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The J.K. Rowlings of Melodic Death Metal - 58%

joncheetham88, November 6th, 2009

Imagine for a moment that J.K.Rowling, unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, writes a book of such incredible vision and beautiful prose that I and all the rest of her detractors are forced to bite our tongues for good, and get in line to apologize to her for decrying Harry Potter as a snivelling excuse for sub-literature.

Something a little like that forever hypothetical situation has happened with suspected hipsters The Black Dahlia Murder. Not on quite that scale, of course - this is by no means a complete redemption from their previous associations with Metalcore and the more sugary incarnations of Gothenburg Metal. Personally, I have only their debut EP to compare, as save a few excerpts from Nocturnal I have ignored the band since then. While they haven't completely deserted the trappings of their scene origins, TBDM have certainly come a very long way since then.

Two things are obvious as soon as the album begins, with 'Black Valor.' Firstly, their guitarists Brian Eschbach and Ryan Knight are actually seriously good, and secondly that the drumming is going to be a problem throughout the album.

Despite the technical feats managed in the half hour or so of the album's runtime, the band are let down by the drums, which are mixed a little too loud and sharp for their own good considering the only average skill of the drummer. The lack of a decent bass guitar sound exacerbates this. When the drummer actually lets up for a moment and settles with a simple double-bass instead of drowning everyone else with blastbeats, the catchy guitar riffs begin sounding much more appealing ('That Which Erodes The Most Tender'). This problem is mitigated somewhat with the use of earphones.

The rapid leads and riffs that are so abundant and energetic on the album are not going to stick with you for the rest of your life, but are well thought out and would not be out of place on an At The Gates reunion album. The best moment comes with 'I Will Return', with an epic, chugging opening crawl that gives away to what is actually a nicely executed tremolo riff. If this had opened the album, I am sure many would feel more favourably towards the whole thing. If the whole album was like this, I would have a lot of praise for the band. It isn't though.

Vocalist Trevor Strnad often lapses into hoarse yelling reminiscent of Killswitch Engage or whatever, but can also produce reasonable enough deep growls which, if used more frequently, would have given the album a more solid veneer of authenticity. The weak vocal performance that we do get however renders the instrumental moments the most enjoyable - unfortunately, when you dislike a singer you quickly realize just how much singing there is. At least there are no clean vocals, as clean singing is always an abomination with this sort of music.

It may seem a small step, but comparing this to A Cold-Blooded Epitaph one realizes they are taking things much more seriously these days. Let down by their vocalist and drummer, with the non-existent bassist not helping matters, it becomes understandably difficult for Eschbach and Knight to carry the album on their own. They certainly make a good fist of it, however, although a lack of consistency from their bandmates relegates the album below the 60s in my score.

J.K.Rowling might not be any good at writing, but, as the eternal argument in favour of her goes, she does get children reading. I am sure TBDM have got plenty of kids among their fanbase, and perhaps this album will lead those pupal-stage metalheads onto more accomplished bands.