I listened to this album two times. The reasons that’s important are:
1) I do not recommend you do the same.
2) Had I only listened once, you may not take my recommendation seriously.
First, a little background. Okay, a lot of background. Artillery has been around since 1982, after all, and a band with that kind of longevity deserves to be taken seriously enough to consider giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s not as if these guys just sprouted up from the Danish underground and tried to force feed the world a shit sandwich. Not at all, in fact, as “X” was intended as a labor of love and dedicated to their late friend and founding member, Morten Stutzer, who passed away at the age of 57 in 2019. That is a sad fact, and I admire the band for “soldiering on” to honor his memory.
The first two Artillery albums (“Fear of Tomorrow,” 1984, and “Terror Squad,” 1987) are pretty decent. A cringey moment here and there in the vocal department, but overall solid Thrash records. Reminiscent of Testament and Anthrax in particular. Excellent guitar work. Morten and Michael Stutzer were the guitarists from day one (with Morten acting as the band’s main songwriter) producing sounds a bit like that of Scott Ian in the rhythm department, with leads in the ballpark of Hanneman and King or Accept’s Wolf Hoffmann. The production value is pretty shit, but that’s part of the charm from those early days.
1990’s “By Inheritance” is more ambitious musically. Original vocalist, Flemming Ronsdorf’s vocals are raspier, and given a better studio treatment on what I’d call an excellent record. A band coming into their own. For some reason the band took a nine year break, then released “B.A.C.K.” in 1999. This album sees Ronsdorf’s vocals take a huge hit, making the album extremely difficult to listen to. The band must have felt that as well, because ten more years went by before the release of “When Death Comes” in 2009, and that with Soren Adamsen taking over on vocals. This record has sort of a Death Angel/Overkill kind of vibe, with the Anthrax backbone from their earlier albums still intact. Certainly Artillery’s best record since “By Inheritance,” and quite possibly the band’s greatest achievement.
Adamsen stuck around for another album (“My Blood,” 2011), but was replaced in 2013 by Michael Bostholm Dahl. This… was a mistake. This also, historically, marks Artillery’s jump to Metal Blade Records, which should have been a good thing. Some people may appreciate Dahl’s more “melodic” vocal approach, but for me it’s damn near unlistenable. The lyrics aren’t terrible, but that voice… isn’t right.
The next two records (2016’s “Penalty By Perception,” and 2018’s “The Face of Fear”) don’t do much to impress. Although, any fans of what Dahl did on “Legions” will enjoy them just fine. I must again point out that the lyrical content is still not terrible. It’s decent, and comes off as at least attempting to be honest. That’s important, because… things change.
As stated, Morten Stutzer sadly passed away in 2019, and the band decided to continue performing and recording to honor his memory. In all honesty, that’s a wonderful gesture, and one I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate a great deal. The advantage I have is that I am not a long time fan, so I am entirely comfortable saying that the result – the highly original titled “X” – is an absolute nightmare.
Artillery’s only original member, Michael Stutzer, along with new guitarist Kraen Meier, do provide some enjoyable moments, but they are few and far between. An impression that may be different if the vocals weren’t so bad. Again, to be fair, that is a personal preference. I am just not a fan of Dahl’s voice. What is different this time around are the lyrics, which may as well have been written by an eighth grade cheerleader who just got dumped by her first boyfriend.
We’ve got confusing:
“Rules set me free
Beauty in grit
In the dark to see…”
“In your life you’ll find
In your heard you’re blind
In your soul you know
In your mind you have to go”
Super scary monster movie:
“Wolfman, wolfman, knocking on my door.”
And just outright lame as fuck:
“Darkness shall fill me, fill me with light
No need for guidance, I have the sight.”
I’m sorry, Artillery fans, but lyrics like these are unforgivably horrible. And that’s not even the worst part. There is one song with a particularly nauseating disposition called “In Thrash We Trust.” Yes, It’s actually called that. Not to ruin the surprise, but “in thrash we trust” is uttered as a lyric at least twelve times… because calling it something lame wasn’t effective enough, I guess? Take a listen.
Take out those vocals and all the lyrics, and you’ve got a pretty decent Thrash tune. But the way this song is executed takes all of the Thrash away. Reminds me very much of a picture I saw recently. In it, a man is holding up a sign that reads “Singing Pop music in a Southern accent doesn’t make it Country.” So, by that logic, singing the word “thrash” isn’t like some fairy dust language you sprinkle all over something and it turns into Thrash.
Come on, man!
The whole album comes off like they’re either trying way too hard, or not trying at all. Musically, as with the majority of Artillery’s output, it’s quite good in spots. The production is top notch. The guitars and drums sound excellent. There are some great riffs, and a good number of the solos are magnificent. Even the vocals, which present a bit of a poor-man’s Joey Belladonna on this record, are passable as decent at times, but there really is no excuse for those teeny-bopper lyrics.
If you have been an Artillery fan for any amount of time, I suspect you’re saddened by the passing of Morten Stutzer, and intrigued at the prospect of the band carrying on without their main song writer. What may surprise you is how much input Morten had on the writing of the lyrics, because that… is an atrociously perceptible deviation from the previous nine Artillery albums.
If, after reading my two cents, you’re still inclined to give the album a listen, it was released on May 7th on Metal Blade Records and is available on all major streaming platforms and available for purchase at the links provided below. And if that’s what you choose to do, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.