The Black Dahlia Murder's Trevor Strnad

The Black Dahlia Murder's Trevor Strnad
Waterford, Michigan's the Black Dahlia Murder are more than just another death metal band. Striving to reinvigorate the scene since their inception in 2000, the quintet (currently comprised of vocalist Trevor Strnad, guitarists Brian Eschbach and John Kempainen, bassist Ryan "Bart" Williams and drummer Shannon Lucas) have made no bones about their adoration for the genre's earliest, untainted days. Going so far as to ensure that breakthrough tertiary effort Nocturnal (Metal Blade) was unsubtle in its plagiarism of everything from imagery to overall feel of their beloved inspirers, the band are hopeful that by directly referencing heroes, death metal will continue to flourish.

It seems to be working. Since its release in 2007, Nocturnal has pushed the Black Dahlia Murder to the forefront of metal and enthusiasts are growing voracious for a follow-up. Still, Strnad and crew have one more Canadian tour and a few more songs to pen before any real work can be done.

It's been a couple of years since Nocturnal and given your tradition of releasing albums bi-annually, it's about time to start a new album, huh?
Trevor Strnad: Yeah. We've been working on the new record a bit, but we're not too far in that department. We've got a couple of songs but I'm still messing around with the lyrics and coming up with the grand theme. It's a big decision for me right now, trying to get a cool idea. Last time, because of the member changes and constant touring, we hadn't written anything. We had to write the record fast so we're trying to get a jump on it early and get back on track with the two-year cycle. There was a bit of a lag with Nocturnal. I'm happy with how it was received, but it's time to strike again.

Even with line-changes happening a month before recording, Nocturnal was a pretty quick process. Are you still comfortable with it after the fact?
There are little things I’d change with vocals but that happens with every album. I'm like, "ah, wish I didn't do that," but it's the best end-product we've had. Even though it was crunch time, the new members pulled through and shone on it. We all pulled together.

And you say you're looking for a muse right now?
Yeah, when you write that first song you're agreeing to a theme: setting a tone. The first song is a big decision, man. It's hard. Do you go nuts and do something different or continue on the horror path of Nocturnal? I think part of the mission with Nocturnal was to increase the awareness of old school death metal, so the themes lyrically and visually are completely old school. We were hoping to turn kids onto my favourite kind of music.

It's becoming rare for acts to step up and call attention to their influences.
There's so much awesome shit out there still. I got into death metal when I was 15. I'm 27 now and I'm still combing the annals of death metal. I'm buying obscure albums and I'm just as obsessed with it as I've ever been. Luckily, there's so much shit that came out at that time, I haven't run out of things to buy.

A whole lot of it did come out quickly in the late '80s/early '90s.
It was bigger than it is now. The biggest bands of the genre were selling over 200,000 copies of albums. Morbid Angel were on a major label! Albums were coming out on majors and Earache merged with a major!

Tying that into Nocturnal, the cover always reminds me of Entombed's Left Hand Path.
It's that blue. You're coming into a sinister territory. Really, it's a rip-off of Necrophobic's Darkside, which is one of my favourite albums. You're going down the path... it's gotta be symmetrical; you've gotta be going down the evil path. I'm still pumped on it. It's the first true representation of our band. We got the imagery right, we got the songs and the sound... success had kind of afforded these things. That old style of art is more expensive than digital but having a physical product with music is so important. It’s an art that’s being lost: having the entire statement of what the band wants to give you with the music and the booklet. When I'm listening to my records, I sit there and look at the cover and book. If the cover's good and in tune with the music, it can take you somewhere. Kids can get a hold of death metal so easily now, it's disposable to them. They haven't bought the product and have it in their hands to fall in love with. It doesn't demand your attention by attacking more than one sense.

As with older bands, you guys obviously put a lot of work into the package; want it to be delivered on a unified front. How do you feel about kids who download — not the downloading issue — but randomly picking songs and losing theme/concept/feel of album?
There are kids out there who just listen to a band's MySpace otherwise there wouldn't be so many people begging you to change the songs. Who cares? You're not there listening to the song... once you put a song on your MySpace, you don't hang out there and listen [it]. Some people only have three of our songs, who knows from what releases, with like, Killswitch Engage or something.

On the other side of the coin, the internet's the best thing that ever happened to death metal. So many talented, awesome bands are on small-assed labels because it's not a marketable kind of music. It's hard to find and record stores are going the way of the graveyard. At least the indies. Best Buy isn't about to sell death metal. [The internet] helps the word-of-mouth and it's been a great tool. I do download... a lot of shit. But I buy too. Buying CDs is my ultimate vice; a problem, I do it so much. I'm doing my part with buying and making music though. Kids of today think bands don't make money off CDs, which is true, so what's the point? Well, the standard of measurement with how many CDs you've sold is what guys with suits and ties look at. That decides the pecking order for tours and shit. If you want to support your favourite band, buy the fucking record!

What about the mentality that CDs are a business card to get people to buy a ticket, go to the show and buy merchandise?
That's cool but until the standard of measure is different, which has to happen, they can't just keep tabulating Billboard off of CD sales because half the world doesn't buy [music], dude. But they are listening to it. They have to come up with another way of recording the popularity of music. It's a weird transition state. CD is the last physical format of music. Is this the end? Will it be digital from now on? Nobody knows.

Getting back to Nocturnal and how happy you are with it, is there any anticipation about being able to match that with the new album?
Definitely, man. That was the first one [where] we were all relaxed in the studio and looked at it in the right way. We tried to be completely professional and gave everything on our takes. Everyone's pumped now so we're looking to the new record with high expectations. It's unspoken like everything in our band. Nobody's patting each other on the back. That never happens. I can't even think of a compliment I got from anyone in this band. We're just like that: doing what we're doing, always 100 percent forward. That’s the agreement. We turned a lot of people on with Nocturnal that were haters. They thought we were a deathcore band or swoopy-hair band. It was a misconception because we realized we were pitched like that in the early days. We look different so people thought we were a bullshit hardcore band or we didn't love metal because we didn't look like it. I love it so fuckin' much, but there are so many shallow people and stupid notions like having long hair and looking a certain way, but in reality you either love it or you don't. It's the same in every kinda music, too. We act like we're so fuckin' smart and so cool because we're into this music no one else knows. Big fuckin' deal.

So, despite being too early to tell, this next album won't be a drastic change from your established modus.
Not at all. [Nocturnal] was the most clear representation we've had so far and we turned more of these "longhair dudes" onto the band. That in mind, heading into this new record we have a lot of expectations of what we wanna do. We wanna take it up a notch on every front. By now, no one's asking if we're gonna change or sing anymore. We're not doing any lame-ass shit because we haven't strayed. I'm stoked about that because so many young kids are unsure. Bands are changing all the time. A lot of the bands that influenced us like Soilwork and In Flames... I don't like what they're doing now. They don't resemble their former selves to me at all. It's like nu metal or commercialized shit. You can say it's a natural progression all you want but you can't say you're not completely mindful of going even slightly commercially successful. There are a lot of bands that have dropped the ball out there. Still, the amount of success In Flames have is another thing. It's awesome they're huge and get to do a lot of cool shit like full concerts on cable TV in front of, I don't know, how many thousands of fans. That's great for them and I can understand how that's motivation for them, but it's not for us.