Black Dahlia Murder's Brian Eschbach: 'Back Then We Didn't Know Sh-t'
The melodic death metal act's axeman chatted with UG about writing the music, working with different band lineups and, of course, "Everblack."
Posted on Jul 19, 2013 07:54 am
Brian Eschbach answers the phone like some crazed radio deejay on speed. He's all hyper and loud and full of energy - not unlike the kind of music he makes with Black Dahlia Murder. The band has brought that brutality and mayhem to a new level on "Everblack," their sixth album and their fourth with producer Jason Suecof. On "Ritual," their previous release, the Michigan-based five piece brought their unique take on melodic death metal to a new level and new fans. They've upped the ante on "Everblack" with bone-breaking guitar riffs from Eschbach and Ryan Knight and runaway rhythms from the newest members - drummer Alan Cassidy and bassist Max Lavelle.
As we get our hellos out of the way, I thank Brian for taking the time to do the interview. He responds with, "No problem, man. Gotta spread that word."
And in the following conversation he does just that.
UG: Trevor said he wanted to make an album rooted in classic death metal but wanted it to sound new. Is that what they were going for on the "Everblack" record?BE: Oh yeah, we're very happy with how the record came out and how it's been received by the fans. That's always the conscious goal whenever we're writing music - to keep those fundamental ideas for the good stuff and write your own jams.
What are those fundamental good ideas that fans expect from the band?
Uhh, that's a great question. I'm not sure. I know they expect us not to suck and not to dabble in the dub step no matter how much I might be interested.
No, I'm f--kin' with you. Sorry, dude.
If you pushed things too far musically would fans think that sucked?
I think the line is internally and it's part of us. It's like we're robots and you're programmed not to kill the humans. It's just part of the programming. I'm not sure where the line is but we know what sucks and were gonna try not to do any of that.
Whenever you're writin' music, you'll walk down a couple avenues just to see where it goes and say yourself, "I probably shouldn't do that."
"Ritual" was a really successful album for the band. How did that impact you going into record "Everblack?"
We're always trying to keep the momentum going. For me, I don't really personally think about it like we've gotta top this thing that seemed to do really well. Getting back to not writing crappy music is a pretty important part. As long as we do that the record won't suck. I don't think about it as trying to outdo or expand upon something that's already happened.
Are there ideas you come up with that do suck?
Always. Whenever you're writin' music, you'll walk down a couple avenues just to see where it goes and say to yourself when you're done, "Nah, I probably shouldn't do that." Or talk about it or rearrange stuff.
Trevor also mentioned that Everblack was the most "melodic and digestible" record the band has ever recorded. Do you agree with that?
Yeah sure, but I think there's more people are finding out about death metal in general every day. There's all of these bands explodin' out of everywhere. So I think that kind of general consciousness to it certainly is a good thing for us to hop on the train with.
Who would you name as some of the other interesting death metal bands on this train?
Umm, yeah, I mean I can't wait for a new Fleshgod Apocalypse record and hear all that crazy f--kin' super fast shit. There's tons of f--kin' bands out there. It's hard to keep up.
If there's not a bunch of harmonized stuff and it's just slamming at you the whole time you don't need multiple guitars going on in there.
You've talked about Ryan Knight's contributions to the new album - what is that like working alongside him as a rhythm guitar player?
Me and him pretty much work autonomously from each other when it comes to writing until a certain point. He'll hash out pretty much a whole song and I do the same. But the fun part is getting to that point where we're like, "Alright, we're gonna do this. There's a solo here and what kind of chords do we want to use? What's the foundation gonna be and what is he then gonna do with it with his knowledge of jazz tones and key changes and all that fun sh-t?"You are trying to make those solo sections more musical than just one chord plodding along?
I think with our previous guitar that was on the first LPs (John Kempainen), a bit of his style got a little monotonous. It felt like he was almost doing the same thing all the time. So to go from that to working with an almost virtuoso like f--kin' Ryan Knight is mindblowing.
Did you think that the two-guitar lineup is the ideal situation for a band?
It depends on the band I guess. I mean I think it's totally necessarily for contemporary death metal but it also depends on what kind of riffs are being written. If there's not a bunch of harmonized stuff and it's just slamming at you the whole time and you don't want to have multiple guitars going on in there you don't need 'em. I mean for what we're doin', two guitars is the way to go. That way I also don't ever have to learn how to solo.
Too much work? Have you ever done a solo on record?
Uhh, not that we could speak of seriously, no.
What has it been like recording with the new rhythm section of drummer Alan Cassidy and bassist Max Lavelle for the first time on the "Everblack" album?Max has been around for a year-and-a-half now in the band. Alan's our fresh new drummer.
Me and Ryan Knight pretty much work autonomously from each other. He'll hash out pretty much a whole song and I do the same.
What does Alan Cassidy bring to the band that's different than what Shannon Lucas brought?
His youth and enthusiasm is undeniable. He's got crazy a-s abilities and he's really easy to work with and he's funny. I like him.
You're working once again with producer (Jason Suecof (Trivium, Firewind). Why did you bring him back for the "Everblack" album?
Umm, he knows how to get those tones right. He's very familiar with this genre of music and it's just easy to work with him.
"Everblack" was released almost 10 years to the day after "Unhallowed." Did you have any idea this is where you'd be a decade later?
No, no. I didn't ever have big thoughts in my head. I don't plan in 10 years to have us get a cool lighting rig that has lasers. We just keep on doing what we're doing and at same point it's 10 years later and you're like, "Sh---t."Singer Trevor Strnad describes Black Dahlia Murder as a melodic death metal band. How would you define melodic death metal?
Well I mean it's right there - the name's in the pudding and the pudding is in the name. It's got that melody and it's got a lot of melody. Whereas if you look at something like Suffocation per se, they've got some melody here and there but it's more of a rhythmic thing. It's about going to the Renaissance Festival quickly.
I'm sorry - what's that?
It's about going to the Renaissance Festival quickly.
Does death metal stylistically mean songs are being played at faster rhythms?
Not always. There's some slow cookers; some slow and heavy stuff. But typically it's raging pretty quickly.
"In Hell Where She Waits for Me" opens with a very dark and dreary kind of cut time section that sets up the rest of the song. How would a section like that get written?
Like I said before we pretty much write songs on our own and then show them to each other. If there's any ideas here and there, we'll do tweaks.
[Alan Cassidy]'s got crazy a-s abilities and he's really easy to work with and he's funny. I like him.
Who brought in that initial idea?
For the what? The first song? That would have been me.
In "Into the Everblack," there's a cool section that comes in around 1:47 where the track breaks down and opens up musicially. How does that happen?
What you're describing is way more of a conscious process than what actually happens. It's a whole lot of pacing and deciding what riffs flow together. When you have enough go into the computer and start programming some drums and lay down all the parts.
The guitars on "Raped in Hatred by Vines of Thorn" sound fairly complex. How do you and Ryan Knight record your guitars?
That's a song that he wrote.
So Ryan is playing all the guitars?
No, no, but he wrote the song and all the music for it.
I understand. Does he show you all the guitar parts?
Yeah, we share tabs. Like guitar tablature where all the notes are written out.
He gives you a tab chart rather than showing you the parts?
We just give each other demos and some music written out and have at it.
Are some songs more difficult than others?
Of course. It depends mostly on how long the song's been written and how long you've been working on it.
"Map of Scars" has some keyboards playing voices on the intro?
I believe they're electronic voices from digital people.
Keyboards have never really played much of part in the band's sound.
No one played the keyboard but yeah, it is a programmed MIDI. We dabbled in crap for parts here and there before.
Would you mind taking a quick run through your earlier records?
Uh, not at all.
I didn't ever have big thoughts in my head. I don't plan in 10 years and at same point it's 10 years later and you're like, 'Sh---t.'
"What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse" was the first demo album you made back in 2001. What memories do you have about making it?
Oh god, you've heard this crap?
To be perfectly honest with you, I have not heard any of those songs in maybe six or seven years at least. We didn't even know what the hell we were doing when we made that. That's a bunch of songs after playing together for like one month.
Do you remember anything from the EP, "A Cold-Blooded Epitaph?"
I remember there's not many songs on it (there are four tracks)but the guys that were putting it out were fine with that. That's another step in recording again and doing it a little more professionally than the time before and knowing a little bit more about the experience and what it's gonna be.
"Unhallowed" was the first album on Metal Blade. Were you comfortable in the studio by this point?
It was the same thing going into "Unhallowed." I would regard those times as didn't really know too much about what was going on. That's what those records sound like to me. "Miasma" was the first time we were in the studio where we were working with this dude (Andreas Magnuson and Chris Dowhan co-produced the album) that was super on top of his shit and we learned a lot of stuff there. Ever since that experience it's been pretty much a regular process of going through the motions and knowing how to do this. Not even thinking about it too much. It's just, "Alright, it's time to do this. It's time to do the drums; it's time to do some vocals." But yeah, back then we didn't know sh-t.
You covered the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" on the "A Cold-Blooded Epitaph" EP. Were you a fan of the Stones?
I'm more of a Stones fan these days than I was then. But I think it was just about we liked the song and we were just f--kin' havin' fun.
Did you ever listen to any other English bands like the Who or Zeppelin?
The Who can work for me. There's a lot of early glam stuff out there that's cool but it's more in recent years I'm listening to classic rock of different varieties. Back then I was just listening to a bunch of metal and f--kin' metalcore and f--kin' punk. It was a narrow spectrum.
What was it like working with guitarist John Kempainen on all those early records?
Uh, it was fun. We knew each other since we were like 18 or whatever and he was a good friend at the time. The dude was a total nightmare to be in a band with. From his perspective you're talking about John Kempainen and the Black Dahlia Murders, the dude rips off our fans. Not a good guy.
We're very happy with how the record came out and how it's been received by the fans.
By the time you got to the Miasma album were you feeling more comfortable in the studio as a guitar player?
Uhh, I honestly don't remember.
You had a new rhythm section - bassist Bart Williams and drummer Shannon Lucas - in the band. What was it like recording the Nocturnal album with them?
Umm, annoying (laughs).
Why do you say that?
You just want me to talk dirt on dudes that used to play in the band.
I couldn't care less about the dirt. I'm just trying to find out about the band's music.
What'd they bring? Let's see. I mean Zach (Gibson, the drummer replaced by Lucas) was a more competent player than the first playing I guess you'd say.
"Deflorate" is the first album with Ryan Knight. Do you remember that?
Yeah, I mean that was when the stuff got nice and juicy. There was a lot of good lead shit happening then and that was an exciting time.
(At this point Eschbach is away from the phone and comes back and says he has to go to a signing).
What is the band doing now?
We're out on the Warped Tour sweating every day a lot. It's been very humid and Vegas was like 115 so that's a bit much.
Stay cool and play all the good notes.
Alright, I'm goin' for 'em.
Interview by Steven Rosen