„It was the peak of what we could do”

Ex-singer Flemming Rönsdorf about Artillery’s By Inheritance

Talking about the 80’s European thrash metal, Denmark’s own Artillery must be mentioned in the first place. This bunch consisted of very skilled, talented musicians, who were influenced by the Bay Area movement, so their music was brutal and catchy. „Thanks” to their then label Neat Records, the band didn’t become successful, but they managed reaching cult status among the fans. In this interview, singer Flemming Rönsdorf shared his views both about the band and about their excellent third record, By Inheritance. This interview is also dedicated to the late bassist/guitarist Morten Stützer.

So, although Terror Squad was already recorded in September and mixed in October 1986, the album saw the light only in April 1987. What caused the delay of the release?

Well, they spent a lot of money on us going to Sweet Silence Studio, and everyone was there to interview us and listen, Kerrang even gave us 5 stars. It really seemed everything was going to go our way finally. But when the record was made, it seemed that the record company ran out of gas. I can only guess, since no-one told us anything, we were supposed to tour the States, Europe, well, all over, it just didn’t happen.

It seems that Neat Records didn’t take care of the support of the band, right?

Not at all, they really f…. us.

Is it correct, that drummer Carsten Nielsen was contacted by Quorthon (R.I.P.) of Bathory asking him if he was interested in drumming for Bathory, but he turned down the offer since he thought Artillery would become a much bigger band than Bathory?

I think we all got offers at that time, but we believed in what we had made, and everyone around us did, too, so yeah.

What happened with you after Terror Squad came out? Did the band break up or were you on hiatus?

Thanks to Neat Records, you couldn’t buy our records anywhere, even in Dk you’d have to buy the record by import. The distribution was like zero. So the moral in the band went down the drain, Jørgen left, and since he was my only real friend in the band, I started having doubts as well, and finally left, too.

At which point and why did guitarist Jörgen Sandau leave the band?

That one is a long story, but to keep it short: Jørgen was sick and tired of the other guitar player in the band (no names here), who never really got up to speed, didn’t rehearse at home, came unprepared for practice, even in the studio he was unprepared, so that’s mainly why.

Was it for you unambigous, that Morten Stützer (R.I.P.) switch over to the guitar and you recruited a new bassist?

I didn’t like it at first, but Morten was propably the biggest talent in the band, and really quickly started being really good on the guitar, so it came around.

Flemming Rönsdorf

How did Peter Thorslund get in the picture exactly? What about his musical past?

I have to admit I don’t know, all of a sudden he was just there. We tried a few other bass players, but they weren’t up for the task. And since you ask, neither was Peter at first, but he was willing to work hard, and that made the difference.

When did you start working on new songs?

We only regrouped for the tour to Russia, I have to admit I was intrigued to go to Russia, and what happened over there was not a part of my plan.

How did it come that you got offered to do a couple of dates in Russia? How did the whole tour go?

It was something called the Next Stop Soviet, they wanted a few experienced bands to go check out the scene to see what it would be like, and they asked us seperately if we would consider. We weren’t really a band at that time, but agreed that it would be worth getting back together for it (except for Jørgen, who didn’t want any part of it).

When and how did Roadracer emerge being your new label? Were there perhaps other labels interested in the band around those times?

Being on a long trainride in Russia, Morten and I sort-of found each other again musically. I had an idea for an old Artillery song (We Are the Dead) and we worked on this and it became Don’t Believe, once that was made we couldn’t help but made another song, Khomaniac. And since we kinda liked the new songs, we agreed on going to the studio when we got back home, recording those two songs. We sent them to various record companies and Roadracer made the best offer.

Was the label’s offer a kind of life-saver for the band?

It was, but the important thing was the trainride in Russia.

On the 1st of February, 1989 you recorded a two-track demo featuring Khomaniac and Don’t Believe. Did Roadracer ask you to make new material or…?

They actually signed us on these two songs, and we started working on new material right away.

Did this demo create any anticipation for the forthcoming album?

You could say that, everyone that heard them said go go go.

During January-February 1990, you entered the Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen with Flemming Rasmussen at the helm to record your new album. Was he recommended by the label, or was it your own decision to work him with?

We kinda knew Flemming, since Metallica used our rehearsal room while recording Ride the Lightning, we fooled around with the guys, and since Sweet Silence Studios were right next to our rehearsal room, it was natural that we hung out in the studio while Metallica was recording. The choice was really obvious.

He had a good name/reference with Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, didn’t he?

He did. We loved his work, and he is a nice guy so…

What about the recording sessions? Did you get on well with Flemming?

Once we hit the studio, all the material was done, and yes, we had a lot of fun there, as I said he is a nice guy.

Do you think that By Inheritance is a departure from both Fear of Tomorrow and Terror Squad in terms of songwriting, sound, production etc.?

Well no, not really, as I see it, it was a development that took years, I wasn’t that active in writing lyrics on the two first albums, since most of it was done already, I had a lot more say with By Inheritance.

Is this an album whose musical excellence speaks for itself and earns it a spot right alongside metal’s finest and your most accessible album, as well as your most technically impressive?

In my humble opinion, By Inheritance was the peak of what we could do, and no-one knows where we might have been if the record company had backed us up some more, it seemed they lost the steam when the album was done, no promotional tour or anything.

You came back from the Russian trip inspired by the local culture and ended up incorporating a heavy amount of Eastern melody in the album, correct?

That part was mostly Morten, and we had no complaints.

How do you view that all the songs here have their own identity and they do not become just one mass, and the album offers plenty of variety?

I liked that very much, and tried real hard to come up with new ideas for every song/lyrics.

Are the songs very technical and complex in nature, but at the same time they avoid the modern pitfall of technicality just for the sake of it?

We actually tried to make the songs a little less complex in order to please the masses. But the drive still had to be Thrash, ’cause we were thrashers after all.

Do you agree that this album along with Megadeth’s classic, Rust in Peace, represents the logical culmination of 80’s Thrash?

That’s not up to me, I could name a few other bands that contributed to that, but it seems that’s what people think, and I won’t argue with that.

The end result is very catchy, political, quite technical and immaculately performed, isn’t it?

I’m glad you say that, thank you. As mentioned above, we tried to make it a little more catchy, and the political part was due to the fact, that I didn’t want to write lyrics about blood and gore, since I thought the world is scary enough if you take a look around, so that’s what I did.

How do you explain that the main reason for the absolute brilliance of By Inheritance stems from the impeccable guitar duo of the Stutzer brothers and the vocals of Flemming Rönsdorf that really tie the album together?

I can’t explain that, maybe it is due to the fact, that we have been together as a band for quite a while now. I have to admit though, that it took me some time to understand the Stützer brothers way of making music. On Fear of Tomorrow everything was already made during the demo days (before I entered the band), and Terror Squad was a co-production where everyone wrote songs, and told me how they would like me to sing them. Only with By Inheritance I was allowed to do what I wanted. And again, it took some time to understand the music, we evolved together so to speak.

Would you say that By Inheritance is a highly political social commentary on events at the time of its recording?

I would say that yes, as I stated above, I took a look at the world, and wrote my anger on paper, so it is a timestamp of the late 1980’s.

Were there any shows, tours in support of the record? Did the label help you to promote the record?

Absolutely none, and no help at all, there was nothing!

I own a bootleg from 1991 titled Rotten in Rotterdam, but it seems, Flemming doesn’t sing on that recording…

I didn’t sing on that tour, I got fed up with being neglected by the record companies, and moved on to other things.

Unfortunately Morten Stützer passed away last year. How do you want him to be remembered?

As the talented musician he was, on top of that, he was a nice guy.

Flemming, thank you for your answers! Any closing words to this feature?

You’re welcome, and thank you for still wanting to know about us. I must admit that YouTube has taught me, that we actually did mean something back then to a lot of people, and that feels good. On a sidenote, I would like to say that I’ve heard a lot of lies about me over the years, so just for the record. I was never into alcohol, drugs or criminal activities, and I never stole from the band (or from anyone). I left the band only because it seemed futile to go on, nothing more, so don’t believe in those rumours. 😉

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