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An Interview with Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder

Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad is living the dream of every metal fan, and he knows it. Since coming onto the scene in 2003, The Black Dahlia Murder have consistently put out a record every other year. In that time they have grown to become one of the biggest modern death metal bands. Proof in point is the newest album. Nightbringers just became the most successful pre-order in the history of Metal Blade Records. But that hasn’t stopped the band from still touring the world relentlessly, hardly ever taking time off other than to record albums. With their eighth LP dropping in October and a yet another headlining tour about to start up, I chatted with Trevor about lineup changes, lyrical content, Necrolord, and what it was like working with Jeff Walker.

Indy Metal Vault: You’re about to head out on a new tour cycle for Nightbringers. Not the longest tour to start, but a lot of dates packed into it.

Trevor Strnad: Yes! I’m looking forward to it though man. We’re just getting started up again pretty much. You know the new album is like a rebirth in that way since there’s always new stuff to do.

IMV: Nobody wants to have consistent line up changes but do you feel like having new guys in the band helps keep touring fresh for you guys?

TS: It’s definitely been cool in this era. I mean, the few guys we got, we brought some young blood in in Alan [Cassidy] and then Brandon [Ellis] too. Brandon just turned 25 recently, and I’m 36 if that puts anything into perspective. You know he brought a lot of energy into the fold. He’s excited about all this touring, about getting out there. He’s an incredible player first and foremost. And he raised the stakes on stage man, we gotta try to keep with this little freak ya know? He’s a fireball, so it’s been very cool.

IMV: I’ve been able to catch you guys live with him twice now and he seems like he’s really enjoying it.

TS: Yeah man, I think he’s definitely making a statement, you know what I mean? And this album is definitely a big part of it. He offered up a few songs too, which was a really pleasant surprise that we didn’t anticipate, and they’re excellent. I mean, this will be the first time that he has his own music out to the world. He’s soloed on tons of records but this will be the first time that he unfurls his own stuff, and I’m really excited for him.

IMV: On top of everything else, you also have your Obituarist column. You profiled Handsome Prick from Indiana on there a while back . What do you think of those guys?

TS: Oh, they’re awesome man. [I] think they are super underrated. Really, really tight blazin’ death grind man. With a lot of style. I think it’s awesome. It could be humongous in the Czech Republic, they’d love it out there!

IMV: On the last album, Abysmal, you wrote what are probably two of the darkest songs you have written with “Abysmal” and “Receipt.” How was that writing from a more personal point of view?

TS: It was really just necessary. They’re cathartic songs for me. Pretty much at the beginning of every cycle when we are trying to create something, I’ll hit this like roadblock or kind of a mental block at first where I get really freaked out about the future of the band. And I go “Oh man I’ve run out of terrible things to say!” It just get’s scary. With each record we have more success it’s seems like, and there’s more eyes on us waiting for the next move. But on the other side of the coin that can be also inspiring to have people waiting for you. But those songs were definitely out of necessity for me and cathartic to write. And yeah, I don’t always pull from personal stuff, you know what I mean? Sometimes I do, but usually I’ll keep in the realm of fantasy. It definitely was cathartic for me to write those songs. It was like an exorcising of kind of a personal demon. And at the end of the day I thought, some young kid’s gonna read this and see that everybody feels like this, everybody gets to that. The human experience is a tough one, you know?

IMV: Absolutely, I’m sure people of all ages and and life experiences can get something out of that.

TS: Well thanks! I mean, I was just putting myself out there a little bit. And it felt good. It feels good to sing those songs live. Like I said, it’s a catharsis. Kinda of like, I don’t know, it helps me to deal with it, to deal with those kinda feelings.

IMV: Will we see anymore of that on Nightbringers?

TS: The new one is definitely more of a fantasy romp. It’s a lot more monstrous. Whereas those songs having a personal tip. This is more short stories, more comic book style. Good old Cannibal Corpse influence trickling down there. That’s definitely my biggest influence in that regard. So, I just approach each one as its own little horror story. In this case I even rewrote a few songs that I just wanted to be more grisly. Just trying to stir some emotions in people, and you know it’s difficult. It’s definitely difficult to keep scaring people. It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it. I definitely enjoy that people even crack the lyric book open and take a look. It’s an honor for me.

IMV: Speaking of cracking open the lyric book… On the newest single “Nightbringers,” there are some excellent lines. Specifically “the time has come to see their Christ is killed, his fabrications muted dead and gone” When you put lyric like that out there are you speaking about the state of the world we’re in now? Or is that just an awesome fucking death metal lyric?

TS: It is kinda of speaking about the world right now. I always use Christianity as kinda taking the brunt of my lashings, but it’s really all religion. For me it’s just a metaphor. To me when you’re into metal you’ve agreed to be on the side of the villain. That’s just part of it. It’s a Satanic music, it’s the devil’s music I think by essence, you know what I mean? So it’s running in the opposite direction of all those ideas. And it’s definitely an old fight for sure, but it’s one that’s still ongoing I think. I just feel like there is a Christian hangover kind of in society. Where we have all these kinds of other ideals hanging around. I’m for free thought, I’m for self preservation, and everybody taking advantage of the short life that we have here you know?

IMV: The artwork on the new album is amazing. How do you go about choosing who you want to do the artwork for the albums.

TS: Well, it’s always my department and I really enjoy this aspect of things. I take it very seriously. I see how impactful it can be if you have the right cover art to compliment the music or to make people anticipate music they haven’t even heard yet, you what I mean? I really see how it works when it all comes together. So it’s important to me to really strike hard on that tip. And I’ve tried to keep people on their toes as far what artist we’ll use. And by doing a different one each album up until this one, I thought I was doing that. So I thought maybe people wouldn’t expect us to go back to Kristian Wåhlin [Necrolord]. And in a way it’s kinda of a tribute to what we’ve done in the past. I mean, ten years ago Nocturnal came out with his album art and it was the first time we were able to afford something cool to have on the album cover. You know, the first two records are hideous really by my standards, but we couldn’t afford much else really at the time so I just thought by using him again it would be something old but something new and surprise the fans. See who’s paying attention out there that’s super into the band. And I don’t know, it just seemed natural. He’s done so many classic albums, Kristian Wåhlin, in melodic death and black metal so it’s definitely cool to have his art on there again. You know you’ve got your At The Gates, Dissection, Emperor, countless records that he’s been a part of you know so many classics so.

IMV: I was looking at his Wikipedia page as I was researching a bit to prepare for this and I thought I knew most of the albums did. But I was very, very wrong.

TS: Yeah, he’s a very busy man that’s for sure.

IMV: How do you work with him so that you do get artwork that fits the album? Do you send him early music samples? Lyrics? Do you guys just talk over themes and go from there?

TS: We just talked about themes pretty much. I tried to explain how I see death metal through the eye of the villain. Also I wanted it to sort of reference the landscape of Nocturnal in the art work there. So people can, if they know what’s up, they might notice something. Just little easter egg kinda things like that for the fans, I guess. I wish we would have had music to show him but we were still in the laboratory at the time. But I love what he did, I definitely do. I think it’s really striking and it’s just got a classic look to it I think.

IMV: The last time you guys were in town you were lamenting to me that you weren’t able to work out your schedule to guest spot on the new Vulvodynia album. But you have become quite the vocal slut over the last couple years joining in with bands like Benighted, Maggot Colony, and Parasitic Ejaculation, etc. What’s that been like? What drives you to get out there and do it?

TS: It’s been fun man. It’s a way to give a little bit back. I always do it on bands that I like and I’ll do it for free just as a gesture of friendship or something. It’s good advertisement for us, especially when we are in off season. To have one of our names be coming up in metal news and stuff. So it’s a lot of different things. It’s funny – I’ll sing on a million records, but I’ll never have anyone on our record. It’s just like I feel such a responsibility to deliver the album [live] exactly as we do on the record. That’s why we don’t record a million guitar tracks or do any of this far reaching kind of production stuff. Keep it pretty bare bone so it can be reproduced. And I just don’t want to put Corpsegrinder on a song and then have to play this song every night without Corpsegrinder. You know what I mean? It’s just, I don’t know, it sounds bittersweet. I’d love to do a song where we have a bunch of classic death metal dudes. Like all my heros and stuff. There’s Chris [Reifert] from Autopsy, he’s probably my ultimate death metal hero, and someone I haven’t been lucky enough to meet yet out there in this field. Huge lyrical influence. Just an awesome all around dude. I’d love to have him appear on a record.

IMV: How cool was it like getting the chance to work with Jeff Walker on the Decibel Flexi cover of Black Dahlia did of Carcass’s “This Mortal Coil?”

TS: Very cool man. I mean they [Carcass] as a whole have been so great to us. I think they really heard the influence that we took from them. And I guess it must have been flattering or something on some level because they’ve always been really nice to us. You know then we did that tour with them eventually which was like the height of my entire life basically. Such and honor you know? He had me send him a picture of my Carcass tattoo, and they put it on the back cover of their most recent EP. Like it’s just my bare arm, giving the horns with the song names right next to it. So I mean they’ve definitely humored me a lot and as a fan it’s just been the coolest thing. One of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. So having him on that song was very cool. A huge honor. And yeah man he’s just the dude, he’s a card.

“To me when you’re into metal you’ve agreed to be on the side of the villain. That’s just part of it. It’s a satanic music,it’s the devil’s music I think by essence you know what I mean?”

IMV: That’s awesome. They seem to be down to earth dudes with a great of humor about everything.

TS: Yeah –  and that’s real, you know what I mean? You can hear it in the lyrics. They’re really biting, you know, and his stage banter. But when you go talk to the guy he’s just so dry and English. It’s hilarious!

IMV: I think that’s one of the reasons Black Dahlia has become what it has. You and Brian have always been such easy going and approachable guys off stage.

TS: You know, I think that has been instrumental in the growth of this band and reaching people. It’s just showing them that we’re fans first. Fans of music first and that we feel lucky to be here and to be a part of the scene. To be meeting like minded people. You know what I mean? Whereas when I was in school I was like the only death metal kid I knew of. An alien thing. I kinda jumped head first into this entire world where I’m surrounded by metal heads all the time and it’s just like my environment. It’s given me a lot of freedom in my life. A lot of personal strength. And its helped me kind of bloom into the person that I am by just going headlong into this thing.

IMV: Your love of horror movies is well known, but do you do any kind of reading. Either at home or while you’re our on the road?

TS: I don’t actually. Which might surprise people because I love words and I love writing. I think it came from my ADHD which I’ve since tamed by, uh, pharmaceutical intervention. You know, I just couldn’t read and retain anything when I was a kid. So I just never got into the habit of it too much really. It’s weird, I really enjoy writing. I enjoy lyrics a lot. I look at other band’s lyrics big time. I look to the past a lot for inspiration and I like to keep things traditional for the fans really. For new people coming into the band, I wanna represent what I like about death metal and what brought me in at thirteen. I like cliches. I don’t think we have to be the most original band in the world as long as we’re good, ya know?

Nightbringers is out on October 6 via Metal Blade Records. Also check The Black Dahlia Murder on tour with Suffocation, Decrepit Birth, Necrot and Wormwitch.

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3 comments

Justin Wallace
Justin Wallace September 18, 2017 at 10:11 am

Trevor knows what up!

Reply
Reed Empshen October 5, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Thanks for asking about his more personal lyrics. I tend to enjoy those songs more than his horror stuff.

Reply
LeroyNajatahn98 April 11, 2019 at 10:04 pm

For some reason I’m drawn to albums with art done by Necrolord in this particular style (the paintings with the solid color tint). No matter how “offended” at or “opposed” I am to any of the lyrical content I keep coming back to them.😅
I’m vehemently opposed to Strnad’s “generalized and non-selective” hostility towards religion, as well as his opinion that “metal is the devil’s music”. Still, to me “Nightbringers” is one of the greatest melodeath albums, aside from “The Gallery” by Dark Tranquility.

Reply

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