Friday 7 May 2021

Artillery - X (2021)

Country: Denmark
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 7 May 2021
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It was Valentines Day in 1986 and, just like every other Friday evening during that era of my life, I was taping the Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio 1. Tommy Vance started out well with a classic by Saxon and a good new one from Ozzy and then he hit me with Time Has Come, taken from the Artillery debut on Neat Records, Fear of Tomorrow. The rest of the show was good, but I was blown away by the Artillery song and I remember raving to my mother, who didn't give a monkey's about rock or metal, about this fantastic new band I'd just discovered, as if I'd done something more than listen to a radio show.

Artillery were from Denmark, not the usual location for a thrash metal band in 1986. Everyone else, it seemed, was either from the Bay Area of San Francisco or from Germany, with some up and comers in the UK too. Denmark surprised me, but I quickly picked up Fear of Tomorrow from Groové Records and Terror Squad when that came out too, with its godawful hand drawn cover. I may not have played them to death like other favourite bands I found in 1986 like Nuclear Assault or Metal Church, but they were really good albums and it was a shame when Artillery ceased to be, after a third good album in 1990's By Inheritance.

Well, it seems that they've got back together twice, in 1998 for a few years, and again in 2007, when it stuck. This is their tenth album, as the title might suggest, with six of those ten coming from this new incarnation. They haven't changed line-up that often, all things considered, but, while three original members were at the heart of the 2007 reunion, only guitarist Michael Stützer remains now, because drummer Carsten Nielsen left in 2012 and Stützer's brother and fellow guitarist died in 2019. The first of two bonus tracks, The Last Journey, is a tribute to him.

So what do they sound like now? Well, the opener, The Devil's Symphony, kicks off just like high tempo thrash ought to, with a simple but effective intro and a neat transition to speed. There's nothing new in the first minute of this song, but it's done really well by a tight band who know what they're doing. When the vocals of Michael Bastholm Dahl kick in, they're clean and surprisingly melodic, with a clear nod to power metal that becomes more obvious as the album runs on. The middle section chugs nicely and then ramps back up to full speed for the solos. It's a good opener in the vein of older Megadeth, back when they were a thrash band.

As Megadeth increasingly did over time, though, this album gradually sheds the speed. It's still there for In Thrash We Trust, which I'm guessing would have been the title track if this wasn't an anniversary release. I like the drums of Josua Madsen here, because it often feels like he's pushing the band just a little, pressing them to stay fast and maybe add a little nitro to that. It's obvious that, as fast as they get, he's always comfortable and could take any of these songs to the next level whenever they're up for it. Turn Up the Rage isn't as fast as we might expect from that title, but it's still up tempo.

However, the longer the album runs on, the more Artillery seem content to play at what would seem fast for a heavy metal band but certainly not full speed for a thrash band, even if it isn't traditional chugging at mid pace. The Ghost of Me is easily the slowest and most radio friendly song here, made all the more obvious by Force of Indifference coming in fast and frantic on its heels, but the approach is clearly not to truly blister, even on a song where it could have happened. For every song that lets it rip, like Force of Indifference, there's another that just doesn't want to, like Varg I Veum.

Megadeth continue to be a fair comparison, as would some of the heavy power metal bands in Germany like Primal Fear or even Accept, but I caught plenty of heavy Iron Maiden in this sound too. It's there in the galloping drums, the interesting riffs (check out that middle eastern riff towards the end of Silver Cross, for example) and the operatic power metal vocal style of Dahl. Some of this would play pretty well as a follow up to the Powerslave album. It's surprising to find that the second bonus track is a decent cover of Trapped Under Ice, because there isn't much early Metallica here. That's at its most overt on In Your Mind, especially its intro, and some of the other intros and breakdowns.

This is a good album, perhaps a better one for its variety of tempos even if I kept wanting it to speed up, and it makes me want to pull out my copies of Fear of Tomorrow and Terror Squad, but also check out the other newer albums that the band have been releasing. This is the first for Kræn Meier, their new rhythm guitarist, but the fourth for Dahl and Madsen. Bass player Peter Thorslund was on their third and final album before they split up the first time, but didn't return for the brief incarnation at the turn of the millennium. I look forward to their next release. It's good to see them still in business.

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