Next up in the cavalcade of thrash revivals: Artillery. If you don’t know, the Danish thrashers released a couple of good albums in the 80’s that borrowed a bit from the happening scenes of the day but managed enough innovation to garner a fair amount of praise. In 1989, they gave us By Inheritance, the album on which they found a distinct voice marked by a melodic mix of progressive and technical thrash that showed promising signs of a band about to leave an indelible mark on the genre. But, that was the late 80’s… Blah. Thrash was on its way out… Blah. Grunge… Blah. You’ve heard it all before. Like so many others, they disbanded to attend to various other projects and now, twenty years, a couple of compilations and an ill-fated comeback attempt (1999’s B.A.C.K.) later, Artillery offers When Death Comes. They’ve got a new young stud in Søren Adamsen at the mic but keep the bulk of the By Inheritance lineup in tact.
Over the years, Artillery changed their sound up from album to album by injecting varying degrees of progressive flash, technicality and groove, while retaining a central core of riff-centric thrash accented with Oriental/Arabic melodic flair. When Death Comes follows suit, those fundamental mechanisms in place, but this time couched within a decidedly modern approach evinced by hints of melo- and tech-death (some may even note this album as an example of the direction they wish The Haunted would have taken). When the title track sets things off, you may be surprised to hear opening harmonies that sound a bit like Arsis or The Absence. You shouldn’t be surprised when it shifts abruptly to a balls out thrash riff propelled by straightforward, hammer-down drumming; all of it tight as a duck’s ass and delivered with the momentum of a freight train. Although Adamsen doesn’t have quite the vocal chops of former frontman Flemming Rönsdorf, he is every bit as energetic and more vehement. It all sounds really sharp with the gloss of a squeaky clean production job that renders guitar tones with a razor’s edge but often hides the leads a little too far behind the sometimes over-dominant drums.
Whereas much of When Death Comes appears to be shiny and new, as much is steeped in the tried and truisms of the eighties. Each of the album’s first five tracks calls to mind some legend of the era, from the Overkillish chorus and Slayeresque solos of “Upon My Cross I Crawl,” to the Testamentian riffs of “Rise Above It All,” to the Kreatorean riffing of “Sandbox Philosophy.” The discerning listener will also note some hair metal/hard rock references in the phrasing and cadences of many of the choruses, and especially in the “Paradise City” riffing that chugs below the solo in “Rise Above It all.” None of it really sounds begged, borrowed, or stolen as much as it seems to reflect the undying influences of some of the best acts in the business. And, such influence isn’t necessarily brandished in isolation. For example, “10,000 Devils” cleverly splices Metal Churchean riffs with At The Gates/Nightrage style (ran out of pretentious suffixes) melody, making for an absolute burner suitable for instant replay. But, it doesn’t always work, either, this amalgamating of old and new. The latter half of the album suffers from several songwriting missteps, most notably in “Not a Nightmare” and “Damned Religion,” each of which have their moments but trip up on clumsy choruses and erratic flow. And, it must be mentioned that the album’s ballad, of sorts, “Delusions of Grandeure,” sounds an awful lot (too much) like it ought to have been included on Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind.
All said, and despite its flaws, When Death Comes is a ripping, unrelenting aural assault. It isn’t the complete package but it’s an awful lot of fun to listen to and reflects an impressive (second) comeback for Denmark’s finest thrash act.