The New Testament: CJ McMahon doesn't like art being censored

We didn’t put a child wearing a bomb on our new album cover and think there would be no conversation stirred by it.

It’s what we wanted. The sad reality is that people of religious leanings around the world indoctrinate their children into a world of fantasy, and this is one of the more extreme cases that we have seen: parents will strap a bomb to their child in the name of their deity. We did nothing more controversial than illuminate a very unfortunate phenomenon in our world today.

We weren’t flat out asked to change it. We were just informed that certain retailers and customers might make a complaint about it, and that might raise some problems for us to deal with. It did suck that, for some time, we had to alter our vision for the album’s physical and visual representation, but we knew that, after initial release, the image would be so far across the internet that people would understand what we sought out to achieve, and the message wouldn’t be lost.

We are a death metal band that sings about things we want to and writes the music that we like to hear. Unfortunately, a band does become a business. As soon as a shirt is printed or an act is paid for a performance or album purchase, they are a business, and we take our business activity very seriously. We certainly wouldn’t be seen dead or alive supporting things we find contravene our code of ethics, and every person and business owner should be free to exercise that same right. It’s not a right of ours to engage in business with retailers – we have to play by their rules.

As long as they are within the laws of the governing body, under-ground artists are 100% more free to risk this kind of censorship than mainstream artists. It is one of the benefits of putting a record out on a DIY basis. But even for TAIM, not being mainstream artists, it’s quite a difficult thing to distribute and sell physical copies independently; that’s why we have a record label. We’ve been fortunate to sell over 10,000 copies worldwide in our first week, and trying to get five Australian band dudes to try and organise shipping, collecting of funds, and all the other associated tasks involved with selling one’s own art would have seen about 10 people actually hearing our music!

I don’t think there is any threat from this kind of corporate censorship to the free speech of artists in the Western world at the moment. What we saw with Pussy Riot has nothing to do with corporate censorship but with national policy and the involvement of a religion in politics. With the power of the internet, one is free to make music about anything they want, and provided the platform to make it instantly available for free to almost any IP address in the world. When you seek to gain wider distribution and money in exchange for the music is where it can get tricky. We weren’t prevented from saying anything in our record that we wanted to. In fact we wrote and recorded it before we even signed a record deal. The only censorship concern that distribution had was our album cover picture, and I think there are far more inspirational, confrontational and conversational themes contained within the album’s lyrics, and those we would not have changed for anyone.

All artists have a responsibility to be provocative and to stir emotion within others with their art, which is its sole purpose. Metal is extreme music and helps convey an extreme message – not that what we are saying is extreme or far out there. It is sad that our views against the things that are wrong in the world are viewed as extreme because of the status quo. We are saying that child abuse is wrong, that religion is wrong, that strapping a bomb on a child in the name of a deity is wrong, corporate greed, political corruptness, rape and sexism are all wrong. Is that so extreme? Provocative, surely, but only because the world lives in fear of itself.

Do what you want and fuck the system, compromise only where you are prepared to do so, and know the bottom line of your integrity and make sure you stay well above it. We do what we want when we want and we have brothers and sisters in bands we tour with doing the same thing. The day of the major label getting involved with bands on our scale and distorting their vision and message and homogenising the scene and sound is over.

*Holy War* is out now via Nuclear Blast