In hindsight one of the most significant metal records of the 2010s was Thy Art is Murder's Hate, the second record from the band that saw the collective break out of their local Australian market and blaze across international stages for the first time, and served as the real platform then for one of the new big bands in the genre.
What's really remarkable though is how deathcore, a genre that in 2023 is way bigger than it ever has been before producing so many of the most popular bands in the scene, looked to be on its last legs. Sub-drops, pig squeals, and ear-stretchers were markers of a style that most people did not want anything to do with anymore, and many of the subgenre's elder practitioners were making changes to their music that suggested a desire to mature away from the sound and become something else.
Thy Art is Murder became possibly the first new band then to hit with a new way of making deathcore that was characterised by none of the stuff that detractors had tarred it with, but didn't have to make a big show of graduating from it either. Whether it be consciously or by accident, Hate - currently being celebrated by the band playing it for its anniversary around the world - now seems like a very important record indeed to make sense of the current day landscape.
Ahead of their show in Indianapolis, guitarist Andy Marsh speaks about the deceptively alien nature of returning to this dense album.
It's amazing to consider that Hate is now 10 years old. This is the album that feels like it really defined the identity of Thy Art is Murder going forward, so is that why you decided to honour it with an anniversary campaign?
Marsh - Not really actually, it was basically that the last record Human Target came out in 2019 and COVID put a hole through the touring plans. When we got back to business last year we wanted to do some Human Target tours but it kinda felt weird trying to continue the cycle. A campaign will normally last 18-24 months and it was weird to come back and try and do two years worth of touring on that, so we thought that we’d make a new record, but what are we gonna do in the interim? Very conveniently, Hate is kinda a landmark record for us and we’ve got this spare time of about four months, so we’ll cram one in there.
You joined as a member in the time between debut album The Adversary and Hate. The change in the band between those two records is sizable, so for you coming into the band during that, what did you feel in the air to bring that directional shift?
Marsh - Yeah I joined about a month after The Adversary came out I think. I think it was just a little bit of maturity and experience. My background was playing in metalcore and hardcore bands with a little more focus on the songwriting and arrangement rather than balls to the wall technicality and speed the whole time. I guess the contribution I feel the most responsible for is that my gripe was the intelligibility of the vocals, and I really wanted to push CJ to go more into an upper-mid range where you could understand what he was saying a lot more. Getting in the mix at the stage, early on two years even before we recorded the record, there was the push to focus more on the arrangement and intelligibility. CJ was very open, he’s a very capable vocalist and he was also quite new to the band at the time only joining just for The Adversary. I came along and I guess he just trusts me a lot, to this day the other people he records vocals with are me or Putney. He trusts me to give him honest feedback about his delivery, and I put the lyrics together making him my voice in that regard and so he wants to make sure he’s delivering, but it’s also widely up to his interpretation how he wants to apply his personality to what we’re singing about.
One of the most important elements feels like the emphasis put on the need to write big metal anthems, rather than purely showcasing brutality or technicality. Purest Strain of Hate and Reign of Darkness are two of the biggest moments in your live set to this day and have a focus on hard-hitting, powerful hooks that has stayed with you on your later albums. They're still highly complex though and not just following copycat verse-chorus repeat structures. What's the balance?
Marsh - We have the fantastic asset of the guidance of our producer Will Putney, who has become one of our best friends in the last twelve years. Having someone who we respect as a songwriter, not a lot of people know this but I think his biggest strength is his songwriting chops, and we trust him implicitly and he knows what we’re trying to do. We speak the same language when it comes to assembling records together. One thing he really stressed to me, and I think a lot of bands might operate this way, often someone writes lyrics and someone else writes a song and then they just mash them together. He really pushed this focus to me early on that has led me to follow this way of working to let the music tell you the vibe, and then write the lyrics to the song. We don’t have this instance where we have lyrics sitting there and then I’m trying to pattern them over a song, every word is written to actually go where it goes. It’s very symbiotic in the way that even the sound of the word or what the word is is designed to go there on purpose. The songs give you that vibe of whether it’s aggressive, depressing, anthemic, and that dictates what words and topics to apply. I think that’s key to how there is this synergy between the vocal and the music. It’s agonised over.
Does that feed into how for Thy Art is Murder there is an attention to atmosphere in such a big heavy band?
Marsh - For sure. I don’t know how Sean thinks about it, but I think about it in terms of verticality with the low end and the high end. I wanna have something occupying these spaces at all times, unless we’re omitting something on purpose to create a sense of emptiness or whatever. Ironically I think the records have started sounding more atmospheric even though we’re doing less guitar parts than we used to. Hate has a lot of guitar parts, maybe the most of any record we’ve done, but it sounds very intense as this wall of sound. Now we’ve pulled back and the space allows you to focus on bits. Normally I just lay in the dark and put my headphones on with the song and wait for the idea to come, but it’s very self-instructive. A song like Death Squad Anthem, there’s no atmosphere at all, it’s just constant aggression so that instructed me aggressive simple one-liners is gonna be the mood there, where something like Chemical Christ has a lot of layers and a lot of leads and will have a more complex lyrical topic.
What was it like working with Will Putney then and now? He has still been your go-to producer into your latest albums and has since become one of the most hotly in demand producers in all heavy music, but Hate is arguably the album with which that Will Putney recording style first gained real popularity.
Marsh - It’s much the same as it was then. With respect to the creative process and engineering process, I think it’s an area where we’ve improved our game over the years independently but also together, and being such good friends has only added to the process. I’ve said this before but one of life’s joys is to create things, and when you can do it with someone who you trust and respect and is your friend it’s even more fun. Having the five of us is great, but with him in there too the more the merrier.
Hate was a massively successful record in Australia for an extreme band, but it is very much the international breakthrough of the band too that put you on the worldwide scene, and it was released with a six month gap between Australia and then being picked up by Nuclear Blast for its worldwide release. What was that period like for you in seeing the word of mouth around the album spread from home to across the world?
Marsh - We tried to pitch it to the label but they turned us down initially. Obviously we believed in the music and maybe that goes to show that sometimes there’s a disparity between A&R and their agenda, so we just did it ourselves and it did reasonably well so they came back like “Hang on a minute, we do wanna touch this”. I suppose you’d call that a validation, which is a bizarre experience I suppose, but we’ve had a great and fruitful relationship with Nuclear Blast for ten years and it’s nice that they did come to the table. They’ve helped us a lot, they really pushed us getting work VISAs to the States, they opened up the door to work with different booking agents and touring opportunities, and without those maybe we’d still be sitting playing shows in Sydney.
What are your best memories from the live cycle of Hate being put in front of big international audiences for the first times?
Marsh -It was just sheer chaos. We’ve got a tour poster somewhere that we assembled that has all the dates that we did for the record and it was in the hundreds. We did those in about 18 months. 2013, 2014, 2015 we were home for about four to six weeks a year max. Still to this day I don’t know if any band at least in our genre has toured that intensely. It took its toll for sure but it definitely proved us as a live band, where we became the band through that. We’d make the record sure and people hopefully love it, but the thing that really made Thy Art is Murder was that touring. That much time in a small box on wheels with a few guys, crazy shit happens. The interpersonal relationships become fortified, and you become more proficient at delivering the show, and you get feedback. Sort of like what I was saying about how the music instructs me on how to craft a lyrics, the reaction at the live show you’re receiving constantly and subconsciously you’re storing it in somewhere in your mind what kinda songs people love. Doing that hundreds and hundreds of times, that ten thousands hours of mastery thing, really took us to that next level.
At the beginning of the 2010s, deathcore was something that was often treated as a dirty word, particularly by the press which is a stark contrast to today when some of the most popular new metal bands in the world are coming from that world. Did you feel like you were swimming against the tide a bit with Hate in that particular regard and like you were having to sway opinions that might have been pre-established about you just because of the kind of music you played?
Marsh - No we don’t think about that kind of stuff. It’s one of those things that people who do it don’t think about it externally too much, we’re the ones who are intellectualising the creative element, and then naturally the press and the fans and the labels are gonna wanna decode that and apply their own intellectual process of disassembling it and seeing what it is. We like to assemble and then people like to reduce to see what the building blocks are, and a lot of information gets lost in that process. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last ten years with our contemporaries also doing this kind of music, Whitechapel and so on, and they don’t think about it either. No one cares! We can’t control what people think, we can control what we do. We care about the live show and that the fans have a good time. I’m sure that some of them love the term deathcore, I’m sure of them only listen to that genre, and I’m sure that there’s also the older death metal crowd who rock up to shows and don’t know anything about music labels on the internet and they bang their head.
Some of the older deathcore that had begun to turn sour for people carried a violent misogynstic bent in its lyrics and imagery, and Hate managed to bring that level of catchy t-shirt sloganeering but in a way that veered away from that. Was that conscious and do you feel like that's allowed records like these to age better?
Marsh - For sure, obviously CJ and I weren’t a part of Infinite Death, but coming in and becoming the primary lyric writer for the band, those aren’t topics that I care much about so I wanted to write about things that I care about which is the human experience, touching on a lot of more introspective ideas, and naturally it just led to things that you could put on a t-shirt instead of things that should be buried in an incel magazine. It was about real stuff, and I think that is more relatable. It’s another reason why I wanted the vocal delivery to be more intelligible. It pushes CJ’s voice into a bit of a higher range which is louder, and I think people interpret louder sounds, even when it’s on a CD but you can hear the distortion in his throat when he’s singing these lines, more intensely. It provides a psychological experience, it really drives it into the listener’s brain. At that time that Hate came out deathcore as a genre was kinda really spreading out, and I don’t know if that was to do with internal motivation or external motivation of people’s opinions for a lot of these bands, but you saw them experimenting with being faster, more technical, maybe deathcore isn’t cool so we’re gonna become a death metal band, and it leads to a lot of confusion. We just focused on our internal process and delivering good songs. No one really cares about a great piece of a song, in history, they care about the whole. It’s not like we’re digging up individual moments from the 70s. They’re gonna dig up an album or a song, and so we’ve always taken a very top down perspective on making things count.
Are you surprised at how relevant the record still is in terms of the modern era of heavy music drawing on things found in Hate, and the way that music felt newly fresh and contemporary?
Marsh - Is it influential? I don’t hear anyone who plays riffs the way we do, I don’t think we’ve been copied in that way. Sure, take the breakdown of Reign of Darkness and the intro groove and lots of bands have done that sound, but in terms of meshing it with the style of songwriting and vocals that we do it’s kinda hard to say if anyone’s done that. As part of the creative team behind it I can’t imagine ourselves doing Hate now, it feels very distant, and when we were putting these tours together Sean and I were sitting together with the original album tracks going over the guitar parts trying to figure them out. It was almost like learning someone else’s music, because who we were then as guitar players and songwriters is so far from who we are now. I’ve got the subjective experience and ten years of trauma and tragedy and triumph since that record.
Hate does feel like it started the creative run of your records that you are still on. How do you feel you've taken the baton of Hate forward?
Marsh - We never make radical changes. It is often a criticism of ours online that every record sounds the same, and I get what people are saying because we don’t make radical changes, but I think if you took our most recent public work which is Human Target as well as our new songs that we’ve got now that people will hear and put that next to Hate they’re very distinct. Listen to CJ’s vocals, listen to the arrangements, listen to the riff styles and song structures, it’s quite different but it’s incrementally over the records that those small adjustments have been made. We haven’t had drastic changes in our lives in any two year period where we go we have to have singing on this record, or we’ll listen to what outsiders say and make some chaotic record that makes no sense. We’ve taken that recipe that we had twelve years ago and just tweaked it and been in the game of small improvements.
You've done your first of the anniversary shows for Hate in Australia and in the US, so what has the experience been like?
Marsh - It is strange, I’ll tell you that much. Like I was commenting on before, pulling apart and dissecting the music, we were looking at each other like “nah, that’s the wrong note, we would never play that”. It’s super foreign. Now that we’ve done the shows in Australia and the first here of the album start to finish, it’s starting to feel a little bit more natural, but it is very odd. For the encore we do one song from each of the other three records since Hate, and there’s definitely a change that we feel internally. The Hate material is more performative where we are thinking a lot about how to do it, cause it doesn’t come as naturally to us anymore, and then we get to the end and we’re firing on all cylinders. Hopefully the fans are enjoying it, and seeing people still loving those songs is pretty crazy. It’s a lot of deep cuts too, we are playing the whole record from start to finish as it is on the CD as that’s the best way we could think to present it, and it’s nice to have stuff in there that we might not have played in eight or nine years or never even played at all where we might even learn from our old records some tricks, and can give those songs room to be delivered to people once more.
THY ART IS MURDER's "Decade Of Hate" U.S. Tour with KUBLAI KHAN, I AM, UNDEATH, and JUSTICE FOR THE DAMNED is currently trekking across the country. Check the list of dates and cities below.
2/08/2023 Town Ballroom - Buffalo, NY
2/09/2023 The King Of Clubs - Columbus, OH
2/10/2023 Old National Centre - Indianapolis, IN
2/11/2023 The Forge - Joliet, IL
2/14/2023 Red Flag - St. Louis, MO
2/15/2023 Wooly's - Des Moines, IA
2/16/2023 The Bourbon Theatre - Lincoln, NE
2/17/2023 The Granade - Lawrence, KS
2/18/2023 Black Sheep - Colorado Springs, CO
2/19/2023 The Historic El Rey Theater - Albuquerque, NM
2/21/2023 House Of Blues - Las Vegas, NV
2/22/2023 Observatory - Santa Ana, CA
2/23/2023 The Observatory North Park - San Diego, CA
2/24/2023 Catalyst - Santa Cruz, CA
2/25/2023 Ventura Theatre - Ventura, CA
2/26/2023 Encore - Tucson, AZ
2/28/2023 The Vibes Event Center Showroom - San Antonio, TX
3/01/2023 Warehouse Live - Houston, TX
3/03/2023 Vinyl Music Hall - Pensacola, FL
3/04/2023 Zydeco - Birmingham, AL
3/05/2023 The Basement East - Nashville, TN
3/06/2023 Mercury Ballroom - Louisville, KY
3/08/2023 Canal Club - Richmond, VA
3/09/2023 Reverb - Reading, PA
3/10/2023 Webster Theatre - Hartford, CT
3/11/2023 Stereo Garden - Patchogue, NY