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“Unhallowed” 15 Years (and One Month) Later: The Black Dahlia Murder’s Blistering Debut

unhallowed

[Editor’s Note: Yes, we’re a bit late on this anniversary (one month to be precise, today is July 17th, 2018 and Unhallowed released on June 17th, 2003) — it was a scheduling error on our part. This minor blunder shouldn’t detract from our appreciation of this jamming ol’ album, however. Enjoy the lookback.]

I’m going to be honest with you by way of offering an initial warning (and empty apology) regarding my thoughts on The Black Dahlia Murder‘s debut album Unhallowed. This anniversary piece is going to be biased, and I’m going to lavish every ounce of hyperbolic praise I can muster on this majestic beasty. You’re probably going to be annoyed with how much I love this album — I dare say I prefer it to their rarely questioned magnum opus Nocturnal. I may even mention Unhallowed, with all its metalcore trappings, in the same breath as “deathcore.” Like the band itself, you may take or leave this, or love it outright.

Though released two years earlier, I snapped up Unhallowed from The Black Dahlia Murder’s merch table at Ozzfest 2005. At the time, you could find me in the standard metalcore kid regalia of the era: a black As I Lay Dying shirt that was just snug enough to outline my 18-year-old twinktastic physique, complimented by cut-off camo shorts and some brand of puffy skate shoe. At the time, I thought Unhallowed was among the most brutal shit I’d hear, though mere days later, I found Miasma to be way meaner, and, years after, Nocturnal more technically astute.

These three albums combined have endured my ever-shifting tastes, my twenties, and now into my thirties. They are classics through and through, but if I had to shoot two in the head and pick one to survive, it’d be Unhallowed. This was when almost every metalcore band that found its way on Headbanger’s Ball took shameless inspiration from Gothenburg-leaning melodic death metal or just aped Cannibal Corpse’s aesthetic. These approaches had all the opportunity to have varying results, but in retrospect most were consumable, gateway metal entertainment. To wit, it was at the behest of mid-aughts The Black Dahlia Murder interviews that I first threw myself into the voids offered by Slaughter of the Soul or Storm of the Light’s Bane.

Unhallowed was never meant to be the grand ode to the Great Ones that would be Nocturnal. Unhallowed was a barring of fangs, a bloodlust howl issued from a Detroit-based quintet barely two years into spawning. Not as raw as their debut What A Horrible Night to Have a Curse EP or as polished as later material (save for Everblack, production-wise), its ten songs crackle with malice with each passing second.

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The titular opening, featuring a laboriously-breathing void complimented by chilling narrations lifted from Butchering the Human Carcass for Human Consumption, set the tone for the bleeding tongue-in-cheek humor that has since permeated The Black Dahlia Murder’s collective persona. It’s the segueing of that void into “Funeral Thirst” that is Unhallowed‘s defining moment: the militant cadence surging into the skull whirling chuggery leaping into breathless blast beats. It is all still much to behold. The band’s two enduring members, guitarist Brian Eschbach and vocalist Trevor Strnad, were already operating at full power here. Eschbach’s melodeath gunfire stabs electric through the drums’ pummel before arcing with moonlit splendor to the wail of his solo. Strnad issues his verbose gore through every manner of screech, growl and audible scowl; a lyrical and dramatic talent he’s since further perfected.

“Elder Misanthropy” is a creature of serrated melody, a twisting mass shifting between a metalcore and death metal song with maddening delight. It dares you to run amok to its roiling current or dance to its fleeting, hook-laden two-step passages. Pause or flee at your own risk. “The Blackest Incarnation” best exemplifies the album at large, stuffing its five minutes with blast beats, soaring riffs, malevolent intent, dueling melodies, and climax upon climax. “Closed Casket Requiem” is their perfect metalcore to death metal hybridization, contorting from an oozing mosher into circle pitting cyclone with masterful alchemy. It’s one of those tracks where the “The Black Dahlia Murder is deathcore” troll-bait stems from, and while the jab is at best insincere, there have been worse labels slung at metalcore-leaning bands.

It’s been 17 years and eight albums into their never-ending tour of a career, and the Black Dahlia Murder is as tenured and renowned as the bands from which they once took inspiration. Few modern metal acts have enjoyed such momentum so early, much of it propelled by the pairing of band’s lovable cult of personality with the double homicide that is Unhallowed and Miasma. The subsequent headlining tours, hordes of insatiable Blast Fiends, and seven albums owe their successes and existences to Unhallowed.

Sure, this can be said of any inaugural album of a successful band, but no debut I’ve yet heard possesses the same youthful, feral intensity found here. So, bow all ye hearts cold and blue, to the perfection, this murder divine, the elder misanthrope that is Unhallowed.

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