The Up From The Sewer Tour Talks Wrapping Up In NYC

The year’s most extreme tour, Up From The Sewer 2021, is heading our way. We talked with 3/5 of the lineup, The Black Dahlia Murder, Rivers of Nihil, and Undeath, to discuss it.

Featuring music that demands mosh pits filled with sweaty, clashing limbs, all while the specter of COVID-19 lingers, one would not be faulted for believing the Up From The Sewer Tour would crash and burn. Yet, the most extreme metal tour since the start of the pandemic has been a major success.

Featuring The Black Dahlia Murder, After the Burial, Carnifex, Rivers of Nihil, and Undeath, the cross-country trek is now nearing its conclusion with two area appearances right in our area: Saturday, October 9 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey and the following day, October 10, at Irving Plaza in New York City.

The Successful Headlining of The Black Dahlia Murder

Whether audiences are amped to see such an ensemble of metallic brutality or about to burst through their skin to witness live music again is unknown, but The Black Dahlia Murder bassist Max Lavelle is not arguing, especially since it is his band’s first chance to perform songs off their latest, and possibly greatest, effort to date – 2020’s stellar Verminous.

The Black Dahlia Murder are headlining a very successful tour.

It’s been refreshing; a huge welcome back for us. A lot of the West Coast shows were sold out and people have been going crazy. It’s been an explosion.

The pandemic deprived audiences of live shows, especially extreme metal, even now, sadly, COVID has not disappeared.

We’ve all had to take a different approach to shows. Every city and county have had their own protocols, but all of the Live Nation [promoted] shows have been safe. They’re pulling credentials for proof of vaccination or negative tests and are even providing rapid tests at the venues. That’s great, because it’s providing people [without proof] the opportunity to come to the shows. Live Nation built an infrastructure quickly, because this business certainly suffered greatly.

Right, touring is vital to the survival of many bands.

It is for us. We’re just a big family out there doing what we do. We love to perform. We love to play our music. We love to see, and feed off of, frenzied audiences. It’s great to be able to share our art with everyone, especially face to face.

Verminous is The Black Dahlia Murder’s best effort to date. The band certainly took its time perfecting the record.

We stress out over each record. We want to put out the best music possible. First and foremost we asked ourselves, “Do we like it?” Everyone in this band is involved in each decision. We all have input. We’re all agreeable. We’re never at each other’s throats. It’s “Let’s work this out, let’s try this, or let’s try that.”

Is the creation process organic?

For the most part! We write music separately at our home studios and then send the work to each other. We work everything out and then we trade parts or whatever. We don’t get together as a band until we’re ready to record. We did that last record [2017’s] Nightbringers at [guitarist] Brandon Ellis’s home studio and that was just so amazing, so relaxing. It was the perfect environment to record a record. It was a great setup, so when it was time to record the new record, it was a no-brainer… and the results show.

Hearing Verminous’ songs live must be a thrill for both the band and the audience.

All of the bands on this tour have been itching to play their new stuff. Before we were going to start the Verminous touring cycle, we had had a lot of time off. We took a break and then started writing and recording the record.

Why did The Black Dahlia Murder feel the need to take a six-month break before working on the album?

We needed a breather and, from an industry standpoint, we didn’t want to oversaturate anything. If you do, it’s no longer a novelty [to come see us perform]. People will say, “Oh, they’ll be back next week. Why go see them this time?” You don’t want to eat hot dogs all of the time. If you do, you’ll eventually get sick of them.

Did this schedule get ruined by the pandemic?

We had to get creative. Before the shutdown, we were able to do a short tour of South Africa.

Was it the band’s first visit there?

Oh, sure. It was crazy. It was the most unique place I’ve ever been to and I have been all over. What was so surprising was how many fans we had there. We had an idea there was a demand, but we were unaware of just how big our following was. Not many bands go over there, because it’s a far trip and it’s expensive, but we were well-received. We did a lot of press over there. Our handlers also took us on a safari where we saw all sorts of animals up close that we’d never seen before. It felt like Jurassic Park. We rode around in a Jeep and we even got to pet a cheetah.

And then the global shutdown happened.

On our last day there, we heard about the global COVID lockdowns. As we were leaving, South Africa announced its lockdown, but we were able to get out of the country. Still, there was a chance we were going to get stuck in the Middle East. There were people who were displaced for months. It was scary, but we were lucky. Right when we got home, we were informed that our tour with Testament, our first US tour in support of Verminous, had been cancelled.

We were on the fence about what to do with the record. No one knew what to do, since we had other tours. We had a tour of European festivals planned. It was going to be a huge year-and-a-half for us.

Until it crashed to a halt?

It all got shelved. We had Zoom meetings to brainstorm about what to do next. We asked ourselves “How do we keep people interested?” That’s how we came up with the idea for our Christmas special (Yule ‘Em All: Holiday Variety Extravaganza). We released a number of streaming events and [singer] Trevor Strnad did a lot of press. We knew we had to stay in front of people, because we didn’t want to just fade away. During the shutdown it was easy to get stuck, start feeling depressed, and not want to do anything.

Then The Black Dahlia Murder were one of the first bands to headline an extreme metal tour after more than a year of nothing.

It was scary at first, because I had friends who were also excited to go out on tour, but their shows were cancelled. I don’t know, however, if it was the virus or poor ticket sales. It could have been red tape or a fear of what’s happening with the virus right now.

Hopefully the current COVID atmosphere will not be the new normal. Hopefully, at worse, it will become a new flu, requiring vaccinations and boosters, each year.

I could live that. I think the gauge right now is to see how the winter goes. If things taper off, I think we all will start to return to normal.

What does the band have planned after this tour is completed?

We plan on going to Holland in December for a big festival, but who knows what might happen?

Rivers of Nihil Bring Hits New & Old To Life

Rivers of Nihil guitarist Brody Uttley is overwhelmed by the response to the Up From The Sewer Tour. Although shows have been packed, he says, “Everyone has been courteous, keeping socially distant from one another,” and he means that for audiences as well as the bands and their crews.

 “There has been a degree of professionalism on this tour that I’ve never experienced before. Everyone has been great with one another and if there has been any partying at all on this tour, it certainly has not gotten out of hand.”

Uttley has another reason to be in a positive mood. His band has just released a masterpiece, The Work. A contender for Metal Album of the Year, it ebbs and flows like a concept record, though, as the guitarist explains, it’s not. “[Lyricist/bassist] Adam Biggs is responsible for the record’s sequencing. All credit for how the songs fit together goes to him.”

The guitarist has described the album as a “sound world” and he’s not wrong. With tracks described as both “gorgeous” and “heavy,” The Work is arguably the most emotionally diverse and charged metal record since Opeth’s Blackwater Park (2001). Perhaps Death Metal’s first “headphones record,” it demands listeners experience it in its entirety in a darkened room. Ironically, the first track Uttley composed for the record was track nine, “Episode,” which he began working on in 2018.

“I started while we were on tour supporting Where Owls Know My Name (2018),” he says. “The first song I composed for the last album was ‘Death is Real,’ track eight. I guess I’m sensing a trend here.”

With limited time on stage and the album having been released toward the end of tour, the band are only performing a few of The Work‘s tracks – but, as predicted, they are going over well with audiences.

Uttley smiles. “People have told me they can’t wait to hear the songs within the context of the entire record.”

The guitarist is open to performing The Work in its entirety at some point. For now, however, after celebrating the conclusion of a successful tour, it’ll be time for Rivers of Nihil to experience how the metal world reacts to the band’s truly landmark release.

Undeath Set the Stage

Undeath guitarist Kyle Beam was, at first, shocked by the early arriving crowds who turned up to experience his band’s opening set.

“The venues have been super cool about getting people in to see us,” he says. “And people have been turning up to see us. We’re not nobodies, but this tour is huge. It’s six-hours long and we go on at 7:00p.m. sharp each night.

Before the tour, the band had just played a handful of shows and did not properly tour in support of their acclaimed 2020 debut, Lesions of a Different Kind.

“We are relatively new, though the pandemic added a year to our existence,” he continues. “Thankfully, this [cross-country] tour has afforded us the chance to more than double the number of shows we’ve played…. And things have been run so professionally.”

As the show openers, Undeath has the grueling task of being their own road crew, loading in their equipment each noon and not being able to load out of venues and drive to the next town until after 1:00a.m. each night. The guitarist has been taking it all in stride, though. “It has been all go, go, go,” he says, “But we’ve been fortunate. There have been great, helpful stage hands at each venue.”

Still, the band hopes to eventually build a following strong enough to hire a crew.

“That would be surreal,” he laughs. “But it’s also good for me. I was lazy during the shutdown and put on weight. During this tour, however, I’ve gotten back in shape.”

Beam is grateful for the opportunity to open shows on the impressive tour this early on in his career, though it helps when the headline band’s lead singer appears on your debut album’s title track.

“[The Black Dahlia Murder’s] Trevor Strnad supports the death metal underground,” explains the guitarist. “During one of our early performances at the Brooklyn Bazaar, he was one of about 20 people who turned up. That’s where we met him. Later, while recording our debut, we thought about this part on the title track, which is sort of a call and response. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a guest vocalist. We contacted him first and he said, ‘I’ll absolute do it and I’ll arrange studio time.’”

The band had planned to release the follow-up to their debut, but as Beam explains, “Thanks to COVID and [extenuating circumstances] at vinyl-pressing plants, those plans were scrapped.”

The guitarist is also looking forward to the tours stop at New York City’s Irving Plaza, the closet they will have on this trek to a homecoming. “It’ll be great to be back in the Empire State.”