Words: Brady Irwin

Photos: Dylan Martin

Fitting that such a horrifically powerful line-up be held at Max Watt’s, because Sunday’s phantasmagoria of death metal delights was nothing short of electrifying.

Bad puns aside, the energy within these hallowed halls was voluminous, crackling with intensity as local openers Blackhelm wasted absolutely no time piercing the air with white-hot needles of blackened death metal fury. As heads banged in unison, there were more windmills between band and audience than all of northern Europe, the tall, ever-present frontman clutching with arms open at the audience, commanding us to “get fucking moving!” on multiple occasions. With hyper-speed blastbeats, an endless procession of technical riffage and some tastily evil dissonant chords thrown under all the rasps, roars and screams, as the lights flooded up on the tail end of their set, the band were met with a rowdy farewell by gleeful punters.

It didn’t stop there, however. Sometimes you can cop a dud or two amongst the bill, but as we know Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder picks his supports with delicate finesse. Zeolite are no exception to this careful plotting. Taking to the stage shortly after our openers, the Melbourne fiends immediately sliced at the front row and beyond, a razor-sharp concoction of technical death metal, slam and deathcore. Slowing only for breakdowns the size of planetary collisions, the bands’ ripped-jeans burly vocalist insistently implored headbanging, moshing and all manner of movement as he strode beside his washing-machine whirling headbanger comrades. The ever-present clatter of blasting drums provided the wind tunnel that kept this highly proficient, incandescent set that mashed bro-down pit antics with chin-stroking musical trickery.

By now, the anticipation in the room was running beer-tinged beads of nervous sweat down the walls of the place. A Herculean-sized drumkit and wall of cabinets sat ominously, taunting. And boy, when Aborted jumped aboard, the release of tension these seasoned death-grinders broke out with was incomprehensible. From the first flurry of snare-blasting by clinically-inhuman drummer Ken Bedene, the four year wait for their return was shattered in an instant of fury that never relented. Frontman Sven de Caluwe was one hundred per cent intensity and presence, growling and shrieking and rasping with note-clarity, all the while throwing horns, fist-pumping, slapping himself in the face, air-punching and screaming at us to head-bang in every instance the air wasn’t being completely slaughtered by the sonic assault.

Mixing the spider-like intricacy of their riff framework with intensely histrionic guitar solos, the dual frenzy of Mendel bij de Leij and Ian Jekelis was as much a showcase in clean rock-god virtuoso fret-slaying as it was downright slamming chug goodness. How bassist Stefano Franceschini kept up with the relentless flourishes of both rhythm and lead section is almost a mystery, as the man glued both together in a dizzying display of low-end fingerstyle acrobatics. Churning out bangers from ‘Necrotic Manifesto’, ‘TerrorVision’ and even some hints to the older material, the band had the audience in a bobbing unison of circle-pit bodies and appreciative heads and necks, all swaying on swivels as one.

The all-encompassing roar of the audience at the end of their set spoke volumes to just how much of a frothing mass Aborted had whipped the audience into. Separating from a congealed mass of limbs and sweat just long enough to re-arm with refreshments and catch their breath, individuals from the hybrid creature that had formed down front had just long enough to stretch it out before the room dimmed once more.

The classic-horror synth of ‘Nightbringers’ album opener Widowmaker was met with riotous, fevered applause. Chugging in to the opening bars inconspicuously, there wasn’t much to think before the cacophony broke all Hell loose. Backdropped by sinister red-black album artwork, this frenzied but melodic death metal unit ripped straight into the set with surgical precision, passionate flair and a particularly iconic and unique feel. This is aided in no small part to the enigmatic and hilarious antics of frontman Trevor Strnad. Gesticulating more feverishly than an Italian on cocaine, the beaming frontman gleefully chuckled, smiled and was veritably beaming, his free hand an elaborate arc that waved and weaved like a hypnotic snake. Spending so much of the set homing in on individual punters with waves, finger points and horns, he and his tight-as-a-drum original bandmate Brian Eschbach did not leave close proximity to the audience for one second.

We’d be remiss if the incredibly, wildly talented lead guitar fireworks of relative newcomer Brandon Ellis wasn’t highlighted. As the younger lad in the bunch, in no way shape or form were his incendiary, Eddie Van Halen levels of solo fervour reduced by the fact. Fingers sweeping across scales and arpeggios almost faster than the eyes or ears could register, the next-level virtuosity and talent on display mingled with Strnad’s conductor-like motioning to bring the set to an almost theatrical level. It was like witnessing a death metal opera.

This isn’t to discount the absolute hammer-fisted relentless pounding and groove of bassist Max Lavelle and man-machine Alan Cassidy respectively. In fact, there were plenty of number of bass runs, drum fills, blasts and solos amongst their relentless riff-walls, a solid dance between the guitarists’ playful leads and mosh-worthy breakdowns. From the crowd-rousing favourite Statutory Ape (with hilarious monkey sound effects and band members flexing), through material sourced from ‘Nightbringers’, ‘Ritual’, ‘Miasma’ and the undeniable classic ‘Nocturnal’, not a song or moment went unappreciated by the whooping audience. Mix this with the grins, shout-outs, dry humour, ironic Shakira-esque dancing and all-Australian cussing (you guess the words), you’ve got yourself one complete death metal entertainment package. Almost feels like you should’ve bought a VIP.

After the climactic crescendo of melodic closer I Will Return, there was feeling of warmth and unity woven between band and audience. Whether those of us who chose to hang to see the band or leave sporting ear-to-ear grins, one thing was in silent agreement between us – The Black Dahlia Murder are just about the most fun you can possible have with live extreme metal.

Tickets can be purchased here.

The Black Dahlia Murder tour poster

The Black Dahlia Murder