When opening the conversation for the most important bands in modern metal, it is impossible to overlook the monstrous shadow cast by The Black Dahlia Murder. The Detroit five-piece have become a key driving force in extreme music throughout the 21st century, honing their craft while never straying from what made them great to begin with. Much like metal overlords Cannibal Corpse, the boys have consistently brought new fans into extreme music and surfed the waves of multiple trends to emerge stronger on the other side. Showcasing an unbelievably consistent discography with a handful of albums widely considered to be modern classics, TBDM have been on an unstoppable hot-streak since they signed to Metal Blade at the very start of their career in 2003. But what led them to this point? The seeds were sown from the get-go, but a severely overlooked gem in the form of 2005’s Miasma serves both as an interesting anomaly, and a pointer to where the band would go in the years to follow.
So what makes this record so unique? Coming off the back of their classic debut Unhallowed, the band found themselves firmly in the spotlight of the metal press with their modern take on the Gothenburg melodeath sound. Taking clear influence from their American contemporaries Darkest Hour and previously A Prayer For Cleansing, the boys developed their own flavour in a scene that was already beginning to saturate. By the time they returned to record their follow up, metalcore had sprouted from a true underground phenomenon into THE popular movement in heavy music, a trend to which TBDM quickly found themselves lumped in. This unexpected situation and the exposure it bought likely informed the band’s decision to record Miasma at Trax East, a hub for up-and-coming heavy bands of this era.
If Unhallowed was a death metal record with a subtle influence of metallic hardcore, then the cuts that would go on to make up Miasma set them apart as a totally original prospect in extreme music. Of course, the band’s punk roots made their presence felt with every member slamming their instruments as if in the grip of a violent seizure. However, the key difference came in the upping of musical dexterity and technicality across the board, writing riffs so iconic that even some big names have been unable to resist nicking a couple of bits here and there (*ahem* Bring Me The Horizon). This is demonstrated from the very beginning as short opener ‘Built For Sin’ transitions into ‘I’m Charming’ with a brilliant melodic sweep before pounding ahead with stuttering tremolo-picked riffs torn out at breakneck pace. The drumming boasted massive leaps in skill with the inclusion of then-newbie Zach Gibson (his only album with the band) and saw vocalist Trevor Strnad pushing his ferocity to the max, resulting in a performance more feral and animalistic than anything heard before or since. Complexity never took precedence over songwriting however, as ‘A Vulgar Picture’ and ‘Dave Goes To Hollywood’ stand as just a couple of examples of catchy death metal ragers with riffs purely designed to instigate involuntary headbang whiplash.
In terms of technical and sonic aspects Miasma further stands as an island in TBDM’s discography. A somewhat dated mix and the super-compressed, overblown production style of the day continues to alienate a great deal of newer fans when compared to their more polished later output. Despite this, mid-heavy guitar tones give the recordings plenty of punch, allowing the texture and crackle of the riffs to shine through without feeling murky or sloppy. Performances are crisp and clean but hold a kind of ‘live’ feel that has been somewhat absent post-Miasma. Guitar tunings were shifted from a dropped C to standard C, allowing for a totally different set of note choices for the players. These are explored exhaustively over the course of the record, but most notably in the fist-pounding stomp of ‘Flies’ and all-out blast of ‘Miscarriage’. The former proudly showcasing the new elements brought to this record with spine-tingling harmonies, ferocious technicality and an unforgettably evil chorus.
Miasma was also the album that birthed the legendary ‘Statutory Ape’. Aside from the musical brilliance of its namesake and tongue-in-cheek title, the music video featured the now-legendary gorilla costume worn by a member of the crew whenever the song is played live. So iconic is the character that it has a whole segment dedicated to it in both of the band’s documentaries and became the official logo of the ‘Blast Fiends’ fan-group. Lyrically, the Trevor Strnad discusses the use of children in guerrilla warfare, tying in the unsavoury wordplay to their accelerated development and the resulting trauma many will experience:
“In vengeance we are born, To our graves these grudges shall be sworn, The ultimate death of emotion never mourned, We’ll die before we crawl”
Other moments like ‘Dave Goes To Hollywood’ tackle the dangerous indulgences of touring life while ‘Flies’ allegedly describes a failed relationship with a bulimic – subjects not traditionally associated with death metal, but something more akin to the bands roots in hardcore. Perhaps unintentionally, these narratives give the lyric sheet a degree of relatability and humanity that is often lost in bands of their ilk.
So where does Miasma sit in terms of TBDM’s discography? Unjustly, it seems to get pushed to the back of the queue in the discussion of the band’s greatest albums (with the exception of maybe Everblack). However, amongst die-hards and more seasoned followers, Miasma is frequently cited as the ‘dark horse’ and underrated slice of modern extremity. If the blinding 10 track onslaught of perfect death metal isn’t enough to get you to reconsider this brilliant collection, then the fact that it stands as easily the most interesting release when held up retrospectively should wet the appetite of even a passing listener. To be truly appreciated Miasma requires repeat listens, more so than any other of the band’s efforts, the hooks are subtle yet abundant preventing everything from becoming a riffy blur at the expense of songwriting.
In what many will no doubt see as a strange comparison, this record is somewhat reminiscent of Lamb Of God’s As The Palaces Burn. In the same way that the metal giant’s sophomore feels like bridge between New American Gospel’s untamed punky slam-fest and the classic arena anthems of Ashes Of The Wake, Miasma takes on a similar role between Unhallowed and Nocturnal, keeping the raw, wide-eyed energy of the former while taking strides towards the effortless prowess of the latter.
Nobody has ever had reason to doubt the power and influence of TBDM. Growing from underground heroes into scene leaders in a matter of 5 years, the boys have never released anything lacking in quality and this unending stream of consistency only continues to win them adoration the world over. Whether you’re a long-term expert or new to the band’s discography, make sure you check out and reappraise Miasma, it deserves your attention even if it’s just to get your windmill on for half an hour. As world leaders of death metal its difficult to imagine a time when this band won’t be the most beloved in their genre…they picked up the torch from Cannibal Corpse back in 2007 it doesn’t look like they’re ready to pass it on anytime soon.