Earlier this year, the metal world was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Black Dahlia Murder frontman Trevor Strnad. Regarded as one of the scene's friendliest faces and most knowledgeable metal encyclopedias, he was best known as a phenomenal frontman with a one-of-a-kind shriek, and without him at the helm of his long-running melodeath band, it was unclear whether the Black Dahlia Murder would even continue to exist.
Well, they will. In a new interview with Decibel, their first since Strnad's passing, the band have revealed that co-founding guitarist Brian Eschbach will take over vocal duties, and his position as a shredder will be filled by Ryan Knight, who previously left the band after a lead guitarist stint from 2009 to 2016. The other three members, guitarist Brandon Ellis, bassist Max Lavelle and drummer Alan Cassidy will remain in the same positions.
"We spent many days thinking things like, 'Is this over?'" Eschbach told Decibel. "None of us wanted it to be over. We still feel like there is a lot left to do. I know Trevor would keep this band going if I went down a deep, dark path and weren't here. It's bigger than us.
"When we finally started talking about it, we thought, 'Let's remake it from within and see if Ryan wants to return. And I'll take a crack on the vocals and see how it goes.' I can't go out there and do Trevor's voice or try to be him. I can only execute the music of the Black Dahlia Murder with respect and try to do it the most justice I can. I've heard Trevor perform more than anyone else alive."
As the article notes, Strnad wasn't just a guy with a microphone. He was the public face of the band, a gifted lyricist, a dazzling performer and supremely talented musician. In the interview, the surviving bandmates said that they knew he couldn't be replaced by someone from outside of their own circle, so hiring a vocalist from a different group was never on the table.
"The prospect of getting on the stage with a stranger and having someone else become the face of the band after nine albums didn't seem to work," said Ellis, who joined the band in 2016. "Trevor was the public face of the band. To put someone else in that place would not have worked. It wasn't even a consideration.
"Brian called me and asked what I thought about the future. I loved working with everyone in the band. I told him it wasn't a good idea to replace Trevor. I wondered if it might need to be another band. But I thought we needed to continue."
Eschbach co-founded the band with Strnad and several others in 2001, and is now the sole original member. Ellis noted that the guitarist-turned-vocalist has always had a crucial role in shaping the identity of the group and has constantly been a leader-like figure behind the scenes.
"It was the only way it could work," Ellis said. "Brian has been the president and mastermind of the band from the beginning. He's our leader. For him to take over as the face and frontman of the band is the only option. We are all so thankful that there is a path that seems to make sense.
"Because if we don't continue this band, all of this music and all of these songs—everything we worked on with Trevor for over 21 years—just goes away. That didn't seem like an option. This is the only way forward that is authentic, respectful and genuine. We have five guys that are and have been the Black Dahlia Murder. No one on the planet knows this band like Brian."
Elsewhere in the interview, the band publicly opened up for the first time about the tragedy that was Strnad's death. The band made it pretty clear in their intial statement about Strnad's passing that he had taken his own life, but as they told Decibel, the cause of death was something that took all four Black Dahlia Murder members by complete surprise.
"Trevor was pretty open about struggling with his mental health for some years," Eschbach said. "I know that he tried a lot of things, and he'd paid a lot of different people and tried a lot of different prescriptions. He tried to find something that worked for him.
"When he talked about his struggles with me, he talked about it like it was something he had gone through recently and had been at a dark point. I didn't have an idea of how bad things were. The pandemic exacerbated and amplified everything people were dealing with in their lives. There is no way that people not being able to live their lives didn't impact everyone."
Throughout the interview, the band express that they're well-aware of the criticism they're bound to receive for choosing to continue without Strnad. Despite that, they repeatedly emphasize that forging ahead in Strnad's honor — and maintaining the same, campy horror aesthetic and lighthearted lyrics that they built their fanbase on — is what they feel is right.
"I don't have any doubts about what we're doing," Eschbach said. "We are making the best out of a shitty, horrible situation. We are the people to do it. It's always a challenge to write a new album, but it will be a different challenge this time to keep this legacy alive without Trevor. We aren't going to start writing a bunch of political songs.
"In the early days, we would always talk about horror comics. We wanted to tell dark and scary stories. That was the foundation of it, and will stay the same. [Second-guessing] is going to happen. We're a big band. Some people will reject it just hearing about it, but this is just something we have to do.
"This is us, and we can't stop it. If that bums them out, well, that bums us out, too. But we can't stop doing it."
Read the full interview here.
On October 28th, in a celebration Strnad's life, the band will play their first show with their new lineup at Saint Andrew's Hall in Detroit. They'll be joined by Darkest Hour and Plague Years and tickets will be available here on Friday Septeember 16th.