Artillery – Firing HighSunday, 2nd May 2021
Healthy times for those who love the power of thrash metal. Plenty of releases and bands to choose from on an annual basis between the newer breed and the old guard of artists. A reliable staple in the latter category has been Danish act Artillery. Releasing their tenth studio album with the aptly titled X, the quintet continues to amaze with their brand of chunky, driving riffs and melodic hooks, choosing to mix things up with more dynamics and a few different styles in the mid-tempo and ballad areas without sacrificing the exemplary musicianship and songwriting skills that have been staples since the 1980’s.
We reached out to guitarist Michael Stützer who is always very excited and quick to bring us up to speed on anything related to Artillery. You’ll learn more about his thoughts on the diverse songwriting for X, the importance of producer Søren Andersen for the Artillery output, favorite memories with touring, festivals, and sharing rehearsal room space in the 80’s with Metallica.
Dead Rhetoric: X is the tenth Artillery studio album. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this effort – and where do you see the major differences in this record compared to the last one The Face of Fear, if any?
Michael Stützer: I think when it comes to the studio first – we used the same studio that we have used since the 2009 album When Death Comes. The production on this album is a little bit heavier. On the songwriting, I wrote the six of the songs, Kræn (Meier) the new guitar player wrote four of the songs, and (bassist) Peter (Thorslund) wrote a song, so it’s more varied in some kind of way. It’s an album I’d like to hear myself. We try to play what we really would like to hear. We have some fast songs, a ballad, some mid-tempo songs. I’m really satisfied.
When you look at The Face of Fear, we tried to get back to our roots from the early Artillery days. This album is more updated. We got great reviews from The Face of Fear album, so we are hopeful that we will have the same appeal for the new one. Søren is always a good man to have behind the boards, and he’s also a very good guitar player. He knows what’s going on, and he always seems surprised with what we bring him as far as Artillery’s songs. That’s cool.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you feel you were well prepared before you went in to record this record – did you have any delays or things to get around because of the coronavirus?
Stützer: I would say, Michael (Bastholm Dahl) the singer had to take a little more time because of his distance from the studio. The guys were preparing on their own. We had two songs written just before we went into the studio- but that’s always the case with Artillery. We always have two or three songs where we really don’t know what’s going to happen, before we go into the studio. “Eternal Night” was one of the late songs. I think it was smooth otherwise and the sessions went really well.
Dead Rhetoric: I remember looking at your Facebook page and you recently went to record a music video for one of the songs from the album. How did this video shoot go?
Stützer: Very well. In fact we have done two videos – the first one will be coming out soon, for the song “Turn Up the Rage”, and the second video for “In Your Mind” will be coming out the day the album is released. I think it was cool to make those videos. The first one was done at a brewery, because Artillery are going to make our own beer. It was really cool to make that. And we decided how the beer should taste.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the beer that is being made, did you guys have some say in the type of flavor and brand you want to put together?
Stützer: Yes. The new cover for the new album is of the beer. And on the back of the beer is the story of Artillery. And the taste of the beer is like a Carlsburg. The alcohol point is 6.66%. I think it tastes really good. The owner loves it, the brewer was very good to use that. It’s cool for us to have our own beer, and it’s cool for the brewery to have Artillery there. There are a lot of people that are already interested in buying it. It’s a good move.
Dead Rhetoric: You decided to recruit some of the drivers and merch men that have worked with you over the years for background vocals on a few tracks of the new album. How did this idea come about, and discuss the importance of these people when it comes to helping Artillery roll along smoothly and concentrate on your live shows while on the road?
Stützer: Yes, because those two guys we can really miss if we didn’t have them, they are so important to us. They do such great work. Kivel is our merch man, and Jan is the driver and a seller of merch, he’s a great person. It was all about giving something back. I told them I wanted them to do the backing vocals, and they didn’t want to dare at first. They rehearsed a bit, and they did it. And now they are really proud that they are on the record. It was really cool to give them something back for all the great work they have done for us over the years.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s mention again of the importance of Søren Andersen as a producer at Medley Studio – to the point that you believe this is his best production for Artillery to date. What qualities do you think make this record standout more than his previous work – is it his seasoning, trust, and knowledge that impact the final sound the most for the band?
Stützer: Yeah, I think so. Søren wants to do better and better with each production. He knows what works, but tries to do things better. Many producers like having the same sound and they go for that- I think you can hear on each Artillery album he works on, there is a little bit of difference in the sound. Of course there are some similarities, but this album is so tough, so heavy, and sounds good with a big clean sound. People that have heard the album so far are really satisfied, the production. Metal Blade wrote me and said this production we have on our album is the best up to now. I hope the diehard fans like it, and I am sure they will like it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the technology to capture the sound for metal records is much better than when you were starting to record albums for Artillery in the 1980’s?
Stützer: Definitely. The way the recordings can go are much faster than in the old days. Also, you have to be careful that you don’t have these digital studios and recordings make the sound sterile. You want to keep the dynamite and the dynamics in the music. Many records today sound the same, and we don’t want that. You want it to sound heavy, that’s the way we like it.
Dead Rhetoric: You lost your brother and fellow guitarist Morten in 2019 – and have recruited a new guitarist in Kræn Meier. How did this loss effect you, and how did the process go to add Kræn into the band? Do you see any style differences in his approach to guitar playing versus yourself that work well for Artillery?
Stützer: It was one of my toughest times losing Morten because we had been playing together since we were small kids. At one point I thought about stopping playing because it was tough to miss him. Everything we had done we had worked together, we always supported each other. After we reunited, we had a good cooperation. We knew in 2016 he couldn’t go out and play anymore live because he was getting ill. We had another guitar player Rune Gangelhof who had gone out with us and did some tours, he was a good friend but he wanted to play more death metal. And then I spoke to Kræn who was a big fan of Artillery, I had known him for many years before we started to play together. He was a serious and good guitar player, I knew he would fit in because he wanted to go in the right direction.
His playing pushed the band to be a little faster on this record, maybe more than I would have done. At the same time, have a variety within the songs. He’s a good player. I miss Morten a lot, but he always told us don’t you dare stop Artillery, we had to go on. I promised him that, and that’s why we are still here.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your outlook on songwriting and your guitar playing from your younger days through your current abilities? Have you grown and evolved your technique and skills over the decades?
Stützer: Yes, definitely. Old guys like us, we hopefully are going to get better and better, especially when you play a lot of live shows, you will improve your technique and your ideas. The ideas are more varied, we will do much more things than we did in the early days. I think it’s growing and getting better all the time.
Dead Rhetoric: What is the political climate in Denmark like currently compared to other parts of the world? Do you believe things have gotten more unsettled and radical even as we try to contain this current pandemic circling the globe?
Stützer: It’s really tough. In Denmark here we have a really good government. They supported the people and there hasn’t been as many problems. Denmark was closed down at the start, and many people lost a lot of money but the government started to support them to survive. It’s really tough, I know in the United States there has been a lot of trouble with the support of the coronavirus for businesses compared to Denmark. I know the vaccination is going well in the United States, and I really hope that this virus will disappear soon. Also because as a band, we have had to move gigs to 2022 because the festivals already have cancelled in 2021. We are allowed to play shows in Denmark in May, so that’s good and we can play here again.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the greatest memories you’ve had with Artillery – specific songs, albums, tours, festival situations, or other events that will forever remain embedded in the memory banks as special where you knew you were making a mark with what you were doing?
Stützer: That’s going to be a lot of things. If I start, when we had a rehearsal room in 1984, with Mercyful Fate, Metallica came down to rehearse before the recording of Ride the Lightning and the Master of Puppets albums. It was really cool and we became good friends with them. Also the first support tour across Europe with King Diamond and Slayer, we have played with Destruction and Slayer many times. Playing the Wacken Festival in 2000 was great. Playing in Russia before the Iron Curtain fell down. All of these tours, we did tours of Asia, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia. We’ve played in South America, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, two tours of the United States and Canada. There are a lot of places that we’ve played and been able to get many good friends there.
Releasing the first album is very unique, and now we are on our tenth album. If people had told me back in 1982 that I would have done ten albums and played in sixty-five countries, I would laugh. There have been so many good things, including playing big festivals here in Denmark. We will play on the big stage in 2022, also with the Sweden Rock Festival. We have played the Maryland Death festival in the United States, so many good things. One of our greatest things is the ability to still be playing live. People ask me if I am too old to play metal now? Why – I love to play! If people want to hear you play, why stop?
Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel when you talk to younger musicians or fellow musicians and they discuss the impact and influence Artillery has made on their sound or style?
Stützer: That makes me really proud. I remember when we have played shows with guys in bands that have members that are 16 and 17 years old, supporting us. The guys start to play riffs from our older albums, just to show us that they really like us. That is so amazing, young men into our stuff. It impacts us and give us great feelings to influence people of that age. We have played many places in the world and people give us cassette tapes, children coming with their fathers to see us play.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are 60, if you had the chance to look back and talk to yourself say in your twenties and thirties, what areas would you have maybe placed more focus on that you didn’t take as seriously back then – either when it comes to being a musician or as a person?
Stützer: I would say the music, at the point that we had done By Inheritance and we had some great reviews, maybe we would have talked more about things as some members had some egos. We had disagreements on some people wanting to play live shows and others not wanting to. That was a really tough time. If I could change that, Artillery would have been a bit more popular than we are today. I am very satisfied. I have so many great experiences, traveling the world, and received so much support from the diehard fans. That’s really unique. If we could make a living off this like bands such as Exodus 100%, that would be really cool. You can change small things, but when you get older you can achieve the things better to make it work. When you are younger you don’t see things the same way as when you get older.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Artillery over the next year – and how have you been handling the downtime during this pandemic? Have you developed any new passions, hobbies or interests?
Stützer: No, I always have my personal hobbies with soccer. I follow the Danish team in Copenhagen. In the Artillery way, we always try to get some new things in the mix. With a song like “In Your Mind”, that is a style that we haven’t done before. Some of the songs are a little bit different. We always try to have the catchy hook lines, the melodies, and the memorable riffing. We want to put some small new things into the mix. Expect us to be back on tour hopefully in 2022.