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Artillery is one of those classic groups that I ignored for the longest time because I'm a bad kid. I'll admit "Legions," Artillery’s seventh album, was the first of the band's works to ever grace my ears—as I said, bad kid. I can’t say I’d expected a record of this magnitude after so many years in the game and the general quality standard of many of thrash‘s middle-aged veterans, but our first date went well and I scheduled another, whether Artillery likes it or not. I find myself thoroughly impressed with "Legions" for the most part. From a newcomer's perspective, Artillery bobs on the cusp of power/thrash metal while juggling a ton of melody and charisma, almost giving the songs an upbeat, vigorous tint. At thirty-one years young, they have more chops and zest than most modern thrash bands I can think of, that's for sure.
I'm not calling "Legions" perfect or a masterpiece of any kind, but for a thrash album in 2013, it stands above the bulk of the cattle. Most of this credit goes to the Stützer brothers, Michael and Morten, who are phenomenal riff designers and engaging on a technical level. Just about every track has a surplus of fantastic guitar work, often ranging from traditional thrash chops to Middle Eastern flares, and blazing leads everywhere. As I said before, Artillery's semblance is much more based on energy, a bit of a walk from the evil atmosphere of the Slayers and Onslaughts of the world. "Legions" is punchy and lively; riffs exploding through the rhythm section while Michael Bastholm Dahl, in his first role as Artillery's vocalist, shouts above the guitar work with a ton of passion and vitality. Their dichotomy is often crisp and absorbing.
I can't compare Dahl to other Artillery vocalists—you know, bad kid—but he's a stellar fit within the group's surroundings. His range and versatility are fantastic; he has no issue blending into a maiming riff or something pushing "Legions" back onto the brink between power/thrash metal. From the superb "Chill My Bones (Burn My Flesh)" to the seven-minute, environmentally-themed "Global Flatline," Artillery is varied, complex, magnetic, and firing on all cylinders. They hit a bit of a rough patch when "Dies Irae" and "Anno Requiem" roll around, both tracks acting like shadows of the album's first half, bobbing around on lame choruses and playing-it-safe musicianship, much unlike the relentless animation of something like the title track.
I really have no idea just what in the hell is going on during "Enslaved to the Nether." It's like a whiny alt-rock ballad with an acoustic bit thrown in the middle to make it appear, I don’t know, emotional, or deep? "Doctor Evil" and "Ethos of Wrath" make up for that zone of inconsistency, but really, "Legions" probably would've been truly excellent had they scrapped those three songs I mentioned earlier. Their brief transgressions may be forgiven, however, as most of "Legions" delivers multitudes of admirable guitar work with an unparalleled power of thrashing heavy metal goodness. Can't say I'd call this a wasteful investment or redundant in the least; Artillery lives up to the hype.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
The last Artillery album My Blood was lacking to say the least, so it was with a little trepidation that I approached their latest opus. A slight shift in personnel would see Søren Nico Adamsen and longtime drummer Carsten Nielsen leaving the fold, although replacing them would be the more-than-capable sticksman Josua Madsen, and a relatively new talent in vocalist Michael Bastholm Dahl. It would seem the new guys have brought a good deal of energy into the Artillery camp, as Legions immediately comes across bold and vigorous.
If their previous singer awarded a degree of power metal timbre to the Artillery sound, then I'd say Michael kicks that element into the stratosphere. His vocals are powerful and impressive, with a great approach to melody whilst being able to cut it in the aggression department. The control over his voice is ace, and he really adds a lot of flair and drama to the material, which I felt Søren couldn't. Of course Michael is no Flemming Rönsdorf, but who is. Those inclined to whine and moan about the lack of Flemming, or how Michael compares to him should kindly move along. At the end of the day Artillery's current sound doesn't cater to Flemming's maniacal, unhinged approach.
Stylistically the band bears the most similarity to modern Paradox these days, particularly Riot Squad. The riffs across the board are very much up-front and punchy, and of course the band's identifying middle-eastern flair in sewn throughout. The tone and production in general is of a fairly pushed, modern quality that really is ideal for Artillery's sound in 2013. Everything expected of the band is displayed deftly throughout the album, from their prolonged heavy numbers, focused semi-ballads and everything in between. When compared to their previous full-length, I think Legions stands head and shoulders above in terms of quality, and Michael ensures the album and band sound fresh. Really, the material is well done, with a good sense of focus and dynamic throughout.
"Chill My Bones (Burn My Flesh)" evokes slight feelings of By Inheritance in its intro, although by the time the rapid-firing main riff kicks in you can tell this is modern Artillery. Whilst somewhat of an obvious songwriting choice, I do enjoy Michael's cry of "Chill My Bones" in the first half of the song, and "Burn My Flesh" in the latter. However I feel it could have worked better with the latter cry heralding a new riff; regardless it works well, and the song on the whole rips. Throughout the album mainstay guitar slingers Michael and Morten Stützer really channel their magic, and in terms of quality their riffs are at least on par with those on When Death Comes, if not superior. Evidence can be seen proudly displayed in the likes of the ripping "Godfeather" or the flailing "Anno Requiem", although across the board the material is seriously neck-breaking.
As I touched on earlier, the vocals steer the material into power/thrash territory, and again as I've said, Michael has a good degree of melodic timbre to his voice. The end result is an album that is a blast to headbang to as much as it is to sing along with. I will admit that some of the vocal lines might be a little clichéd, although Michael's delivery ensures that they're, more than anything, good fun. "Doctor Evil" certainly displays these factors well, and the preceding semi-ballad "Enslaved To The Nether" shows how capable Michael is with room to breathe, outside of an upfront, thrashing affair.
After what was maybe their worst release to date, I'm happy to see Artillery taking names and kicking backside again. I think their new singer brings a lot to the table, and I'd also like to think further unification in the fold will bring greater reward for the future. Probably the best thrash album I've heard this year, the mix of great riffs and fantastic vocals tickles me in all the right places. The bottom line: Artillery are a great band, and here they're firing on all cylinders at the top of their game. Recommended!
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
It's a pity I can't conjure up the same excitement for an Artillery record that I once could when I was younger. Yes, the 16-year-old autothrall would probably slap the older version in the face repeatedly while begging my repentance just to continue HAVING new works from this long-beloved band, and yet when I read things to the nature of the new vocalist being a close approximation of Fleming Ronsdorf's performance on the first four albums, I can't help but feel misled by Legions...or at least a little disappointed. Not because this guy's a hack, not by any means, but I'll come right out and say that this is the least interesting and exciting Artillery record, and the fluctuating pipes of Michael Bastholm Dahl have at least something to do with that; though the primary offender is the actual songwriting. Legions is more or less a mish mash of riffing aesthetics off B.A.C.K. and the legendary By Inheritance, and yet they lack that degree of intricate, passionate melody and intensity which produced one of my favorite metal efforts in all history...
The Stützer brothers were indisputably one of the best, if not THE best guitar duo in that later 80s thrash epoch, and here they still show they haven't lost all their chops with age. Frenetic and churning rhythms are bounced off one another at various levels of acceleration, and they still seem to be incorporating a lot of those mildly Eastern melodies you may have recalled from the titles I name-dropped above. So Legions cultivates that similar sense of exotic, far-off, glorious and airy power/thrash, only it's missing those riff progressions that remain with you forever, something even the first reunion record When Death Comes was able to accomplish. It's not the 80s anymore, so you're not getting that wonderfully raw guitar tone you'd have found on Fear of Tomorrow, instead the Danes have settled into a more modern approximation of their 90s outing B.A.C.K., with the caveat that Legion is on the whole more atmospheric, with a lot more depth of production. This is emphasized by the effects on the vocals, and the clearer distinction between the leads and rhythm sounds, but unfortunately where the band was strongest was in how those elements came together so brilliantly and forcefully on By Inheritance, a record with more joyous progressions than I can rightly count. Legions is sleek and modern enough for those seeking 'upgrades' to their heroes, much like you'd expect from Paradox, Destruction or Testament, but the songs themselves have less impact.
As for Dahl, he's not without some verbal tricks up his sleeve...err, down his throat, but he lacks both the raucous and rough presence of the great Fleming Ronsdorf or even the screaming excess of his direct predecessor Søren Adamsen, who has moved over to front the Greek band Crystal Tears. Range and melody are not in deficit, but he's got this wavering, silky and piercing style to him that seems like it would be a more adequate fit for a power/progressive metal band, part of which Artillery encapsulates, but not enough that he's a match for the momentous riffing passages once the past increases velocity. Worst of all, though, and I'm not sure how much he can be blamed for this: the chorus parts are really just not that memorable. He also has a slightly unusual enunciation which occasionally rubbed me the wrong way, but even in tunes like "Global Flatline" where he's given a lot of space to flex a more thorough and operatic series of harmonies which remind me a little of a more prog metal alternative to Swedes like Messiah Marcolin or Memory Garden, the melodies that are written over the clean guitars don't seem to achieve much other than to exhibit his range. Not to mention there are probably more delay/reverb effects on him than on the vocals of any prior full-length, especially when he does a more cutting mid-range, aggressive line.
I'd also lay some of the blame here squarely on the leads, which while technically as adept as ever just don't seem to have any memorable qualities about themselves beyond the fact that 'hey there's needs to be a solo here, bro!'. In the past I've enjoyed some of the Stützer solos as much as their genius riffing, but on this album they seem obligatory and directionless, as in "Dies Irae" where I really thought they'd go off and prove a highlight of the piece, yet the structural choices are all pretty timid. The bass lines have some fire lit under them but in many cases they seem to dissipate beneath the punch and proximity of the rhythm guitars, and the other newbie, drummer Josua Madsen does his damned best to keep himself busy; he's just not playing over the strongest material on his Artillery debut. A shame, because I get the sense this group is on a steady decline in the 21st century, whereas their 80s run was the opposite. Legions is still a dynamic, bright and demanding slab of power/thrash, and by no means a failure, but I can't think of a single tune here that can even rival the majority of When Death Comes, never mind the classics.
Worst of all, this just doesn't feel creative or inspired anymore, whereas I could remember a time when these guys exerted nothing but those qualities, from the sticky choruses and ironclad chops of their old albums to the sheer magnificence of By Inheritance, an outing that took the genre to lofty melodic heights it hadn't really achieved before. Even the cover artwork and color palette on this are bland. Song-wise, variation and propulsion are never in short supply here, and fans of recent works by Paradox, Iced Earth and Mekong Delta who aren't already Artillery fans might wanna give it a spin...but I was ultimately underwhelmed, and that is not a word I'd ever expect to use in conjunction with this band.