. It’s not like I want them to be less brutal, but I think it’s more powerful when you can know the lyrics from listening to the songs. My favorite death metal songs are the ones where I’d learn the lyrics from cranking them a million times. I look to the old ways for so much inspiration. Like Covenant and Domination from Morbid Angel, Pierced from Within [Suffocation], or Necroticism and Heartwork [Carcass]—the ones that got to that absolutely most professional possible level for inspiration. Those are the records that really influenced the hell out of this band.
You’re using a low-end growl more as the primary vocal on Deflorate, right?
That was a conscious thing, too. I always go with the flow of the music and do whatever it tells me is right. I just do whatever I think is appropriate. There is some really heavy shit on here, and some groovy stuff too that brought out that side. We were talking on Nocturnal that I wasn’t doing as many lows. I figured out how to have more attitude, so that’s why I wanted to have more vocals like that this time.
The album is 34 minutes, which is a perfect length for your style. You go from “Death Panorama,” which is less than two minutes, to an almost epic length song of five minutes to close the album with “I Will Return.”
You know, the amount that we think about what order songs should go in and what song fits where is probably kind of ridiculous. We think of so many factors while doing this band, but you have to really do that. To take it to the next level, you have to think about every in and out of doing a record. In these times of ADD, I have it too when I listen to records. We just want to hopefully take people on a ride with our albums.
Is it difficult to remain the same band that attracted fans to you in the first place, yet still progress your approach?
It’s always balancing. Whether you’re writing a heavy song or a dynamic song, it’s all necessary. I think we have such a high expectation of ourselves and each other that we just won’t settle. We’re always surprising ourselves. When I heard the riffs that Ryan brought for this new album, I was like, “Well, here we are at the new plateau.” (laughs) It just felt good all the way through. It’s still exciting for us. This band is my entire fucking world. It’s positive energy all the way through, and with all these cool things that we’ve gotten to do, it’s just been a crazy ride. We want to keep pushing it, and here we are. And it will hopefully be what our fans will consider are best record so far.
It’s another one word title for this album. What led you to Deflorate?
Well, it’s the idea of despoiling innocence, or corrupting the moral fabric is kind of what I’m getting at. And having a verb as the one word title was a new thing for us. We’re encouraging our masses, our legions to penetrate the moral fabric and be victorious! (laughs)