Artillery – X Review

Denmark’s Artillery weren’t the first thrash band to cross my stereo in the 80s, as they were beaten to the punch by most of the “Big Four” and two-thirds of the big names in Germanic thrash. Still, their Fear of Tomorrow debut hit like a thunderbolt from Thor himself when it arrived in 1985. It was heavy and fast, but also had major hooks and choruses that drilled deep into your skull. The band had a very good run with follow ups Terror Squad and By Inheritance and then inexplicably called it a day in 1990. They resurfaced briefly in 1999, then promptly returned to limbo until 2009. Since then they’ve managed to be productive, releasing an album every two or three years, maintaining enough of their classic sound to keep folks like me interested, though I wasn’t a fan of 2018s The Face of Fear and its more power metal-esque approach. Sadly, guitarist Morten Stützer, who along with his brother Michael founded the band and created its distinctive riffing style, passed away in 2019 at the young age of 57. Artillery soldiered on in the aftermath, recruiting a new guitarist and returning with their tenth full-length, X. I’m happy to report X is a shift back toward their thrash roots, with the trademark Stützer brothers sound alive, well, and ready to shellac your ass. And in an unexpected development, it’s one of the best, most consistent platters the band’s crafted in their long history. Silver linings.

With the underwhelming The Face of Fear fresh on my mind, I was taken aback by how heavy and urgent opener “The Devil’s Symphony” sounded. The riffs are huge and heavy and there’s no doubt it’s old school thrash. The classic Artillery riffing is there in force and Michael Bastholm Dahl wails and shouts like a wild man. It’s a vicious little stomper and one of the better songs the band’s done in a while. The creepy chanted refrain of “let him into your heart” backed by big, fat riffs goes down excellently and the leads just keep pummeling to the bitter end. Follow up cut “In Thrash We Trust” sounds like something off By Inheritance and rips and tears along in classic style carried by big riff energy. The chorus is cheesy but effective and the band sounds like they discovered the fountain of thrash youth and imbibed deeply. The album highlight is “Turn Up the Rage” which is the best song Artillery’s penned in over a decade. The opening lead is infectious and Dahl goes all in vocally. It has that classic sound but also reminds me of the Steve Grimmett era of Onslaught. The chorus is big and anthemic with a slight hint of Pyramaze present.

The remainder of X is very good too. “Force of Indifference” is one of the fastest, hardest songs and it packs a real wallop with razor-sharp riffing and a great chorus. “In Your Mind” references the early 90s Metal Church output, and power ballad “The Ghost of Me” is very effective thanks to a big, emotional performance by Dahl and a satisfying chorus that really pops. There are no weak cuts present, though “Varg I Veum” and “Eternal Night” feel a bit less impactful than the other selections, with the latter almost sounding like a Dream Evil tune. With only one song crossing the 5-minute barrier, the band wisely kept things short, sharp and punchy, which makes the 45-plus runtime feel effortless. Add in a good production that puts a lot of emphasis on the guitars and you have a very effective, entertaining thrash product.

Speaking of the guitars, they’re the big selling point. Michael Stützer and new axe Kræn Meier deliver the thrashy goods with the best collection of riffs heard on an Artillery platter in a long time. At several points it feels like they’ve slipped back to the Fear of Tomorrow and By Inheritance days, and that’s high praise. The riff phrasing is very good and there are more moments that stick with me than most modern thrash albums can supply. They clearly took great pains to preserve the Stützer sound and it pays big dividends. Michael Bastholm Dahl once again showcases his value as a frontman. He has a big voice and a wide range and uses all of it. He steps back from the somewhat power metal-y delivery he used on The Face of Fear and keeps things in the thrash wheelhouse most of the time, adding a lot of oomph to the material. He comes into his own at chorus time especially, providing big, memorable moments. Peter Thorslund’s bass is notably present and plays a bigger role in the overall sound than what is common in the genre. He even gets a few moments to shine along the way.

X finds Artillery nearly 40 years into their career and down a crucial founding member, but they’ve rallied admirably and released one of their best records. X reminds me while I loved the band so much in the 80s and shows they can still bring the fire like they did all those years ago. This thing is like a 21 gun salute to a fallen comrade and I think Morten would be very proud. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: May 7th, 2021

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