If any band deserves a medal for nobly bricking up the fissure between mainstream metal and the underground, it's THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER. Aside from the fact that frontman Trevor Strnad is one of extreme metal's most unrelenting advocates, his band have consistently upheld their pure death metal values while continuing to evolve into something that metalheads of most inclinations can get behind. A death metal band with melodic instincts, rather than a melodic death metal band in the traditional sense, TBDM have never made a weak record or taken their collective foot from the touring accelerator. As a result, "Verminous" is about as hotly anticipated as death metal records get. This band genuinely matters, folks. And the good news is that their ninth studio album is easily their best in a decade or more. Superficially, nothing much has changed between this album and its predecessor, 2017's "Nightbringers". But there are myriad subtle developments afoot here, often hidden deep in the songs or executed with such virtuoso, on-a-pin's-head skill that they're gone in an infernal flash. There's a sense of grandeur and anthemic gusto underpinning several of the finest songs, but THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER's core sound remains vicious and uncompromising throughout, even when wallowing in the doomier textures of "Sunless Empire" and "How Very Dead". The opening title track delivers the expected elbow to the eyeball, those trademark blasts and Strnad's bug-eyed narratives hailing down like burning frogs on Satan's driveway. "Removal of the Oaken Stake" takes "Verminous" down a melodramatic rabbit hole, full of ominous, blackened shadows and unnerving, fluid tempo shifts. As its title suggests, "The Leather Apron's Scorn" mischievously conjures the spirit of CARCASS, melodic spikiness balancing out the thuggish churn of the riffs. In contrast, "The Wereworm's Feast" is a blur of Northern European iciness and jaw-wrenching dissonance, DISSECTION vibes a go-go and a blistering lead break that spirals into the night sky with Andy LaRocque levels of class. Virtually every band claims that their new record is heavier, more melodic and more dynamic than the last. For once, "Verminous" fulfills that promise. This is a deeper and smarter realization of the Michigan crew's tried and tested formula, and one blessed with several of the finest songs they have ever written. Closer "Dawn of Rats" may be the finest of the lot: an instant anthem with a giant chorus, custom-built for the verminous souls celebrated here. Like I said, this band really matters, and this is a thunderous tour de force. File next to "Nocturnal" and "Ritual" as an unquestionable career peak.

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