Longevity is an achievement in itself, but being together for forty years while also continuously making vibrant and relevant music is a distinct rarity. In the realm of Heavy Metal music, German Thrash titans Sodom have always done things their own way.
From being misunderstood and panned by the early ’80s music press to helping birth more than one sub-genre, the band has created that most elusive of legacies – an untarnished one. Across sixteen full-length albums, through trends of every sort, nothing has deterred them. Now perched upon their fourth decade as a band, Sodom releases 40 Years at War – The Greatest Hell of Sodom, a compilation of hand-picked tracks all with a sonic makeover, which makes it no ordinary best-of cash-in but a genuine exploration of a band that always puts its fans first. Recently, Cryptic Rock had the pleasure of speaking with Sodom mastermind Tom “Angelripper” Such, to discuss their vast history, the latest anniversary release, and exciting plans for the very near future.
Cryptic Rock – So, how does it feel to look back across four decades knowing that Sodom has endured, not only as a band but as a force in underground music?
Tom Angelripper – I did not think I would be a musician, or even still be alive after 40 years. That is what’s incredible. Everything changed when we got the first record deal in ’84. We moved immediately into a more professional scene. It was a long trip, but time was running so fast, and it’s unbelievable. It’s just a result of hard work, because I work every day to keep on looking forward.
Cryptic Rock – One of the amazing things about Sodom is you got through the ‘90s without losing your identity. If you look at the bands that we all consider the Big Four of Thrash, the most commercially successful bands out there, depending on your outlook, have all either stumbled or completely turned into something else. You never once got into any of the trends going on. Can you reflect on your mindset about that?
Tom Angelripper – You’re right. I think Sodom as a band will never change, just like we did not change back in the ‘90s; that was very important. I know that a lot of Metal bands changed their music in the ‘90s because they got dictation from fans, from record companies, they got more commercial in order to sell more records, whatever; we never minded that.
I think when I look back to the ‘90s, we released the heaviest Sodom albums ever – when we talk about Tapping the Vein (1992), Get What You Deserve (1994), Masquerade in Blood (1995). That is something that’s really important to the band, that we never change. We get no dictations from outside. We just do the music because we like this kind of music. We are just Metal fans making music for a while. And an album like Get What You Deserve, for example, it’s the heaviest Sodom album ever.
Yes, I know record companies that want to change this, change your lyrics, doing this, doing that, but we never did. That was when Andy Brings joined the band (1991-1995). He was a young guitarist with a lot of ideas and a really powerful guitarist. I want to always do the heaviest albums possible. That’s also the reason why we are still alive. We never had a break, we never changed anything. We’ve been constantly in the scene. Okay, we got some lineup changes, but the band was always there.
Cryptic Rock – That is true. Sodom also cannot be pigeonholed regarding the band’s chosen lyrical themes. You sing about aspects of society, injustices, and war. You’ve kept the themes of Sodom open enough that you never put yourself in any box, which is not easy to do.
Tom Angelripper – Yeah, we are not a classical Thrash Metal band. On the latest release, Genesis XIX (2020), there was some Black Metal stuff… maybe Death Metal. Some people came up and told me, “No, stop doing Black Metal. Why do you do this?” We say, “no, we started with a kind of view, we started in 1982, and there did exist a kind of Black Metal.” Nobody was calling it Black Metal at that time though. Later when Venom released that second record, then we talked about Black Metal or Thrash Metal.
I never mind when we start writing songs, it could be more Punk, it could be Crust Punk, it could be Metal, traditional, Heavy Metal, or whatever. I want to write a good song. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. And yes, it’s a mixture between everything. Sodom is not a classical Thrash Metal band. I think bands like Destruction or Exodus are more in the Thrash Metal realm than Sodom. Sodom is different, it’s classical, traditional Heavy Metal in my opinion.
Cryptic Rock – It is pretty wild that your career began when all of this was gelling and coming together. And when you started Sodom, what were you listening to at the time? We know that Seventies music and NWOBHM was big. But what do you think tipped you over into thinking to make the heavier and faster and darker stuff? Was it just Venom and Discharge?
Tom Angelripper – It was also the place we live, in this area with all the coal mines and steel factories. I think that gave us . . . I can’t describe it. I think that when we lived in this place with all the hard work, we wanted to get a release from all this stuff. We wanted to make a kind of revolution with the music. We were against the parents, the teachers, trainers, the establishment. We just wanted to do our music.
I think that Venom was the biggest inspiration. But we try to do it heavier or faster… faster even than Metallica. There was a slogan in the beginning of the ’80s – Sodom is faster than Metallica and heavier than Venom or Hellhammer. That’s exactly what we want to do. We never thought in the beginning to do melodic Heavy Metal like other bands did. There were bands like Mad Butcher who had the same rehearsal room as Sodom. They did more traditional melodic Heavy Metal. We always want to do the heaviest music possible because of the Punk influence we had. We would talk about Discharge and explore that. And that all came together to form a completely new type of music, which we called “Witching Metal” in the beginning.
Cryptic Rock – And that gave birth to one of Sodom’s best songs.
Tom Angelripper – That’s really funny, we re-recorded that song for the 40 Years at War – The Greatest Hell of Sodom project. And I think there are a lot of versions of “Witching Metal” out. But we took the same arrangement from the demo and recorded a brand-new version in the studio. But we tried to keep the spirit, even when we covered the old songs like “Obsessed by Cruelty” or “In the Sign of Evil.” we try to keep the magic or the spirit, but we try to play more accurately. I think a couple of songs on these albums were out of timing, out of tune. But people liked that aspect of it.
Cryptic Rock – That was part of the charm of bands like Sodom and Hellhammer. It was part of the magic, and now when you hear this new compilation. It sounds similar to when the band performs the material live; tight, high-energy, like no time has passed, except the playing has improved with time.
Recently, Sodom performed an incredible set at the Beyond the Gates Metal fest in Bergen, Norway. It begs the question… what keeps Tom in shape these days?
Tom Angelripper – I don’t know. I smoke a lot of cigarettes, but I try not to drink alcohol during the week. I think in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was really an alcoholic, and had big problems like Witchhunter (Christian “Witchhunter” Dudek 12/18/1995 – 9/7/2008) in the beginning. But in the last few years I stopped. I drink my beers or my Jack Daniels after the show, being together with the band, but I cannot sit alone at home drinking. I need my friends together.
What keeps me in shape… I guess I have a lot of other things I get to do. I relax when I’m hunting. I go to the hunting district one time a week. You need more time off from the music. That is very important to me. I know other musicians who are touring permanently. I need more space for myself. I need more space for my hobbies, what I want to do. I also try to eat good food and good drinks. But it’s also the passion for the music that keeps me alive that keeps me going on. I know one day the parties will be over. I know the day will come. But as long as I stay creative and healthy, I am going to do this.
Cryptic Rock – You don’t take any day for granted and that reflects in Sodom’s music. The last studio album Genesis XIX is excellent. Some legacy bands have a more difficult time. It’s like they’re trying to recreate something. But with you guys, you didn’t lose it, and you can’t really say that about many bands.
Many would say Motörhead was very consistent that way. Lemmy had a similar outlook to you. How do you feel when people say that you helped create at least two genres of music? Does that mean a lot to you, or do you say to yourself “I’m just Tom, I’m just a kid from Germany who loves this music?”
Tom Angelripper – I know, but the music, especially the older songs, have made a big impact on the Black Metal scene, especially in Scandinavia. I talk to people who tell me Obsessed by Cruelty (1986) was the best Sodom album. I know we have a strong fanbase. There are also a lot of younger musicians around who like this kind of music, who tried to do the same music. There were younger bands who tried to copy bands from the ’80s; which is impossible in my opinion. I always talk to them and say, “If you form a band, you can be inspired by Sodom or all the other bands, but try to create something new or try to find a singer who is outstanding from all the others.” That is very important. But we are Metal fans making music, and this kind of music we do is what I really love to hear when I listen to music at home; old school Metal from the ’80s. But I know that a lot of albums from Sodom have a big impact and people are really inspired by this.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like you recognize your impact while still keeping your feet on the ground. When 1999’s Code Red came out, there had already been a decline in the quality of darker, heavier Thrash records on offer, especially with the advent of Grunge and Nu-Metal. Testament had just put out The Gathering also in 1999… which was an absolute jolt. And then along comes Code Red. This is a proper kick-ass album, and in many circles, it served to put Sodom back on top. What are your thoughts on that period?
Tom Angelripper – Yes, it was the second album with this line up. We released ‘Til Death Do Us Unite (1997) before that one. There was also a big Punk influence there. And then I talked to the boys, and I said, “I want to make Thrash Metal. I want to make heavier music.”
‘Til Death Do Us Unite a good album, but Code Red is heavier and the production is better. We got Harris Johns on as a producer. It was very important to get a good producer during these times. And Harris was like a fourth band member. We were in a studio in Berlin with Harris together for three weeks; that was a dream. The band was in the studio and working intensely on a new song, on a new material, and drinking some beers in the evening. Code Red instantly became one of my favorite albums.
Cryptic Rock – It is certainly one of the best Sodom albums in your long and storied career. Do you find it more of a challenge to capture the sound of the early 80’s recordings while contending with modern studio equipment?
Tom Angelripper – Yes, it’s not only playing the instruments though because the equipment is very important. I know that when we recorded this new album, we recorded it with Marshall Amps. I know that a lot of guitarists, they’re going to use a Kemper, which is a profiling digital amp. It sounds really good, but that’s all I want. We recorded with microphones.
I think the productions from the ’80s sound better than nowadays, especially because of the drum sound. If you listen to old Kiss or Mötley Crüe, they had a big fat drum sound. That’s what I want. But I think it’s impossible when you record it with a trigger on the drums, for example. I think when you are recording, you need more room. And that’s what we are going to do next time.
My dream is going to the studio in Berlin, and we want to get Harris Jones back the next time; he also produced Persecution Mania (1987) and M-16 (2001) for us. And that’s my dream to get a bigger sound. We don’t need a perfect sound, but need a little bigger sound like old Venom. I think about how we will get the drums to sound like this or the bass sound. And if you’re working with digital recording equipment, Kemper or triggers, you can’t get the sound right.
In a professional school they have a special drumming room with a better acoustic kind of recording of the drums. That’s what we have to do next year. That’s my plan, doing the next Sodom album will be the best and the heaviest Sodom album ever.
Cryptic Rock – Fans will be eagerly awaiting new music, especially when Sodom is focused on making heavy metal music the right way. Speaking of the fans, you reached right into their hearts with the track listing for 40 Years at War. Can you talk a little bit about the thought process behind it? Did you and Frank Blackfyre decide it together?
Tom Angelripper – No, the whole band. We took one song from each album. We started with “In the Sign of Evil. I think “Sepulchral Voice” was a little bit underrated. We play “Witching Metal” all the time, “Blasphemer,” and “Outbreak of Evil.” Then we came to Obsessed by Cruelty. There was “Equinox,” my favorite song and also the band’s favorite song. But a couple of weeks ago the Guitarist Uwe Christophers died, and he is the man who played on that song, which is a bonus track.
You see, we recorded our debut album Obsessed by Cruelty twice, but that is another story. So, we wanted to do “Equinox” as a tribute because Uwe was a good friend of the band. He was also one of my best friends. And so, we listened to every album and picked songs out, which may be underrated or we never played live, never played in a rehearsal room or whatever.
We did not simply want to do the hit singles and the classics. This will inform our future setlists. I want to change the set from show to show. That variety is what the fans want. If you’re going to play two hours, we are able to choose a couple of songs we never play live. When we’re going to play a bigger festival, it’s only 45 minutes so we have to do the classics. We have so much material, it was really hard to decide but we do as a band.
Cryptic Rock – Some of the more successful legacy bands, such as Iron Maiden, are meticulous about their setlists, whereas a band like Judas Priest is prone to vast changes from tour to tour. Certainly, fans wish for the latter scenario.
Tom Angelripper – I know bands that play the same sets over the years. That was for example, Motörhead; they played the same sets for ten years the last ten years of their existence. I think because of Lemmy’s condition, they were not able to rehearse. That’s a difference though. We get to rehearse two times a week and get to be all together in a room. Also, when we’re going to write songs, we start a jam session. I know that with other bands, they have a different way to work. For example, with some bands, the drummer’s living in America, the guitarist is in England, and they’re going to write songs and rehearse by MP3 trading. No, no… that’s not the way we want to do this.
So, we rehearse, we’re in the rehearsal room and think about what we’re going to do in a second. We rehearsed recently, and we talked about what we’re going to do when we start the tour in Germany at the end of December, 2022 – what is the opening song? What is the second song?… that’s very important. And we decided to make the first song “Friendly Fire,” which we had a video made for and which we have never played live. And the second one will be “Body Parts” from Tapping the Vein. That is something that people will be really surprised to start with these two songs. And then we go back to Agent Orange (1989) and all the more popular material.
Cryptic Rock – The integrity associated with Sodom is undeniable, and to have such an array of songs to choose from, knowing they will all go over so well, is a testament to Sodom’s legacy. Referring to the band’s distinctive logo, what is the story behind its design?
Tom Angelripper – Yes, there were different logos, with the first being used for our very first demo, Witching Metal. And then Obsessed by Cruelty it evolved further. There was no Photoshop during these times. But yes, the Sodom logo is mine.
Cryptic Rock – And the band name? Do you remember the moment you knew it would be called Sodom?
Tom Angelripper – I remember my mother always came into my room, and it looked like Sodom and Gomorrah because I never cleaned up, everything was flying around on the floor. And there was also a movie called 100 Days of Sodom (1975), it’s a stupid movie. It was really easy though, the name had to be Sodom. Now, there was also a band called Sodom from Munich at the same time. We sent them a letter, “Okay. We are Sodom. We will be the first. We have a record deal with the name,” and they changed the name. If you form a band nowadays and you’re looking for a band name, it’s gone.
Cryptic Rock – Perhaps that crowding of band names explains why many younger bands are called these huge phrases and statements instead of just a name. So, before we let you go, what are some Horror movies that you enjoy?
Tom Angelripper – I know Horror from the ’80s, from the ’70s, but I don’t have time for watching movies. When I have free time, I go to my forest, go to my hunting district… that’s what I do. And that’s a time to relax when I am there. I have so many ideas about my music when I sit on a high seat, waiting for a deer to walk by, or just waiting for nothing. In my free time, that’s the best place to relax. It is also perfect for when I need to stop thinking of music for a little while.
Cryptic Rock – And then you feel more charged up when it’s time to write the music?
Tom Angelripper – Yes, of course. I know when we return from tour, coming back home and sitting there, you often think, “what am I going to do now?” They don’t know how to get the most out of their lives. I want to come home, back to my house here, back to my district and all my friends. I have so many things to do outside of my music, but music is my life. It’s the biggest part of my life and it’s not just to make money.
Cryptic Rock – That freshness shines through in the music of Sodom, the fact that you’re not exhausted or burned out by anything because you’re keeping yourself busy and stimulated, which is all you can ask.
Tom Angelripper – One day the party’s over, I know. I turn sixty years old next year. How long can I do this kind of music? I know The Rolling Stones played here in my city a couple of months ago; they were seventy-five or eighty years old. Sometimes it’s over. I don’t want to die on stage like Lemmy. I saw Lemmy do the last show… the last two shows he played. I have so much respect for him. But for me, I want to be ready when it is time to put away my bass, and go home to my wife.
Cryptic Rock – Well, it appears Sodom still has a lot of gas left in the tank before that happens.
Tom Angelripper – You will be surprised, the next album or the next single, whatever we do, that will be a killer. We are also planning a live album, live recording, something like this. We have so many plans for next year. I think it’s a good lineup, and we have a perfect drummer, because Frank Blackfire is back. These boys are really hungry to do more!