It didn’t take long for deathcore to follow death metal, embracing its lowest common denominator and falling into stagnancy. Genre stalwarts like Australia’s Thy Art Is Murder have to contend with the over-saturation and lack of innovation in the scene they’ve influenced. As Impending Doom did last year, they aren’t apologizing for what they do best. Thy Art Is Murder has always written brutal, uncompromising deathcore and Human Target provides just that. The band brings a savage reminder of how great this style can sound, but vocalist Chris McMahon re-contextualizes the sonic violence for some cutting critiques of societal ruin.
In an age where almost every conscious artist has released an anti-Trump song, “Make America Hate Again” actually broadens the hate: “I’m done with pacifism/ You can’t debate with demons/ Burn down the house that betrays us.” McMahon’s growls speak to a generation disillusioned with dysfunctional politics. Tasteful melo-death licks and tremolo picking allow delicious grooves to transcend generic breakdowns and bouncy riffs. Cofounding guitarist Sean Delander remains true to the rhythmic chops and bass drum synchronization, but lead guitarist Andy Marsh inventively incorporates melody into the air-tight bludgeoning.
The title track, which opens the album, takes aim at the unspeakable horrors of organ harvesting, showing MacMahon’s willingness to dig deep into modern depravity. The blunt force of the track’s battering chugs and jackhammer blast beats increase the impact its message tenfold. The band’s reliance on solid songwriting over heaviness serves it well throughout the album, allowing “Death Squad Anthem” to transcend its tropes. Cymbal-driven breakdowns, Biohazard-meets-Suffocation riffs and militant antiauthoritarian sentiments are deathcore staples, but Thy Art Is Murder’s approach molds familiarity into memorability. The band sounds as agitated as the real-life violence depicted in the video.
“Your followers are weaponized … Your future is genocide,” begins the anti-conformist diatribe of “New Gods.” Sustained chords seamlessly change to shreddy passages, executed with technical complexity and primitive anger. It’s uncanny how well drummer Jesse Beahler fits into the mix on his first record with the band, but then, he used to play for tech-death wizards Rings of Saturn. His mind-blowing cleanliness and speed permeates Human Target like his nasty double-bass syncopation on misanthropic rallying cry “Welcome Oblivion.” He complements the dissonant high-end guitar lines along with the angulare riffs that follow. While much of deathcore tends to emphasize drumming over guitars, guitar motifs stay memorable even after head-banging yourself into a coma during the meat-and-potatoes breakdown.
Both “Eternal Suffering” and “Atonement” feature lightning-fast blast beats over atmospheric riffing. Their respective high-end ambiance and haunting tremolo-picked melodies add a compelling counterbalance to the ruthless aggression in the rhythm section. Of course, both of them inevitably circle back to the chugs and string-bends fans would expect, but Thy Art Is Murder always punctuates the familiar with the artful. This is especially apparent on the latter cut, which focuses on the oft-untold issue of sexual violence. Considering this is the same band that wrote “Whore to a Chainsaw,” it’s encouraging to see Thy Art Is Murder shedding light on real issues with their unrelenting music instead of resorting to cartoonish misogyny.
Actual chord progressions are increasingly rare in this style, so the accessible intro of “Eye For An Eye” is extremely refreshing. When combined with the unrelenting brutality, it recalls Behemoth’s death metal era. On the flipside, “Voyeurs Into Death” contrasts primitive beatdown riffs with chaotic death metal evisceration. While the band inevitably dials into the crowd-pleasing chug-fests, these songs aren’t just the filler before the moshing part. McMahon’s vocals aren’t just braindead machismo fodder. He uses his guttural delivery for a purpose and that’s worthy of appreciation in a genre full of Emmures and Attilas.
Punishing anti-addiction anthem “Chemical Christ” ends the album with a relatively predictable dose of deathcore adrenaline. Even when they get more predictable, it’s obvious these guys helped write the deathcore rulebook rather than studied from it. Human Target is intelligently written, and that helps it avoid stagnation. It’s near impossible to not give your best stank face when the breakdown hits, and you’ll hum along with the melodeath passages like you bellow the pre-mosh call-out. It’s not a win over detractors, but those who dismiss deathcore can at least respect bands like Thy Art Is Murder for doing it justice.