Near Death Experience

The stuff of classic death metal cut with key punk ingredients

Metalcore is everywhere. You just can't get away from it. MTV2, major labels and indie labels owned by major labels are pushing wave after wave of new bands playing it. Jagermeister is constantly bringing it to a big club near you. Ozzfest's second stage has been devoured by it, and now it's eating the big one. The style — very loosely characterized as mixing hardcore punk's whiplash gnashing, communal spirit and lack of pretense with a dash of emo's visceral catharsis and a whole lot of the brutality and instrumental prowess of the heaviest metal — has lurched up out of the all-ages underground, into the mainstream hard rock fan's field of vision.

And with it comes Black Dahlia Murder, a young Detroit quintet that, sonically speaking, owes far more to the Tampa Bay area's grisly '90s pioneers and ultra-thrashy Scandinavian black metal than it does to rising names like Hatebreed and Darkest Hour. For all intents and purposes, Black Dahlia Murder is a death metal band — right down to the black T-shirts and the pointy, hard-to-read band logo. But the band's youth and penchant for touring long and hard with up-and-coming metalcore contemporaries have found them closely associated with the burgeoning genre.

"We've been playing with a lot of metalcore bands since our inception, so we're often lumped into that category," concedes vocalist Trevor Strnad. "There have been some shows where people are getting ready to dance" — a core-show tradition that lies somewhere between moshing and a grand mal seizure — "while we're setting up, then we play and they just scratch their heads."

While the average young metalcore fan might find Black Dahlia Murder's comparative lack of repetitive grooves, screamo dissonance and shout-along lyrical slogans a bit perplexing, older extreme-metal aficionados will immediately recognize a wealth of influences. The band's debut full-length, Unhallowed (out on L.A.'s legendary Metal Blade Records, the first label to release songs by Metallica and Slayer), is a precise, crushing salvo of double-bass blast beats, stingingly trebly guitar leads, sudden time-signature shifts and indecipherable vocal growls and shrieks. It's the stuff of classic death metal albums, not groovy, expurgating metalcore ones, albeit imbued with a frenetic punk energy.

Aesthetically, however, the group shares a number of the values that the hardcore scene holds dear — values that made that scene so different than, and in part a reaction to, the metal world. Black Dahlia Murder doesn't boast spiked arm gauntlets or unison clockwise hair-windmills; nor do they endeavor to build a sense of dark mystery in order to separate themselves from their fans. And from that angle, their being aligned with metalcore — a scene that more or less espouses punk's proudly egalitarian ethos — makes perfect sense.

"I think there are a lot of good things going on in the hardcore scene, things the death metal bands could learn from. A sense of community versus a sense of competition, stuff like keeping T-shirt prices low," Strnad says. "And I feel that a lot of death metal bands try to come off as 'greater than human,' or something — they don't want to meet and talk with the fans.

"There's no crowd participation whatsoever [in death metal], there's a barrier that separates the band from the crowd. I like to get down in the crowd and interact with people. At the end of the day, we're just a bunch of kids that like metal music."

Contact Music Critic Scott Harrell at 813-248-888, ext. 109, or [email protected].