Released: 2009, Metal Mind Productions
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Given that the current environment within the metal scene is a convoluted amalgam of genres and sub-genres, it’s refreshing to hear a simple and unpretentious approach to the music that I love. Such is the case with WHEN DEATH COMES, the latest release from recently reunited German thrash legends Artillery. For this release, the brothers Stützer have summoned many of the classic thrash metal hallmarks that made them such a tremendous force back in the ‘80s and refreshed that sound for a new generation. The resulting ten tracks are unmistakably Artillery, but are far from a nostalgia trip.
Those who experienced last year’s live DVD, ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, THE OTHER IN THE TRASH (also released as a standalone CD earlier this year), know that the almost decade away from the stage hasn’t hampered the band’s chops one bit. There’s something to be said for experience and Artillery has used the knowledge gained from their 27 years in the business to craft a collection of tight, concise thrash gems, delivered with the class and precision you’d expect from a mature band. As the title track opens the album, a volley of twin guitar harmonies give way to a barrage of rapid fire riffing that feels familiar, but not stale. New vocalist Søren Nico Adamsen quickly demonstrates a strong set of pipes with a breadth of range. From the smooth chorus harmonies to the escalating screams in the verse, Adamsen knows he’s got vocal talent but conducts himself with tact and restraint. It’s a refreshing change from original vocalist Flemming Rönsdorf, who also had a great set of pipes but seemed compelled to demonstrate those pipes at every opportunity. Founding guitarists Michael and Morten Stützer balance a fine line between laying down galloping riffs, blitzkrieg solos, and the aforementioned harmonies, while the longtime rhythm section of Peter Thorslund and Carsten Nielsen hold down the bottom end.
The band performs each song with a distinct sense of urgency that pulls you in and engages you in the melee. Songs like “10,000 Devils” and “Uniform” are built upon familiar thrash foundations, but come across fresh and energetic. “Upon My Cross I Crawl” is Artillery its finest, whipping through some fine, fine thrash indulgence that could potentially result in some serious head banging induced neck trauma. In contrast, “Delusions of Grandeur” is centered around a simple acoustic, folksy melody that steps into some traditional metal territory, carried by Adamsen’s vocal lines. The melodic approach is a bit of a departure for the band, but a welcomed one, as it’s easily one of the best songs on the album. “The End” suitably closes the disc, a song that’s heavy enough to inspire a circle pit, but injected with enough melody to get you singing along with the chorus.
Ever the underdog, the proper return of Artillery is long overdue. It’s even good enough to make you forget about the whole B.A.C.K. debacle from ’99. WHEN DEATH COMES is 100% free of filler, and as you listen to each track, you can sense how important this album is to the band. It’s a statement of where the band has been, where they’re at, and their future that still lies ahead. Forget the retro thrash craze, kids; Artillery 2009 is the real thing.