The Black Dahlia Murder at The Opera House

Support: Suffocation| Decrepit Birth | Necrot
October 18, 2017 at The Opera House
Promoter: Inertia Entertainment

If you’re anything like me, fellow reader, there are times when we forget and, dare I say, neglect things we hold dearest to us. Whether it’s family, friends or simply a time and place we carry in our fondest memories, we’ve all been guilty of overlooking that which helped shaped who we are. Sometimes I forget that I like death metal, but it’s nights like this one – the night you’re currently reading about – that remind me why I love death metal. Wednesday, October 18, Toronto’s Opera house filled up with leather jackets and black t-shirts repping slimy logos and gruesome designs, sported by fans impatient to indulge in some sinister festivities before Halloween. Curating the gathering as the night’s main attraction were none other than The Black Dahlia Murder and genre heavyweights Suffocation, playing alongside a hefty line-up of bloodthirsty bands from the north American death metal scene.

Wormwitch, a three-piece from Vancouver, broke the ice with a rocking opening set showcasing blackened death metal aggression laid atop some old school rock ‘n’ roll grooves. A distinct scent of whisky and cigarette ashes wafted from the overdriven blasts of extreme metal riffs, Lemmy’s soul and spirit blaring as loud as ever from beyond the grave through the Canadian band’s gritty amplified riffs, to which the audience responded with warm welcoming cheers all throughout their concise, convincing set.

In the spirit of Lemmy – Wormwitch’s Robin Harris

Following suit, Oakland’s Necrot took the lead and delivered a similar dose of equally sharp overdriven aggression, geared on Floridian old-school death metal distilled into its most effective form. As with any band delving into a traditionalist approach to their craft, Necrot’s clear throwback to the genre’s pioneering acts would have almost inevitably deemed the band’s show anecdotal and one-dimensional, were it not for the band’s fiery passion fuelling the band’s superbly crafted compositions and live performance. Stripping the music back to its basics, Necrot unleashed song after song of pure devastation, uncut by any technical indulgences or intricacies, reminding some of what first got us hooked on death metal in the first place.

Necrot – passionate, old-school death metal

Picking things up at the show’s midpoint, Bill Robinson’s dreadlocked silhouette came up unto the stage, signalling the start of Decrepit Birth’s set. Fully warmed up and ready to slay, the band kicked immediately into full gear, into their set defending their newly released fourth album Axis Mundi, yet another sonic maze of dizzying technical virtuosity and anti-cosmic brutality, sprinkled with the band’s trademark melodic edge. The band powered through the sonic onslaught with a near-nonchalant ease, the mastery of their instruments allowing them to focus on providing some well-needed stage presence, a trait that is all-too lacking and overlooked amongst bands with a knack for technical compositions. Bill Robinson led the stage front like a true Viking hero, fearlessly leaping into the pit and engaging his audience with a stern look, his fist clenched and raised up high as he delivered his monstrous growls to a crowd slowly awakening from their cross-armed spectator stasis.

A true Viking hero – Decrepit Birth’s Bill Robinson

To anyone even remotely familiar with the likes of Death Metal, Suffocation are a band for whom introductions from my behalf would prove widely redundant. More than a band, Suffocation represents an entire scene, a scene they helped shape and carry over from the late 80s to this present day. For this current tour, however, New-York’s legendary ambassadors of brutality decided to take a step back and stand as a supporting act for their younger peers in the Black Dahlia Murder, showing their determination in proving their worth once more amongst audiences whilst in the midst of a few line-up changes.
With Terrance Hobbs as the sole remaining original member onstage, the band held up fairly well and gave their best in providing the bludgeoning brutality one would expect from a Suffocation set. Instrumental-wise, Charlie Errigo and Eric Morotti held up brilliantly and proved themselves more than worthy as the newest members of the band’s line-up, blasting away almost effortlessly through the classics as with the newer tracks. The main preoccupation amongst fans, however, lies with the live vocalist, the position having been recently handed down to a young vocalist named Kevin Muller from the band The Merciless Contempt. The young vocalist certainly made for a much more dynamic show than one could have anticipated from a more seasoned death metal act, his jumping about surely surprising more than a fair few amongst audience members. One cannot help but feel as though, whilst competent and determined, Kevin Muller may not be the best fit for a band as deeply rooted in death metal’s early history. As someone taking Ricky Myers’ place in filling for Frank Mullen on live vocals, Kevin certainly gives the band a different feel through his slicker, more modern approach to screamed vocals, much more akin to a deathcore vocalist than what one would expect after hearing a Suffocation record. Nevertheless, the band pulled through relatively unharmed with a passable set, earning them a warm reception from a supportive audience.

Bringing a different vocal feel – Suffocation’s Kevin Muller

Stepping in to crown the night with one final set, The Black Dahlia Murder finally appeared onstage and ceremoniously set the evening ablaze to the sounds of ‘Matriarch’, the opening track off of the newly released Billboard chart-smasher Nightbringers. No more than a few seconds passed before a pit formed right at the heart of Toronto’s Opera House, set forth before the smiling gaze of vocalist Trevor Strnad. Surely enough, the band found themselves performing before a terrific crowd of loud, excited fans jumping around and crowdsurfing all throughout the band’s set, exhilarated by the stellar live performance and outstanding stage presence. Stirring the crowd’s excitement, Trevor Strnad led the show, swaying his hands like a music conductor and throwing devil-horn hand signs at the crowd while he belted his beast-like growls and strident, shrieking vocals.
As with Suffocation, the band also had some new blood of their own to present to their fans: Brandon Ellis, yet another Arsis graduate, taking Ryan Knight’s place as the band’s lead guitar. As a relatively new member in the band, Brandon’s playing held the songs in place, subtly colouring the band’s live sound with his own musical personality. Playing over his predecessor’s solos, the young guitarist made his case and point by adding his own personal flourishes, bending a few sections out of shape so as to interpret rather than blindly replicate each lick. Nevertheless, as undeniably talented as he proved himself to be, it seemed like Brandon wasn’t completely locked in with the band onstage, as though he has yet to come into his own as a member of the band. With that being said, the fact remains undeniable that Brandon’s playing makes for an interesting change for the band, both in the studio and onstage.

Brandon Ellis – brings interesting changes to BDM’s guitar sound

As one would expect, the band’s set-list geared itself towards the new record. Less obvious, however, were some of the other song chosen for the program, such as the inclusion of ‘I Worship only What you Bleed’ and ‘Contagion’ and that of ‘In Hell is Where She Waits for Me’ as the only track played off of Everblack. Abysmal, the bands’ second most recent album, is also strangely absent save for one song. Pacing-wise the set-list could have been arranged more coherently, then again the unpredictability did keep things interesting from start to finish. As per usual, however, the band closed off their brilliant set on their two set-list staples ‘Deathmask Divine’, followed by ‘I Will Return’, two bangers to guarantee a triumphant send-off worthy of such a triumphant night.
Having seen the band nearly every year for the past decade, it seems pretty clear that The Black Dahlia Murder know full well how to stay true to themselves and remain dedicated amidst the multiple line-up changes and stylistic evolutions. Nightbringers being a critical and commercial success, it is safe to say that the band’s career has yet to slow down anytime soon, and it is only a matter of time until it fully reshapes its live chemistry with the inclusion of its newest recruit.

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