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Witching Metal (1982)
 

Witching Metal is the first demo release from Sodom, spawned in 1982. This hellish recording took the aggression of Motörhead and evil approach of Venom to the next step. Though crude, the cover art represents the sound, perfectly. The line-up of Angelripper, Aggressor and Witchhunter were among the first to step into the raging fires of Hell and to make a blood oath to Satan, himself, vowing to visit the curse of Black Metal upon the mortal realm.

The sound quality is really shoddy, with everything coming together in a wall of noise. This is the sort of production obtained when the recorder is under a bed in the next room. However, if you listen very closely and allow your ears to tune out the hissing of the tape and to really focus, it starts to become clearer. Angelripper's vocals, though muffled, still convey a barbaric fury that someone like Tom Warrior failed to ever tap into. The guitar and bass blend together, partially due to the tone, but also because of the poor quality. During the lead solos, Aggressor's work manages to slice through the noise, sounding quite similar to the axemanship of Kerry King, of Slayer. Even Witchhunter's drumming is fairly decipherable, despite everything else.

The material is very primitive and straightforward. There is a raw and hellish feeling to this, with a malevolent wrath that even exceeds that of the mighty Venom. The drumming is fast-paced, helping to carry the songs at a break-neck speed. The riffing is monotonous, at times, mostly due the the piss-poor production concealing so much of what is going on. For much of the recording, the guitar and bass join together to create a sinister rumbling that is accompanied by Angelripper's possessed ravings. Aggressor's chaotic solo work adds to the atmosphere of Hell and damnation, so much that one can almost feel the flames. For whatever reason, "Witching Metal" is the only song on here that made it onto In the Sign of Evil, though all of the material is of the same quality. However, Grave Violator's playing style would not have suited the music as well, in all likelihood.

Sodom's Witching Metal demo is a hideous and menacing slab of old school Black Metal. This is for anyone that worships the early material from Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, etc. It may be difficult to pick up on, at first, but it is worth the effort. Forget the keyboards, female vocals and photos depicting self-mutilation. This is real Black Metal.
 
(3 Dec. 2011)

 
 

Victims of Death is the second demo tape from Sodom. It was self-released in early 1984, prior to the release of In the Sign of Evil. The quality of this cassette is fairly low, but the raw energy and hideous, old school Black Metal feeling is enough to make this worth the time to find. The line-up for this recording was Angelripper on vocals and bass, Aggressor on guitar and backing vocals and Witchhunter on drums.

The music on this demo is extremely raw and a little sloppy, but the aggression is evident and one cannot deny the dedication of this trio. For the most part, the music is fast-paced, though the title track feels like it drags quite a bit. This was certainly influenced by Venom and early Punk. Actually, the atmosphere is not too far from that of Bathory's debut album. Angelripper's vocals are somewhat harsh, though a human voice can still be heard. He definitely lacks the confidence of Cronos, but you can tell he is still developing his sound. Aggressor's guitar solos show an undeniable Slayer influence, sounding quite close to those found on Show No Mercy. It is too bad that he left the band after this, as it would have been interesting to hear his style of playing on the following records. Witchhunter's drumming maintains more of a Punk feel, throughout the demo, moving things along at a decent pace. At times, this even seems to bear some resemblance to early Hellhammer, though possessing a darker feel.

The overall production of this demo is bloody horrible. Everything is muffled and the only time the guitar takes on a sharp tone is during the solos. Otherwise, it blends in with the bass, creating kind of a muddy sound. The drumming is barely audible, at times, and the vocals are pushed back too far. This may come off as nothing more than senseless noise, unless you really listen closely and focus. Despite that, it is still easy to see the beginnings of what would be vomited forth on In the Sign of Evil.

Perhaps, Victims of Death is an acquired taste, but it is worth the effort for those that appreciate the band's earlier output. The song "Witchhammer", alone, makes this essential listening. This is a filthy and ugly piece of early Black Metal history, and should be heard (at least once) by anyone into First Wave bands such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer.
 
(2 Dec. 2011)

 
In the Sign of Evil (1984)
 

Along with Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer, Sodom was one of the pioneers of the First Wave of Black Metal with their debut E.P. In the Sign of Evil, which was released in 1984. This emerged from the darkened depths of Hell some months before Bathory's self-titled album, just to put this in perspective. Sodom would later go for a pure Thrash Metal style, more similar to fellow German bands Kreator and Destruction, but this release is total blasphemy and evil captured on tape. There is a strong Venom influence, though this is darker and heavier than anything that they produced, yet not nearly as coherent as the early Slayer albums.

This twisted affair begins with a brief and horrifying intro that leads into rumbling guitars and animalistic snarls, like the sound of something escaping from Hell to wreak havoc upon the living. "Outbreak of Evil" is aptly titled. The drumming has somewhat of a sloppy feel, yet it works very well within the context of the music and is still more coherent than Hellhammer. Angel Ripper's vocals are more of a puked rasp than anything else, sounding very sinister and evil. The guitars, mostly, consist of tremolo-picked power chords and seem similar to what Bathory was doing around this time. Overall, this has a very evil and barbaric sound.

"Sepulchral Voice" is next and this was the first Sodom song that I ever heard; the one that got me interested in checking this band out in the first place. This begins with a few singles notes being drawn out over the sound of rabid demons waiting to be unleashed upon the living. This slow and ominous intro yields to unrelenting fury as the song picks up speed and Angel Ripper's venomous vocals slice through the wall of sound. The pace alternates from deathly slow to very fast, throughout the song. This primitive sound was very influential to bands such as Sarcofago and others in the Brazilian scene, for example. Near the end, there is even a brief bass solo before the song reaches blinding speeds once again. This one song probably best exemplifies the dark feeling of this E.P.

The next song begins with a brief build-up of guitars and demonic laughter before erupting at full speed. "Blasphemer" is one of the fastest and ugliest pieces of Black Metal on this album. The atmosphere is one of pure Hellish chaos. This unholy song is held together by frenzied rhythms and a rabid chorus as Angel Ripper continues to laugh like a demon that is filled with demented joy to be hurling you into the fires of Hell. The overall pace is reminiscent of Kreator's "Tormentor" (which actually came the following year).

"Witching Metal" has more of a traditional metal sensibility, while being unrelenting in its ferocity. Angel Ripper seems quite possessed at this point and Witchhunter does his best to keep up with Grave Violator's fast guitar riffs. He throws in oddly timed rolls and cymbal crashes at obscure moments. Either way, it works and the fierceness of his performance commands respect. This violent song is fairly short.

An eerie intro leads into "Burst Command Til War". The sound is Hellish and evil and would have been a good way to begin the album. The final song if this classic E.P. truly does burst forth from the dark shadows, claiming all pathetic lives in its way. The effect on Angel Ripper's vocals adds to the demonic fury of his delivery. The riff on this one has a similar early power/speed feel as the one riff from “Sepulchral Voice”, but the context it’s presented in is so different that it isn't so easy to notice. The song ends with more chaos and something that sounds like a bomb exploding and incinerating thousands.

In the Sign of Evil features five songs that each bring something unique to this release, while all maintaining the same morbid atmosphere. This E.P. was very influential to those Black Metal bands that came later and it is a shame that Sodom did not stick with this sound for a while longer to fully explore what could have been achieved, before moving on to pure Thrash Metal. In the Sign of Evil really captures the darkened intensity of the early scene and is about as good as it gets regarding early extreme metal. If you own only one Sodom album, make sure this is the one.
 
(4 Apr. 2009)

 
Obsessed By Cruelty (1986)
 

Sodom's debut L.P. took some time to appear. Two years after the release of In the Sign of Evil, in May 1986, Obsessed By Cruelty was finally unleashed upon the Metal underground. During those two years, some things changed for this German band. The primal Black Metal that was found on the E.P. had transformed. Though the sound was not so distant from what it had once been, there was a significant difference in the music and its execution. The vocals weren't as evil and possessed; the atmosphere wasn't as dark and wicked.

The intro may have had some people expecting more of what was heard on In the Sign of Evil. The funeral organ and demonic voices work well to set the tone for unholy Black Metal. Yet, instead of that, there exists something more related to Thrash Metal. "Deathlike Silence" erupts from the graveyard, punishing the listener with a violent pace not far removed from "Blasphemer" or "Burst Command 'Til War". The lyrics are dark, but not Satanic. Aside from the different style that is employed, one may also notice that the guitars struggle with the percussion, in vain, as the latter maintains aural dominance. This is a major complaint against the entire record, really, as drums should never overpower the music like this. Despite such grievances, the first song is still memorable, energetic and one of Sodom's best-known for a reason.

"Brandish the Scepter" bears the same anti-Christian sentiment from before, though it is bereft of any mention of Satan or Hell. It begins with a blinding flurry of riffs and vocals, but manages to slow down for a bit. It is during these slower sections that the album is most enjoyable, as there is less percussion for the guitars to contend with. The drumming on this one is, more or less, a primitive blast beat.

"Proselytism Real" begins with a slower riff that hearkens back to the E.P. The lyrical theme is still, somewhat, cryptic and occult, though not making a great deal of sense. Though the song does speed up, it never seems to reach the frenzied pace of the earlier songs. This means that the percussion is a little easier to digest, giving the guitars more room to breathe. Musically, this track wouldn't have been out of place on In the Sign of Evil, but the vocals aren't evil enough, nor are the lyrics. Nonetheless, it remains one of the better songs on this album.

A brief drum solo opens "Equinox", a straight-forward Thrash Metal song which owes quite a bit to Venom's "Witching Hour". Of course, bands like Venom and Motorhead were an influence to Sodom, so it is not surprising to hear this come through in their music. As with the rest of the album, the vocals seem to be buried a bit more than on their previous release.

"Volcanic Slut", like the last track, begins with only the drums. The bass and guitar come in to create a hellish feeling of death slowly creeping toward you. This is quickly abandoned as the song goes full blast into pure Black/Thrash.

The next song is "Obsessed By Cruelty". This one starts with an eerie intro, with twisted guitar notes giving the impression that the band is burning in the flames of the Kingdom Below. This is accentuated by the demonic vocals of Angelripper. After a couple minutes, Sodom trades a dark atmosphere for intense speed. Around this time, a lot of bands seemed overly concerned with some non-existent contest to see who could play the fastest, often sacrificing brilliant ideas for the sake of an increased velocity. There are some decent riffs and leads, but one gets the impression that the song could have been something more. Some of the riffs are quite memorable, but where the band really shines is the slower section, near the end.

"Fall of Majesty Town" begins with a nice thrash riff and a, somewhat, subdued pace. Unfortunately, within about a minute, it returns to the same generic Sodom riffs that are found all over this album. Not that the riffs are even that audible, buried so far beneath the pounding drums.

Another killer thrash riff introduces "Nectemeron", though the bloody drums overpower it once they arrive. It sounds as if this would be a passable song, if the production wasn't so atrocious. As the pace slows down, one can get more of a feel for what is going on, until the drums ruin it, once more. Really, Obsessed By Cruelty has to be one of the most abrasive albums recorded. It's difficult to sit through, with the cursed percussion drilling into your brain.

"Pretenders to the Throne" seems reminiscent of "Burst Command 'Til War". This one is fast-paced and straight-forward. It is fairly simplistic, while still retaining a good amount of energy. Much like the final song, "Witchhammer", it is more in line with the Black Metal approach of the previous release. The latter more so than the former.

Obsessed By Cruelty is adequate enough, when it comes to songwriting. Though the departure from the early Black Metal sound, in favour of Thrash Metal, is disappointing, is kind of a let down, the real problem here is the awful production. It's not that it sounds too primitive, for that would be just right for this type of music. The main complaint, to reiterate this, is that the drums are far too high in the mix and make this an annoying listening experience, at time. Obsessed By Cruelty has a lot of potential and it would be interesting to hear this in a remixed form. While this is superior to what many of their peers were putting out, Sodom was capable of much better.
 
(6 May 2009)

 
 

As happened with several other bands, following the success of Slayer's overrated Reign in Blood, Sodom abandoned their Black Metal roots and centered their focus on pure Thrash, while also cleaning their sound up a bit. Released in December 1987, Persecution Mania would go on to become a landmark record for Sodom, as well as the Teutonic Thrash Metal scene. As with Kreator, it would appear that the introduction of a new member was the key element that led to the change in direction.

From the opening moments of "Nuclear Winter", it is clear that the band is much more focused and the music has an added sense of lethality. While not as raw or primitive as In the Sign of Evil or Obsessed By Cruelty, this album still possesses a vicious streak that cannot be ignored. Rather than going for the more mainstream type of Thrash that Kreator tried to attain on Terrible Certainty, Sodom retained a measure of brutality and forcefulness. One thing that helped this was the fact that Tom Angelripper's vocals are still evil and harsh, rather than going weak as Mille had done. The music is still intense, particularly around the middle, and the lead solos are a nice touch. Another important factor is that the atmosphere is still dark.

"Electrocution" utilizes blast beats, bestial vocals and barbaric riffs that bludgeon you and pound your skull to dust. Already, by the second track, it is clear that Sodom has improved upon what Slayer attempted to do with their third full-length. This one is rather straightforward and includes brief solos that add to the hellish feeling.

The next song is a cover of Motörhead's "Iron Fist", which fits in with the rest of the material, perfectly. The chorus is not as dark, of course, but that is the only real difference. Fast, intense and well-executed, this track suits the album well.

"Persecution Mania" starts out with a riff that sounds more oriented toward Death Metal, before launching into the Thrash assault. The riffs are tight and precise, lacking any of the sloppiness found on the previous L.P. As the song continues, more Death Metal riffs are utilized and the blast beats help the overall atmosphere to resemble that of Death's Scream Bloody Gore. The lead solos are longer than many others on here, accentuating the evil feeling. The morbid whispers, at the end of the song, only further this dark vibe.

Bursting from the depths of Hell, "Enchanted Land" rushes forth in a manner reminiscent of early Slayer. After a minute or so, the speed decreases as mid-paced riffs are introduced. Still, the sinister aura is ever-present, with another blistering solo to help rip the flesh right off of your bones.

"Procession to Golgatha" is a mid-paced instrumental track with a very eerie and doom-ridden atmosphere. This song adds yet another layer of darkness to the album and Blackfire's solo-work kills anything that Jeff Hanneman or Kerry King did after 1985.

"Christ Passion" starts out with a filthy thrash riff, before transitioning to something almost reminiscent of the NWOBHM movement. This type of galloping riff is completely unexpected, yet fits in so well that one does not even think to question it. The next riff is faster and more intense, with the drums pounding a hole right through your chest. As the longest track on the album, this one seems to be the most epic and to feature the most complex arrangement. This one song displays good examples of all of the sort of techniques that are employed throughout this record, even including more mid-paced thrash riffs. The lead solo shows a lot of thought and skill, sounding a bit older than 1987.

A brief drum solo introduces "Conjuration", which allows the bass to breathe a bit more and is kind of reminiscent of Motörhead. The influence is pretty clear, as this fat-paced song storms the battlefield and hacks apart all those who oppose. One of the guitar solos has a different tone, which actually sounds interesting, though not as sharp.

"Bombenhagel" brings the album to its conclusion, with a mixture of high-speed and more traditional riffs. It is the most average track on the record and even this is far superior to what many other bands were doing at the time. The final moments see a transition to the German national anthem, which is a bit strange.

Persecution Mania is a great Thrash Metal album and comes highly recommended. Sodom manages to clean their sound up a bit, while still possessing a dark and evil feeling. This is something that was lost on the likes of Slayer, Kreator and Possessed. Unfortunately, even the mightiest of Teutonic Thrash bands would go on to lose their focus and never matched this achievement. There is no excuse for any Metalhead to not own this album. If your collection is lacking this classic, go ahead and kill yourself.
 
(11 Nov. 2011)

 
Agent Orange (1989)
 

Agent Orange is the third full-length album from Sodom, and it is usually the one that gets the most praise heaped upon it. This seems strange, since it is far inferior when compared to Persecution Mania, in just about every way. The songwriting is inconsistent and the inclusion of a cover song kills the flow of the album, irreparably. Released in June 1989 on Steamhammer Records, this L.P. has enjoyed undeserved popularity for far too long.

Upon first listen, one would not think that there is much difference between this album and the one that immediately precedes it. It features a lot of the same sort of riffs, but with a failed attempt at injecting melody and complexity into the structures. The vocals are a little cleaner, and the overall atmosphere lacks anything even remotely dark. The band was just going through the motions, making a fairly generic Thrash Metal album, with no real sense of purpose. Even the title track is ruined with the mid-paced sections and the stupid samples. One would be urged to look past the imperfections and to try to take the album for what it is, except for the fact that the band already presented a much better take on this style, under the title Persecution Mania.

Agent Orange is a bland and ineffective release from a band that could have done much better. The production is too clean, similar to the last record, but the material really does not necessitate a raw and dirty feel anyway. The drums could be lower in the mix, but the guitars have sufficient focus and heaviness, so the difference would be minimal. The songwriting and arrangement is sub-par and a mockery of what these guys were truly capable of. If you like simplistic Thrash that is aimed at the masses, give this a listen. If you are a fan of Sodom's early works, skip this and proceed to The Final Sign of Evil.
 
(11 Nov. 2011)

 
 

In 1984, Sodom was set to record their first full-length album. Unfortunately, as the story goes, their label could not afford to pay for the necessary studio time and only a handful of songs ended up being recorded. Those tracks were released as the legendary In the Sign of Evil E.P. In the years that followed, the band moved away from its Black Metal origins and developed into one of the elite among the Teutonic Thrash bands. With the passage of over two decades, however, Tom Angelripper saw the need to revisit the band's dark past. For whatever reason, the leftover material was never recorded for any of the band's subsequent albums. In time, the original line-up entered the studio and brought to life those forgotten songs, as well as new versions of the ones from the E.P. In September 2007, The Final Sign of Evil was released, thus Sodom was finally able to share the morbid vision that possessed them so many years earlier.

The first thing that one notices is the incredible production. This possesses the same ugly and raw sound that was present on their debut E.P. For decades, bands have tried attaining an older sound and the best they could manage was to use poor equipment or to simply do everything in their power to make their releases sound as if they were recorded in a garage. With The Final Sign of Evil, Sodom reaches back into the past but manages to get an old school sound and still retain some level of quality. This really seems like it could have been vomited forth back in 1984, and that is one of the most positive things that can be said of this album.

Regarding the music, it is purely old school Black Metal, hearkening back to the glory days of the First Wave. One thing that really helps is that the members of Sodom really tried to keep things authentic; i.e. instead of giving these old songs a modern spin, they remained true to the spirit of the old days. Angelripper's vocals are more demonic and raw than in many years. Witchhunter's lack of drumming for about fifteen years also helped him sound as unpolished and primitive as the material called for. The same can be said for the length of time since Grave Violator had picked up a guitar. One really has to commend Tom for looking to his old bandmates for this project, which just goes to show how serious he was about presenting the old material as it should have been.

The unreleased songs seem to pale in comparison to the classics that we have all known for so many years. Some of that may be nostalgia, while part of it may be that they chose the very best songs to record, upon finding out that they would not be able to make a full-length album back in '84. While my personal preferences lean toward the original recordings, there really is nothing negative that can be said of the re-recorded versions. The are possessed by the same evil spirit as the originals and uphold the same sort of savage and primitive feeling. The previously unheard tracks hold their own well enough, but they certainly would not have been able to carry their weight without the classics there with them. The one standout, among the 'new' tracks is "Hatred of the Gods", which would have fit in well on In the Sign of Evil, or even Persecution Mania, for that matter. It is interesting to note that most of the songs chosen for the original E.P. were the faster ones (with the exception of "Sepulchral Voice"), while the majority of the leftover songs were more mid-paced. It says something for the identity that the band wanted to project, seeing which ones they kept and which ones were shelved.

The Final Sign of Evil is a great album and highly recommended to fans of the band's early work. With so many groups going back and re-recording old songs in order to give them an updated feel and make them more modern, it is amazing to see one of the forefathers of Black Metal embracing their roots and remaining true to the underground spirit that spawned them in the first place. The only bad thing about this is that they did not stick with their old sound for the next album.
 
(29 Nov. 2011)

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