REVIEW: THY ART IS MURDER – “Human Target”
Deathcore is a genre that was, is, and will continue to be metal’s stepchild. A genre that should appeal to a wide demographic of listeners: those who want a little more grit from their metalcore, more riffs from their hardcore, and less body odor from their death metal. Yet, deathcore continues to be one of the most maligned subgenres of extreme metal. Admittedly, we are in the swansong of the genre with a myriad of mediocrity and the consuming hivemind turning their sights towards more progressive sub and microgenres. A small number of bands will always be looked upon in a fonder light for being deathcore veterans, many of whom are trying their best to walk to a fine line of staying true to the genre tropes and breathe new life into a dying genre. The Australian bruisers that are Thy Art is Murder is hailed among those dependable heavy hitters in the genre. Human Target is their fifth release, can they keep the fires lit?
Many would argue that 2009’s Hate is what put Thy Art is Murder on the world stage, a ridiculously brutal effort full of technical riffs and catchy breakdowns. Holy War and Dear Desolation were solid records but never strayed too far from the tried and true formula that showered greatness upon the Aussies. Listeners of their latest record Human Target will be sorely disappointed if they are expecting major shifts in musical direction. This record is business as usual for Thy Art is Murder. You get what you paid for heavy breakdowns with minor-scaled ambiance, crushing drums, and a riff-fiesta, but will receive very little to no surprise benefits.
There are more similarities than innovations on Human Target and it was a struggle to pick standout tracks this time around. Very little is distinct on Human Target which when coupled with the lack in the evolution of the songwriting results in a stale record with few standout sections, let alone songs. Tracks like New Gods, Make America Hate Again, Voyeurs Into Death are almost interesting when they focus on trying to do something new but return to home base without any kind of payoff and join the rut. Rehashes are obvious, and Welcome Oblivion is this year’s version of Shadow of Eternal Sin. It is becoming disappointingly clear that Thy Art is Murder lacks the emotional heft of Whitechapel, the menace of Lorna Shore and Carnifex, the technicality of Enterprise Earth, The Hopewell Furnace, and Shadow of Intent, and the ludicrous brutality of Signs of The Swarm, Within Destruction, Hollow Prophet, and Slaughter To Prevail. Human Target does nothing to prove better than the above listed newer bands and maybe the first step in the usurpation of Thy Art’s eminence in the genre hall of fame.
The songwriting is safe, guitarists Andy Marsh and Sean Delander know what they are doing, but they aren’t really trying to reinvent the wheel. Human Target is a poorly serving bassist Kevin Butler and new drummer Jesse Beahler (of Black Crown Initiate fame). The relentless fury of Lee Stanton’s drums were always a hallmark of the TAIM machine, but given more time and independence, Beahler will prove to be a more mature songwriter, beginnings of which are already seen on Human Target.
There are two glaring flaws that take a lot away from an already struggling record: the production and CJ McMahon’s vocals. Everything on Human Target sounds muddy, which I sincerely hope was a conscious choice to move away from the sterile production-by-numbers approach to which many extreme bands fall prey. A band which relies on razor-sharp riffs and layers are poorly served with gravely mixes with dull guitar tones that serve neither the bludgeoning breakdowns, slicing riffs, or dark ambience. The bass is lost in the mix and mostly indiscernible, and the drums struggle to find prominence in the mire. More egregious than the production were CJ’s vocals on Human Target, easily the weakest of the components on this record. McMahon was never known for his clarity, favoring raw emotion to enunciation, but the vocals on this record are exhausting because of their lack of definition, and more importantly, the sheer density of the lyrics and prominence in the mix. There were far too many occasions on Human Target where the listener would want the vocals to stop and focus be brought back to the instrumentation.
Making the same record repeatedly, with minor innovations will only have diminishing returns in a crowded space, and Human Target is a fine example. Thy Art is Murder is dangerously close to crumbling into oblivion if they don’t take a step back and reevaluate their playbook. Human Target would have been seminal in 2015 but falls flat in 2019.