REVIEW: ARTILLERY – “The Face Of Fear”
Artillery is perhaps one of the most iconic and reliable thrash metal bands out there, and definitely one of Denmark’s finest. Their three first records rank among the best of all time in the genre for me and a LOT of people – my favorite being ‘By Inheritance’ (1990), which I put easily in my top 10 thrash albums – and since their second comeback in 2007, guitarist brothers Morten and Michael Stützer and company have been putting out full lengths on a steady basis. ‘The Face of Fear’, fifth effort since that comeback and third one with Michael Bastholm Dahl on vocals, continues to trumpet and spread the word about the band’s rich history by mixing old with new.
‘The Face of Fear’ continues where the good ‘Penalty by Perception’ (2016) ended in terms of songwriting and atmosphere, which comprises of intertwining elements of the traditional euro thrash metal scene and some of their particular tricks with large chunks of the bay-area style of playing, especially when it comes to pace and riff selection. The classic Artillery side comes out to play right away as the title track starts. “The Face of Fear” is fast, prolific and heavy enough to remind us of the band’s heydays. One of the best tracks here.
“Crossroads to Conspiracy” continues the onslaught and surfaces the Yankee thrash metal style of play that Artillery often borrows from, as the flow of the song and the defying nature of the performance have many similarities to the more direct approach seen in the American thrash vein.
This can be noticed unmistakably and more prominently in “Sworn Utopia”, which showcases some Mustaine-esque riffs and especially vocal lines, courtesy of a loose and less-aggressive Dahl, especially in the chorus. It features an awesome verse and bridge, but the chorus is actually a little less impactful and more mechanical.
Songs like “New Rage” and “Through the Ages of Atrocity” are somewhat different than the other punchy, faster track. The pair is heavier, more cadenced and Peter Thorslund’s bass lines have an outstanding role here, kind of what D.D. Verni is used to do with Overkill.
And as nothing is ever perfect, strange choices and uninspired sections unfortunately are also present. “Thirst for the Worst” is just passable. Weird and melodic, has some cool riffs and leads, but is a little different from what Artillery commonly delivers.
The weakest point of the album, though, is when the duo “Pain” and “Under Water” comes in. The movement of Americanizing the band’s sound feels a little bit like a marketing move rather than a natural course in songwriting. “Pain” is not bad, but this pasteurizing of music can be a little far-fetched. The sense of brutality and even some power metal elements added to Artillery throughout the years are somewhat neutered to fit this formula, and “Under Water” is just a filler instrumental song with nothing to add, at the end of the day.
While the most fragile portion of the record is the final one, it’s also where the awesome “Preaching to the Converted” is. It’s powerful and visceral and has marvelous drum work and crushing riffs. It is by far the song that best suits the overall instrumental in Artillery’s new era alongside the title track, and definitely the tune with the best solo.
Ending the album is a couple of rerecorded versions of previously released tracks, “Mind of No Return” and “Doctor Evil”. The former is a less organic and more melodic version of the track from the 1982 demo ‘We Are the Dead’. It fails to grasp the power and relevancy of the original, but it’s a nice addition to the fans, nevertheless. “Doctor Evil”, though, is completely skippable, as the original song is just 5 years old (originally released in the 2013 album ‘Legions’) and not a great one to begin with; I really don’t get why they rerecorded this.
The addition of two young bloods in Josua Madsen (drums) and Michael Bastholm Dahl works wonders since 2012. Visceral riffs and Dahls’ performance compensate for the not so great production and some small mishaps when combining old, tried and true European thrash elements with some American modernity, but a legendary act like Artillery kicks the shit out of that without problems.
All in all, the Stützer brothers deliver a good effort once again in ‘The Face of Fear’, with some really strong moments and catchy songwriting. While it won’t touch the band’s best moments, its firepower is strong enough to earn it a respectable place in such a legendary career; recommended.