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SODOM


SODOM "The Fret Offensive"

by Dr. Abner Mality

It was almost 20 years ago when the campaign began. Three raw recruits from the German Theater of operations strapped on their combat gear, picked up their weapons and started their metal assault. Their first sorties were weak and primitive but as the troops picked up experience, their strength grew. Their "Agent Orange" and "Persecution Mania" attacks let their enemies know that, "here was a force to be reckoned with." And so, as the endless battle rolled on, the three-man commando squad, code-named SODOM and led by their commanding officer Tom Angelripper, became one of thrash metal's elite forces. Through several changes in personnel and many shifting tides of war, Sodom has endured. They are bloody but unbowed.

Always fascinated with the brutality of war, Angelripper and his fellow Sodomites Bernemann and Bobby Schotkowski have now reached a new plateau with their latest CD, simply entitled "M-16". The record is a concept album based on the Vietnam War. And it's not merely books and movies that have inspired Sodom. In 2001, they were the first Western metal band to ever play in Southeast Asia. Not only that, but they toured the actual battle sites there, visiting the Vietnam War Museum with its catalogue of atrocities and the famous Cu Chi tunnels where the South Vietnamese resisted attack. The feeling of realism combined with the band's most brutal yet catchy thrash metal yet makes "M-16" their best record in their long career.

The following is the result of my briefing with Officer Angelripper. Call it "The Fret Offensive" if you will...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When did you first get the idea to do a concept album based on the Vietnam War?

TOM ANGELRIPPER: Well, when we first did the albums "Persecution Mania" and "Agent Orange", we decided to write about war. We changed our lyrics from "Obsessed by Cruelty". We used fragments and symbols of Vietnam before, because everybody knew about that war. When you read most of our lyrics, you'll find the message "stop the war".

WC: But "M-16" was the first album targeted towards one specific war...

TA: I'm interested in historical things. I can't write about World War II because I'm German and we'd have a lot of misunderstandings over my writing about that period. It's my opinion that mankind cannot live at any time on Earth without war. Whenever we write an album, there's a war raging. When we did "Code Red", that was during the Kosovo Crisis. When we did "Better Off Dead", the Gulf War was going on. A lot of people ask me why we bring out an album "M-16" now, with the World Trade Center bombings and Afghanistan. Actually, the album was written before that happened. I think most Sodom fans are interested in the lyrics as well as the music. I've already got ideas for the next album based on this new war against terrorism. As far as "M-16" goes, I don't say one side is better than the other. I don't say the Americans or the Viet Cong are the bad guys.

WC: You don't take sides...

TA: No, no. I did the song "Marines" on the album because I think they're the best soldiers in the world.

WC: Earlier in 2001, you visited Thailand and Vietnam. Did you ever think when you started out that being in Sodom would take you to places all the way around the world like that?

TA: When we were in Vietnam and Bangkok, no band like us had ever been there before.
We wanted to take the first step into these countries and go where no one had gone before. When we played at the Rock Club in Bangkok, the people were just crazy. They were so thankful that a German thrash band had come over there to play. They know all the songs, they know all the lyrics. You can't buy our stuff at all in stores over there but they get it from the internet, they get bootlegs.

You can't really buy much in Vietnam because their political system would never allow it. The whole metal scene is totally underground. I talked to some metal kids that never heard bands like Motorhead or AC/DC! But they know Sodom. I don't know why! A lot of bands don't want to go over there because they can't make money. Well, Asia for me is not just Japan. You can make a lot of money in Japan, sure. But we want to tour for the Sodom fans...

Next year, we going to try and go on an Asian tour and we want to include Vietnam. Vietnam is becoming more and more open. There's actually a kind of war tourism where people want to see the War Crime Museum and all that.

WC: You saw that Museum yourself and you also toured the Cu Chi Tunnels. Out of all the things you saw over there, what made the biggest impression on you?

TA: I think just talking to the people made the biggest impression. We tried to talk to some Vietnamese veterans but they really don't want to talk about it. The thing that surprised me the most was that the war itself was getting so commericalized. They're aiming towards Europeans and the Cu Chi Tunnels were almost like a park. You can see all the traps they used in the war, you can even fire off the guns they used. It was kind of crazy.

WC: A lot of metal bands speak about war and death but you've actually been to Vietnam, you've toured the museums, you've seen the scars. Did that change your perspective on things?

TA: I have more interest in the subject, I've got a lot more books on it, but my ideas haven't changed. When we went to the War Museum, I saw pictures of things I've never seen before, that you can never see in any book over here. There were pictures of Agent Orange victims, napalm victims...it was really, really heavy stuff. It made me think about war in a different way, but my main idea remains. War is the worst thing that can happen to mankind.

WC: A lot of people who aren't into the death metal scene just don't get that. They're gonna think you're glorifying war no matter what.

TA: No, no, I don't want to glorify war! But we want to shock people, to wake them up. If there's no more war in this world, I have to write about peace and love!

WC: That doesn't quite fit...(laughter)

TA: Everything I write about now is based on historical facts. For example, I have another project, Desperado, that I do with my friend Alex Kraft, that is Western metal. It's musically a mixture between the early Metallica and Ennio Morricone, who composed the music for all the spaghetti westerns. We've got one album out but it's just in Germany only. The second album is finished. Alex and I are really fans of the Old West. We went to Tombstone, Arizona, to get more information on Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and those kind of characters. I've got a lot books from America on the subject.

WC: The truth is often different from the legend...

TA: Tombstone wasn't that different from Vietnam, it was getting really commercial. Everywhere you could buy a T-shirt. I 'm just interested in the truth, I want to learn something...

WC: Any American release planned for Desperado's stuff?

TA: No, and it makes me really sad that you can only get it in Germany. Even the record companies over in Germany did nothing for us, they gave us no support. There's so many of these power metal bands over there, hundreds of new bands coming out every month it seems like.

WC: You think the metal scene over there is going to cave in pretty soon?

TA: Yeah, there's too many bands. But now there are a lot of people talking about a thrash metal revival. I don't like reunion type stuff but it's good that Destruction are back and Kreator is getting real heavy again.

WC: Would you say the golden age of German thrash metal is now instead of the late 80's?

TA: It's coming back! This is a great chance. More people are getting interested in thrash metal music. We're going to go out in Europe with Destruction and Kreator. It's a low priced ticket to see three great bands. It's a historical moment! The new generation is getting interested in it and when they see this tour, they'll know what thrash metal is all about.

WC: Do you think that tour is gonna hit the States?

TA: We're looking for a serious booking agency in America. We've just played one time in America so far, Milkwaukee Metalfest in 1998. That was a really bad experience because the promoter Jack Koshick did nothing for us. We played only for a half an hour, which was really nothing. I hope we get a chance with a good booking agency. It has to be somebody serious about it, not like Jack Koshick. With him, we had to come in to America as tourists, we couldn't bring our guitars. We had to rent guitars from him! It was really, really bad. There's a lot of German bands that played Metalfest years ago who will never go back there.

WC: There's more of a focus on how many bands play Metalfest, rather than just on quality bands playing for a longer set.

TA: Yeah, that's also a problem in Germany. At Full Force and Wacken, there are hundreds of bands playing. You've got 3 bands playing all at the same time. It's too much.

WC: Do you feel that your current Sodom line-up is the best you've ever had?

TA: Definitely. We're now together for five years. This line up is really strong. In the past, we had problems with members. Witch-hunter could never accept me as the boss. Bobby and Bernemann do. They'll say, "Tom, you're fronting the band, it's your band. We'll do it all together but you'll have the last say on what we do." We can talk about everything, including financial problems. If you can talk, then there are no problems. They're good friends of mine and we're all the same age. Before, our old guitarist Andy Brings was 10 years younger than me. I'm gonna try and keep this line up as long as I can.

WC: Do you think there will be any alterations to your style in the future?

TA: No, never. We do try to write better songs. On "M-16", we tried to write catchier choruses on the songs than before. I think a lot of these tracks will be classics because if you listen just once or twice, you can't forget them. Stuff like "M-16", "Napalm in the Morning", "I Am The War", "Genocide" is like that. We always try to get heavier but write better songs.

WC: Have you ever had a Spinal Tap moment on stage?

TA: Oh, there's a lot of things happening all the time. For example, we use a lot of pyrotechnics and it's pretty dangerous. I've gotten burned pretty bad sometimes. Last year I got scorched really bad but it didn't seem too funny at the time.

WC: What was the last CD you got?

TA: The new Slayer album, "God Hates Us All". It's a really heavy album but I don't know if it has the spirit of the old Slayer albums like "Hell Awaits". It sounds a little overproduced, there's a bit too much hardcore or industrial influence for my taste.

WC: What was the last concert you saw?

TA: That was Slayer, too, when they played Dusseldorf last month. It was great. They didn't play much new material, mostly the classics. I think Slayer is my all-time favorite band.

To contact this writer, send your email to: drmality@wormwoodchronicles.com