Only hours ahead of my interview with The Black Dahlia Murder, I decide to take their music for a spin for the first time.
About three minutes into “Matriarch” from their most recent album, Nightbringers, I catch my breath and notice that my heart is racing at about a thousand beats per minute, and have to hop in a cold shower to stabilise.
I realise how out of my depth I am interviewing one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most successful death metal bands of all time.
The only thing I can do as Trevor Strnad (vocalist and one of only two remaining original members) answers the phone is come clean and confess my relationship with metal — virtually non-existent. Strnad appreciates the honesty and gives me the go-ahead, “Awesome, well let’s chat anyway!”
Unlike the majority of metal bands who scour medical journals for repulsive diseases to name themselves after, The Black Dahlia Murder is named after an infamous unsolved case from a terribly gruesome 1974 murder in The States. Strnad starts, “When I learned about the case I was looking for a band name and it just scared the hell outta me. So I thought, ‘Well this is it!”
The vivid imagery and dark poetry in their lyrics make me think of Strnad as an avid reader, but he laughs at the notion, “That’s where I have you fooled, I am definitely not an avid reader. And I guess that had to do with my ADD in school,” he sniggers.
He does, however, attribute his writing style to his high school course work, “I had to read a lot of Shakespeare and at the time I dreaded it, but I feel like I see it a lot in what I write — It’s come back.”
Jokingly I tell him that I was willing to put good money on The Bible being one of his literary favourites and he quickly expels that idea, “But that was a good chuckle,” he concedes.
Apart from Between the Buried & Me, Darkest Hour and Red Chord, there are few other bands who are still active that started out with The Black Dahlia Murder. As if the thought just struck him he exclaims, “Wow, it’s been a really, really long road. We’ve just been very lucky man. It’s just like we’ve made the right decisions and just been the right cocktail of weird-looking,” he admits jokingly.
Strnad becomes more serious, “It’s a one in a million kind of thing, and we feel obligated to just keep going and take it to the hilt. Here we are, looking down the barrel of the 9th album coming out, and you know we tour as much as humanly possible, so we’re just honouring that amazing opportunity that we’ve gotten. Or at least trying to.”
Nineteen years later, going full steam ahead, I reckon they’ve got a lot more than luck on their side. I ask him to pinpoint the first time he realized that they were famous, and he doesn’t miss a beat, “I guess that would be the release of the third album, “Nocturnal”, and right when [the album dropped], we headlined a travelling festival here in the States called “Summer Slaughter”.
He grows more excited as he relives this pivotal moment, “We were above Vader, and Despised Icon, and Whitechapel, and we were closing up this immense bill that was beyond my wildest dreams… that was probably the most exciting time of my life.”
Strnad admits that he felt that “Nocturnal” was a particularly good album, “I felt at the time when we were putting the record out that it was special and that it was a big jump in quality from the first two albums, and I was hoping that it would resonate with people but I had no idea that it was gonna start just snow-balling out of control.”
We compare old and new-school indicators of success, album sales and streaming numbers respectively. Although a significant percentage of their catalogue has upward of 2-8 million streams, he and his OG fans grew up on album sales and merch, “I think a lot of people that follow this band are collectors. There’s a lot of people that are getting the physical copies, and that’s definitely where I’m at, I’m an old-school kinda guy.”
He’s never been to South Africa, but he’s heard rumours of the band’s massive fanbase, old and new -school, this side of the world, “This will be the first time for any of us in the band — very, very cool,” he voices. Believing the music would flourish outside The States, they’ve always had their sights set on world domination, “With every album we wanna branch out, and take it to places we’ve never been. We’ve tried to be a global band since Day 1,” he explains.
“It feels like only big bands get to [play in South Africa] that I know of. It seems like we have a lot of fans there waiting, and there’s a lot of excitement around the announcements for RamFest, so we’re really looking forward to this awesome opportunity.”
A death metal legacy will soon descend upon both Cape Town and Pretoria, and while Early Birds to both events are sold out, it isn’t too late to get your hands on General tickets.
For the full RAMfest lineup and event-specific details click here.
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