Interviews with Tom Angelripper are never simple conversations about a record that SODOM is currently releasing. They are forays into the 42-year long history of the band. Especially when they have an EP out called “1982”, which presents four lovingly and meticulously restored pieces from their demo period and the band’s most recent anthem. The Ripper in retrospect, in the side view and in the outlook!
On the flight back from their little South American tour, Tom caught some illness, but that doesn’t bother the SODOM frontman’s chatty mood at all. There are many pictures and videos circulating, which show people going crazy during the shows, even burning bengalo-pyrotech while the band was playing.
“The people there are in fact crazy. In South America, especially in Argentina and Chile, this is always the case. People save their money for a concert like this a year long and when the time comes, they simply celebrate a scary party. You can’t compare that with Europe, it is really weird what is going on there. It’s like that every time, they are not as spoiled as we are here. If you have enough money and can travel anywhere, you probably can visit a big Metal show here in Europe every weekend – that is simply not possible in South America. People choose exactly what they want to see. That makes it even more valued that all our shows were completely sold out, all venues with a capacity of almost three thousand people.”
Especially at the first show in Santiago de Chile there were strange happenings with a group of really radical fans?
“We had been warned this day: there will be a riot-fraction climbing high up the walls and then through the windows at the top of the venue. And that is what really happened! That’s the way it is there, even the police doesn’t get involved into such happenings! You have to block it out, switch off and enjoy this completely unique atmosphere on stage. Especially when the air in the hall is burning a bit, it gives you an extra adrenaline-kick when you are up on stage. The fans sing along to every word and not only know the choruses by heart. We had ‘M-16’ in the set for example and everyone sang along loudly.”
Anyone who experienced SODOM 2023 onstage playing full energy ahead, like at the Keep It True festival in South Germany with their special old school set or at the Rock Hard festival in their hometown Gelsenkirchen or anyplace else, swears by heart: the band is in top form, better than ever before.
“Well, the climate inside the band is pretty good, I can realize my ideas with these musicians. That was not necessarily possible with the line-up before, there a lot of things and suggestions were rejected. When it came to this line-up, I insisted that we change the set list from time to time. We need to be able to play most of the old school songs. I mean, if fans want to hear songs up to 1989, why not? The Metalhead in me completely understands this: as a MOTÖRHEAD fan myself, I do prefer listening to the old things, not the new ones. If your band notices that you have the necessary experience and that your ideas are often right, you can implement something in the long term.”
As well as Tom Angelripper, guitarist Frank Blackfire is also an old warhorse in the Metal business. How is it, do the two younger members of SODOM, Toni Merkel and Yorck Segatz, occasionally kick the older ones’ butts when it comes to the work with the band?
“Absolutely! We rehearsed yesterday, Toni can also play the guitar, he tried out a few things at home and presented a new song. Things like that are pretty cool, I like to have musicians who take their own initiative. Toni knows exactly what is important, especially when we are writing new material. I told them again and again what it is all about: we can’t sound like KREATOR or SLAYER. We need to have our own SODOM trademarks in the songs. They both internalized that too. Toni and Yorck are also really excited about this. I mean, taking Toni as an example: He was in South America for the first time in his life, and for him everything is extra special. I also notice that both of them are really up for it and that is undoubtedly transferred to their perfomance on stage!”
That’s how it also feels for the listener in the audience: four musicians are up for being SODOM. Instead of just Angelripper, whom alone seems to be SODOM.
“Exactly, because I’m no good alone! Of course, my singing and the bass sound make the band unmistakable. But: we are SODOM! We determine what matters! We don’t want to adapt and don’t look at what others are doing. Nobody tells us how to write music: we can do whatever we want! If someone brings in a Black Metal riff or something that sounds more like Death Metal: then we’ll do it! We won’t invent the wheel again. What’s more important to me is that the song ignites and a chorus sticks well. I don’t see us as a classic Thrash Metal band, we’re more like DESTRUCTION and EXODUS. I consider us to be a raw, unpolished Heavy Metal band!”
If one donesn’t want to try the band’s own style box, Witching Metal, you can also put it in the “Punk meets Metal” corner, where it works well together with VENOM, TANK and MOTÖRHEAD.
“After our last album “Genesis XIX” there were voices that said: now they’re going to sound Black Metal again… I just say: Here you go? Who started it? We don’t need to copy others. We’d rather copy ourselves and stay authentic and real! Seen this way, SODOM are in fact the last unpolished Heavy Metal band! We don’t need a spectacle on stage. All we want is great sound and good light. Complete! That’s why we have a good sound man and wherever we play we have an almost perfect sound always, what more could one want? A lot has changed now. A lot of people do big stage shows with paper mache, with huge screens and all that stuff. I’m saying it quite clearly: we don’t want that type of shit! People should come because of us – the band is the most important thing!”
At this year’s Rock Hard Festival in Gelsenkirchen, it was a lot of fun to listen to SODOM in terms of sound as well as the setlist was brilliant.
“Yes, I thought so too. But people also said they thought the sound TESTAMENT had was shit. I myself am an old fan of them and see it a little differently. Sure, they had sound problems at the beginning, but you have to think about it: they come from America, maybe have a little jet lag, so not everything fits. I’m always a little cautious when it comes to criticism. But I’m pleased that we got there so well. It was said in advance loudly that this would be a home match for us. But things like that are always easy to say: home matches can quickly backfire.”
Yorck Segatz, who plays the second guitar in SODOM, was recently mentioned in a review with ROTTEN CASKET and their “Zombicron” album, where he plays rough and crusty Death Metal together with Martin van Drunen from ASPHYX and former SODOM drummer Husky. Curious as Angelripper is, he has long since risked an ear.
“They’ve sent me a few mp3s and I think what they’re doing is pretty good, yes. I admit, I’m a Husky fan, I like his drumming style. That was why I wanted him in SODOM a few years ago. They did the album, because they really wanted to! Maybe the record will sell, maybe it will work – maybe it won’t. Then it doesn’t matter. Yorck can do whatever he wants as side projects, as long as our band doesn’t suffer from it. That was the problem with Husky back then, he was involved with ASPHYX and it happened that we couldn’t do SODOM shows because he played with ASPHYX. That won’t work well on the long run. That’s what I told the boys, SODOM have priority over everything else, otherwise everyone can do whatever they want!”
If you listen closely, you’ll notice: the way drummer Toni Merkel plays around is similar to that of Philty Animal Taylor or Chris Witchhunter.
“That’s right. He is a Witchhunter fan, looks for videos on the internet seeing Chris playing and then he studies them. He thinks Chris’ own style was rather fascinating: not perfect, but authentic! Chris had his drum rolls, which didn’t always fit well either. So does Toni. He was left-handed, but had the drums as if they were right-handed. We didn’t realize that until later. Toni is trying to develop his style and play Witchhunter style, only much more precisely!”
And he plays a lot behind the scenes by shaping the band’s sound.
“Correct. He mastered the “M-16”. Recording and mastering are his hobby. He is very talented in that regard. A friend of him has a 24-track studio. Analogous! We’re already thinking about whether we want to record our next stuff analogue.”
The reason for our talk now and here is the EP “1982”, which is now released since November. The part was already included in the “40 Years At War – Greatest Hell Of Sodom” collectors box. Why do the songs now get another release? As an own EP?
“There was just a cardboard slipcase in the “40 Years At War” box. Know what? I hate these items! I said to the head of SPV: the fans want the thing on vinyl just because of the cover. He came with the objection that there was nothing new and all that. But I insisted. People want them just for collector reasons, just as I want it out of the same reason! It doesn’t matter if the EP comes a year late, you can’t make any money with it anyway. I wanted the cover to be bold and bring everything onto the market in a high-quality form. We also included ‘Equinox’, which was only available as download at that time. And ‘1982’ has been remixed. I didn’t like the sound of the old version, it sounds much better now.”
It’s a blessing for the songs to get away from the scratchy, noisy distortion orgy of the demos. Simply because they are good songs.
“Absolutely. We noticed that when we replayed them for the “40 Years At War”, especially the really old ones. When we play ‘Equinox’ or ‘Deathlike Silence’ from “Obsessed By Cruelty”, we realize: these songs aren’t bad if you play them sensibly!” (laughs)
But you have an own opinion on the subject of originality…
“Some of the old spirit gets lost, for sure! If I want to listen to MOTÖRHEAD, I’d rather listen to the old ‘Ace Of Spades’ version, than a re-recorded one 30 years later. A few people have told me they prefer listening to the originals. That’s okay for me. What we want to express with the EP is: we stand behind it until today! It all started in 1982! Of course we’re trying to play the old songs better today. But we wanted to leave the magic in and preserve the naivity with which we wrote the songs with.”
In 1982, the world was analogue, we had telephone boxes, the cars had a unique design with visible corners, the Ruhr area in Germany was brown-gray and smelled that way, too. In the middle of it all is young Tom on the moped, his newly bought bass – due to the lack of money buying a case for it – taped around himself and with a lot of anger in his stomach. What comes to his mind when he looks back on the early days and how the anger is like today?
“We wanted to be rebels! That’s the whole thing. I’m 60 years old now and I see a lot of things differently today. I understand that my father scolded with me because I didn’t want to go to school, even though I was good. Then I did my apprenticeship at the local coal-mine. But: I didn’t want any of that, I just wanted to make music…”
Live the Heavy Metal lifestyle instead?
“You get it from all sides: from “the Steiger” (the pit-boss of the coal-mine), from parents and relatives. It’s a tough time when no one believes in you. And the sayings: with your noise, you can never make money! It’s all the better if you can prove to them that it’s working. I don’t have any anger in my stomach anymore today, I’m starting to feel more calm. Sometimes you just shake your head, but that’s just life.”
Let’s make a small jump. What happened to the idea of re-releases of the “Better Off Dead” album from 1990 as well as also “Tapping The Vein” from 1992?
“Yeah, that’s a really good question! I’ll try to make it short: our back catalog was sold by SPV to BMG. We started the re-release series with “M-16” with the box. Then there were, let me say cautiously, a bit of contractual problems. My lawyer advised me not to sign that contract that BMG offered us! We already worked hard on it, everything is prepared. Andy Brings and I finished everything, Andy remixed “Tapping The Vein”. We have a complete Japan show for it. We have the recordings from Chris Witchhunter’s last concert. There’s tons of video material, tons of photo material. We could put together a great package that would finally be a worthwhile re-release of the “Tapping The Vein” album plus all the bonus materials we could put on it. That was a year and a half ago now, but BMG has not contacted us anymore. There was also plans to rework both versions of “Obsessed By Cruelty” with a remixed version and rehearsal room recordings. With every album, from “Persecution Mania” to “Masquerade In Blood”, we have so many ideas you could do! Yes, it’s a shame but our collaboration is on hold for now!”
What a shame, indeed!
“Yes, well, but that’s how I am: I don’t necessarily have to do all those re-issues. If I feel a bit withdrawn, I don’t want to say anything specific, but then I’ll block it! I think we as a band or I have to get something out of it and the record company too. But the topic has not been finalized yet, something will definitely come up at some point.”
As you mentioned the album before, vinyl originals of “Masquerade In Blood” are sold at ridiculous prices these days…
“That I can tell you! I recognized significant gaps in my vinyl collection when it comes to first pressings. That was, among others, the “Masquerade In Blood” album. I bought it finally on Discogs from a seller in Greece for €130. He recognized me and was really perplexed and said: Tom, you have to have the record yourself? No! I used to give away all my records and never started collecting. Thirty years later you are sitting there, realizing that you simply miss this record.”
The reason why I bring up “Better Off Dead” so often has a private matter. I saw SODOM for the first time on this tour after the release. An ice-cold day in january 1991, somewhere in an industrial area in the north of Nürnberg. I don’t remember any opening act, suddenly after the intro there was SODOM. My sixteen year old self had crawled all the way to the third row to see the classic pieces as well as the new tracks, like ‘An Eye For An Eye’ or ‘The Saw Is The Law’, complete with a sparking chainsaw and the band appearing in smoke and fire, larger than life in front of me. A massively impressive experience unforgotten until today…
“The “Better Off Dead” has to come again, absolutely! I also have super high-resolution scans of the cover artwork here on the computer. There was already a re-release of the record, but it wasn’t well done. When I think about a re-release of “Better Off Dead” again today, I know that I will definitely get a few things out of the box, we still have in our band archive. We have to sit down with BMG again and discuss how we can come to a sensible solution.”
Last years’ “40 Years At War – The Greatest Hell Of Sodom” box-set and double album was actually planned differently…
“I actually wanted a live album. We already started with that during corona times. I didn’t want to just put the original songs together like we did on “Ten Black Years”, that was a bit cheap. This gave rise to the idea of recording all the songs again. And people really liked that. Normally I don’t like re-recordings because I always think the originals are better. But people noticed that we made an effort and tried to stick to the original. And with the booklet in there, the thing is a statement that you can definitely make for the fortiest birthday of the band!”
What the record clearly showed is that SODOM – no matter which line-up – were able to reinvent themselves again and again, without having to to betray their roots.
“And without changing. After Bernemann left, people said the band was dead, “Decision Day” was also a magnificent album, without question. But we went even further with “Genesis XIX”. I’m already looking for musicians who fit in and who can convey it well. I know what I do, you all can believe me! As long as I can add my singing and my two cents, it will be good!”
It just took three days before the 2024 “Klash Of The Ruhrpott” festival in Gelsenkirchen was completely sold out. KREATOR, SODOM, DESTRUCTION and TANKARD, the four biggest Thrash Metal bands in Germany together on one bill. Given its popularity, it remains the hope that it sends a signal to the bands involved to let this concert take place again every now and then at different locations…
“That was exactly my idea. A long tour with somewhere different every day, that is nonsense! We can work out when and on which weekend everyone has time together. Then you can definitely have this take place in America or wherever. This is a package that we all know will go well. Nobody needs to be afraid that the places and venues will remain empty. If all bands can then work on an equal footing. Well, KREATOR are a bit bigger in business at the moment, but as a complete package for the fans. In principle it doesn’t matter whom is headliner. What is important is instead that we’re all in this together!”
Old stuff from SODOM is with all due respect, but many fans would also be happy about new stuff from SODOM…
“We’re already working on new songs at the moment and I hope at some point next year. It’s not that easy anymore because of the waiting times for the vinyl pressing plants. If we want to have a record for Christmas next year, we have to finish it in May. But we certainly won’t allow ourselves to be put under pressure. I can tell you one thing: it’s going to bang! The pieces we have so far hit the spot really well. The choruses all come together nicely, I’d say that it could go one step further and make a real banger. The band is very well attuned to each other throughout the concerts, so that’s going to be good. We’re going to write until we have ten or twelve titles together and then we’ll just keep looking.”
Interview & live pics: Wedekind Gisbertson