November 12, 2018 Artillery – The Face of Fear (Album Review)
Leaders in European Thrash Metal, Danish veterans, Artillery are set to return on Friday, November 16th with The Face of Fear via Metal Blade Records. Marking their third work for the storied So-Cal Metal label, its ninth overall LP, coming on the heels of Legions in 2014 and Penalty by Perception in 2016.
A band with an abundance of history, Artillery formed in the early 1980s in Taastrup, a commuter town outside Copenhagen, Denmark with the core lineup of Vocalist Flemming Rönsdorf, Guitarists Michael Stützer and Jørgen Sandau, Bassist Morten Stützer (brother to Michael), along with Drummer Carsten Nielsen. A tight five-piece, they recorded two albums – 1985’s Fear of Tomorrow and 1987’s Terror Squad – before Sandau departed. Morten then switched to guitar, and Peter Thorslund was recruited in his stead. A third album, By Inheritance, was released in 1990, before the band broke up the following year.
Various compilation releases brought the band back together in 1998, and a year later the band released B.A.C.K., their first collection of new material in nearly a decade. Now officially reunited for twenty years, Dahl, Michael and Morten Stützer, Thorslund, and Joshua Madsen, on drums since 2012, team up with Producer Søren Andersen for The Face of Fear.
Consisting of eleven songs in total, The Face of Fear opens with its first single and title-track, for which the band also commissioned a video. The track itself attacks the self-destructive nature of man, simultaneously fearing the end of the world while doing nothing on a daily basis to prevent this end. Founding Guitarist Michael Stützer intimated second single “Crossroads to Conspiracy” was one of the last written, and the lyrics describe the self-delusion of blaming wrong choices on others, when the true blame and responsibility lies within. The track incorporates everything you would expect from three decades of Thrash experience: pummeling drums, piercing vocals, and runaway guitar solos from the Stützer brothers. A few tracks later, “Pain,” the third single, visits similar territory, describing the plight of a destructive alcoholic who pays no heed to his friends’ warnings until things have run too far.
Moving on, “New Rage” begins with a progressive, bass-driven attack, but falls apart midway through the track which proves to be a recurring blemish: the vocal patterns of Dahl often fall almost exactly in step with the instrumentation behind him. Rather than accentuate the guitar riffs or sturdy rhythm section, he latches on to one or the other, adding nothing exciting to the track. He has impressive pipes that appear throughout the album—the opening yell for “Through the Ages of Atrocity” is enough to earn an audition callback—but these moments are often cancelled out by the places where the vocals sound almost bolted onto the finished product. Then “Preaching to the Converted” is another paradox, where the choruses seem to break free of the song, but the verses are otherwise trapped in the exact musical pattern of the song.
“Through the Ages of Atrocity” is arguable a perfect track, combining the vocals of Dahl with the seasoned riffs of the Stützer brothers; his voice here sounds as if it is a full-fledged member rather than a necessary evil. Interestingly, the producer, Andersen, made a note that some of the material on this album was originally written in the ’80s heyday of the band, but “Atrocity” can hold its own against any Metal era. That in mind, “Sworn Utopia” is another strong effort, one which falls in line with the early Peace Sells or So Far-era of Megadeth. Returning to the awkward vocal performance comes “Thirst for the Worst” with the cadence of the verses falling into awkward lock-step with the underlying rhythm; the chorus movements improve, save for the lyrics themselves, which leave a little to be desired (“we drink/ forever/ we eat/ and swallow/ we drink/ holy water/ we have/ thirst for the worst”).
Lastly, The Face of Fear closes with two re-recordings of earlier material; “Mind of No Return” had previously appeared on the Through the Years compilation in 2007, with vocals by Per Onink, the original version dates to the first year of the band, as Onink left the band in 1983, two year before the band’s debut, Fear of Tomorrow. The final track, “Doctor Evil,” is a re-recording of a song that appeared on Legions just five years ago, with the same personnel.
At a time when so many new bands are trying to recreate the heady days of early ’80s Thrash Metal, Artillery need only look to themselves: their history already speaks for itself, but rather than rest on their pedigree, the band’s recent output is perhaps more impressive. Their authentic sound is coupled with a realistic image taken from the ’80s, where worldwide war and nuclear destruction were tangible topics (and may, sadly, be again). The impressive guitar work of the Stützer brothers is ubiquitous without overpowering any given track. Overall, The Face of Fear is another strong effort from Artillery, and Cryptic Rock is pleased to award it 4 out of 5 stars.