Friday, November 29, 2013

Artillery - Legions (2013)

It's a pity I can't conjure up the same excitement for an Artillery record that I once could when I was younger. Yes, the 16-year-old autothrall would probably slap the older version in the face repeatedly while begging my repentance just to continue HAVING new works from this long-beloved band, and yet when I read things to the nature of the new vocalist being a close approximation of Fleming Ronsdorf's performance on the first four albums, I can't help but feel misled by Legions...or at least a little disappointed. Not because this guy's a hack, not by any means, but I'll come right out and say that this is the least interesting and exciting Artillery record, and the fluctuating pipes of Michael Bastholm Dahl have at least something to do with that; though the primary offender is the actual songwriting. Legions is more or less a mish mash of riffing aesthetics off B.A.C.K. and the legendary By Inheritance, and yet they lack that degree of intricate, passionate melody and intensity which produced one of my favorite metal efforts in all history...

The Stützer brothers were indisputably one of the best, if not THE best guitar duo in that later 80s thrash epoch, and here they still show they haven't lost all their chops with age. Frenetic and churning rhythms are bounced off one another at various levels of acceleration, and they still seem to be incorporating a lot of those mildly Eastern melodies you may have recalled from the titles I name-dropped above. So Legions cultivates that similar sense of exotic, far-off, glorious and airy power/thrash, only it's missing those riff progressions that remain with you forever, something even the first reunion record When Death Comes was able to accomplish. It's not the 80s anymore, so you're not getting that wonderfully raw guitar tone you'd have found on Fear of Tomorrow, instead the Danes have settled into a more modern approximation of their 90s outing B.A.C.K., with the caveat that Legion is on the whole more atmospheric, with a lot more depth of production. This is emphasized by the effects on the vocals, and the clearer distinction between the leads and rhythm sounds, but unfortunately where the band was strongest was in how those elements came together so brilliantly and forcefully on By Inheritance, a record with more joyous progressions than I can rightly count. Legions is sleek and modern enough for those seeking 'upgrades' to their heroes, much like you'd expect from Paradox, Destruction or Testament, but the songs themselves have less impact.

As for Dahl, he's not without some verbal tricks up his sleeve...err, down his throat, but he lacks both the raucous and rough presence of the great Fleming Ronsdorf or even the screaming excess of his direct predecessor Søren Adamsen, who has moved over to front the Greek band Crystal Tears. Range and melody are not in deficit, but he's got this wavering, silky and piercing style to him that seems like it would be a more adequate fit for a power/progressive metal band, part of which Artillery encapsulates, but not enough that he's a match for the momentous riffing passages once the past increases velocity. Worst of all, though, and I'm not sure how much he can be blamed for this: the chorus parts are really just not that memorable. He also has a slightly unusual enunciation which occasionally rubbed me the wrong way, but even in tunes like "Global Flatline" where he's given a lot of space to flex a more thorough and operatic series of harmonies which remind me a little of a more prog metal alternative to Swedes like Messiah Marcolin or Memory Garden, the melodies that are written over the clean guitars don't seem to achieve much other than to exhibit his range. Not to mention there are probably more delay/reverb effects on him than on the vocals of any prior full-length, especially when he does a more cutting mid-range, aggressive line.

I'd also lay some of the blame here squarely on the leads, which while technically as adept as ever just don't seem to have any memorable qualities about themselves beyond the fact that 'hey there's needs to be a solo here, bro!'. In the past I've enjoyed some of the Stützer solos as much as their genius riffing, but on this album they seem obligatory and directionless, as in "Dies Irae" where I really thought they'd go off and prove a highlight of the piece, yet the structural choices are all pretty timid. The bass lines have some fire lit under them but in many cases they seem to dissipate beneath the punch and proximity of the rhythm guitars, and the other newbie, drummer Josua Madsen does his damned best to keep himself busy; he's just not playing over the strongest material on his Artillery debut. A shame, because I get the sense this group is on a steady decline in the 21st century, whereas their 80s run was the opposite. Legions is still a dynamic, bright and demanding slab of power/thrash, and by no means a failure, but I can't think of a single tune here that can even rival the majority of When Death Comes, never mind the classics.

Worst of all, this just doesn't feel creative or inspired anymore, whereas I could remember a time when these guys exerted nothing but those qualities, from the sticky choruses and ironclad chops of their old albums to the sheer magnificence of By Inheritance, an outing that took the genre to lofty melodic heights it hadn't really achieved before. Even the cover artwork and color palette on this are bland. Song-wise, variation and propulsion are never in short supply here, and fans of recent works by Paradox, Iced Earth and Mekong Delta who aren't already Artillery fans might wanna give it a spin...but I was ultimately underwhelmed, and that is not a word I'd ever expect to use in conjunction with this band.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (get armed and get ready)

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