You gotta hand it to Artillery. They just keep firing away long after the original thrash wars faded into memory and many a speed détente was put in place. Longevity aside, it seems they’re taking their second (or third) run at metal immortality quite seriously. 2013s Legions was a solid dose of Danish steel with a more melodic bent courtesy of new voice Michael Bastholm Dahl. For those waiting around for Fear of Tomorrow II, it might not have been exactly what they wanted, but those creeps will be perpetually disappointed by anything the band releases outside of 1985. Luckily they’re a dying breed, and the band shouldn’t be penalized by such unrealistic perceptions. With that said, Penalty by Perception essentially picks up right where Legions left off, fusing the classic Artillery sound with something akin to Steve Grimmett era Onslaught or perhaps the heavier side of Heathen. This is a bit heavier than Legions, but still highly melodic. Whether that’s a good thing depends how much melody you like in your thrash stew, but there’s no denying these cagey vets know how to craft quality speed.
Opener “In Defiance of Conformity” is a fine table setter, keeping the riffs in line with classic Artillery while Dahls’s vocals soar all over the place sounding a whole like Niklas Isfeldt of Dream Evil. The chorus is catchy, anthemic and the whole thing rocks pretty damn hard. “Live by the Scythe” is more of the same with inspired riffcraft and an interesting blend of aggressive speed and melodic singing. It also has a video that makes me burst out laughing at multiple points, so it’s obviously a winner.
“Mercy of Ignorance” features the album’s best riff and it’s quite an addictive little burner with shades of Testament and Flotsam and Jetsam flowing through the guitar-work. Also of note is the shockingly Dream Evil-esque “Deity Machine,” the rollicking upbeat thrash of “Cosmic Brain” and fretboard wizardry of closer “Welcome to the Mind Factory” which strongly recalls the glory days of Annihilator (i.e. their first 2 albums only).
While I wouldn’t call any songs filler, “Path of the Atheist” is a bit generic and though “When the Magic is Gone” features some beautiful musicianship, their attempt at a power-ballad akin to Metallica‘s “One” doesn’t really click and feels too watered down. At 53 minutes, the album starts to feel long before the rousing finish arrives and dropping the weaker tunes would have been a boon. Sound-wise, this is a pretty loud platter. I like the guitar tone but the mix serves to turn the riffing into a wall of sound at times and it can get fatiguing, which is a bummer as much of the music is very entertaining.
The Stützer brothers (Michael and Morten) have commanded this battery since the band’s inception and their riffs always defined the band’s sound. Their style evolved over the decades, but you can still hear the roots of the classic sound and that makes geezers like me smile. Though the new sound is firmly rooted in melo-thrash, they keep the riffs heavy enough to avoid a headlong crash into power metal realms, which is appreciated. What’s apparent is the amount of thought they put in their playing, as this album is awash with interesting leads, harmonies and solos, all of which keep the listener dialed in. On the last album Michael Bastholm Dahl reminded me of a young Steve Grimmett (Grim Reaper) but now his delivery is much more in line with typical Euro-power conventions. It works but I wish he would add more grit and venom to his delivery. He’s also a bit too high in the mix here and at times annoyingly so.
Overall a stronger, harder album than Legions, this release sees the band honing their new style into an increasingly formidable beast. Yes, I admit I still want Fear of Tomorrow II, but I’ve made peace with the band’s evolution and it’s hard to resist the appeal of what they’re currently offering. It’s not cutting edge or avant-garde, but it is slick, hooky speed done with flair, and that always has a place in the heart of Steel. Bombs away.