Valentine’s Day Massacre: Thy Art Is Murder at Red Flag (with photo gallery)

Photo of CJ McMahon of Thy Art Is Murder by Jen Ruff. See more photos below!

w/ Justice for the Damned, I AM, Undeath, and Kublai Khan

On Valentine’s Day, Thy Art Is Murder (TAIM) brought their Decade of Hate tour to Red Flag. Despite the show starting at 6:00PM on a Tuesday evening, and the biggest date night of the year no less, it was a packed house. I personally hadn’t seen Red Flag that crowded since Viagra Boys played there in October 2022.

Formed in Sydney, AUS in 2006, TAIM has become one of the most internationally famous acts in the deathcore scene. Broadly speaking, deathcore is a hybrid of death metal and metalcore, combining tropes of both metal subgenres—particularly the latter’s ample use of breakdowns and hypermasculine posturing. With deathcore being arguably the most popular style of music in the St. Louis metal scene (as is the case in many Midwestern cities), it was no surprise that this was a must-see event for many. All of the stars were out for this one; I ran into many members of local deathcore bands throughout the evening, including Martin Ruppert of Polterguts and Taylor Bisping of Ending Orion.

This year’s tour was a packed lineup, featuring four opening acts: Justice for the Damned, I AM, Undeath, and Kublai Khan. Fellow Aussies Justice for the Damned hail from Peakhurst, about 15 miles south of Sydney, and play a style of deathcore in a very similar vein as TAIM. The band currently has two full-length albums, Dragged Through the Dirt(2017) and Pain is Power (2020). Their set consisted about equally of songs from both albums, as well as one of their earliest singles, “Deep Rotting Fear” (released in 2015).

Being able to tour with TAIM, undoubtedly the most famous Australian death metal export, is surely a badge of honor for Justice for the Damned. Much like the many Black Dahlia Murder ripoffs that populate the Midwestern United States, I have to imagine that TAIM’s massive success triggered a wave of copycats in their homeland. Despite their obvious proximity to TAIM (both geographically and stylistically), I definitely would not accuse this band of copycatism—I think they offer a fresh take within the overcrowded deathcore genre, and I hope this tour helps to introduce them to a wider audience.

The second act of the night was I AM of Dallas, TX (all caps when you spell the band’s name). The band was touring in support of their 2022 album Eternal Steel, which notably features artwork that wouldn’t look out of place on a ’70s van mural. I AM distinguishes themselves from the many, many (did I say many?) American deathcore bands by placing more of an emphasis on thrash riffs and mid-tempo grooves, making them sound something like a modern take on fellow Texans Pantera at times. This is a very fun band to see live, and they win my respect for attempting to fuse some of that classic heavy metal goofiness into the often self-serious deathcore genre.

Undeath, of Rochester, NY, was the only band of the night that was straight death metal, no deathcore chaser. Undeath is one of the most prominent bands of the current wave of ‘90s American death metal revivalism, along with acts like Frozen Soul, 200 Stab Wounds, and Sanguisugabogg. All of these bands harken back to a time when death metal was comparatively simple and unpretentious, paying very obvious homage to the poster child of straightforward death metal, Cannibal Corpse, in particular.

Many of the previously mentioned revivalist bands have all developed reputations for being great live acts, although I tend to think that this hype comes from people who are rather easy to please and, again, have a simple longing for the cheap thrill of moshing to a song called “Face Ripped Off” or “Drilling Your Head”. Although none of the bands in this scene are going to win any awards for originality, I personally consider Undeath to be the best of the pack. Unlike many of those other bands, I think Undeath has a very strong emphasis on songwriting that makes them sound like they would have been legitimately popular if they had been around in the ‘90s, rather than just riding the current wave of nostalgia for a simpler time in metal.

This was my second time seeing Undeath—I previously saw them in Kansas City last December, during their co-headlining tour with the previously mentioned 200 Stab Wounds. The venue I saw them at in KC, The Rino, is about the size of The Sinkhole on Broadway, making for a much more chaotic performance, with vocalist Alexander Jones declaring a competition to see who in the crowd could execute the best stage dive. Shenanigans like that are obviously not tolerated in Red Flag, a fairly large venue with an actual security presence, but if anything, that allowed me to appreciate their musical chops with fewer distractions. Their drummer, Matt Browning, is likely their secret weapon; I heard many people in the crowd lauding his performance. As much as I like to bemoan the regressive nature of modern death metal, I can’t deny the succinct logic of Jones’ favorite catchphrase, “We’re Undeath from New York and we play death metal, do y’all fuck with that?”

The next act on this packed bill was Kublai Khan (from Sherman, TX), whose name is often stylized as “Kublai Khan TX” to distinguish themselves from the many other bands named after everyone’s favorite Mongolian emperor. This band has been described to me before as “the kind of metalcore that weightlifters listen to,” and I can’t say that I disagree with that label. All of the songs are basically about threatening some kind of confrontation, with somebody, for some vague reason. Every song leads inevitably to a breakdown, or a circle pit, or a bunch of shirtless guys two-stepping. This style of music is the raison d’être for many people, and I won’t deny them their right to whatever catharsis they get from this, but I also can’t pretend that I don’t find it boring, especially when seeing it right after the far more fun and engaging Undeath.

Interestingly, Kublai Khan was one of the supporting acts on TAIM’s very first North American tour. Vocalist Matt Honeycutt spoke about his gratitude to TAIM, saying that the success of their first tour together helped Kublai Khan get a deal with Rise Records. (TAIM vocalist CJ McMahon also mentioned their friendship with Kublai Khan later in the evening, and even took the mic for a song during Kublai Khan’s set.)

Obviously not ones to take themselves too seriously, TAIM took the stage to “We Like to Party!” by the Vengaboys, otherwise known as “the song from the Six Flags commercials.” As the tour name suggests, TAIM was celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their seminal album Hate, released on October 18th, 2012. This highly successful album launched them into international metal stardom, earning them a record deal with Nuclear Blast, one of the most prominent labels for extreme metal bands.

While doing crowd work between songs, TAIM vocalist CJ McMahon opined about the importance of this album to the band’s history, the success of which allowed them to launch their first headlining North America tour in 2013 (“Hate Across America”), which, in addition to Kublai Khan, featured I Declare War, The Last Ten Seconds of Life, and Fit For An Autopsy, another band that has achieved the dubious feat of becoming a household name for deathcore fans. McMahon also gave a full-throated defense of casually using the c-word, that most cherished tradition of Australian cads.

TAIM played the entirety of Hate for their set, followed by an encore of popular songs from subsequent albums. As with Kublai Khan, I will admit that I find the passionate fanbase for TAIM rather baffling—to me, their music sounds really no better or worse than any of the countless deathcore bands out there. There was a moment towards the end of TAIM’s set where my will finally collapsed, and I found myself shouting, out loud, just how bored I was to my concert buddy. “Every song has the exact same structure!” I declared. “How do people not get bored of hearing the same thing, over and over again?”

In my adventures covering the local St. Louis metal scene this year, I found myself trying very hard to develop an appreciation for deathcore, given that so many of our local metal bands identify as deathcore or metalcore. I have nothing but respect for these hard-working bands. But at this point, I feel like I have to simply shrug it off and admit that this is simply not my kind of metal. Am I wrong for feeling this way?

As I walked out into the night, determined to go home and relax to Mort Garson’s Plantasia, something blissfully free of breakdowns, I found myself reassured by the famous words of Principal Seymour Skinner: “No, it’s the children who are wrong.” | David Von Nordheim

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