“I don’t know,” isn’t the most succinct of answers, but Sodom‘s Tom Angelripper is finding it all but impossible to describe how he sees his long-standing band within the wider context of heavy metal. One of the early (and certainly one of the most initially unrestrained and chaotic practitioners of thrash, he is in even more wonder at the fact that Sodom have clocked up 30 years as a living, breathing entity.
“I think Sodom is still a strong part of the metal scene,” he continues. “I’m surprised, you know, myself, after 30 years that the band is still alive. We’re still touring, still writing new songs, still writing and recording new albums; it’s amazing! The ‘30 Years’ box is a special gift for the fans. But yes, the band is still alive and we will keep on going; that is the most important thing.”
As mentioned, the reason we are putting Sodom down for the first in this series of articles that looks at the biggest game-changers in the heavy metal universe is that Sodom are celebrating their anniversary with the mammoth ’30 Years Sodomized’ box set. One of the two central components to the box is ‘30 Years’ War’; ostensibly presented as a ‘best-of’ compiled by Tom, it compelled him to go back and pretty much listen to every song the band had recorded. The memories came flooding back, but a crowd-pleaser wasn’t the only criterion for inclusion.
“Doing that ‘best of’ was a really hard thing to do,” he says.” I [deliberately] chose heavier tracks. It’s like sitting in a time machine; I have to listen to every song; each track has its own story. It’s not just a greatest hits album; there are some different songs from albums like ‘Get What You Deserve’ , which is my favourite of all of our albums. Why? We recorded it live in the studio without any overdubs and that was a revolution for me. There are [also] tracks such as ‘Unwanted Youth’ from ‘Masquerade In Blood’  that aren’t my favourite Sodom songs; it’s not a song that we often play live but sometimes we change the set list. So I chose the songs that I like the most but also had a story behind them. So many memories were awakened while putting it together!”
The other component is ‘Official Bootleg – The Witchunter Decade’, which is dedicated to the memory of founding member Chris ‘Witchunter’ Dudek who drummed for the band from 1983 to 1992 but passed away in 2007 following years of drug and alcohol abuse. Tom went through the band’s vaults and pulled out a selection of recordings from Chris’ time with the band, the period that not only saw the band form and make waves across the globe, but also found long-lasting success. Comprising previously unheard recordings from the demo, rehearsal and live stages, this is the part that will appeal to the utter Sodomaniacs.
“With the ‘Witchunter’ box, I tried to find rarities and unreleased material. I know that the bootlegger scene has everything; they’ve got tapes from 1983/4. I don’t know how those tapes came out, but I have so much material in my archives, and it was my idea to do a tribute because the first ten years of the band are our cult period, with Chris on the drums. I have a lot of more recent material, but I think that the older recordings are of much more interest to Sodom collectors.”
Like many of the bands who used Venom as a key influence, their initial forays into the wider world outside of their respective rehearsal rooms were a minefield. There were plenty of rabid fans itching to hear bands who pushed boundaries, whether terms of speed, chaotic production or sheer musical malevolence, but although interest was generated by the underground tape-trading and fanzine networks, the mainstream press’ reaction to almost all of the early thrash bands varied from a literary holding of the nose to vehemently wishing the band’s tenure was as short-lived as humanely possible.
“Yes, it could be,” says Tom when asked if the negative reviews helped them in those early days, “for example Rock Hard is one the biggest magazines in Germany alongside Hammer. If you get a bad review, people go and buy the record,” he laughs. “I still have a lot of old reviews in magazines and it got better with [‘Persecution Mania’ and] ‘Agent Orange’ but before, Sodom was just called a street band, a rehearsal band, non-musicians. We didn’t mind, actually. I don’t care what the press writes, but I do care about what the fans think. To us, that was the meaning behind thrash metal; to be free, to do what you want. We were good friends with Kreator and the whole [German] scene, but we were never interested in what they were doing as a band.”
Despite boasting a decent homeland fanbase that enabled them to be the first thrash band to ever enter the German mainstream charts (when ‘Agent Orange’ hit the number 36 spot in 1989, shifting over 100,000 units in Germany alone) that could have kept them in bread and clover for many years, the band had been keen to play as far and wide as they possibly could. Circumstances conspired against them with America (to this day they’ve never been able to play there) and they didn’t arrive in the UK until 1988, playing a small tour that wasn’t exactly flooded with attendees. The following year saw them hit the Marquee, with a particularly aggressive Sepultura supporting and then nothing for two decades. Even so, “the UK was always important for us,” maintains Tom. “Even before we played live there, but for almost the last 20 years, we’ve never had any offers to play there. So, the last tour we played one date in London, it was crazy and I asked our booking agent if they could get us more shows. I like Britain, you know, Britain is heavy metal. I’m a huge fan of NWOBHM. It’s hard for me to explain, but it’s the most important place for heavy metal music so why we never get the chance to play more I don’t know. We did Bloodstock a couple of years ago, which was amazing, but I want to do more.”
Unsurprisingly given their tenure, while themselves massively influenced and inspired by Venom and Tank, Sodom have themselves gone on to influence many, many bands over the years. In some cases, the band are just one of a myriad of influences of a certain band, with the example of Impaled Nazarene, who covered ‘Burst Command Til War’ on their 1998 ‘Rapture’ album or, indeed, any of the acts chosen to cover a Sodom song for the ‘Homage To The Gods’ bonus disc that came with initial copies of 1999’s ‘Code Red’ being plucked out of the air. Others have a far heavier debt to the band, notably a stream of bands from Australia such as Destroyer 666, Gospel of The Horns and Vomitor. Tom is a fan of these bands, and is more than a little happy about such a legacy.
“Yeah, there seems to be a lot of those bands,” he says. “Those bands are a new generation that seemed to do a form of copying of Sodom and Kreator. They like the style of the music; the clothing and they themselves have been influenced to form their own bands like we were with Venom. Sodom has always been a heavy metal band, we’re not a metalcore band or anything, we’ve never really changed and I think that people like that and appreciate that. If you follow the complete history of Sodom, you will realise that a lot of bands either changed their music in the ’90s or split up. We never did. To me, what bands like Destroyer 666 like about us is that we stayed true to our spirit and it makes me proud that Sodom is an inspiration to younger bands, but whenever I talk to them I always tell them to create something new; don’t try to copy another band. “
In 1987 ‘Persecution Mania’ got the press behind the band in a big way for the first time and their next album, ‘Agent Orange’, sold in quantities that Tom and the band were finally able to give up their day jobs, but if asked to name an influential Sodom album, of the bands who profess to an influence would most likely pick either the 1984 EP ‘In The Sign of Evil’ or debut full-length ‘Obsessed By Cruelty’ from 1986 as the standout album from the band. Those albums that were slaughtered in reviews have gone on to be massively influential.
“I know, a lot of Sodom fans [are] from the black metal scene,” he says. “There’s one guy [I met] who said that ‘Obsessed By Cruelty’ is the best Sodom album ever! The first two records were inspired by Aleister Crowley, but I changed it because it didn’t do anything for me. Crowley is very strange and I didn’t want to get a sick brain or whatever, you know?” he laughs. “I know the first two Sodom albums are a big inspiration for the scene but I always say please listen to the other stuff too! That person who bought ‘Persecution Mania’ and then never listened to any other Sodom records, I asked him why, because the music is getting better, and the lyrics are changed a little bit? That’s the only real difference. He said that those two records had something special that he just couldn’t explain. Those records were really rushed, we couldn’t play our instruments very well, we were always drunk during the recordings and we’d be drunk in the rehearsal room trying to write the songs but it’s really something special.
“I suppose it’s the same way as [when I heard] the first Venom record. Everything changed [for me]. It was the heaviest thing that I’d ever heard. And our thought was to form our own band and sound like them, but heavier and faster, and we called it witching metal. I like the songs and, you know, the drummer is out of time, but it works. I can’t explain it, I guess it’s because it’s not highly polished and perfect, and that’s the thing with Sodom; we’re a street band in that respect, but it’s not just the music, it’s also the photos, the cover and everything.”
Which brings us back to Sodom’s anniversary. Perhaps the one person they’ve proved wrong more than any other has been the boss of their long-time record label, Manfred Schütz. While having the foresight to sign the band, one wonders just how long he thought it would all last. The stories of the label hearing the initial recordings for ‘In The Sign Of Evil’ and calling a halt to any more expenditure are legendary, but not quite as much as the man’s words when offering the band a deal. Namely, “You guys are so shit, I have to sign you!” But, despite a brief jump to another label, Sodom remain with SPV and Tom seems content.
“Yeah, that’s also the reason why we are still at SPV. There was a time where we briefly moved to Drakkar/GUN but again, I’m proud to be with SPV and Sodom has been a very strong part of its history. It’s always been a good-selling band and we keep going. Two weeks ago, we got an option for a new album for SPV, we started with two new songs and we always keep on going. Every weekend we play shows; there seems to festivals all over Germany and Europe, so we’re always travelling. It’s amazing. But I want to thank our fans, we always get their support, they keep on buying our albums and it’s truly wonderful” he affirms, before adding with a laugh, “I’ll be 50 next year, and we’re hoping to have a new album out in time for that, so if anyone wants to get me a gift, they can buy the album!”
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