Humankind has always had an uneasy relationship with rats. Many people hold on to the belief that they are disease vectors, and they've been blamed for the spread of many awful maladies over the centuries, the black plague and leprosy being two the most famous and deadly. They also tend to like the same food as humans and don't mind shitting where they eat, which causes obvious sanitation issues when they find their way into your pantry. Further, and perhaps most disturbingly, they'll casually stroll up to you and take little bites out of any exposed flesh on your body they can reach if they think you're either dead, or not likely to stop them due to injury or illness. This fact has led many to believe rats to be a danger to unattended infants since the dawn of the industrial era, and literature of a century ago would often describe rats climbing into cribs and mauling newborns during the night. The truth of various accounts of rats much-maligned activities have the air of folklore about them, and challenging to separate fact from hysterical fiction. Psychologists have a name for people's fears of rats, musophobia. Michigan's The Black Dahlia Murder have another fearful name for our worm-tailed brethren, Master.
The Black Dahlia Murder are one of the most successful death metal bands in the United States and a legendary mainstay of the genre. This makes them both easier to talk about but much harder to write a coherent statement about- or at least a statement that doesn't just like sound like me hyperventilating with joy over my keyboard. Further, their ninth album Verminousis a dense and nuanced release that provides plenty of material for a worthwhile discussion. It's also centered on the theme of rats conquering the world, a Lovecraftian horror show ripped right from the pages of The Rats in the Walls. I know what you're thinking, with this material in my hands, I could write a short novel. Hush my pets, let me tell my tale.
Verminous is a worthy follow up to 2017's superb Nightbringers. On their previous album, The Black Dahlia Murder embraced a European style of death-thrash that absolutely suited their monstrously constricting, punisher-punk brand of melo-death. On Verminous, the band turns the clock back even further to excavate the ancient ways of speed metal and NWOBHM. The skin-stripping blitz of tracks like "Godlessly" daisy-chain fearsome death-grind grooves with the time-tested and war-hardened shimmering of Iron Maiden solos. The riffs here are not just classic heavy metal, but classical as well, especially the beautifully arcane chord progressions on the latter half of "Sunless Empire" and the knotty interplay of chords that binds together the shambling abomination "Removal of the Oaken Stake." The magnificent way that these virtuosic compositions are paired with the more perverse death metal elements is enough to make a Carcass fan out of the most dedicated philharmonic devotee.
No one picks up a The Black Dahlia Murder album for the sheer technical might of their playing, though. It's really the songcraft and the forceful way that they throw themselves into their performances that has caused them to ascend through the ranks of heavy metal godhood. On both these front, Verminous absolutely delivers. "Sunless Empire" begins with a grand ethereal intro which parts on a ravenous blast-beat fuelling, ground churning groove that rises and falls like tectonic plates collapsing into each other, a harrowing scene enhanced by Exhumed-esque backing vocals. Next "The Leather Apron's Scorn" comes out of its corner on the offensive, with explosive percussion and galloping chord progressions that gain speed and momentum as they give chase to a gigantic groove, taking frequent detours into Corrosion of Conformity brewed sludge and Megadeth style thrash, picking up new and devious weapons for its arsenal with which it will dispatch many a witless challenger. More traditional melo-death can be found on the hooky hangmans festival "How Very Dead" and the triumphantly bleak, dirt-nest bore "Dawn of Rats" which borrows heavily from the Children of Bodon's wintery tremolo bluster.
Verminous is a strong album that sees The Black Dahlia Murder continue to experiment with their sound while embracing horror images and themes that are all but lost to a previous era. While the album often succeeds at being a pitch-perfect version of itself, there are moments when it feels like the melodic elements of the band's sound are crying out to be set free. The only point when I felt like the band really takes it's melodisim to the next level was on "The Wereworm's Feast." This track feels like its freebasing Satan's absolutely stunning 2018 album Cruel Magic while it rips through a small Midwest town, spewing white phosphorus from its exhaust port, reducing every edifice of civilization it encounters into a soft powdery ash, with undulating, shrieking riffs and a sticky, acidic groove. A few more tracks like "The Wereworm's Feast" would make Verminous one of the best albums in The Black Dahlia Murder entire catalogue. As it stands, it's just a damned good one.
Generally, humanity doesn't have as good of a track record as The Black Dahlia Murder. The Michigan band continues to release unassailably polished and impactful albums that set a high standard of performance for the rest of their contemporaries. They accomplish these great feats while humankind on the whole struggles to mount an effective response to another devastating world plague. This one we can't blame on the rats, but when we all die of our poor diets, malfeasance, short-sightedness, or adherence to dysfunctional economic systems, the rats will gladly inherit whatever we leave behind. Hopefully, they won't make the same mistakes we did.
Mick is always writing about something he's heard. Possibly even something you'd like. You can read his stuff over at I Thought I Heard a Sound Blog.
7.7 / 10
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