Thy Art Is Murder — Holy War

Some people seem to misunderstand — or deliberately misconstrue — what Thy Art is Murder is doing musically. By “some people,” I mostly mean the staff writers for MetalSucks, although the views they espouse aren’t uncommon among metal listeners writ large. In brief, people either seem to want the band to be dumber and less self-aware than they are, or to start writing music that sounds more like Cynic than Bury Your Dead. Yes, TAIM writes somewhat simplistic, breakdown-centric metalcore that appeals, among other groups, to scenesters. I guess I just don’t see what the problem with that is if people are allowed to un-ironically lionize Babymetal and somehow escape with their street cred intact. If they aren’t pretending to play GuitarPro midi files and aren’t immense assholes like a lot of boom-and-bust metalcore acts of late, who cares? Live and let live, and if it’s fun and headbangable, then all the better. I’ve heard far, far more meathead-y, cringe-worthy music than this.

Now that you understand your humble scribe’s perspective, let’s talk about the music. With Holy War, the band’s third full-length, TAIM commit themselves to incremental shifts in their sound. This is still basically the same style the band has been playing since day one, but there are some small tweaks that make it both more interesting and more listenable. For one, the arrangements here are rather more complex than those on Hate. There’s some definite infuence from Behemoth’s The Satanist, and the main riff to Child of Sorrow sounds, I think as a deliberate homage, very similar to Absorbing Black Ignition off last year’s stellar Artificial Brain record. That song also has arguably the best and most interesting ideas TAIM has yet put to tape, and I’m excited to see whether they go farther in that direction in the future.

Conceptually, the anti-religious-violence theme here, while not especially unique, lends greater emotional weight and significance to the affair than the one-dimensional, somewhat unfocused rage of the band’s past albums. When vocalist CJ McMahon screams “WE WILL ALL DIE FOR NOTHING” on the title track, it will send shivers down your spine.

On the technical side, Will Putney delivers what is unquestionably his best mix yet. Lee Stanton’s drums in particular sound absolutely massive, crystal clear, and vibrantly alive. The guitars have the perfect amount of low-range thump and body. The performances are obviously quantized and stutter-edited in a lot of parts, but if you’ve ever seen Stanton live or on YouTube then you’re already well aware that it’s for cosmetic effect, not because the dudes can’t play their instruments.

Holy War isn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. I do find that the band reverts to four basic components too much: (a) eerie, delay-soaked Meshuggah-style guitar pieces, (b) breakdowns, (c) tech death-style scale runsover skank beats, and (d) blast beats over existing riffs to change the feel. The band has been cycling through these ideas since Hate, and while it makes for a solid half-album, I do start to lose my concentration partway through. While there are more musical “easter eggs” here than on past efforts, like the Behemoth and Artificial Brain-esque pieces mentioned before, I do still find my attention wavering. The guitar solos, which are mostly harmonic minor runs, could also use some spicing up.

Holy War represents a logical, gradual evolution for Thy Art Is Murder that finds the band slowly starting to expand its musical and thematic horizons while generally holding fast to well-trodden fare. If you like TAIM already, you’ll enjoy this record; if you don’t, it’s still worth listening to to see how the band’s sound is developing. 7.5/10.

Holy War is out now on Nuclear Blast. Stream it here and buy it here.

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