UTG INTERVIEW: The Black Dahlia Murder


About to release their fifth studio album in not a lot of years (the third with Shannon Lucas on the skins), and they’ve proven time and time again that they’re a force to be reckoned with. I already reviewed their latest release, Ritual, and then we had the opportunity to chat with Shannon to get some more insights about the record and the general happenings in the band these days.

The first question I asked, and a logical first step, was “So, Ritual is good… really good. [I gave it a 10/10] Do you think it’s the best Black Dahlia Murder record yet?” and he obviously answered yes, but that’s where things started to get interesting…

Shannon: “I think [Ritual’s] direction is good, but at the same time, it was a constant thing thinking about ‘can we do better than Nocturnal?’ and a lot of people were saying ‘Well, you can’t outdo that record’ and I got to thinking…what it we can’t?

I like it. I think we did a great job with it, but with this record for sure when it was coming together, the concepts, the art, the songs, etc. that there was no doubt in my mind that this was it. It was our best. Period. We looked back and tried to figure out what it was that people really grasped on to on all the records. The songs that caught peoples’ attention and take notes.”

Jordan: So, the preorder packages for Ritual are pretty interesting, whose idea was it to include things like the Ouija board?

Shannon: “When the whole idea for the record came about, Trevor described to me that he just woke up in the middle of the night and POW! all these ideas and song names just flooded to him. We started talking about stuff and all the directions and possibilities we could go with that stuff and it really created a huge playground for us. The Ouija board was almost a given. We were like ‘Well, there are so many things we could do’ and the Ouija board was just one of the more obvious things. First it was like ‘Should we do that? CAN we do that?’ and well, this company’s got the Ouija board copyright, but it you change like 15% of it, you know, you can kinda do your own thing and it was too good of an idea to pass up. And it was just one of many ideas, like what if we did the vinyl like a picture disk, and the vinyl was the actual picture disk. Too many ideas. We has so many ideas, and it was impossible to do all of them, but I was really excited when I saw the preorder package. We could have gone the cheap route and not done anything exciting, but, ugh… it’s cool. Nobody does a lot of cool stuff like that anymore.”

Jordan: “Yeah, I think the big boxset is sold out already. It’s been sold out for like a week or something. It’s gone from the Indiemerch store, anyway.”

Shannon: “Oh, that’s amazing.”

Jordan: “It’s definitely a really cool package, and I think a lot of bands sort of forego the really cool physical packaging. Most of the time it’s just shirts and CDs.”

Shannon: This day in age, in the digital world, everyone’s just gonna put it on iTunes anyway, you almost lose a reason to actually buy a physical copy. If you buy it on iTunes you don’t have to keep track of a disk. I know that sucks, and a lot of people like having the physical copy with the booklet and lyrics and stuff, but this is an even better reason. If I’m into something… give me everything that you got. I think more bands should do stuff like that.

Jordan: “So I remember with Deflorate there was a bonus DVD with some footage that included a sort of drum clinic with you. Is there anything coming along with Ritual like that?”

Shannon: “There’s no DVD is or anything that comes with it. We definitely had a couple flipcams present while recording. There’s like a 12 minute video that’s on YouTube that we put up that has some studio stuff, like tracking and that kind of thing, and that’s similar. But we didn’t want to repeat the same thing. And obviously after Majesty came out… and it actually did better than anticipated… a lot of people after like six months were like ‘When’s the next one?” and it’s like, Jesus, that took like a couple years of touring to get that footage. It’s like, well ‘why don’t you let us go do some more work and then we’ll talk about it later’”

Jordan: “Yeah, it was a massive DVD”

Shannon: It really well, we were all really excited. We’re definitely going to do another one, but it’s going to have to be later. We’re going to have to tour and collect footage and stuff. Us having our own flipcams and stuff like that it’s going to be super handy because now we can just get a lot of dumb footage of our own.

Jordan: “So, you already talked about how the idea for Ritual came up, but how did the writing go, specifically for your drum parts?”

Shannon: Umm, well, the writing process for us has kinda been the same for the last two records, and for everyone it works out the easiest… especially for me. The whole everyone stands around in a circle and says ‘What do you got?’ and ‘well what do you got?’ and just write together in a circle is just a huge pain in the ass and it’s not very productive, to be honest with you. In any circle, in my opinion, it’s not very productive. I think it’s best for a guitar player to go write on your own. You need time on your own to go write and make sure things make sense and actually bond together. And to properly construct a song the way a song should god. And then sit on it, sleep on it, and make sure you still like it the next day. So what we do is they write their songs, they do their thing.

And it’s important, for a drummer at least, for a drummer to be user-friendly. When a guitar player’s writing a song, he’s obviously hearing the whole thing in his head, he’s got a vision of how everything’s supposed to sound. You know, I could do a handful of different things over the same riff and it would change things drastically each time. If you’ve got an idea of how the song goes and the journey it will take you on, and how the drums can change the dynamics of everything. What they do is put drum machine down as a temp, with this kind of thing here and this kind of thing there, and I want you to sync up the beat with there part here, and you know, I have a really good idea and understanding of what they want, which makes my job WAY easier. You can sit and play with the same song and try things 80,00 different ways and maybe that’s not quite what they’re hearing. It works out best that way. They give me a whole song, I take it and start listening to it and remembering the order of how everything goes, and try to pick out what I know they want to hear exactly how it is. And then ‘You do your thing, you make it realistic, you make it real’ and then I go practice all by myself for pretty much the whole time.
I write and record pretty much everything on my own, because it just works out best that way.

Basically right before we go into the studio to recording, a few of us might get together and jam the songs together to make sure we’re on the same page. And if they hear anything drum-wise and he’s like ‘well maybe we could try to change this part here a little bit’ or ‘here’s just a couple simple accents I want to hear right here’ and that can happen. It just makes everything so much easier. I have all the freedom in the world to practice what I want and to be as prepared as I can be.”

Jordan: “So, are there any songs on Ritual that you’re especially proud of how they came out?”

Shannon: “Well, yeah, I mean, most of ‘em [laughs]. I feel like it’s everyone’s best work on this record. My personal favorites are just the songs that get stuck in my head, and it’s not necessarily just the drums-it’s the guitar harmonies, the lyrics, whatever. The opening track, “Shrine To Madness” is really cool–it’s catchy. And I like the closing track “The Blood and the Ink”–it’s got the strings part in it, which is totally new for us. It was something when the idea came up it was like ‘YES. We have to do this.’

I play to a click live, so it makes it easy to play to that strings track, so we can have that live. We can duplicate that. I think those two in particular I’m pretty excited about, and we released “Malenchantments of the Necrosphere” and that’s cool because it was a bit different. It actually was one of the hardest ones on the record for me to learn, it’s a lot of foot control stuff, and in the end it turned out being really fun to play and it’s got a real cool groove to it.”

Jordan: “So, on a different note, are there any bands out there that you’d really love to tour with but haven’t really had the chance to?”

Shannon: “Obviously our band is highly influenced by At The Gates, and it’s personally one of my favorite bands of all time, so we’d be cool to tour with them. When they came to the [United] States for that reunion tour, we we out on Summer Slaughter (I believe) in 2008, so I missed that whole thing. Fortunately I get a second chance. We’re playing a festival in Sweden in the end of the week, and we get there a day early, and on that day At The Gates is playing, so I get to see them, so I’m pretty stoked about that. I would have liked to have done the first Carcass reunion tour too, that would have been a lot of fun I think.

Jordan: “Speaking of Summer Slaughter, you guys are co-headlining that with Whitechapel, right?”

Shannon: “Uh, just headlining. I think somewhere along the lines someone started saying co-headlining and that just sort of started becoming the word, but it’s not an actual co-headliner.”

Jordan: “Interesting. I just remembered seeing the poster you and Whitechapel at the top and all the small band logos below that.”

Shannon: “Yeah, I think it was somebody in their camp. Maybe management or something who wanted to push their logo up to the top, I don’t know. Who knows, man, It’s all stupid politics anyway.”

Jordan: “You guys are just about the only death metal act on Summer Slaughter this summer. It’s like you guys, a bunch of -core bands, Dying Fetus, Darkest Hour, and Fleshgod Apocalypse.”

Shannon: Yeah, originally they were making offers with bands that I was really excited about, and then gradually things weren’t working out with them booking those bands on the tour, and that as a huge bummer. And it’s like damn, they’re really good death metal bands it would be awesome to have them on this tour. And then I heard again, and they’re not doing it now, these bands are and I’m like ‘Really?’ [laughs] You know, and I’m not trying to talk smack or diss anyone’s bands, but we’re just fans of what we are. You like what you like, and I grew up listening to death metal and don’t really like a lot of new stuff. There’s not much music that comes out now where I’m like ‘Oh, I have to listen to that’. And I love some of the guys from the bands, but I’m personally not a deathcore fan.

And I know, because we look like some of those guys, we have tattoos and basketball shorts when we play because it’s friggin’ hot, and we get labeled as deathcore. We get lumped in with them, or we get lumped in with metalcore, or whatever. The music speaks for itself.

I mean, personally, there’s only a couple bands on tour that I’m really excited about. I’ve always liked Darkest Hour. They’re friends of mine, I’m from the same place they’re from so you got that going on. They’re just a killer metal band. They’ve got solos, and they shred. And I’d say that the other saving grace as far as the tour being extreme, them and Fleshgod Apocalypse.”

Jordan: “Yeah, since back in like ’01 when you guys started you were always lumped in with the metalcore and deathcore crew, and it really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Shannon: “I think people base things on looks, and then you get lumped in with a certain category. I think if we all had long hair we probably would have never gotten it. It’s just the way it is, and it’s fine. The people who listen to death metal now know the difference. In Europe, though, it’s still the same over there. European metal guys see us as hardcore kids. They look at us, they’re like ‘Oh, they’re hardcore, they’ve got tattoos and short hair’ and I have big plugs in my ears an stuff. I mean, I can enjoy some hardcore bands, but I’m a metal kid. I grew up listening to metal and playing metal.”

Jordan: “Yeah, Job For A Cowboy still sort of gets the same thing since they were a deathcore band back in like ’04, but now they just play death metal, but are still branded with that scarlet letter that is deathcore.”

Shannon: “Absolutely, and a lot of it still has to do with the name, you know what I mean? With that name, the underground, you know the guys who listen to tech death (the guys who would honestly appreciate their music), have a hard time taking them seriously because of the name. And those guys who are in those type of bands tend to be really elitist and very picky. You kind of have to prove yourself all the time. I think it’s kind of unfair, absolutely, that people will say ‘I’m going going to listen to them because it’s this or it’s that’ but yeah, if you listen to the music it’s fast techy stuff and they don’t do breakdowns anymore and you don’t hear them doing the old pig squealy thing anymore, which it amazes me that kids give him credit for that and they’re like ‘He invented it’ and it’s like, you obviously never heard Disgorge or Devourment. They had been around for like 15 years doing that for a long time. It’s all underground stuff, and when you bring it to the mainstream everyone thinks you’re the originator [laughs].

Interview conducted and transcribed by: Jordan Munson

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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