Saturday, March 12, 2011

Artillery - Fear of Tomorrow (1985)

Though few could compete with or be compared squarely to the German pioneers and headsmen of thrash metal, small scenes had sprung up all about Europe. Most countries had a small handful of bands who would sign record deals, perhaps release a cult classic or two, and disappear into the roll of years. A few, like Holland and England were able to hurl a few more names into the theater, but Denmark was better known for its melodic heavy/power metal acts like Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Pretty Maids. That all would change upon the arrival of one of the greatest thrash acts the continent would ever know, but it took a few years and some lineup shifts before Artillery could achieve its potential.

Fear of Tomorrow represents the fundamental elements that the Danes would refine into the masterwork By Inheritance, but by this point in the mid 80s the band didn't have nearly that level of musicianship or technicality. They managed to distinguish themselves through two characteristics: a more uplifting style of writing that wasn't nearly so dark as comparable acts like Onslaught, Destruction or Sodom; and the vocals of Flemming Ronsdorf, which were thicker and higher pitched in general than was typical for the genre. I'm not just talking about the screams used at the ends of passages by Tom Araya or Schmier, but these were more like a crude power/speed style, more akin to Udo Dirkschneider or Kris Boltendahl, heavily glazed with Ronsdorf's native accent. One the one hand, his presence creates an endearing and goofy effect, but he carries enough resonance as the reverb spits him over the dense, workmanlike guitars here.

The debut begins with some of the band's best early cuts, most culled from the demo of the same name that had come out earlier that year. "Time Has Come" opens with screams and hails of gunfire, a brief acoustic segue and then a storm of thick thrashing guitars below the haunted melody of the vocals, which is alternated with a more brutal mid-range in the little bridges that lead to and fro the verses. Michael Stützer shows his lead skills almost immediately, though he's not joined by his brother Morten quite yet, as he was on the bass for both this and Terror Squad (and pretty amazing with the four strings, to boot). The drums here are pretty standard rock and metal beats with grooves, and Artillery possessed a higher than normal swerve towards the classic, chunky NWOBHM style of moody riffing, but then, thrash had just been emerging from this leaning, or at least certain bands were drawing from that influence more so than the punk and hardcore that others admired. "The Almighty" follows in a similar schema, with more wild leads, memorable vocal lines and a solid, mosh inflected breakdown.

It doesn't slow down from there, "Show Your Hate" seeming even more aggressive with spikes of melody and some of the most viral, intricate speed riffing on the album. Ronsdorf's chorus of 'looser - it's time to kill/looser - show your...hate' is also pretty charming and distinct. Then the Danes shift to a slower gait with the opening slog to "King, Thy Name is Slayer", later exploring a more groove heavy aggression. But this track is an exception, as "Out of the Sky" and "Into the Universe" return to the band's enthusiastic throttling. Another track I really enjoy is "Fear of Tomorrow" itself, and engaging and cautionary pastiche of cliched future paranoia, basically the 80s Danish thrash answer to The Terminator, with a great chorus to it. The other tracks, "The Eternal War" and "Deeds of Darkness" have never seemed so catchy to me as the rest of the album, but they're consistent enough not to cock it all up.

This was absolutely a great, skilled debut, and showed nothing other than promise for their future, with its simple but icon cover image, a hooded monstrosity with a giant ass gun. Cheesy, but it gives you a tingly feeling when you see it represented among the cult faves of the 80s. That this is actually my least favorite Artillery album speaks volumes about what they would soon transform into with just a few years gestation.

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(eyes of steel accept no lies)

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