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Artillery had on and off felt like a case of unfinished business. How could a group of human beings conjure the magnificence of By Inheritance and then drift into nothingness? So when it was clear they were reforming at the close of the 90s, my eyes lit up with both anticipation and dread. The decade had twisted so many legendary thrash artists in the wrong direction. So much could have gone wrong. We might have been forced to suffer Flemming Rönsdorf nu-metal, or worse. This was not a complete reunion from the 1990 lineup. The Stützer's and Rönsdorf return, with Morten taking up his earlier instrument (bass) for the recording, and the trio enlisted the qualified drummer Per Jensen (Invocator, The Haunted, etc) to lay down the percussion.
It turns out we never had much cause for concern. Artillery positioned themselves straight back to their brand of exciting, uplifting thrash metal, with a few modern flourishes. First, the guitar tone is much thicker, with the rhythms packed just as strongly as the leads and harmony. B.A.C.K. is not as airy and grandiose as By Inheritance. You don't feel like you're in that same majestic, bewildering space. They also channel a lot more effects into the guitars, and the riffs are an inkling less complex and well defined than their predecessors. The bass is thicker in the mix, but it generally serves as an afterthought. Perhaps this comes with Morten's 6-string focus; though he was previously the bassist for the first two albums, he might have just plunked these lines down in the wake of Thorslund not being available (or anyone else). There are exceptions, like the rock-oriented "Final Show" which has decent fills. As for Flemming, he's just as charming as ever, but not as loud through the mix as the older material (in tune with the times), and often a bit strained.
This album is not nearly as thorough as By Inheritance. It opens with its two most energetic and entertaining tracks, and then drops off slightly in quality. "Cybermind" is intense, with its trademark, amazingly well conceived riffs and structural swerves, a massive thrashing groove carved into its verse, and a great lead sequence. "How Do You Feel" cuts from the very same cloth, an obsessive charge forward into riffs that would not have been out of place on their 1990 opus, and this is perhaps my single favorite track on this album. The verse guitars are fucking amazing here, and the thicker tone really drives it home. Then comes the third track in the 'Trash' trilogy, "Out of the Trash", funky melodies and bass-lines alternating with straight thrash not unlike the first two songs, and not ultimately as memorable. "Final Show" has a lot more hard rock grooves to it, with the aforementioned funky bass-lines, and this did very little for me.
But before they let the attention span of the album drift off, they belt out "WWW" and "Violent Breed", which both have a few great riffs spread about them, even if the vocals are excessively corny (especially the stop/start thrash bridge lines in the latter). "Theatrical Exposure", "The Cure" and "B.A.C.K." return to the pacing of "Cybermind" and "How Do You Feel", with only a few irritating vocal lines between them; and the closer "Paparazzi" is also worthwhile, curving into some huge, slower hooks, though once again it feels as if he's stretching his pipes a bit too far and might need a cup of hot lemon tea.
Obviously, anyone expecting an album at the level of By Inheritance would be mildly letdown here, including myself, but it's not a disappointment of The Phantom Menace proportions (which came out the same year). To be honest, you can get a lot of mileage out of "Cybermind" and "How Do You Feel" alone, which stand among the best songs Artillery have ever written, and a handful of others here follow straight in their footsteps. The only tracks I really don't care for in the long run were "Final Show" and "Out of the Trash"; they mar the overall effectiveness of the track list, but it's not as if they're entirely void of ear candy. Considering what a dry year 1999 was for this genre (only Sodom and a few black/thrash acts like Witchery and Necrodeath had released anything worthwhile), it serves as a shining if flawed comeback album with some legs to stand on. Alas, in another, frustrating turn of events, the Danes would disassemble once more in 2000.
Like most thrashers, I only had one question in my mind before listening to this album: will it be as good as their classic albums? It didn't take me long to figure out that this wasn't as good as their classic albums ... this IS a classic album. First of all, this is neither an exact replica of their old work nor a half-assed attempt at selling out. Those wanting to hear By Inheritance 2 or Torture Squad 2 are warned; this is quite different from the older albums. Itâ€™s not pure thrash either, but more about that later.
It is -as with all Artillery albums- unique. Some minor groove metal influences seem to have found their way into most of the songs, but unlike some other people this doesn't bother me at all. In fact, this provides a healthy degree of variation. Groovy riffs are mixed in with the legendary oriental-sounding Artillery riffs and neck-breaking thrash riffs. The solos seem to have a bit too much of wah attached to them at times, but this doesn't mean they aren't amazing. Quite to the contrary, the solos are miles above average (which was to be expected).
However, the riffing isn't completely consistent throughout the entire record. There are a whole lot of mind-blowing ones (the intro of Cybermind, for example) while others don't seem to go anywhere. This isn't a major issue because the amount of good riffs are amazing enough to sustain the entire album. The bass sounds good too; at times perhaps a bit too low in the mix but great lines are scattered over all the tracks. The drumming is near perfect, the only minor flaw is the sound of the snare. I'm guessing this isn't the fault of the drummer though but rather an error on the part of the engineer or producer.
Flemming delivers, as usual, an incredible performance as a vocalist. His tone has changed quite a bit compared to By Inheritance, there are less higher shrieks and when they do appear they're nowhere near the ones of the older albums. That's not to say it's bad though, not at all. A weird type of effect (I honestly have no idea what it is) makes Flemming sound very strange and artificial at times, which once again is probably a misjudgment by the producer. The effect wouldn't sound bad in minor doses but it's simply overused here.
The biggest problem on BACK seems to be the production. First of all it's not as polished and clear as By Inheritance and at times the mix even sounds raw. Depending on your preferences this might be good or bad, but to me it was a good choice and suits the music very well. But, the producer also made some mistakes. The effect on the vocals, for example, or the sound of the snare drum. As mentioned before the bass is too low in the mix at times, which is a shame because once it pops up the tone is quite good.
Overall, this is an awesome album. It has some flaws and isn't very consistent but the good parts make up for it. One of the best comeback albums I have ever heard and worth to be released under the name of Artillery. Those wondering if this is as good as their classic albums should stop worrying; this IS a classic album. I should also mention that some songs should have been b-sides in stead of put on the album. What I would have done was take the best riffs from the lesser songs and add them to the other songs - or simply have the lesser songs as bonus tracks. Recommended to ... everybody.
If anything good came of the Thrash revival of the late nineties it must surely be Whiplash’s gloriously Thrashtastic ‘Thrashback’ album and also this 1999 release from Artillery. Sure, Flemming Ronsdorf’s vocals are perhaps not to everyone’s tastes, but musically this CD contains enough riffs to satiate even the most demanding Thrasher.
Looking at the cover though, it’s rather amusing to see the 80’s cheesiness return in all it’s glory. Not only do you have a reaper bursting rather comically from a coffin but in the background there’s the chimneys from ‘Survive’ and a barrel of toxic waste straight from the school of Ed Repka (Megadeth, Evil Dead, etc).
But on to the music….and what music. This is great stuff. Sadly it seems to have been a one off (like the Whiplash album) but at least we got this one before they packed it in for good (?). Fans of the Haunted will be interested to know that Per Jensen stands in on drums here, and once you know this you will recognize his style for sure. He certainly plays a blinder here as does the whole band and the album is superbly produced by Andy Sneap.
Will this convert the Mall-core kiddies to the cause? I doubt it, Artillery are a band who have a very distinct and individual style and I don’t see this album gaining them many new converts (perhaps why there hasn’t been another one) and I don’t suppose the photo on the back will do them any favours either - 3 blokes who look like your Dad basically….which is a shame because they haven’t lost their touch for writing great songs by any means. I guess the closest style I could compare Artillery would be The Haunted, but without that Anselmoesque aggressive overtones that modernity has brought them…you could definitely say Witchery are close too but without the Black Metal elements.
Best songs here would have to be ‘WWW’, ‘Final Show’ (which sounds a bit like Harvester of Sorrow, but don’t let that put you off) and ‘B.A.C.K.’.
Basically, if you liked Artillery back in the day then you won’t be disappointed with this one, it’s probably their second best release, bested only by the insane genius of ‘Terror Squad’ and really it’s a crying shame that this wasn’t the catalyst for a whole slew of new-Millennium releases….
Ah well…..it’s never over til the fat lady sings, so maybe there’s still hope?
What, oh yeah - I forgot about Charlotte Church.
Dammit, that’s your lot then.
Apparently there are no exceptions. Every band has members who do nothing but following their idolized gods. Sheep. The Colombian Darkness is the best example of this, but B.A.C.K. stinks from it too. Apparently Artillery watched their old heroes losing their grip, leaving the thrash scene for the favored groovecore and groove metal ditto. Apparently Artillery wanted to follow them, and did re-group in order to make one of the more longed-for comebacks in history, a comeback that should, hopefully, render Artillery a place in the ranks of the big guys.
Apparently there are few, if any successful comebacks. Most of them tend to be so-called meh:s. Artillery turned out to make a meh, if a fainter one than usual. Apparently Artillery didn't quite accomplish neither a thrash, nor a groove album. Instead Artillery opted for both and made a mess out of it. This was done by opening each song with a riff bound to make any thrashhead happy - or at least agree not to argue its existence. So far, so good, but then... what? They do switch between thrash and groove sections throughout the songs. It's done in a decent fashion, but it's a fatal blow towards the parts sounding like old Artillery. This switching is taken to its extremes on Final Show where we get a riff, which is suddenly removed when it's time for Flemming to sing a strophe. In between the verses they do riffing all right, and then there's a decent groove metal chorus. This just isn't satisfactory.
Apparently, this isn't the only place where Artillery disappointed with lyrics. They've tried "modern" effects everywhere. This is a problem with recent albums. Computerized mixing has made it far too easy for the band to use effects that should not be used. Take the hardcorish distortion of Theatrical Exposure, or the barely audible robotic voice on each and every song as examples. That "robotic" voice is nothing but a filter removing all but the lowest tones of Flemming voice, when admittedly he isn't that low-pitched. Apparently he has weakened too. He uses high-pitched screams - which, due to too much beer, aren't that high-pitched where there once used to be almost falsetto-ish growls.
Apparently Artillery erases their old trademarks. Take the two Stützer brothers (guitarists, one doubling on bass) as an example. At times their work is former Artillery, but in deed they're the outposts most affected by the modernisms. In a suffering way. Violent Breed has strophes preceded by a great riff, lined by great riffs. But then there's a scale followed by stupid Annihilator-ities. It doesn't work well. Agreed, it works better than when Annihilator does it but that is because of the actual thrash around it, not because of any groove metal of higher quality. Other stupid things are a slow part in Paparazzi without any point at all. It doesn't fit; it doesn't exist for more than nine seconds during which Artillery suck, after the song continues as it was before. Pointless.
Out of the Thrash is the latest, weakest, most inconsistent and outright worst song in the Trash-series. It reminds of the Artillery we used to know though. But... it’s a sad excuse. It is however not before one reaches the title track that one realizes that B.A.C.K. would have been made much more justice as a single. The album idea is totally unnecessary. The song B.A.C.K. is total Terror Squad-esque material.. Very consistent, almost too much. It does nothing but bringing thrash, spreading headbanging in its catchy, hard, heavy and thrashy Artillery-trademark way. It's classic and furious material with the best lyrics, vocals and drums on the entire record. And even then it doesn't reach the glorious heights of By Inheritance.
All in all B.A.C.K. is Artillery's worst album. As such it could be rather good, but it isn't exactly good. It's decent at best, something the drums aren't. Thrash drums just aren't done that way. They aren't.
So this here is a pretty damn good thrash album - though every once in a while it strays into some silly modernisms that make this not as good as the old stuff by this band. Fortunately, they are few and far between.
First - Cybermind. Great intro riff, though someone needs to tell that drummer to shut the fuck up and quit hitting the tom every beat, it is quite distracting. Also, the verses are a bit uninspired, but otherwise quite solid, and the riffage under the solo is awesome. Though again, please kill that drummer.
Next, How Do You Feel - a pretty fast intro, this is sounding more like standard thrash metal here. Especially after the first main riff and when the vocals kick in around 0.33 - now THIS is the Artillery we know and love. Total headbanging insanity here. The chorus is also pretty good (other than the kinda robotic "how... do you... feel" part, that's just silly) and the riff that explodes out of nowhere after the main solo. Top notch. Though again I gotta say, kill that drummer. Half the time he's doing some silly shit - klonk, klonk, klonk - very distracting. Then, the second solo is bludgeoning insanity. Classic Artillery, kids.
Out of the Trash, the latest in the trash series. Very solid intro and under-verses riff section, again more of what makes Artillery sound like Artillery. Though the lead guitarist's tone is a bit silly between the two verses - that little fill reminds me a little bit of Kirk Hammett to be truly inspiring. Nonetheless the pre-chorus riff is cool, and the chorus is great - very reminiscent of the old "Life in the trash, it's dirty and mean" stuff. You are a sad excuse! Out of the trash! After the chorus we have a little interlude, though... and the horrible guitar tone comes in again. A very uninspired solo, with the riffs going on and off too. Finally, a solid riff at around 2.15 sets things right, and then the soloing picks up in quality too for a bit, but then we have that silly fill, followed by another killer verse. This song is pretty inconsistent - it's got its great moments and its terrible ones.
Final Show - average opening riff, going into a midpaced bludgeoner... however when the verses kick in, the riff drops away. Oh dear. Terror Squad, this is not. This sounds more like Pantera than anything else at this point. However, at around 1.58 the song is redeemed - this is where it should have begun, because before that it was uninspired crap, but here this goes into thrash fucking mayhem. Great solid riffage, and good soloing too. Unfortunately, at 3.28 the song takes another step down. Then back up at around 4.26 - the song alternates between the good thrash and the average groove stuff.
WWW - haha what a stupid song title. What's next? TCP/IP? Nonetheless, a great opening riff. This is total classic Artillery, especially with the emphasis of the main riff around 0:38 in... the chorus is a bit ridiculously silly, though - especially with the distorted hardcore-ish vocals. Fortunately, it's about the only time on the album that the vocals take on this quality, but the chorus is, as I said, really dumb. World wide web! World wide web! That's a total Dew-Scented or whatever style chorus. Nice solo comes up soon, and then the main riff. Overall a good song. "Oh no, she's a he!!!" Pretty hilarious lyrics.
Violent Breed - intro riff is total classic thrash, but after that during the verses we get more of the non-thrash groove stuff, which actually works well in this case. "See if you can take the heat!" - I hate the dropout of riffs under the chorus, but the riffs between lines are killer. Also, great solo - the lead guitar on this album is quite impressive.
BACK - the title track starts off in pretty impressive fashion. Good catchy head-banging under the verse riff, then around 1.41 the song really totally kicks in - this is the stuff Terror Squad dreams are made of. Not quite By Inheritance, but still, it's catchy, it's fun, it's worth a headbang.
The Cure - solid opening section, and nice catchy verses. The only complaint I have is the "random geek vocals" - supposedly someone on the radio complaining about an escape from the asylum ("we have a patient escape"...) - but the verses are good, and then the chorus part is fucking excellent. "Sane, I'll never be again!" Then the middle section is kinda stop-go with the riffage... this is good solid groove, though, not nearly as bad as This Love or something, and the solo works well too. All I gotta say is, dude, drummer guy, quit abusing that poor tom. Another verse and chorus are done well. The highlight of the second half.
Paparazzi - album closer. Nice opening riffs, and kind of a busy-sounding verse section with the loud double-bass. Decent riff, though. At 1.23 we have the slowed down part, but a thrash break this is not. Nonetheless, it's only about 9 seconds long, before the chorus. This is classic Artillery here - "even when they die!!" - the vocal presentation is totally Terror Squad. Then a great fast solo, before a more mid-paced section. "And slowly find its way to you" - this is okay but not spectacular, it gets better when it speeds up. Overall, not a bad song, but the slow parts lack the "headbang or die" hook of, say "Time Has Come".
Overall - the album works. Lots of fucking thrash riffs, and even when they throw in the groove, it's still pretty effective. The worst Artillery album, but still pretty damn essential.