Thy Art Is Murder - Dear Desolation
Against all odds, Dear Desolation is one of the best deathcore records in a surprisingly great year for deathcore, but it also really bring into focus the unnecessary theatrics of CJ McMahon’s departure (re: vacation) from Thy Art Is Murder. Shortly following the announcement came that infamous social media post with an explanation, which seemed to attract quite a bit of sympathy until someone did the math. The band soldiered on in the meantime, embarking on a North American tour alongside Fit For An Autopsy and Dark Sermon with a revolving door of vocalists, around which time we also saw the release of The Depression Sessions split. For months afterwards, Thy Art Is Murder teased fans with a slew of will-they-or-won’t-they replacements, the most promising of which was Molotov Solution vocalist Nick Arthur, only to announce CJ’s surprise return and plans for a new album.
We never got so much as a single without CJ. Don’t get me wrong: I think he’s an excellent vocalist, maybe one of the best after listening to Dear Desolation, but I was more than passingly interested to hear what Thy Art Is Murder could do with a new set of pipes up front. Nick Arthur wouldn’t have been a drastic change, but he would have been different--and following the good-but-predictable Holy War, different was all I really wanted to hear from Thy Art. Consequently, there’s no triumph to CJ’s return because we don’t know what they sound like without him, and we don’t know what he sounds like without them--whatever excitement may color some fans’ experience with Dear Desolation now will not be there in an album or two for new fans. To them, this will simply be the record that follows Holy War.
That said, Dear Desolation may be their best album. It erased any misgivings I had by “The Son of Misery,” and had made a convert out of me by the groovetastic “Puppet Master.” Historically, Thy Art Is Murder have had a stronger death metal backbone than their peers, apparent as far back as the tech-wank of Infinite Death; but as the punishing run from “Slaves Beyond Death” to “Death Dealer” shows, they’ve taken a close eye to Behemoth and Rivers of Nihil since Holy War. More time than ever before is spent blasting and pummeling the listener with some the most incendiary passages of their career, and there’s nary a pause to catch your breath. On my first listen, by the time “Fire In The Sky” and “Into Chaos We Climb” came around, I had forgotten I was listening to a deathcore band at all--this is simply the heaviest material Thy Art Is Murder have written yet, a thrilling window on on a future where Thy Art Is Murder have dropped the -core to pursue death metal in earnest. I hope they do.
Until then, they can still be relied on deliver some of the best breakdowns in the game, even if they do wind up the same old crutch they’ve always been by record’s end. The trendy tech-beatings of Infinite Death and Hate are a thing of the past--canny to their strengths, Thy Art Is Murder continue to write in the menacing tradition of Holy War, wringing every ounce of tension from “Man Is the Enemy” and “The Final Curtain” without sinking to double-digit bpm nonsense, so they can maintain their integrity as a death metal band while also indulging the hardcore kids. Despite my gripes with CJ’s time away, that little break had a revitalizing effect on his voice: he seems to have largely abandoned his upper register to focus on his lows, which rival even the untouchable Nergal in sheer guttural power. He isn’t shy about showing off, sometimes to a fault. At multiple points throughout the record I found myself sitting there in awe , but I recognize that his presence could be overbearing to some listeners. Sometimes you just want to hear a riff play out--there are so many of them, after all--but CJ can’t seem to keep quiet for longer than a bar or two before he’s back at it. It’s not necessarily his fault so much as it is the genre’s--I remember running into this same problem with Jonny Davy’s performance on Ruination and Eddie Hermida on This Is Where It Ends--but Thy Art Is Murder would benefit from having a little more confidence in their arrangements.
Despite its growing pains, Dear Desolation is a more graceful attempt at full-bore death metal than Fit For An Autopsy’s The Great Collapse earlier this year, which I also covered, and its problems are much easier to rectify. It may not have the variety of Shadow of Intent’s Reclaimer, but I don’t imagine many do; and Dear Desolation isn’t nearly as safe as Collapse, ultimately making so many small adjustments that the end product actually ends up a major turning point for the band, a la Lorna Shore’s Flesh Coffin or Make Them Suffer’s Worlds Apart. With the wall between death metal and deathcore thoroughly breached, Thy Art Is Murder’s horizons have expanded further than even my reasonably high expectations (based on nothing more than that ultra-cool cover art) allowed me to think. CJ should probably look into taking a few more vacations.