If there was any doubt that Thy Art Is Murder have become one of, if not THE premier extreme metal bands in circulation: then tonight's rabid, capacity crowd crammed inside Birmingham's O2 Institute should end all factors of the debate. At one point the Aussies were the globes deathcore sweethearts, but today they've become inescapably more. No longer the kings of a sub-genre: Thy Art are at the forefront of a much bigger conversation - one that surrounds heavy metal in general.
It's a point that is further emphasised by the frankly absurd lineup the quintet have been able to assemble for the tour. Speaking of which, Dallas Texas' I AM  slot into the task of opening the show with relative ease. Front man Andrew Hileman brings a level of charisma and stomp lead energy which allows the openers to assert an early level of dominance over an eager crowd. There's little variation in the Texans set - but you'd struggle to find an opening blast of fist clenched metal which would have been better suited here.
Rivers Of Nihil  are a different proposition altogether, as opposed to their predecessors who are looking to make their first mark in extreme metal - the five piece's latest record Where Owls Know My Name was an eccentric, ingenious slab of death metal meets saxophone (seriously). But where the band had previously sounded so conquering on their headline UK tour last year, the Pennsylvania crew struggle to make the same impact here: largely down to the absence of a touring saxophonist. It's an understandable omission, but disappointing nonetheless. Luckily tracks like 'Old Nothing', 'A Home', and 'Silent Life' still absolutely crush, and the quality of bassist Adam Biggs still has to be seen to be believed.
As heartwarming as it is to see Fit For An Autopsy  not just make a bill as stacked as this, but to pull in a massive crowd too is - they're here on pure merit rather than sentiment. New record The Sea Of Tragic Beasts has been exponentially pivotal for the metal crew, not just because it was the best album of the bands career, but because the aftermath has felt like a true turning point for the band too. Birmingham's O2 Institute is littered with FFAA merch, and the crushing opening one-two of the title track and 'Warfare' from the new record explode into chaos. Fan favourites 'Hydra' and 'Heads Will Hang' make their way into an accomplished, pristine set from the New Jersey metallers.
Californian death metal stalwarts Carnifex  are a band that occasionally fly under the radar of extreme metal, and when you bare witness to the savage performance they put in tonight, you can't help but wonder why. There's no lack of devotion shown towards the five piece tonight though, and while tracks like 'World War X' and 'Drown Me In Blood' start a ruckus in their own right, the almost unfair closing one-two of 'Lie To My Face' and 'Hell Chose Me' cause a level of carnage that matched anything before, and after it. While Carnifex have never broken into new leagues of metal, tonight is an example of why they never have to - their core fan base are happy to risk death for them regardless.
There's an aura around Thy Art Is Murder  now that just hasn't seemed to exist before. It's as if they've become self-reflective on how tall they stand in extreme metal, allowing them to think less about consequences, and more about doing whatever the hell they want. As the band take to the stage to the tune of The Vengaboys 'We Like To Party' (something that's becoming somewhat of a staple for them) you feel a sense of charm, nonchalance, and outright joy to see a collection of metal heads lose their minds for the chorus.
Before long though it's straight down to business. Vocalist CJ McMahon approaches his skeletal-wrapped microphone: hood up, grimace on his face - he's playing no games. And as the sirens for 'Death Squad Anthem' begin to rattle, the impending warfare starts. The following double blast of 'Make America Hate Again' and 'Purest Strain of Hate' is where the pot reaches melting point though: an example of the bands high quality discography epitomised by their ability to flick from the present to the past and vice versa while maintaining the scarring intensity.
In a sense, this was merely Thy Art Is Murder with a bigger production budget than they've ever been able to show these waters, and that's meant in the most complimentary way possible. The crowd interaction, anticipation, and chaos levels write themselves. As does the setlist, 'Holy War', 'Puppet Master', and of course: 'Reign Of Darkness' - they're all in there, the band have reached a level of extreme metal professionalism that is particularly seldom in the modern day.
Despite the fact that it would seem extreme metal artists have to either stick to their roots or twist, Thy Art Is Murder continue to pave their own way without doing either. Their ascension into a more broad, straight up heavy metal band has taken them to new heights already, and there's nothing to suggest the Aussies can't take another leap up in venue size when/if there's a new record in a few years time. Tonight was further evidence that if you think extreme metal can stunt growth, in this case: you're wrong.