If Trevor Strnad's tragic death underscored anything, it was the seismic impact he had on the entire metal genre. As a person, he was warm, generous, funny and universally beloved by fans and peers alike. As a fan himself, he was a true scholar of the underground and always eager to champion rising acts.
But as a frontman, he was a force unto himself. He founded the Black Dahlia Murder in 2001, beginning as a Nineties-style metalcore act and quickly pivoting to glorious melodic death-metal on their 2003 debut, Unhallowed. Their next two LPs, 2005's Miasma and 2007's Nocturnal, are essential melodeath texts of the early 21st century, and as the band grew into a technically gifted machine in the 2010s, Strnad's scorched-earth shrieks and diabolically poetic lyrics only grew more refined, intense and daring.
The band's goofy behavior onstage and in their photoshoots and videos was disarming and relatable, and their uncompromising gumption to tour with anyone — death-metal legends, deathcore upstarts and metalcore cover stars — make them one of the most important extreme-metal gateway bands of their time. They've been the "first death-metal band" for countless millennial heshers, but their music — at once cinematically macabre, blazingly heavy and brilliantly melodic — could never once be described as entry-level.
None of their records have been a whiff, and each one is imbued with its own unique character, but these 10 songs from throughout their two decades of destruction are essential high points that longtime fans adore and first-time listeners need to know.
From the band's first proper song, Strnad screamed every line like it could be his last. The sheer power he was able to muster on a track like "Funeral Thirst" — with its Carcass-inspired leads and quasi-deathcore chugs — was enrapturing from the jump, especially his signature pivot between banshee-like highs and demonic lows.
2005's Miasma was Black Dahlia's breakthrough album, and the Gothenburg-style ripper "Statutory Ape" was the breakout hit, its tour-hijinks music video amassing over 3 million views and counting. A modern death-metal classic at this point, the song has even gotten a string quartet cover while also giving BDM their killer gorilla mascot.
Strnad was too clever a lyricist to fall back on retrograde gross-out imagery. "Deathmask Divine" is based on a necromantic killer, but instead of doling out an autopsy report's worth of gory details, he zooms in on the eyes the killer has preserved in formaldehyde. "How their greenish flecks befell me that starlit winter's night/I lost all that I ever was while locked within their sight." Poe-tier shit.
To many, this is the quintessential TBDM song. The ghoulish lead lick hovers like a phantom floating ominously through the halls of a haunted mansion, and Strnad's narrations are nothing short of spine-tingling. "This twisted, wretched place shadowed by the utmost darks of hell," he intones wickedly at its start, piercing through the mix with a jump-scare strike attack.
Black Dahlia pack an insane amount of melodeath goodness into a trim 3:43 on this standout off 2009's Deflorate, which feels way more epic than its runtime would seem to allow. Our favorite moment? The mid-song breakdown at the 1:44 mark, where Strnad let loose some of his most ferocious roars before a sinuous solo kicks in: "Liar! Ears deaf to your pleas!"
Stuffed to the gills with headbanging chug-chuggery, blackened swells, blasting drums and Strnad's demonic rants, this Deflorate single would be badass enough even if it didn't come with an all-time-great music video portraying TBDM raging — and, of course, goofing — in a bowling alley. Stick around for the cameo from the Statutory Ape.
TBDM's 2011 LP, Ritual, might be their finest. The band began to venture cautiously yet effectively beyond their established sound, speckling in acoustic folk-metal guitars and fade-in/fade-outs on a song like "Carbonized in Cruciform." Strnad's delivery is as throat-searing as ever, and the scorching solo keeps things fun and flavorful amidst the satanic subject matter.
Strnad never half-assed a single part. "Moonlight Equilibrium" is a tale of lycanthropic delight that quite literally sounds like a mortal man succumbing to the powers of the lunar orb. As Strnad sings, "You'll feel the pull of the moonlight equilibrium," his voice transforms werewolf-like from a husky growl to a high-pitched howl.
Black Dahlia's first album to feature new lead guitarist Brandon Ellis, 2017's Nightbringers brought next-level shred to the band's already fret-burning sound. High-speed thrill ride "Matriarch" exemplifies this — while also showcasing some of the band's more grisly lyrics, telling of a sicko stalker who brutally murders a pregnant woman, stealing the baby from her womb.
The opener and title track on Black Dahlia's most recent album, 2020's Verminous, starts out slow and doomy before stomping on the gas pedal and building to an anthemic chorus: "Our legions assembling in masses unending." While the lyrics speak to the pandemic age into which the song was released, through another lens, they read like a horns-up battle cry for the metal masses rallying together in the "wretched underworld."