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I’m going to get this out of the way first: the best thing about ‘Human Target‘ is CJ McMahon’s vocal delivery. Hands fuckin’ down, this the best he has ever sounded on the mic since ‘They Will Know Another.’ (Easily one of the band’s finest songs.) He’s maintained all of his solid mid-range and mighty projection, but now the pronunciation is better. While I did ask for the lyric sheet off their publicist after being sent this record in early July, I could’ve gotten away with not needing it, as CJ is so well enunciated. Not only that, his technique is in stellar form too. The way he barks “monitor resistance, swallow existence” on ‘Voyeurs Into Death‘ is HUGE; how he elongates certain words during the title track is so well-controlled and menacing; the towering scope of his screams on ‘Atonement‘ and ‘Eternal Suffering‘ is impressive; the higher-screams he nails during ‘New Gods‘ could strip walls utterly bare; and those wicked double-tracked screams on ‘Welcome Oblivion‘ are so sick. It’s clear to me that he’s been really working on his voice for this record, and the results speak for themselves: CJ’s vocals have been further honed, they’re clearer, they convey more emotion, and they’ve grown since their last record.
Which is something that you couldn’t really say for literally anything else that’s gone into ‘Human Target.’ For excluding CJ’s vocal prowess, the only thing that’s genuinely changed with Thy Art Is Murder over the the last couple years is that they’re a little more death metal than deathcore nowadays; that they’re songs are faster in tempo. That’s pretty much it. Which leaves album number five in that weird, indifferent middle-ground. To be fair, ‘Human Target‘ does have it’s moments, like the decent standouts of riffy, tremolo-heavy ‘Eternal Suffering‘, the seemingly more introspective and gloomy Atonement‘, and grim album closer ‘Chemical Christ.’ (Even if that final song does end on a goddamn fade-out.) Yet for the each okay track to be had, there’s so many lacklustre numbers too. Because ‘Human Target‘ isn’t a bad Thy Art Is Murder album, it’s just not a very good record for Thy Art either.
Sadly, Thy Art Is Murder have become stagnant with what is their most mediocre record yet. Trust me, there’s far worse releases in 2019 from the metal world to endure, but it’s a little heart-breaking to hear such a talented band like them almost refusing to grow in any significant way and retreading the old worn ground of their past. But Thy Art Is Murder aren’t idiots. They know that this new record isn’t anything different than their previous efforts: they’re just playing it safe, in many ways. However, at this stage, something in the song-writing approach really needs to give, something sorely needs to change, as there’s no way that attempting the same chug-blast-breakdown formula for a fifth time for the eventual following record in a year or two’s time will work even remotely well. Although, I also confidently expect that most Thy Art fans will not give the slightest ounce of a shit if this new album – or any other future releases – all sound the exact same. (Hey, if they like it, more power to ’em.)
Thy Art Is Murder made the rather cheesy line of “you will see the true face of panic” into one of the biggest, deadliest battle cries in all of modern deathcore. Ever since ‘Reign Of Darkness‘ took off, I’ve always felt that the band have tried to recapture that same feeling; to make lighting strike twice with similar song structures. But it’s never paid off for them as well post-‘Holy War.’ Here, that results in amusing moments, like during the unintentionally funny titular “21st CENTURY DEATH SQUAD ANTHEM” lyric on ‘Death Squad Anthem‘, or the titular but weak war-cry in ‘Make America Hate Again‘ that sounds more juvenile than anything. Thy Art’s music should make me pumped up, it should make me headbang, it should satisfy, but it shouldn’t even make me genuinely laugh out loud at it. Which this does, and that’s a shame.
To split some hairs a little about what further additions have gone into this new record, guitarists Andy Marsh and Sean Delander – who are two very talented players – are throwing in a few more dissonant, panicked chords at times. Much like 2017’s ‘Dear Desolation‘ LP, they’ve aimed for a similar level of atmosphere in the general feel and tone of these songs, but are lacking some guitar solo output – I noticed only one and that’s during the eponymous song. While none of that’s the end of the world, it does result in ‘Human Target‘ being extremely familiar in sound and approach to its predecessor, but without any of the same pay-off that ‘Hate‘ and ‘Holy War‘ had. The intro of ‘Eye For An Eye‘, with it’s short build-up and darker, more spacious guitars, does show some promise at first before it just becomes any another blast-a-thon Thy Art track. In fact, the record grows slightly more melodic and atmospheric in the guitar department as it reaches its end point, like the arpeggios that start ‘Atonement‘ or the melodic lead heard on ‘Chemical Christ‘. Yet these things do very little to aid the record overall. It’s just never enough to make a real difference.
Also, my god, the breakdowns here are all the same. Not as in the breakdowns on this record are the same as each other, but as in the same style as their previous records. There’s just nothing surprising here; there’s nothing that leaps out to truly wow you. More than that, did you know that long-time drummer Lee Stanton is now out of Thy Art Is Murder? He’s since been replaced by Jesse Beahler, of Black Crown Initiate, who filled in for the band during their support run under Parkway Drive and Killswitch Engage in December 2018 and who did a killer job live. Yet that’s the thing: you can’t tell it’s a new drummer behind the kit because everything about the band’s process is to service the same vision as their other records. And that’s wearing quite thin now. Seriously, the band is just self-plagiarising themselves. This album’s title track is just a weaker twin of ‘Slaves Beyond Death‘ with few differences; ‘Death Squad Anthem‘ is like a lesser alternate version of the title track from ‘Dear Desolation‘; and ‘Make America Hate Again‘ is just ‘Puppet Master.’ This whole album is basically “Dear Desolation 2: Electric Boogaloo”, or to step back even further, it’s just “Hate: Part IV”, only much less impressive and played at a faster tempo.
One particular ‘Human Target‘ track that caused a bit of a stir online before it was actually released was ‘Make America Hate Again.’ I’ve seen many IQ-draining threads on social media about it simply due to the title alone. All from people who hadn’t heard the song at that point in time. So, if were one of those individuals who posted cringe-worthy comments like “HOW WILL DRUMPF RECOVER NOW?”, please go and actually listen to the track and note that it’s trying to be an indictment of both major political parties in the U.S., the circus of that country’s election process, and the whole sham of it all, whilst piggy backing off of a well-known slogan. Even if said song feels like it’s a couple years too late, doesn’t go far enough lyrically speaking, and reeks of TAIM not wanting to get their hands dirty in any actual political discussion. (Also, while I would much prefer the band to tackle more relevant Australian issues, this more American-focused song isn’t coming out of nowhere: Andy frequently travels between Australia and America for not just tours, but for work and family matters as well.) But what about the song itself, musically? Well, it’s not necessarily bad, but that’s all this record ever is: never terrible, but never great either.
Which all brings me to another point: the lyrical content. The two core members of Thy Art Is Murder, CJ and Andy (who is the band’s primary song-writer alongside Sean, lyricist and manager), are both fathers with their own families, and I’d love to hear something much more personal from the pair. It’s why ‘They Will Know Another‘ hasn’t been topped by the band since it dropped in 2015: it’s a bleak expression of the dread felt in not having to watch your children suffer in a grim future, but the rest of the planet too. (Why they never play that song live, I shall never know.) It hits a great point on both a micro and macro level, yet that’s never really the case here. As ‘Human Target‘ is so obsessed with telling you that the cancerous nature and creations of human kind has left us destined for a cold grave, one that our species is currently digging with reckless abandon. Sometimes it’s technology and the digital world, other times its about religion or politics, or even climate change and war – it all leads to the same hopeless conclusion: man is expendable. While definitely not an incorrect take, these are general sentiments that have been expressed by the band for literal years now. And I’m personally so burnt out on it, honestly.
Having personally spoken with CJ and Andy in the past for interviews and such, they’re thoughtful and well-spoken guys. And I’d really love to see them dig deeper into their own lives and how that can be shared via Thy Art’s music. That’s not to say it would be easy or simple, but it would be a fresh take for the band in some form, and that’s desperately needed now. Occasionally, though, this tried-and-true lyrical theme works here, like on ‘Chemical Christ‘: likening heavy drug addiction to that of unquestioning religious zealousness, and how both are immensely self-destruction; on both an individual and a much larger scale. Truly, the only track that gives us a glimpse of something more personal is ‘Atonement‘, where in a harrowing manner, sees CJ declare “I don’t know who I am anymore“, touching upon more relatable ideas of numbness, inner demons, and losing sight of who you are. Something that could’ve gone much further on the record as a whole.
Just like the cog-machinery depicted on the cover, ‘Human Target’ is just another cog in this bands machine; just another record to keep the wheels of Thy Art Is Murder turning. As this is basically home-branded ‘Hate’ or a far lesser ‘Dear Desolation’; an album that would’ve made for a solid 4-5 song EP if it was cut down; an album where the band sounds like they’re flying on auto-pilot. I honestly don’t see myself ever returning to ‘Human Target’ after this review. And believe me, it brings me no joy to say that about a band I love. Very few will talk about this release with the same love and reverence that people still talk about ‘Hate’ with nowadays, and with good reason. I also wouldn’t be comparing their fifth album to their second if the band’s music had actually progressed forward notably since 2012. Yet what’s sad here is that Thy Art Is Murder not only can do better than this, considering how talented they are, they also absolutely do have another ‘Hate’ or ‘Holy War’ in their creative bones. And I don’t mean in terms of those exact sounds, but in terms of that sense of power, that memorable quality, and that level of impact. Yes, Thy Art Is Murder may have a shiny new calibrated scope equipped with ‘Human Target’, but they’re mostly shooting blanks here. At best, ‘Human Target’ is average. At worst, it’s fucking boring. Hopefully, Thy Art really step out of their comfort zone, and quick!
Death Squad Anthem
Make America Hate Again
Voyeurs Into Death
Eye For An Eye
‘Human Target’ is out now.