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Not unlike humanity’s own death march towards an ever-closing, self-made Apocalypse, Thy Art Is Murder’s fourth LP, ‘Dear Desolation‘, is nearly upon us all. The Australian band’s much anticipated new album – their first release since vocalist CJ McMahon exited the band in late 2015, only to replace himself at this year’s Unify – is while a rather solid release, one that I would call a “victory lap album”. I mean, Thy Art Is Murder wrote a Thy Art Is Murder record? Fuckin’ shocker!
See, in the hierarchy of Australian deathcore and extreme metal, Thy Art sit atop the very summit and on the international scene, they’re easily one of the genre’s most beloved acts. As I shouldn’t have to inform you, the band arrived at such a high position because of the sounds of 2012’s ‘Hate‘ and 2015’s ‘Holy War‘ and the vast successes those two records bequeathed upon them. I know it, fans know it, the band know it, you reading most likely know it, and even their detractors damn well know it too. Which I think then begs the question: “Why on their fourth record, or on any other release that will follow it, would Thy Art Is Murder bother to change up their sound after such success and acclaim?” Exactly – they wouldn’t. After the year and a half they’ve had, they wouldn’t want to change and would instead wish to continue on their victory lap sound, as it sells well and is mostly critically well received too.
While I don’t begrudge them for such a business move nor their capitalistic endeavours, to say that Thy Art Is Murder understand their deeply entrenched musical formula in and out would be a gross understatement. Which would also explain why ‘Dear Desolation’, despite supposedly being their most internally collaborative effort, is as Thy Art Is Murder as Thy Art could ever hope to be and sound nowadays. And that’s both a good and a bad thing; something I feel that’s not quite worthy of the staggering praise that’s been lavished upon this album so far.
As I have no doubt that you’ve already read and will come to read many other reviews of ‘Dear Desolation’, all mentioning how Thy Art have shifted into an old-school death metal territory (a notion that the band is pushing a lot); how they’ve now taken more cues from bands like At The Gates, Decapitated, and Behemoth; how each member kills it in their respective instrumental roles; how the bands sense of dynamic and atmospherics is perfect for the tone of this record; how they’ve never ever sounded this heavy, dark, on-point, or whatever. I find there’s always at least some objective truth in people’s gushing praise – my own definitely included – and such comments do ring somewhat true with the band’s latest release. It is these points that many of my contemporaries have made that I’ll now counter to flesh out this review and my own thoughts regarding it. (Because god know that you all totally needed more of that in your lives*).
First off, yes, this record does skirt into a more traditional death metal realms at times, whether it be for McMahon’s brutal vocal delivery, Andy Marsh’s and Sean Delander’s riff output, the misanthropic yet rather cheesy Satanic-ish lyrics, or the bleak tone that’s seeped into the very pores of these ten new compositions. While I can understand what others are getting at with this death metal likening, I honestly feel that’s just splitting hairs about two very similar sub-genres of metal. Because whether they like it or not, this is still a deathcore release at the end of the day; one that meets each of its guitar chugs, breakdowns and blast beat quotas very early on to satiate the pit lords out there. After all, Thy Art donning a couple death metal robes to add to their deathcore-heavy wardrobe for their fourth outing isn’t really something to lose one’s utter shit over I feel.
As for the five men behind the music, Marsh and Delander are at their usual seven-string tricks. Except now working away amongst their mentally heavy riffs and bass-heavy carnage are deepened layers of richer melodic leads and more present octave chords. Those without short term memory spans will know that the band’s past two records showed small hints of such an approach to their guitar work (‘Infinite Forms‘, ‘Shadow of Eternal Sin‘, ‘Absolute Genocide‘ and ‘Emptiness‘, for instance). And it was the terrific 2016 single, ‘They Will Know Another‘ as well as this year’s rather safe cut, ‘No Absolution‘, that both acted as precursors to the eerie background atmospherics you’ll hear throughout ‘Dear Desolation‘. While I do agree that such small inclusions to the band’s wall-of-sound sonic fits nicely within this record’s depressive, end-of-days tone, it’s nothing exclusively new for Thy Art nor that of their many, many peers. (Case in point, Fit For An Autopsy’s ‘The Great Collapse‘, which really showed what you can do with deathcore to make it more musically and melodically interesting). Therefore, it’s not overly praiseworthy. That being said, the guitar solo on ‘Into Chaos We Climb‘ and that ominous lead work on ‘Death Dealer‘ are arguably the most restrained elements of this record – including the sluggish start of ‘Fire In The Sky‘ and the spacious opening seconds of ‘Into Chaos We Climb‘ – and that’s all for the better, admittedly. As such moments do help take the sheer unrelenting edge off and help give listeners a little breathing space. But by and large, the dynamic of this record is still that of brutal, pounding extreme metal, not unlike like their past efforts.
Regarding the rhythm section, the bass playing of Kevin Butler, while not that complex or attention grabbing, is ludicrously heavy (see the massive low-end blowouts on ‘Son Of Misery‘, ‘Fire In The Sky‘, the title track, and ‘Death Dealer‘ as references). Likewise, drummer Lee Stanton continues to be one of modern metal’s tightest and best drummers. While no doubt giving damned solid performances every step of the way, it’s nothing that new for Stanton’s playing either, what with his usual approach to bouncy grooves, sharp fills, and double-kick-blasting snare-smashing ride bell cracking combos all being much the same as they were on previous releases. Finally, as for the wolf himself, McMahon’s vocals are as unmistakable, as imposing and as commanding as ever here – something that is also undeniable when seeing this band play live. It’s safe to say to that without CJ fronting the group, Thy Art’s music just wouldn’t be as effective, so the absolute worst I can say about him is that he sounds like his old self. Almost like he never even left the band.
Stemming from CJ’s vocals and the lyrics penned by Marsh, not unlike this album’s 2015 predecessor, ‘Dear Desolation’ is definitely a lot more serious than ‘Hate’ and their two earlier (read: shittier) releases ever dreamed of being. As this is Thy Art Is Murder we’re talking about, their hopeless, defeatist, anti-theistic and doomsday-scenario lyrics and themes of the failing human condition are all present and accounted for. Which, are all just par for the course when it comes to such styles of metal, really. Even so, this is the band’s most serious, most “mature” record lyrically speaking. Well, even with that cringy shout of “Go!” that jump starts ‘Slaves Beyond Death’ or ‘Into Chaos We Climb‘ cancelling itself out with the truly harrowing cry of “The God of your house is not the God that bleeds” getting undermined by the super cheesy black metal lyric, of “The word of the Anti-Christ is forever“. That’s just so “metal” that it physically hurts and not even CJ’s stellar vocal delivery could make it any better.
Of course, one element to Thy Art’s effective song structures is ensuring that there are some wicked pit-calls to be had in as many songs as possible. Here’s that basically every single song bar two. As such, the key ones you’ll hear are the legitimately awesome “Kill in the name of your tyrant” (‘Death Dealer‘), the so-so “No sense in pretending/We deserve a fucking happy ending” (‘Dear Desolation‘) and the merely okay “Think for your fucking selves” (‘Puppet Master‘). Sure, none of these will top the classic line that defines ‘Reign Of Darkness‘ or that absolute wicked call of “Bow to your empty god!” in ‘Deliver Us To Evil‘ (which is one of my all-time favourite Thy Art songs, as a matter of fact).
As for this apparently being the band’s heaviest record to date, no, I don’t think that it’s actually the case – their “trilogy” of albums are all equally heavy I’d argue. Though, I can see how many would think such upon first entering through the depressive gates of ‘Dear Desolation‘.
Another point I mentioned in what probably feels like aeons ago at this review’s early moments was how this new release has been regarded as the band’s most consistent record in their whole career. Which is a statement that I just do not buy, personally, mainly because this record sounds so eerily similar to its two predecessors. Sure, it all flows well enough from track to track but what I’m hearing is just so much of the same. Besides, I already have twenty other songs in my iTunes library that could be easily switched out for the material on ‘Dear Desolation‘. Another reason why the consistency argument falls apart for me is that the suitably titled album closer, ‘The Final Curtain‘, just doesn’t carry the full weight that’s needed for the finale of such a record. And to be fair, neither did ‘Doomed From Birth‘ and ‘Naked And Cold‘ before it on their respective releases. ‘The Final Curtain‘ is the weakest of the ten by far, especially as it builds and crescendo’s towards what feels like a final coup de grâce… it just abruptly ends. In the kind of fashion that screams out for more to have followed it.
For all of my mild but never game-breaking gripes with this album, one thing I do absolutely love about ‘Dear Desolation‘ is its production and mix. Holy fucking shit has Will Putney out done himself here! Putney – who may as well be the band’s sixth member at this point – has truly hit a near-perfect sonic balance of skull-crushing sub frequencies, tight low-end, well-rounded mids, and smooth highs that give Thy Art their cleanest, clearest yet crispiest and tightest production job yet, giving every inch of the band’s sound real space and love.
Despite the band’s producer delivering some of his finest engineering work, every single time that I listen to this record, I just never come to view it as the savage and intimidating wolf depicted on the front cover. Which if I might add, is the singular best piece of artwork they’ve ever had – nice work, Eliran Kantor – and one that’s neither incessantly silly or controversially edgy. Now, please don’t misunderstand or misquote me there: Thy Art definitely haven’t gone soft on us nor are they akin to the meek little white lamb that stands beneath the mighty wolf on this record’s cover, either. I just feel like I’ve heard ‘Dear Desolation‘ twice before in Thy Art’s discography – and many other times from their mates – and that’s greatly lessened this record’s overall impact upon my heart and ears.
Finally – yes, rejoice, the end has finally fucking arrived – for my review of In Hearts Wake’s ‘Ark’, I mentioned the “three-album rule”, where in which a band sees greatly diminishing returns when they’ve pushed out criminally similar and highly repetitive albums three times in a row.Which is about the time in which you give up on the band as they’ve proven to be a one-trick pony. However, while not as egregious than In Hearts Wake’s latest Captain Planet metalcore saga and while not at their fourth record just yet, if ‘Hate‘/’Holy War‘/’Dear Desolation‘ is the one and only sound that Thy Art can offer from here on in, then their next record is going to leave me sorely wanting; checking out much sooner than I’d have ever hoped, sadly.
Breaking away from our country’s biggest heavy musical export that isn’t Parkway Drive or The Amity Affliction, Australia has had a shit week or so, haven’t we? First, we had the absolute bullshit news that our government will be holding a nonbinding, non-compulsory gay marriage postal vote – essentially wasting over $100 million dollars in the possibly fruitless process. Which, surprise surprise, had a scary number of straight people sounding off online about how “the gays” (as the dullards out there unironically label them) have civil unions, supposedly de facto relationship statuses, the tired spill about Australia’s “Christain values”, and a few other threadbare nonsense regarding their opposition to gay marriage. I mean, Jesus Christ people, can we just shit and get off the pot and pass this one, already, please!?
Oh god, and then there was the recent outrage about the Yarra City Council in Melbourne no longer going to refer to January 26th as Australia Day, planning to host a local Indigenous event for its Citizenship Ceremonies instead. (The Council holds six of these a year, too). Which, of course, spurned the usual stream of “I’m not racist but” remarks from white people in comment sections all over social media. Like, really, how does that actually affect anyone other than one’s own personal politics that they rarely, if ever shift or adapt on? And as far as I can tell, it’s still going to be a public holiday for everyone (or at least, another nearby date will be applied for the Yarra area). In which case, you’ll still get your penalty rates if you work that day and all are still welcome to get shit-faced at a local family BBQ as they wrap an Australian flag around themselves like complete and utter wankers.
Anywho! ‘Dear Desolation’ isn’t a bad record at all – indeed solid, but nothing exceedingly special for the band or their genre. Check it out if you somehow haven’t fully tired of Thy Art Is Murder’s rigid, embedded musical formula.
1. Slaves Beyond Death
2. The Son Of Misery
3. Puppet Master
4. Dear Desolation
5. Death Dealer
6. Man Is The Enemy
7. The Skin Of The Serpent
8. Fire In The Sky
9. Into Chaos We Climb
10. The Final Curtain
‘Dear Desolation’ is out really bloody soon – this Friday, August 18th – via Human Warfare.
*That was sarcasm, chill. Thanks.