Sunday Old School: Artillery
It is always so unfair when you see mediocre and lackluster bands becoming hugely popular and selling millions of albums, especially when a band with overwhelming talent gets the shaft and never realizes it's true potential. But I learned a long time ago that life was never meant to be fair, and not a better example of this exists in the annals of metal than the story of Artillery. Formed in 1982 in Taastrup, Denmark - this band came along at the beginning of thrash metal and was one of a very small handful of bands that pioneered the technical metal genre. They were ahead of the times, and sadly still fly under the radar in terms of recognition within the metal community. The old schoolers and metal elitists know and recognize them for what they are, though - perhaps the greatest and most technical thrash band of all time.
After it's formation, Artillery spent a few years honing it's skills and finally put out a song - "Hey Woman" - on the New Renaissance Speed Metal Hell Vol. 1 compilation. Their singer at the time was Carsten Lohmann, who was replaced rather quickly with the vocalist who ended up defining them - Flemming Ronsdorf. After the "Shellshock" and "Deeds of Darkness" demos, Artillery put out a third demo which resulted in them being picked up by the mighty British label Neat Records. The result was their debut album, "Fear of Tomorrow." This was 1986, a year with plenty of thrash releases but nothing that sounded quite like this. Artillery reworked standard thrash into songs with epic movements all throughout, employing more twists and turns than a labyrinth. When you'd throw a song such as "Show Your Hate" or "The Challenge" into your tape deck, it was both mesmerizing and heavy. Neat Records never promoted much outside of Britain, (it's amazing Venom even took off, although they were the progenitors) but despite this Artillery ended up releasing a second album on the label - 1987's opus "Terror Squad." This album was their crowning glory and an album of extremes, arguably one of the greatest metal albums of all time and one of the worst album covers of the decade. "Terror Squad" was produced by metal god Flemming Rasmussen, and during this time the band experienced another line-up schism when guitarist Jorgen Sandau left Artillery. This would start the interesting new transition where Morten Stutzer vacated his bassist duties to Peter Thorslund and joined Michael Stutzer as co-guitarist. On this album, Artillery reached it's apotheosis. The guitarists trade leads and ricochet between rhythms in a way that is dizzying and beyond the reach of many musicians. Add to that the killer bass groove and the constant state of flux in Flemming Ronsdorf's unique operatic voice and a masterpiece was created.
During this time, drummer Carsten Neilsen was approached by Quorthon of Bathory and asked to join his "band." Carsten declined, believing that success was just around the corner for Artillery. Ah, the road not taken. But there is a reason for everything, even if it's not apparent at the time. Huge popularity ended up not coming for Artillery and during this time the group began it's first period of disbanding. See, they never got much popularity outside of Denmark and had to earn a living somehow. By 1989 they decided to regroup to go on a tour of the former U.S.S.R. and during this time decided to give it a go in terms of new material, writing songs for 1990's "By Inheiritance." This third album of theirs was released on Roadrunner and got better distribution in the States, but still ended up being overlooked in an already vast and cluttered sea of releases. It's a damn shame, because that album contains some of the most innovative techno-thrash around. Long before bands such as Nile became renowned for infusing eastern-styled melodies into astounding hybrids of death metal you had Artillery composing "Tashkent/Khomaniac" and plowing out those middle-eastern acoustic rhythms with thrash. They were innovators, but were largely ignored once again. This led to their second period of disbanding in 1991. Although they'd had a tour, Artillery had performed at only about fifty concerts during the entire period of 1985-1990. This lack of exposure always put them in the background and hampered their success, so they once again settled into civilian life.
Seven years went by, seeing all the band members in regular jobs and some as far removed from the music world as possible, except for the Stutzers. Michael happened to live across the street from Bjarke Ahlstrand who worked for Mighty Music. The latter asked Stutzer for old demos and songs from promo tapes to include on a compilation. This materialized into 1998's "Deadly Relics," one of a couple of thank-you's Artillery issued to it's fans. This new activity incited talks of reforming again. It was hard to convince two of the members to regroup, especially Carsten - who had been working as a soccer coach. (Denmark and soccer seem to go hand in hand - didn't King Diamond used to play for the national team Hvidovre?) Eventually all five members decided to give it another go, resulting in 1999's "B.A.C.K."
"B.A.C.K." didn't actually stand for the group being "back," although it could have. As Flemming Ronsdorf put it, it was an acronym for 'Blowing up the world; Anarchy of fear; Chaos, mayhem, greed; and Killing at the last breath.' But yes - Artillery were back and so was Flemming. The lyrics now touched upon things relevant at the end of the millenium such as the cyber mind programmers in the song "W.W.W." This long-awaited fourth album was more of the same insane leads highlighted by those wicked mid to high range vocals that mimicked the guitars. And guess what? It still didn't go anywhere. It was asking too much to get them to put their lives on hold yet again for that elusive success that never came, so they called it a day for the third time and dropped off the scene in 2000 for what would prove to be another seven years.
In 2007, the former members threw around the idea of resurrecting the band yet again. Most of them never lost their love of music and performing and still had alot to give. The Stutzers were adamant that Flemming Ronsdorf not be part of the band this time, though. They felt that he always held the band back by dropping out at the last moment when they had tours organized or going against whatever ideas the band had for songs in the studio. Flemming had no desire to give up his gig for a Danish Beatles cover band, where he said thousands of people from the ages of 5-65 would come see him. He also mentioned he was sick of playing shows for the same 200 people over and over - which is what it's like if you're in a metal band playing Denmark exclusively. Plus he was also tired of singing for a metal band and had two kids by now, which made him want more stability. It's a damn shame, because his voice is so unique and such a defining element of Artillery.
So in November of that year, Artillery made the announcement that Soren 'Nico' Adamsen would be the new vocalist. He came from such area bands as Starrats and Crystal Eyes and was a big metal/hardcore fan. He had barely ever heard of Artillery's music before, but jumped right into performing with the band. In fact, he'd only done a few gigs with Artillery when the live DVD "One Foot in the Grave...The Other One in the Trash" came out. (This title continues a long tradition of Artillery putting a reference to 'trash' in almost every release.) The live DVD was filmed at the 2008 Metal Mania festival in Katowice, Poland. Artillery showcased a couple of new songs, "Delusions of Grandeur" and "Uniform." These live gigs were a crash course indoctrination for Soren and possibly should have been put out after he'd had more time with the band under his belt. Artillery basically put this video out because they had had so few occasions to play live for their fans.
Finally 2009's "When Death Comes" was released, featuring the artwork of Metal Mind's Graal, and except for the vocals it was as if nothing changed. The Japanese version of it featured a couple of bonus tracks, "Sandbox Philosophy" and "Chaos Ride." These band members are all over 40, some pushing 50 - and they can all still outperform 20 year olds. You know how complacent some of these dinosaur metal bands get, releasing uninspired and homogenous music? Well, not these guys. It's as energetic and riff-centric as ever, but Artillery do prove to have quite a sense of humor. The band appeared in a photograph where they made light of their ages, posing with walkers, wheelchairs and throw blankets. Of course, the only big difference on this album was the new vocalist. In all fairness to Soren, it is never easy to replace a legend. The lead vocalist of Anvil once told me that when a band loses a core member it is like losing family, and there's a shift in the group's dynamics. That is so true, and even if the new vocalist is very good and competent in his own right, he's not the original. Soren is a good vocalist, and he is also busy in the band Inmoria, having put out a second album with them recently. He has a classic metal style of singing and has been adapting alot of the old Artillery classics into his way of singing.
By 2011, Artillery were once again back with "My Blood," and had more time to fuse under the new line-up than the last release. Originally they were going to call the album "6" for obvious reasons, and Nico was going to re-record three of the classic old songs along with a cover of the Sabbath tune "Computer God." Artillery decided in the end to just do two of the old songs and focus on new material. I need not reiterate that this sixth album of theirs is technical brillance like all the rest, and let's hope the band escapes the curse of anonymity that has always been imposed upon them. The band is so used to so little that they have a philosophical attitude toward this record and future plans. Morten said it's hard to maintain a band these days through record sales alone because of the internet, but he's used to not having a good-selling record anyways due to the lousy distribution that has plagued them. Artillery are also acutely aware that they need to land a good tour and actually play America for the first time (shock), which will happen in May of 2012 at the Maryland Death Fest X. It is so difficult to believe they have never played even one gig in the U.S., but this should hopefully be the catalyst to something better for them. Concerts are the way to get your music out there, Morten mentioning that it's much better than an Ipod. It's always hard to gain momentum once it's come abruptly to a halt three times, but if any band deserves success these guys do.
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