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Detroit's Black Dahlia Murder likes its metal macabre
Trevor Strnd says his mother has never paid much attention to the lyrics he write for the Detroit death metal band the Black Dahlia Murder.
And that bums him out.
"I think she would get a kick out of it, honestly," the frontman says by phone from his home in the metro area. "But she's been too afraid to ever look at my lyrics. I think she's too afraid to see me in that weird light."
That may be a prudent decision.
Strnd's lyrics for Black Dahlia Murder are often as brutal and bloody as the unrelenting sonic assault the quintet has unleashed on during the past 14 years, resulting in seven albums -- including "Abysmal," released in September -- that have established the group as one of the leading acts in its niche but exuberantly followed genre. On "Abysmal" alone he wrote songs about a castrated child molester ("Threat Level No. 3"), suicide ("Receipt"), werewolves ("The Fog") and phobias about hell ("Stygiophobic").
It's not exactly the usual mix of sex and drugs, but it's certainly helped Strnd and BDM make its mark on the metal scene.
"There's a lot of macabre in what we do," acknowledges Strnd, 34, who co-founded BDM during 2001 in Waterford with guitarist Brian Eschbach, taking the group name from the unsolved 1947 Elizabeth Short murder case in Los Angeles. "I've been obsessed with the macabre since I was young -- being exposed to horror movies at too young of an age, probably. I was drawing people getting their heads cut off with crayons when I was a kid.
"So it started with horror and then the role-playing, Dungeons & Dragons and all that. And metal was the perfect next step. It had the same imagery; I saw the skeletons and the dragons and was like, 'I want in!'"
Mama Strnd wasn't so sure, however. "Oh, yeah, when I was young we had battles about death metal," Strnd recalls. "She didn't like it, didn't like me being into it. She saw it as kind of contraband. The people involved in it were dangerous, to her.
"Now she understands I'm not poisoning the minds of the kids the same way they did for me," she adds with a laugh.
Strnd's BDM songs come from both dark fantasy as well as exorcising personal demons and turmoil. "Relief," for instance, isn't about any explicit suicidal designs but was Strnd's reaction to the pressure facing the band for "Abysmal" after the critical and commercial successes of 2011's "Ritual" and 2013's "Everblack."
"The pressure was mounting," Strnd explains. "With the last few records we were in the eye of the metal scene and people are waiting to see what we do next. For the most part I can keep it in check and it just feels good to have that pressure on you, but coming into this record I definitely got scared for awhile. I had a mental block and was feeling down on myself and stuff -- which kind of happens at the beginning of every record.
"'Receipt' was the first one I wrote, and it came out of my frustration, and then the floodgates opened. That was the band-aid that needed to be ripped off, and after that everything was cool."
Strnd says his bandmates occasional raise their eyebrows at some of his more macabre lyrics, but he counters that oftentimes it's their music that leads him down those paths.
"I'll listen to what they come up and assess the mood that's being put forward and go from there," he says. "I might thing, 'Oh, this song sounds really frosty and cold. I have to do something that has to do wtih frozen tundra,' an idea like that, a small idea to put in the right ballpark.
"I really try to pay attention while I'm writing to make the story fluctuate with the highs and lows of the songs. I want to maximize everything and really think about what a person is feeling when they're listening to it and reading the lyrics, and I try to make it have as much of a climax as possible."
Strnd's songs also have plenty of visual and cinematic qualities, which would seem to make them candidates for other media -- films or graphic novels for instance. That's not a step he's taken yet, however.
"I'm kind of just scared to try anything, really, in the next step," he says. "I've wanted for so long to get the balls to do anything, write something or...I don't know. I guess that's my anxiety again trying to play into things. So many people have encouraged me to do something like that.
"I've flirted with the idea of writing those books you read when you're 12, the horror novels by R.L. Stein. That would be kind of a cool thing to do and wouldn't be too overwhelming, I don't think. We'll see."
In the meantime, BDM is keeping Strnd and company busy enough, with plenty of touring on the docket into 2016 to promote "Abysmal" and certainly every expectation of making more albums down the road.
"Y'know, I don't have a Plan B outside of this band. I've been tunnel-visioning on this thing for 15 years, man," Strnd says with another laugh. "I need to start branching out or thinking about how to prolong my life. I already see a glass ceiling on it, but the older generation from the 90s -- Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death -- they're still out there truckin', setting a precedent for how long you can take it.
"It remains to be seen. I can't imagine being as old as Slayer and playing 10,000 miles an hour. But...maybe. Those guys are literally blazing the trail for how long you can do this, and we're waiting to find out how long that trail goes."
Black Dahlia Murder, Iron Reagan, Harm's Way and Maruta
Saturday, Oct. 24. Doors open at 7 p.m.
The Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.
Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 at the door.
Call 248-546-3696 or visit www.thelovingtouchferndale.com.
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