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Pales in comparison to what it tries to emulate. - 55%

dnelson, December 22nd, 2008

Ah, the Black Dahlia Murder. I couldn’t help but take a shot at listening to and reviewing “Nocturnal”, which has proved to be successful in convincing a sizable portion of past sceptics that Black Dahlia Murder is a legitimate metal band and not simply another awful “core” write-off. This particular release has succeeded in improving BDM’s stature in the culture all around actually; not only have fallaciously self-proclaimed “true” fans grown eager to acknowledge BDM as death metal (or something close to it), but the shit-gobbling kiddies in the Myspace scene have eaten it up all the same, naively believing this more-metal-than-usual core band has granted them some sort of subjective legitimacy within the ostracizing “true” community. Obviously that paradox pisses me right off, but after all the acclaim this album has seemed to accumulate on both sides, I couldn’t help but doubt my instincts and feel an incessant need to give it a fair and balanced listen.

The first thing that jumps out at you is the vocal technique. The vocalist’s high pitched style is pretty unique, but it’s fucking bad. I’m not going to fall back on petty Dani Filth generalizations; BDM’s high pitched vocals are somewhat like a Hypnosia-style (Or The Scourger if you desire) modern thrash growl but without any of the bottom end, giving it a dickless scratchy sound that is easy to mislabel as Cradle of Shit. These wretched vocals claw at your ears throughout the entire album and cleverly convey a false sense of amateurism commonly attributable to death metal, but these vocals are not death, thrash, black or even core; they’re just shitty and annoying. The lower vocals are pretty decent, they’re nothing spectacular but nothing to criticize. They don’t really rely on the typical OM NOM pitch-shifted, exaggerated cookie-monster technique that pervades the metalcore scene, and I’d really take no hesitation in calling them legit. It’s just too bad they’re completely downplayed and function only as abbreviated counterpoints to those horrible higher pitched vocals. This evaluation of the vocals is really foreshadowing of this entire album: Mixed fucking bag.

The drumming is really not that bad, the dude has some chops and is prone to showing them off a little too much, often firing off unnecessary double kick rolls in triplet sixteenths that give the overlaying guitar riffs a detrimental lethargic quality. Generally though, he sticks to proven beats, and while I think playing slower would really benefit the riffs he’s playing under, he does a decent enough job. The real issue with the percussion on this album comes from the production. Obviously I wasn’t in the studio with these guys, but the bass drum sounds horrible and triggered. The rest of the kit is better, but the bass drum carries that try-hard snappy tone so typical of shit metalcore bands and it really hurts the authenticity I think the band (or maybe half the band) was trying to achieve.

Behind the frills of the vocals and drums lies the real issue with this band.; the riffs, the guitars, the music itself. After listening to the album a few times and even going to the length of examining a few tablatures of songs from the CD, I am rather struck by the sheer musical inconsistency that really permeates BDM’s guitar work. To get the worst-smelling shit off the table straight away, the solos generally suck and reek of pretension. Sure they match up with the beats, sure the guy uses a scale, but that’s all he fucking does! I’m not even convinced he’s playing in scales that agree with the notes of his underlying rhythm half the time, take away the pedals and it sounds pretty lame. Take the first damn solo on the album in “Everything Went Black”; after some satisfying trills and tremolo, he dives into a mercifully short scale run, more tremolo, some lame eighth notes for filler, and then a pretty decent melodic section that overlaps through a few bars only to end the solo in a pitiful triplet eight running of the scale. That was neither fast, appropriately melodic, or describable as anything but an unenthusiastic scale run. The solo in “What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” starts out promising but quickly descends into a laughable attempt at a melodically conscious solo. Spare me.

Now the riffs are all over the place, you have lukewarm thrash, lukewarm melo-thrash and lukewarm tremolo melodies. If you couldn’t grasp what I tried to communicate there; “Nocturnal” tries to play and synergize a few different styles, but it generally fails at doing any of them correctly. What really pisses me off is the album’s pervasive stench of dishonest posturing and it isn’t any more apparent than when the guitars feel the need to randomly harmonize or end riffs with a painfully predictable harmonized descent. This is old news, ceaselessly demonstrating your detestably elementary understanding of music theory does nothing but marginalize your image in the presence of people who actually know what is going on. The riffs themselves are just boring, they have the common sense to stay away from harmonic minor but they are almost all forgettable save for a few memorable parts on “Everything Went Black” and “Nocturnal”.

“To a Breathless Oblivion” takes a shot at some Dissection worship (as does the title track) but ends it with a forty five second acoustic outro, leaving me with a raised eyebrow muttering “Wow, did you really think that was going to impress anyone?” Crypt of Kerberos mastered this fifteen years ago, and every band since then has hammered it into the ground, turning it into another worthless vice for shit bands to fall back on. I suppose though, that this is really where the contrast in perception lies. For someone who has gone through the motions, “Nocturnal” is nothing but a failed synergy of lacklustre extreme metal stereotypes; sure it demonstrates a basic knowledge of the genre, maybe some Cannibal Corpse or At The Gates or Dissection, but that’s where it ends and it fails even at copying the aforementioned bands. I seriously doubt the expertise of any reviewer who simultaneously bestows this with a high mark and advertises themselves as someone with a deep understanding of true metal. This is a combination of two or three subgenres diluted with pretentious inarticulacy and shat out the rear end of modern-day Metal Blade. To someone who has no idea what they’re listening to, I suppose it might present the illusion of a solid metal album, but come on! Any serious listener knows how much this pales in comparison to what it tries to emulate.

I really have to mention though, the coolest part about this album is the title of the second song. “What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” is a quote from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES. Whenever you’re questing about in that game, those are the words that appear on the screen when day turns into night, making the game’s monsters a shitload more challenging and numerous. I though that was neat, but too bad the song doesn’t sound more like “Castlevania” and too bad the solo sucks. The lyrics though (both for this song and throughout the album), are pretty passable and nostalgic.

Perhaps I’m being too one-sided, I can still award points for “trying”, and it sounds like these guys did try. This is both the bright point and the ultimate failure of the album: It’s “trying”. Look at the damn cover art! If that doesn’t scream “WE WANT TO BE METAL” then I’m not sure what does. I give the band members a personal thumbs up for trying their best to move into death metal. We were all naïve little douchebags at one point in our metal careers, rocking out to Slaughter of the Soul and worshipping late-period Death; so while it’s easy for me to dismiss this album as shit, I find it cruel not to acknowledge the effort that went into it. Perhaps this is a starting point for the band, and perhaps their next album will garner twenty more points from me; I’ll give it a listen regardless. Do YOU need to listen to this album though? I think it’s a decent introduction album, a bridge from metalcore to metal, but then again why wouldn’t I just give you “Symbolic” or some other seminal “introductory” album?