Black Dahlia Murder
UC Theatre, Berkeley
November 30, 2018
Photos by Nicole Baptista.
Melodic death metal brethren of The Black Dahlia Murder descended upon Berkley’s UC Theatre — frontman Trevor Strnad threw up a sleeved arm, smirked at fans, and started screeching into his mic. An already amped up, sweaty crowd roared, a swirl of bodies furiously circled and swung and bounced from one shoulder to another.
People came out in droves to celebrate all things metal, enjoying six hours of music from an eclectic, jam-packed bill, which hosted the likes of TBDM, Pig Destroyer, Power Trip, Ghoul, and more. Nearly five hours after the show began, TBDM took the stage, bringing tight blast beats and some of the finest death metal you could ask for.
The Michigan-bred band formed in 2001 — their name is derived from the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short. Her death became infamous due to the brutality of her slaying. Her corpse was mutilated and bisected at the waist and was found in a Los Angeles park. Strnad is known for his dark storytelling and imagery, however his stage presence is quite lighthearted. There’s lots of talk of blood but he looks like one hell of a hugger.
“Death metal is for free thinkers,” Strnad wrote on TBDM website. “It’s for showing people the path to inner strength and operating on your own will, instead of being told what to do and living in fear.”
After dropping their eighth studio album Nightbringers last year, the band hit the road for a The Infinite Bringers of the Night Tour 2018 with some of Strnad’s favorite artists (including a slew of hand-picked underground bands). Awakening the crown with opening track “Widowmaker” (Nightbringers, 2017), Strnad punched the air, his vocals switching from deep gutturals to banshee-like screams. He has an amazing ability to hit the high notes, contrasting the eruption of noise behind him.
People’s eye dilated, their hair swung in circles, their necks jolted forward. Some moved to Alan Cassidy’s relentless drum work. Others spasmed along as Brian Eschback and Brandon Ellis shredded their guitars. Backed with green and yellow light, bassist Max Lavelle stood atop a speaker, and teased the crowd.
TBDM’s instrumentation is savage. They tapped into a lot of new material but also played fan favorites, including “Everything Went Black” and “What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse” (Everblack, 2003), “Statutory Ape” (Miasma, 2005), and “On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood” (Ritual, 2011). Nineteen songs later (and nearing 1 a.m.), TBDM closed the night with an oldie — “Funeral Thirst” (Unhallowed, 2003).
Power Trip, made up of five politically-charged anarchists, captured the rowdiest crowd of the night. Fans thrashed into each other as the pit slowly ate up the floor. Opening with “Manifest Decimation” (2013), frontman Riley Gale stomped along to the slow drum buildup. The band — an amalgamation of metal, punk, hardcore, and thrash — headbanged to the riffs as people started flipping over the front rails and crowd surfing.
“How many people here have ever heard of us before tonight?” Riley asked. Only about half the crowd raised their hand. “Fuck yeah!”
Power Trip advocates for the underdog. Their set is anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-sexism, and anti-racism. It says fuck you to nationalism and corporate America, stands up for marginalized people, and promotes free thought.
Their uncompromising egalitarian backbone is the driving force behind Gale’s lyrics and their fast, unforgiving, thrashy sound. It’s nearly impossible not to headbang along to the relentless riffs protruding from guitarists Blake Ibanez and Nick Stewart. With Chris Ulsh on drums and Chris Whetzel on bass, all five members draw from their unique and eclectic music tastes — from D.R.I. to Nuclear Assault, ZZ Top, Slayer, and, yep, even Al Green.
The energy never died. Gale jumped off speakers and dragged his mic stand across the stage, lifting it up and over the crowd, giving everyone an opportunity to chime in on the chaos. People unraveled for tracks like “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” and “Nightmare Logic.” They even closed their set with new track “The Hammer of Doubt” before saying goodnight to the wild crowd.
American grindcore band Pig Destroyer played the loudest set of the evening. Looking around the floor, fans jammed earplugs in and sat back to take it in. J.R. Hayes stalked the stage and screamed his guts out while Blake Harrison jumped back and forth from his monitor to center stage to revitalize the crowd.
Of the four opening acts (Ghoul, Khemmis, Gost, and Skeletal Remains), Ghoul took the cake. Much like their fun-loving shtick metal comrades GWAR, Ghoul brought horror and humor and put on one hell of a show, guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even your most boring friend.
Hailing from Oakland, the splatterthrash metal band’s identities are meant to be concealed (by bloody head sacks/masks). Members go by stage names Cremator, Fermentor, Digestor, and Dissector. By the second song, a giant goblin baby, wearing only a diaper, graced the stage. And then an evil Nazi. And then a giant, stomping beast. The crowd cheered with delight as band members stabbed and cut off the evil-doers limbs and fake red blood spurted into audience, spraying and staining the faces of all the diehards in the front row.
Debuting in 2002, Ghoul has released five studio albums and claim to be mutants that hail from Creepsylvania. Part grindcore, part thrash, with a touch of death metal vocals, Ghoul was one of the highlights of the night.
Denver band Khemmis (named after an ancient Egyptian city now known as Akhmim), also delivered a solid set. Formed in 2012, they played tracks from two of their albums — Hunted and Desolation. They’re undeniably influenced by doom and classic metal, though don’t seem to fit completely in either box. And openers Gost and Skeletal Remains kickstarted the metaltastic evening.
The Black Dahlia Murder
Setlist: Widowmaker / Of God and Serpent, of Spectre and Snake / Matriarch / Contagion / Nightbringers / Jars / Kings of the Nightworld / Miasma / Catacomb Hecatomb / As Good as Dead / The Lonely Deceased / Statutory Ape / On Stirring Seas of Salted Blood / Everything Went Black / What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse / Warborn / Deathmask Divine / Unhallowed / Funeral Thirst
Find out more about Black Dahlia Murder here.
Setlist: Manifest Decimation / Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) / Nightmare Logic / Firing Squad / Crucifixation / Hornet’s Nest / Heretic’s Fork / The Hammer of Doubt
Check out Power Trip on their Facebook page.
All the dirt on Pig Destroyer can be found here.
Check out Ghoul at Creepsylvania.
Learn all about Khemmis here.
Check out Skeletal Remains on their Facebook page.