A heavy snow is blanketing the Black Dahlia Murder's home state of Michigan, but lead vocalist Trevor Strnad is wearing shorts. Fortunately for him, he's in Tampa, Florida, where it's a balmy 78 degrees. "I'm loving it," he says by cell phone, "because it's been a frozen-ass tour so far."

Still, though—shorts? Not exactly a foreboding image of the heavyweight who bellows "Suffocate them/Rip them/Rape them/Make them fucking scream," over Carcass-influenced tumult on his band's latest CD, Nocturnal. The barrel-chested frontman's wardrobe exemplifies a shift in heavy-metal thinking. Today's metalheads are wiping off corpse paint and shedding their shirts en masse. For Strnad, showing some skin is part of bonding with the audience, Beth Ditto-style.

With Nocturnal, the band broods, grunts, and chugs on the slightly melodic tip of American death metal, dropping guitar solos in the gaps left by the demise of metalcore, a breakdown-drowned scene from which the Black Dahlia Murder emerged in 2001. To complement their refinement, they hired Swedish extreme-metal artist Kristian Wåhlin to paint a sinister, black-and-blue album cover. "We just wanted it to scream, 'Here is death metal,'" the singer explains. While accurate to Wåhlin's gargoyle-gothic art from the mid-'90s, the punishingly blunt undercurrent of Nocturnal doesn't flow with Strnad's easygoing nature.

So instead of attempting "brutality" with superhuman-striving live sets, the Black Dahlia Murder can be seen on YouTube letting loose with crowds and chasing their mascot—a man dressed in an ape costume. During last September's show in Portland, they held a hot-dog eating contest to the tune of "I Worship Only What You Bleed." The winning contestant had two choices: $75 in merchandise or "the mystery box." Strnad says the winner took the credit. Strnad says the box only contained more hot dogs. "He was a smart man," the singer chuckles, sounding a little evil after all.