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With “When Death Comes”, Artillery turns into yet another unexplored musical path. After a turbulent period of almost twenty years, the classic “By Inheritance” line-up finally reformed in 2007 with a new frontman, power metal vocalist Søren Nico Adamsen. After a live DVD and numerous European concerts, the band entered the studio in March 2009. Søren Andersen, guitarist of Oliver Weers and candidate for the Eurovision Contest (yes, you're reading this right) was surprisingly chosen to handle production duties. The result is “When Death Comes”, a fresh and interesting take on the Artillery sound of old.
As has become tradition with this band, their sound has been completely reinvented and updated into a new version. The core of the music is Thrash Metal, with very strong power metal overtones, more traditional songwriting and that Oriental touch, which has become the trademark of the band since 1990. Compared to the band's back catalogue, the songs are much more straight-forward and centralized around the vocals. The riffing has returned to more conventional grounds, maneuvering straight through all of their other albums. With less noodling and more muscle, I couldn’t help but think that Nico had a big part in the songwriting process, compared to Flemming’s tradition of non-involvement and laissez fair mentality. Starting with the title track, this album seizes the listener’s mind and rarely discharges.
But there are some critical remarks to make. First of all, there are moments where the vocals feel very uncomfortable, most notably on Not a Nightmare and The End. It has to be said that Andersen has done an amazing job replacing Rönsdorf, maintaining a strong sense for aggression and power, proving his capabilities as a vocalist. However, it is hard to erase the background of cheesy EuroPower, something which does not always matches Artillery’s sound. Luckily, these are exceptions and Nico has done an overall fantastic job. A second remark I would like to make is that not all songs manage to absorb attention all the way through. This is most clear on Damned Religion, which is simply put way too long and even tiring towards the end. Third and final remark: clipping. While the loudness war rages at full capacity, the damage here is limited but (unfortunately) not absent. It never gets to the point of being annoying, but it is still a mistake on the producer’s part.
On to the drums. The big difference on this level is that Carsten plays in a much more controlled manner, compared to the frenzied madness of the 80’s releases. A good idea, but I can’t help but state that the old-school psychopathic thrashing of the drums had its charms too. This is an evolution that can be seen in the entire band, which has -as mentioned before- resulted in more traditional, song-based music. For the production I already made the criticism of clipping, but other than that, Søren Andersen has done a good job. The sound is very compact, heavy and modern, something you will love or hate according to your own taste. Oh and before I forget: the solos! Well, do I even need to say anything about them? Blistering, flashing, crushing, ablaze, you name it: on guitar we have two Stützers and that should say it all. Bassist Peter is a bit more on the background, but that doesn’t detract from the dozens of towering bass-lines scattered through the album.
Conclusion: this is Artillery at their best and every self-respecting metalhead should order it. After 27 years, there is finally a chance that this band will get the respect they have always deserved. “When Death Comes” is not perfect, but what is? Let’s hope they can continue their killing spree of good releases! Best songs: When Death Comes, Uniform, Rise Above It All, Upon My Cross I Crawl and Chaos Ride (why oh why is this a bonus track?!).