Inquiring Minds

Great Leaps Forward: The Evolution of Thy Art Is Murder

As he speaks from a tour bus headed toward Portland, Oregon, guitarist Andy Marsh's subject is his band, Thy Art Is Murder. Since its beginnings, the Australian extreme-metal group has had several new members and with that, a change of attitude. But more than just Thy Art Is Murder's music has evolved. Besides an entirely new musical palette that should appeal to a much wider audience, the band's focus on more sociopolitical themes represents a paradigm shift for the better. Their latest release, Holy War (Nuclear Blast)is easily their best album to date.

The musical shift is more than an evolution, it's a maturation. In their attempt to widen their appeal  — and with the addition of new members in past years — the band has moved beyond its violent thematic beginnings. The move was necessary, and important for many reasons. Namely, the new members insisted on it; and secondly, their critique of religion and war couldn't be more timely. Returning to the roots of protest music, Thy Art Is Murder now position themselves as a band hugely important to current issues. Gone are the days of mere death-metallers selling gore imagery and violent lyrics for shock's sake; nowadays Thy Art Is Murder focuses metal's ire squarely on the institution it despises the most: religion.

Houston Press: Holy War has been an overall critical success. I've read in another interview where it was said you felt pressured to outdo Hate. Did you achieve that?
Andy Marsh: Yeah, I think so. You know, it’s more aggressive, more focused. It has…I don’t want to say it’s more diverse, but it’s more of an accurate mix of where we’re at as a group of five guys at the moment, so. Hate was kind of thrown together, you know? We were just making a record to make one. This time, we’re making one to say something.

It looks like you wrote 22 songs for Holy War, but only 11 made the cut? And only 16 days in studio to record the entire album?
Yep. It was like 15 or 16 days to record the whole thing. I think we actually ended up with 13 songs; two ended up on the back burner.

You mean the bonus track, “Vengeance”?
[No.] They haven’t seen the light of day, they don’t even have names yet. Yeah, we didn’t have lyrics so…I just need to write some lyrics, then maybe CJ [McMahon] can record some vocals over it in a couple months and then we can put them out there for people to enjoy [laughs]. They’re cool songs.

So, you guys seem to be doing like a critical piece on several topics: the environment, child abuse, animal rights and sexism. There’s a whole new political layer to the band. What was the impetus for the change?
Life. [Laughs] Living. Living in the current socio-political environment; um, you know every generation has its own set of challenges none before have faced. This current generation, as a whole, has a whole host of new ones, climate change being the biggest issue. Because without a planet to live on, everything else is kind of a moot point. I think we’ve gotten older, we’ve toured the world. We’ve gotten to see how the world really is. Not just through the eyes of the media and social media and documentaries. We’ve actually been to most places on the planet now as a band and as individuals, and that gives you a whole lot more scope to have experiences to draw from when you’re writing lyrics.

I’m really interested in this political shift in the band. Tell me about divorcing yourselves from the misogynistic lyrics that used to make up entire albums for you guys?
Absolutely. It’s 100 percent something I stand for. I wasn’t in the band at that point, neither was CJ only Lee [Stanton] and Sean [Delander] were in the band. 100 percent that’s something I could never get behind, so…

How do you feel about the old songs then? Do you ever perform them?
Yeah, it’s one of those things where, and I think it happens to almost every artist, there are these things you become known for early on in your career and maybe the artist gets sick of them, or maybe embarrassed of them and then they write better songs. A different style of music entirely, it’s one of those things where we don’t like playing the songs, and we choose to not play the songs, but occasionally, they will just get whipped out and performed. It’s something we don’t enjoy doing, but we do it for the fans. I’d say we played stuff off that Infinite Death EP and The Adversary just a handful of times in the past three years.

I heard an interview with CJ where he said you even have lawyers overlooking your lyrics. Can you speak to that and tell me why?
We didn’t really [laughs]. I mean, maybe they looked at it because you know we have people at the record label or a lawyer independent of the label that they send our lyrics to. But, we thought maybe [Holy War] might be a little too confronting. We wanted to get the label’s approval and see how they felt about it. We were worried we might be censored by the label, we sent it through to our A&R guy and he was like, ‘Nope. You’re speaking the truth. I love it. ‘

What about the artwork? I know you’ve had controversy because it featured a child with a bomb attached to him.
He didn’t want to censor the album artwork either. Which got misconstrued quite a bit, too. A lot of people were like, ‘Fuck Nuclear Blast the label, they’re censoring the band, so they could sell more copies.’ It had nothing to do with the label, the label was 100 percent behind us with the message and the visual direction of the record, and it was unfortunately the retailers that forced us to modify. The label had already read through the lyrics. I had sent them the lyric sheet. They loved it.

Wait. Retailers in Australia? Or a worldwide vendor?
The main concern was the United States, obviously.

Yeah, it’s the place that we like touring the most and they’re the best of all the continents, and they’re the biggest retail market with the U.K. You know the entire population of Australia is less than the population of California. When you’re in the United States, you’ve got your Apple music, Best Buy, NYE, Amazon and Hot Topic, you know we’re artists and we’re supposed to push boundaries, but they’re retailers. We have to be understanding that maybe little children walk in and get offended, or parents may walk in and get upset or something. So, we did modify the cover image and used another image from the layout and used it with subsequent pressings. It still has the original artwork, we just have to have a sticker go over it now.

Speaking of offending families and children, it looks like you’ve just been banned again by Disney. Isn’t this your second ban?
The third, actually. Yeah, in the summer of 2013 we got banned from the Summer of Slaughter tour and the House of Blues. The second one was at the House of Blues at Disneyland and we’ll have another one from the Orlando House of Blues on this tour. It’s unfortunate.

Did you ever receive a specific answer from Disney as to why you’re not allowed to play on their grounds?
I believe it’s because of the name. The word, ‘murder’ in the band name, you know they don’t want to have that appearing in flyers and posters appearing around Disney property where there are small children and maybe more conservative families are about, or walking around. I didn’t talk to Disney directly. I found out from the promoter of the show, which was Live Nation. And they were upset as well, you know? They were like, 'We’d really love to have you play the show'. And we’re very grateful that they’re still going to pay us. They know we want to play and we made plans to play, but we just can’t. It’s not the fault of the promoter, it’s just Disney policy. We play House of Blues all the time, it’s just unfortunate that these House of Blues are on Disney property. I believe it’s just for the naming of the band. Cattle Decapitation wasn’t allowed to play because it says, ‘decapitation."

So, another big step, you’re booked for Hellfest.
Yes, which is amazing. We’ve always wanted to, and apparently it sold out in six hours, so obviously that was because of our announcement, you know. [Laughs] Gojira is playing, I’m hoping we get to play the same day as Gojira.

What does 2016 look like for Thy Art Is Murder?
We’re recording in December. It’s a little treat that will come out some time next year. I don’t want to tell you too many details [laughs] so that should be cool. Summer festival circuit in Europe for the summer, maybe we’ll be back in the States for the spring, may in the fall. Try to keep busy but not too busy. We do want a bit of a break sometime next year so we can get down to some writing. We will have even more than 23 songs for the next record. Guess we’ll record sometime in 2017. Next year is looking like a pretty nice year for us.

Thy Art Is Murder performs Friday at House of Blues with special guests Miss May I and Parkway Drive. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.