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Wayback Machine: Remembering Trevor Strnad
A musical eulogy for a death metal legend.
On May 11, 2022, Michigan metallers The Black Dahlia Murder announced that co-founder and frontman Trevor Scott Strnad had passed away at the age of 41.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Trevor Scott Strnad. Beloved son, brother, and Shepard of good times, he was loved by all that met him. A walking encyclopedia of all things music. He was a hugger, a writer, and truly one of the world’s greatest entertainers. His lyrics provided the world with stories and spells and horror and whimsy. It was his life to be your show. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 800-273-8255.” (May 11th, 2022)
Strnad’s sudden death hit the metal community like an anvil. For over two decades, the burly, affable frontman was one of metal’s fiercest and most beloved ambassadors.
When I interviewed Strnad for Killyourstereo back in 2017, I asked if he felt an obligation to a scene that’s been so overwhelmingly kind and supportive to him, and his reply was honest and humbling:
“I wish I could do more of it. I wish I had more opportunities to take bands that I truly, really like out. I do feel a responsibility, but just to death metal itself, because it’s given me so much in my life, that I’ll take any opportunity to wear another band’s shirt, to speak about another band, to take another band out on tour. All because, you know, people did the same thing for us. And like I said, death metal is my main source of happiness in life. So, to get anyone tuned in to the hidden world of death metal feels awesome.”
Initially, I didn’t know how to write about Strnad’s passing; all I knew was I didn’t want to have a lightning-fast hot take or overwrought think piece that made his death somehow all about me.
After having a few weeks to ruminate on Strnad’s impact on my own musical journey, and diving back through the band’s discography, I eventually decided that a musical eulogy in the form of a retrospective album survey was the best way to honour Strnad, his artistic endeavours, and the band’s legacy.
So, read on for a listener’s guide to The Black Dahlia Murder in all their crushing, grim, demonic, melodic death metal glory. RIP Trevor.
“Funeral Thirst” — Unhallowed (2003)
With the band’s debut album serving as a fitting introduction to the group’s synthesis of Swedish Gothenburg melodies and the mechanical brutality of the American death metal, opener “Funeral Thirst” has all the requisite sonic signifiers for classic BDM: icy blast beats, galloping riffage, harmonic lead flourishes, catchy At The Gates-influenced solos, and Strnad’s unique and indomitable vocal range—at once a shrieking banshee and a guttural hell hound.
“Miasma” – Miasma (2005)
Miasma was my first proper introduction to BDM and it arrived at just the right time. I was finishing high school and beginning to venture down my hardcore-metalcore rabbit hole, where (as I would realise later) many of the subgenre’s most successful outfits were already borrowing heavily from the canon of melodic death metal. This made the eventual leap to real death metal even easier, and BDM were one of the groups that made that lateral move possible.
Still, Miasma has some of my favourite BDM songs to this day, including the record’s devasting title track closer, which sports an iconic lead riff, pummeling double-kick runs, insane bowel-splitting lows from Strnad, that infamous “Just another piece of shit!” line, and a drunkenly delirious Auto 240p video. Glorious.
“I’ve Heard It Before” – Black on Black: A Tribute to Black Flag (2006)
In now-archived interviews on the band’s Wikipedia page, Strnad talks about the band’s image versus their sound and their place within the heavy music landscape:
“I’ve always said that we’re melodic death metal. We are mostly influenced by Swedish bands and Carcass. The heavy end of our sound is the American style creeping in, with some Floridian influences like Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation and that kind of stuff. We’ve been labelled more often because of our look than our sound, which is dumb, and speaks volumes about what kind of geniuses are out there! … But a lot of our ethics, the way we carry ourselves, is more punk... I like that hardcore has a sense of community without the competition you see in metal.”
With this mindset, coming across the band’s incendiary rendition of “I’ve Had It Before” on a Black Flag tribute album, alongside other acts like Most Precious Blood, American Nightmare, and Converge, is a total no-brainer. Hardcore isn’t just a sound or aesthetic—it’s a frame of mind. And on this track, BDM prove they can spit and rage with the best of them.
“What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” – Nocturnal (2007)
Take a poll of BDM fans for their favourite record and Noctural would likely win by a landslide. With producer Jason Suecof behind the boards, the band refined their sound into a well-oiled delivery mechanism for gothic devastation, eventually cracking the Billboard 100 and landing on several video game soundtracks.
Harkening back to their first demo release of the same name, “What A Horrible Night to Have a Curse” finds bassist Ryan Williams and drummer Shannon Lucas merging into a rhythmic jackhammer, driving away in the track’s expansive mid-range, while Strnad screeches across the track like a demented bard with tales of dark ones, shadow spires and sleeping evils.
“Necropolis” – Deflorate (2009)
When I first heard Deflorate, I hated it. That’s a little strong, I know. While I’m still convinced that BDM only have weak records rather than outright bad ones (relative to their own prodigious output), Deflorate is still likely to make the bottom of my ranking choices.
That said, “Necropolis” rocks and is easily one of Brian Eschbach’s highest songwriting achievements. Strnad’s overlayed chorus of demon shrieks is a great addition to the theatricality of BDM’s dark art, and Ryan Knight lands an impressive solo in the mid-section. Also, the album artwork by Tony Koehl is absolutely stunning and suitably bat shit in a dope, surreal sci-fi kind of way.
“On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” – Ritual (2011)
Moving into their second decade as a group, BDM began to flex their creative muscles further than ever before. As Strnad told Kerrang, after the mixed reception of Deflorate and their overemphasis on raw technicality, the band decided to go back to the conceptual drawing board, reworking compositions, slowing down tempos, and working with different rhythmic ideas.
The end result? The band’s highest-ever domestic chart position and some of their most dynamic material, including the phenomenal battering ram of “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood,” described by Strnad as a “slow, Morbid Angel slimer of a song” that ended up becoming a regular set staple. Two horns up.
“Goat of Departure” – Everblack (2013)
This is another of my least favourite BDM albums, yet I seem to be in the minority on that one. To my ears, a cut like “Goat of Departure” could easily slot into the band’s Noctural-era period, with a revamped rhythm section, Knight’s frenetic fret magic, the occult “Six! Six! Six!” chant, and Strnad embracing the piercing potentiality of his screechy high scream once more.
“Receipt” – Abysmal (2015)
This one right here is my favourite BDM song of all time. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly why that is, but it does have all the things I love about the band. As I said in my album review from 2015:
“‘Receipt’ kicks off the record with an eerie string section intro, before launching directly into the cacophony of frenetic blast beats and furious melo-death riffs the band is known for producing. […] But perhaps the most notable element and a veritable trademark for the band, are the scathing and corrosive vocals of Trevor Strnad, and across Abysmal, Strnad comes out swinging with his full arsenal of screams, gutturals, shrieks and growls.”
More so than his towering vocal performance, the track also showcases Strnad’s depth of talent as a lyricist. “I was feeling the eyes of the world on me, which is awesome in the right context,” the frontman tells Kerrang. “‘Receipt’ and Abysmal in a way came out of necessity — that whole freaking out about the album, those songs came from a real place of darkness. In a way, it was cathartic to write.”
It’s an admission that, with Strnad’s passing as additional context, makes the track’s thematic focus on suicide and its closing stanza even more harrowing:
“Dear Mother and Father, now look what you’ve made/
More eager fodder for the depth of a grave.
For the sweet gift of life, you’ve both bestowed upon me/
You'll wish that you’d felt inclined to keep the fucking receipt.”
“Kings of the Night World” – Nightbringers (2017)
On Nightbringers, BDM finally sound like they’re having fun with death metal. With Brandon Ellis moving in as the group’s principal songwriter, it’s their most playful record and “Kings of the Night World” makes for an exhilarating listen. There’s a shit-tonne of pinch harmonics, absolutely relentless drum work and tempo switch-ups, and brash thrashy energy that brings it all together.
As Strnad puts it: “I feel like the songs are really strong. We’re always trying to be more varied, but it's kind of a weird line to straddle because we're always trying to be Black Dahlia Murder… Brandon is a rocking dude. And lyrically, I went more macabre. I had to ramp it up as much as possible.”
“Child of Night” – Verminous (2020)
Self-produced by the band and Ellis, Vernimous is a blistering and raw album completely unfettered by the weight of critical expectations. “Child of Night” functions as a destructive mid-tempo rager, with Strnad sitting in his low register for much of the track, adding grim determination to Ellis’ striking solo on the back end.
While the band’s ninth full-length LP for long-time label home Metal Blade Records was certainly never intended to be their last, it nonetheless remains a fitting swan song for Strnad and the collective death metal unit he helmed for two decades.