The Black Dahlia Murder
he so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM) is perhaps the revenge of the kids who grew up on hyper-technical '80's thrash metal, but who sulked in their bedrooms and practiced guitar during the anti-technique '90's. The kids can play, but, to put it bluntly, they're still finding their style. Even the top NWOAHM bands (Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God) are almost always described by their influences—Swedish melodic death metal, '80's thrash, hardcore punk, Pantera. Influences are inevitable, of course; what's difficult is reshaping them into something unique.
The Black Dahlia Murder, named after the famous Los Angeles unsolved crime case, is a prime example of an American metal band in search of an identity. Their debut, 2003's Unhallowed, combined Swedish metal guitar harmonies, old school death metal, and black metal shrieks and low death growls that sounded like two people but instead came from one singer. Miasma is more of the same, only more brutal.
The album begins promisingly with "Built for Sin," a short instrumental with menacing, skulking riffs, and Carcass-style piquant harmonies. "I'm Charming" follows, and, unfortunately, the rest of the album sounds just like it. The first hurdle is the vocals. Singer Trevor Strnad has one of the best death growls around, but most of the album features his black metal shriek, which has enough oomph so that it's more of a scream. The result is more bratty than evil, and gets tiring fast.
Guitar-wise, the death metal riffs are nicely heavy, due to the huge production, and the Swedish-inspired harmonies pop out of the speakers, but they are more Swedish than inspired. Quite simply, the guitar work here is pedestrian. The leads are mostly scales, and for all but Yngwie Malmsteen fans, an album of scales is tough listening. The scale is almost always the same harmonic minor one, which makes the whole album sound alike. Arguably, this sameness could be called a style, but there are already many other bands, such as The Agony Scene and All Shall Perish, mining this sound.
The drumming here is awesome, though. The blastbeats are teeth-rattling, the kick drums are inhumanly fast, and the fiery fills will inspire one to pull out the ol' air drums. But drums do not a metal album make. While the band's already-impressive chops have improved, its songwriting has regressed. After the opening instrumental, the band sets its dial at "brutal" and never changes settings. The increased brutality comes at the expense of dynamics, resulting in a half-hour wall of sound that's as unmemorable as it is well-played. With Miasma, The Black Dahlia Murder has achieved the brutality of its namesake, with none of its mystery—a hatchet job, so to speak. But the band's heavier direction bodes well, especially if it can ease up on the Swedish worship.