Paul Hutchings takes a listen to the new Artillery Album to see what it offers in todays batch of thrash…
For those of us old enough to remember, Artillery came roaring out of Denmark in the 1980s with a ferocity that matched their counterparts across the world. Their first full length, Fear of Tomorrow was released in 1985 and showed real promise with solid reviews. When the band split in 1991, it was a real shame as they were establishing themselves as a force in the thrash movement, albeit a band who always had the hook and melody of Metal Church and Armored Saint rather than the gnarlier style of Kreator or Exodus. Having reformed in 2007, the band had produced several more albums, with Michael Bastholm Dahl replacing Soren Nico Adamsen on vocals in 2012.
The passing of guitarist and founder member Morten Stützer unsurprisingly shook Artillery to the core, and it’s taken the band time to regroup, and decide on their direction. 2018’s The Face of Fear was the last album that Morten played on and it was a consistent if unremarkable album. He’s now been succeeded by Kræn Meier, who has played live with Artillery since 2017. He joins Morten’s brother and fellow guitarist Michael, Dahl, bassist Peter Thorsland and dummer Josua Madsen in the 2021 Artillery line-up.
It’s worth a disclaimer straight away. If you are searching for gritty, old school style thrash, then you might as well stop reading now. This isn’t what you were looking for. X is polished to a high chrome finish. Dahl’s soaring vocals and the high tempo push the band dangerously close to power metal territory. It’s clean, melodic, and full of harmonies. There is little to excite in terms of thrash metal at all. The reaction of the Thrash Metal Album of the Fortnight Club to the single In Thrash we Trust in late March when it was featured on the page’s Hit Miss or Maybe feature is perhaps an accurate summary. Most members were uninspired by it.
However, X is fabulously produced. Søren Andersen, who the band have worked with on every record since 2009’s When Death Comes has done a great job. But one can’t help wondering if this is just too shiny and clean. Doesn’t thrash come with dirt under the nails? These fingers are uncontaminated.
So, what about the actual music? The opening song The Devil’s Symphony begins with an Oriental intro that confuses before the thumping riff kicks in and we are off. It is a promising start with a fiery pace pushing the song hard. Dahl’s clean, towering vocals work well, although no doubt too clean for the elitists. The hook works well, and my attention was obtained.
Unfortunately, In Thrash We Trust which follows isn’t anything to get excited about and whilst the tempo remained elevated, it is missing the spark that fires the attention. Turn Up The Rage and Silver Cross are both fine, bombastic songs with pounding rhythmic driving the songs forward. But there’s something not quite fitting. It may be churlish, but these are closer to heavy metal than thrash which is the biggest challenge with this whole album. Many of the songs are repetitive and so similar in sound I had to keep checking that I hadn’t gone around in a loop.
The Ghost of Me throws up another question. Part Scorpions, part Nightwish, it’s as far removed from the norm as possible. It is a hard rock/pop track which even on this album sits outside of the rest of the songs. With producer Andersen adding keyboards and the band admirably adding their crew and drivers to the backing vocals on this and other songs, this is going to go down like a fart in a space suit amongst the band’s diehards.
Luckily, Artillery rectifies it with a fist pumping follow up on Force of Indifference. The bad taste lingers long though.
Is it harsh to pin much of the issue on the vocals in a song? Well, bands are invariably defined by their singers. Varg I Veum and Mors Ontologica are both raging thrashers, full of screaming guitars and ferocious drumming but, and it’s a big but, Dahl’s vocals just aren’t suited to the music. And I feel terrible for raising this because the man has a fine voice, but his style is more akin of countryman Rasmus Bom Andersen (Diamond Head) in a classic metal delivery. You just wonder if a gnarlier, grittier vocalist would give Artillery the edge that is needed. Even the closing double salvo of Eternal Night and the social commentary of Beggars in Black Suits, both strong musically, are lifted to other genres. And maybe, just maybe, the problem sits with me more than Artillery.
X is not a bad album. I need to repeat that. It’s a stonkingly good heavy metal record that just strays into the thrash boundaries without ever really intending to set up residence. And that may be fine, except for the thrash fan from 1985 and 2021, there’s just a spark missing which would push this into those discerning metalhead league tables.
Artillery X is released via Metal Blade Records on the 7th May 2021