Metallica's Master of Puppets. Megadeth's Rust in Peace. Overkill's The Years of Decay. Slayer's Reign in Blood.
Artillery's By Inheritance?
Denmark's Artillery certainly doesn't have the name recognition of some of their American and German thrash counterparts from the '80s and early '90s, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the band's 1990 creation By Inheritance as anything less than one of the greatest thrash albums ever conceived.
Following a pair of raw recordings on 1985's Fear of Tomorrow and 1987's Terror Squad – both worthy of praise in their own right though strictly suited to fans of underground metal – By Inheritance emerged somewhat unexpectedly with incredibly deep and engaging guitar work, adrenaline-stirring percussion, remarkably balanced production, and a significantly more palatable vocal delivery from frontman Flemming Rönsdorf.
The homespun, colored-pencil artwork created by a surprisingly prolific Kent Mathieu has surely scared away its share of mainstream metalheads, but those willing to look beyond this book's cover have discovered a gem that has aged more gracefully over the past 30 years than many of its more famous contemporaries.
One of the most wonderfully unpredictable aspects of By Inheritance is its central Asian musical influence, signaled definitively in the short opening track, "7:00 from Tashkent." Those influences emerge prominently in guitar work throughout the recording, leaving an unmistakable stamp on By Inheritance and adding greatly to its memorability.
How and why a Danish thrash metal band chose to embrace the cultural sounds of Uzbekistan on this album will be up to someone else to discover and share, but it's enough to note it and give it credit for instantly separating By Inheritance from every other thrash album from its era. That burst of songwriting flavor blends perfectly with the band's playing style, and it emerges both in distorted leads and the frequent acoustic-minded guitar melodies that appear in intros and interludes.
Of specific songs, the first full track on the album tells a listener everything they need to know about the recording. The power and immediacy of the opening riff on "Khomaniac" is offset by a slow-burn, progressive intro that builds anticipation with each new form it takes until the verse leads effortlessly into the chorus in a single protracted display of compositional brilliance. The lengthy bridge section is similarly loaded with shifting guitar leads, carefully woven into the fabric of the song and leading back into a new verse as smoothly as water on glass.
As a single song, "Khomaniac" would've justified the purchase of By Inheritance in 1990, but it turned out to be only one of many executed at the same incredibly high level.
If possible, the title track is an even greater masterwork, once again balancing accessible and exciting riffs with prog-oriented writing for a song that is as subtle as it is striking. No amount of repeat plays can wear out "By Inheritance," as the detailed, high-energy musicianship shifts from its Asian influences to full-on Western thrash, capped by an engaging singing performance from Rönsdorf with one of the most hook-heavy choruses in thrash history. The chorus melody is liable to stick in your brain for weeks or months after hearing it, a testament to the band's remarkable writing skills.
The entire album marries endearing melodies with raw aggression, though nowhere is the contrast more evident and exciting than in the middle of the album on "Bombfood" and "Don't Believe." The former is a searing assault directed at military service, guided by dramatic guitar work from the Stützer brothers and a blistering performance by Rönsdorf, whose impassioned screams on the chorus are nearly guaranteed to cause chills.
The ferocity of "Bombfood" at first appears to be cooled by beautiful clean guitar melodies at the start of "Don't Believe," yet once again the band partners their melodic mastery with savage thrash-work as the song escalates into another roaring creation that will cause the hairs on your neck to stand out. Frequently shifting between its emotional poles, "Don't Believe" is the type of track that epitomizes the great thrash creations of the '80s, intelligently incorporating melody and traditional instrumentation into songs for depth and balance – a skill largely lost on the modern genre.
There isn't a single entry on By Inheritance that isn't worthy of praise, or at the very least, several dozen listens. The recording only improves across repeat plays and its uniqueness has been accentuated by the thousands of less-inspired contributions in thrash metal's revival. It's the kind of rare audio creation that feels complete and satisfying from front to back.
Artillery's By Inheritance will never receive the mainstream love heaped on its contemporaries, but anyone who's heard it can tell you it unmistakably owns a place among the greatest thrash albums ever recorded.
Listen to Artillery's By Inheritance and similar creations in the '80s Underground Metal / Old School Metal playlist on Spotify