Recently SODOM came deliver a crushing gig near my city. I wanted to get a hold of Tom to do this interview but shit happens and it couldn’t be done. Happily the gods of Metal (and Frank) came to my help and prevented my questions to remain unanswered and lost in the whirling oblivion of merciless time. I wanted to go back to the early days and focus on the genesis of these Metal titans hailed by any true Metalhead worthy of the name! So let Tom tell you of the days of high adventure!
Why did you choose SODOM as your name? Was it because of VENOM’s ‘One Thousand Days In Sodom’? You even recorded a cover of that song in 1998…
"I think there are a couple of reasons why I chose that name… I recall once my mother would come into my room and she would say "This looks like Sodom and Gomorrah." Also VENOM was an inspiration… and SODOM was a band name that was free at this time. We had no chance to Google if another band had chosen a name, I remember there was another band from Munich who chose SODOM as a band name too. But later than we did. And this was a kind of a Rock band, it wasn’t a Heavy Metal band. But I think that at this time it was very easy to choose a band name. I wanted to choose a very short band name, and it had a historic background, it was a band name you wouldn’t forget. And we started so many years ago, so we are SODOM."
We know the story of your first album becoming a mini-album during recording etc. But what about the demos? What was the process like of composing and recording them back then in the conditions you had?
"I have to tell you we are thinking of a re-release of the demo-tapes on vinyl. We never had any professional recording equipment. For the first demo, "Witching Metal", we got a couple of songs together, we had four songs to record, and a friend of mine had a rehearsal room near us, and he said, "I’m going to help you recording this", and we put every instrument on a small PA in the rehearsal room and we recorded with two microphones, just with a tape deck, and it sounds awful nowadays, but at the time we thought it sounded really powerful. And it was played live in a rehearsal room. But the second demo we recorded, perhaps a year later, "Victims Of Death", was on 8 tracks. But also recorded live. We never thought about recording the drums, and guitars, and the bass, and the vocals later. These master tapes were lost. When we talked of the re-release of the demo-tapes last month, we thought "where are the master tapes?" They’re gone! But from what I remember it was really chaotic. We had never known what it was to record in a studio, spend a lot of money and all that. That came later, with the first record deal, for "In The Sign Of Evil". They sent us to a professional studio in Berlin. But the demos were recorded live in a rehearsal room."
What about your early line-up? Who was Frank "Aggressor" Terstegen and what happened to him? Are you still in touch with him?
"No, no… I tried to get in touch with him a couple of years later, when we started the production for the "Lords Of Depravity" DVD, we were trying to find all the ex-members of SODOM, you know… and I know he lives in a place near my home, and a friend of mine tried to get in contact with him by phone. And he talked to him, and he replied, "I don’t want to have anything to do with SODOM, I forgot all that stuff." I think he is still pissed off that we kicked him out of the band. I know he had a lot of material from those times, a lot of photos and tape recordings and early stuff, and I wanted to get something for the DVD, some pictures or whatever. But I never got in touch in person. He doesn’t want to talk to me, or anyone; he’s no longer in the Metal scene, I think. He must be very angry about those times."
About your early cover artworks, where did you get the covers for the demos? Did you draw the cover for "Witching Metal"?
"Yeah. I did it. I got some different paintings from those times, and I was very creative back then. I tried to do everything alone. I also created the SODOM logo, which is sustained nowadays, with better quality. I was very interested in all this stuff, painting, writing lyrics and making music… so I started painting this, and different ideas for a demo… you have to realize we had no computers, no Photoshop… we had to paint by ourselves and I did my pencil work all the time."
And is it a kind of Conan the Barbarian on the cover?
"Yes, Conan was a great movie by that time… but also the comics, you know. And it was a kind of fantasy. The man on the cover… I tried to find somebody who would represent the music, represent us… but I never got as much muscles as the guy in the cover."
And the cover of "Victims Of Death" is a kind of human sacrifice, isn’t it?
"Yes… it is a victim of death! You know, in these times we never took much care with the covers. If you are a Metal collector, you see the covers from the first bands… I remember the first TORMENTOR cover… it was all painted by ourselves. At those times we had no other chance. No contact with painters or cover artists."
Well, I think both covers of SODOM’s demos are actually very good! I even got to see them on t-shirts and stuff and they look really great.
"There are many tapes on Ebay that are definitely bootlegs. The description will say "original SODOM tape" and it’s not original. You know, we don’t have the lyrics in the booklet, we never really had a booklet, it was just one page with the track titles and the fan club’s address, but we never released the lyrics on a demo. So be careful if you are going to spend so much money and be ripped off. A lot of friends and collectors ask "I found this on Ebay, is it original or not?" and sometimes I cannot answer if it’s original or not. There are so many tapes around. I remember we just sent maybe 40, maybe 50 tapes… some to America, some to Germany, to Europe. There can’t be so many tapes around being original."
Was the executioner on "In The Sign Of Evil" an attempt to have a mascot before you focusing on war themes and Knarrenheinz showing up or was it just a strong image?
"At one point we were talking about the cover for "In The Sign Of Evil" and the chief of the record company told me "I got a painter, an artist with a complete finished artwork for you. And it wasn’t our idea, he didn’t paint it for SODOM, he had painted it a couple of years before. And we got a photo and found it great. So we talked to the record company and said ok, let’s buy this cover and let’s do it."
A question I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time… what does "expurse" mean?
"(pause) Ooh… I don’t know (laughs). To us it’s a word that means how to represent something, how to represent sodomy… but we never find this word in a dictionary. Maybe it’s a mistake in writing… I don’t know really. But there are a couple of words we never find in a dictionary, so…"
What do you think of "Obsessed By Cruelty" these days? You once said it’s a really strange album…
"I know this album is a big inspiration to the whole scene… And I know a couple of SODOM fans who say that this was the best SODOM album ever. This time was really chaotic. You know that we recorded this album twice… because the record company thought the sound wasn’t good enough for pressing on an album, so we recorded it again. People might be expecting a re-release of this… I know the record company did a re-release in America via Wax Maniax, which is a record label for vinyl and old school stuff… But the problem is that we never found the master tapes for the second recording. It’s gone. There are no tapes from the studio left. And the American record company did a re-master from an album, which is not the same. What I try to do is researching all the time for the master tapes of the second recording. About this album, the cover was our idea, and there was a friend of Chris Witchhunter, Reinhard Wieczorek, who was an artist, and I saw an interview last year in which he said this album cover is his most famous artwork in the world. Because every SODOM fan in the world knows this cover. And I’m so proud that we did it. I know it’s chaotic, and at this time we also had some problems with the guitarist, Destructor, but it was an album and it was great. People like it, it’s very aggressive, it’s very rough. I like it, it was awesome. We were drunk the whole time when we were recording it, we had a party. We never took this business so serious, we’d say, wow, let’s have a good time, let’s go to the studio."
I remember my father’s face when we were at a record store back in 1988 and I said I wanted him to buy me that album. Only many years later, when I got the CD version, I realized there were two versions, and I was much surprised.
"Yeah, I think the first version came out in US of America first, and later when it came out on CD it was also the wrong version. Which is the wrong and which is the right, you know… so I tried to do a bit more historical research… what the difference between the songs is. In the second one there is ‘After The Deluge’, which is a song by Uwe Christoffers. When they released the first recording, they missed it. This is all very interesting, so I want to write it down one day, the complete history, so people know what happened. And which recording is better? I know people who think the first one is. The second one sounds more clean, the introduction is different…"
Well, I prefer the Steamhammer version, the second recording… but that’s the version I’ve been listening to since I was 15 years old, so it’s difficult to be objective.
"Yeah, but you have to realize the second recording just came out on vinyl. There is no CD version, no digital recording, digital master… and to do an official re-release of this album I need the master tape. I cannot do a re-master from a vinyl… even with a good copy, I’d never get the quality I want."
So you think there is a chance of someday there will be CD versions of "In The Sign Of Evil" and "Obsessed By Cruelty" with proper booklets, lyrics and stuff like that?
"I have to tell you, I don’t like the re-release the record company did, you know. They just do it without any inspiration, they just want to press it and do the album… I want to do an "In The Sign Of Evil" and "Obsessed By Cruelty" double album. But I want to get the best, get scans of the original artworks, get them in high quality. Include all the lyrics. These albums just came out on a double CD, with a completely wrong tracklist. And because of the different intros and so on, it’s very complicated… I want to do everything in a clean way. I actually talked to the record company about it. But they have the rights to do it; they can do a re-release without asking me. And in order for me to do it properly, I’ll need some money, to do a re-master and get the artwork the way I want it. To get a really perfect product in the end. It’s really something special for the fans. I never forget this idea. But I think the "Obsessed By Cruelty" master tape is gone. I don’t know why. Back then, we recorded the album in a u-matic tape and sent it to the record company. I got this u-matic tape from this record company with "Obsessed By Cruelty" on a sticker, and I sent it to a friend of mine who said he could do digital copies for editing, and there is no signal on this tape. I was really disappointed. But I’m still researching."
Some Thrash bands sometimes decide to re-record old classic albums, and often this is not a move that is very welcome by their old die hard fans. "The Final Sign Of Evil" was different from this concept, being an homage to the old line-up too. Looking back, what are your thoughts about it?
"I know of a lot of bands recording their old stuff in a new way. I hate it. When we thought of re-recording "In The Sign Of Evil", the drummer back then was Bobby, and then Makka. I know he can play the songs, but it’s not the same. It’s not important if you record it in a high quality, with a good drummer, a different drummer. The record company, when we came up with this idea, to re-record "In The Sign Of Evil", they said "Why don’t you record with Bobby this time?" I said, no way! I wanted to record this with the original line-up. Witchhunter was still alive. It wouldn’t be recorded by another band, it’s not the same spirit. So the only chance to re-record "In The Sign Of Evil" was with the unreleased tracks. If Witchhunter had said no, we wouldn’t record. Grave Violator was still a friend of mine, so I called him and said, I talked to Witchhunter and I’m trying to re-activate him and get him into a rehearsal room. And recording these songs with Chris Witchhunter was really the heaviest thing in my whole life. Because of his bad condition. When he came to the rehearsal room, he was drunk a lot of the time, but we talked to him, "Witchhunter, help yourself, record this album. Play the drums!" And we took months recording this album. But in the end, I was so proud of him, he did it. And that was very important. We didn’t get a session drummer. It had to be Chris Witchhunter, not Bobby or any other drummer. If he couldn’t play the songs, we couldn’t record. It would be like re-recording "Obsessed By Cruelty" with a new line-up, for example. It’s stupid."
Yes, because it is a unique album… you probably couldn’t record with that sound again in a modern studio even if you wanted to.
"You could record the songs, but you cannot repeat the time… the feeling, and the spirit. You know, what I told you before. I know that DESTRUCTION recorded some older material, but it was nearly the same, it was Michael on guitars. But nothing is better than the original one. I know that we can play in a better timing when recording nowadays, but it’s not the original one. I talk to the people, and there are a lot of bootlegs around, and re-releases of albums. If you are a fan or a collector, you spend the money and buy the original one. It’s like sitting in a time machine. You listen in your headphones and you know it was so many years ago when the musicians were standing there recording this. The feeling is gone if these older albums are re-recorded now, with different musicians. To me it’s just to make money. It’s not what I’m into and I’m a Metal fan too. I listen to all the VENOM stuff. I don’t want to listen to VENOM played by another band, or TANK, or whatever. TANK is my favourite band. If I listen to the new TANK, which is a completely new band, just covering the old stuff it’s not the same, you know."
Now that you mention that, what do you think about VENOM vs. VENOM INC.?
"I like both bands. I’m in contact with Mantas and Abaddon, and I think they’re both great bands, but I prefer VENOM with Cronos. It’s a shame that they are not together playing with the original line-up, but I’m a Cronos fan. And I think the guitar player and the drummer he has in the band do a great job. If I have to choose, I go to a VENOM concert with Cronos. I like the vocals, I like the bass, the attitudes, he’s an original, you know. I always prefer the original, and the original singer is the most important in the band. VENOM INC. is still a good band, they did a great job. I like Mantas on guitars, and Abaddon playing the drums, it’s awesome. It’s just that if I have to take a decision, I will always prefer Cronos."
So tell us more about your opinion on the recent Wax Maniax vinyl re-releases?
"You know, that is another thing, I never get any copy in my hands. I talked to my record company, SPV, which gave the rights to Wax Maniax. And I met this guy a couple of years ago, he’s a good guy, a Metalhead, he likes old school stuff. I think he does a good job. I asked my company, "Why can’t we do the re-release here in Germany too?" When people order it from Europe, they want to have the re-release of "Obsessed By Cruelty" or "Persecution Mania", or "Get What You Deserve", whatever. And they have to buy it in America, for a really high price, to get it here to Europe. These things are very obscure and what I always think about. I think Wax Maniax got the rights for money. So I don’t want to help to do this re-release. I have old photos, I can help but I don’t. I want to do a re-release here in Europe for the fans. And besides, I never get any copy in my hands. I talk to the record company about this. "Why can’t you order a couple of them for the band, for me?" I want to hold it in my hands. I don’t get it. They also re-released "In The Sign Of Evil". With a booklet, the lyrics and some photos. I think they did a great job, but if you are living in Germany, or in Europe, and you don’t have so much money, you can’t get it. So, it’s stupid."
What do you feel when you listen to "Mortal Way of Live” these days?
"I think we were the first Thrash band recording a live album. I think it was great. Frank was on guitars, it was the first time we had a really good guitarist. And you know, a lot of "live” albums are recorded in the studio, this album was live. We never thought about doing any overdubs, replacing guitars, or repairing this or doing that… we got the tracks in the studio and just did the mix. In this time, it is always funny when I listen to my vocals. My introductions and my lyrics and other stuff. It’s really funny. I like the cover artwork, it was the first time this artist did a cover for a band, he later did some TANKARD covers. I like the album, I find it really great. We should also make a re-release.”
What about your favourite SODOM album ever? Is it "Agent Orange”?
"No. I think "Agent Orange” was a seminal album in its time… it’s also the most famous song we ever wrote. My favourite albums are heavier ones, "Get What You Deserve” and "Masquerade In Blood”. They’re definitely my favourites from all the times. I also like "Code Red”, "M-16”… I like "Decision Day”, the new one, definitely, but if you go back to the nineties, it’s definitely "Get What You Deserve”, because the way we recorded this album was completely different, we had no overdubs. If you listen to it there is just one guitar and one bass guitar. And we recorded bass, guitar and drums live in the studio and then did the vocals later. So we just recorded all the songs for that album in one week… there are bands that do the soundcheck in one week. I like the sound, it’s so powerful because the bass is very loud and there’s only one guitar… it’s all very rough and very punky and very brutal. And at the time other bands tried to get more commercial. Trying to sound not so heavy in order to sell more. I never minded… we just did the music for us. And for the fans. We did "Get What You Deserve”, and the record company listened to it and said "it’s awful, you cannot release it, you have just one guitar and so on…” But it was exactly how the band sounded at that time, you know… So we wanted to bring it out that way. And in the end people loved it. It had the heaviest guitars we had ever recorded. Atomic Steif was one of the best drummers at that time. I love this album. I also like "Persecution Mania”, "Better Off Dead” is a good album… but from the whole I think "Get What You Deserve” is number one for me.”
It has been mentioned how similar a riff in the song ‘Agent Orange’ is to one of SACRED REICH. Were you influenced in any way or is it just a coincidence?
"I had never heard it. I think there is a guitar part that is the same, or whatever… I had never heard it. I would never… if you are a guitarist, you can come up with an idea and sometimes you can think you heard it before, and you do some research or whatever. If we find out the riff is the same, we’re never going to use it. I forget the name of that song…”
It’s ‘Death Squad’.
"’Death Squad’. Well, Frank Blackfire came up with this guitar riff. I had never listened to this band, there were so many bands at this time… Frank would never say "Oh, I like this guitar riff, I’ll take it for SODOM.” He never did it. And we as a band would never do it.”
You were once very much into Aleister Crowley and occult stuff and then you left it behind. After all this time what are your religious views?
"If you’re really interested in this stuff you can get really sick. You know, if there is a God, he’s a real asshole. Back then I tried to get Satanic books, and Aleister Crowley wrote some really Satanic stuff. I still have the books at my home. But we changed the music when Frank joined the band. We also thought about writing different lyrics. We wanted to get more distance from the Black Metal scene.”
So, do you consider yourself an atheist these days?
"Nowadays I don’t have anything to do with any religious stuff. It was completely gone. And as I said we wanted to get more distance from the Black Metal scene. I remember that Chris Witchhunter, for example, recorded with BATHORY, with Quorthon. I think it was in ’86 or something. Quorthon asked him to record the drums for the new album. And a couple of days later Witchhunter came back… I don’t know if he recorded anything or not. He only told me "I was at Quorthon’s home and he had no beer there.” He came back very disappointed, and he said no more Black Metal, you know. I’m still Black Metal, I like the bands, old school Black Metal bands. But for SODOM, that was a reason to change the lyrics and to write something more about real life. We changed the music and changed the lyrics. So "Persecution Mania” was completely different to "Obsessed By Cruelty”, in every way.”
Were you worried back then, when Quorthon started "flirting” with Witchhunter, that you might lose your drummer?
"A little bit, yes, because BATHORY was a big band at the time. It was the number one Black Metal band. I know Quorthon liked his drumming, but he only needed a drummer to record an album. He didn’t need a drummer to play live. So I wasn’t so afraid Witchhunter would not come back to us. He also played with DESTRUCTION for a tour. SODOM was never really concerned about that… SODOM was Witchhunter’s band too.”
What about the old Black Metal bands from the eighties other than VENOM? I know you like BULLDOZER, for instance…
"Oh yes. I like so many bands from the eighties. I’ve got a big record collection. I like BULLDOZER from when I got their first album "The Day Of Wrath”. It’s great! We’ve got a record store in my hometown, and he had all the records from England, from America, from outside Germany, very early, before they got released in Germany. He said they’re the same as VENOM, look at the cover, they’re BULLDOZER from Italy. And we loved it! And there were a couple of different other bands, I bought everything. I bought NWOBHM bands, everything, EXCITER from Canada, all the stuff. And we really enjoyed it. And BULLDOZER was one of the heaviest. I like his vocals, the lyrics, the cover… the whole concept.”
What about the German Thrash bands that followed on your heels? Bands like LIVING DEATH, PROTECTOR, ASSASSIN and many others? Were you particularly into any of these?
"Yes, I like these bands. You know, PROTECTOR had a SODOM fan club. They said, "we want to form a SODOM fan club, and we want to form our own band, PROTECTOR.” So, they got to send me the tapes, and later they sent an album. So we began discovering this scene, and what bands were coming out. In the early eighties there were no magazines. So we were discovering these bands. Like DARKNESS, which was formed by Uwe Christoffers, our guitarist from "Obsessed By Cruelty”. But SODOM was number one, SODOM was the first band to get a record contract. We got it one year before KREATOR, or TORMENTOR, got one. So we were really proud of that. There was a kind of competition, and it was a completely amazing time. Then the first DESTRUCTION came out and we really enjoyed it too. We were really big DESTRUCTION fans. And when we played together in Altenessen it was amazing!”
So you have a good relationship with KREATOR, DESTRUCTION and TANKARD.
"Yeah. They’re good friends. I’m still in contact with them, we’re still talking about doing some shows together, the big 4 or whatever. There is no rivalry, we are friends. I am so proud of these bands, that they are still around. They did a great job. And we have to respect each other.”
What do you think of 90s Black Metal bands like CRADLE OF FILTH or DIMMU BORGIR, or worse, 90s bands that downplay VENOM’s role in Black Metal?
"Ahh… well, I like CRADLE OF FILTH, DIMMU BORGIR, I like SATYRICON, they’re very good bands. But you have to realize, VENOM is the first band who did it. Or WITCHFINDER GENERAL was one of the first… And for me some of these bands nowadays get too much technical… too much instruments, too much light shows… I like it done in the old school way. I like an authentic show, Black Metal and Rock’n’Roll. Really good music, music you can understand. It doesn’t matter how fast you can play. BATHORY was one of the best ones. I really like the songs, real easy listening songs, you know. I’m still a Metal fan, you know, but nowadays I lose control of all the bands coming out every month. It’s too much. So when I’m going to listen to music at home, I listen to my old school stuff. VENOM is still number one, it’s still my biggest inspiration after SLAYER, definitely. Listen to the first VENOM album; it’s the heaviest album ever released. You cannot do it heavier. You can do it faster or whatever, but you cannot do it heavier. Also WITCHFINDER GENERAL I really like… but VENOM were the first band. What is Black Metal nowadays? Who can explain it to me? What is a typical Black Metal band nowadays? If you’re going to talk about a typical Thrash band nowadays, I would say it’s DESTRUCTION and EXODUS, for example. Not SODOM or KREATOR… But what is a typical Black Metal band? I can’t find an answer.”
About the old stuff you still listen to at home, like VENOM, MOTÖRHEAD or TANK, when you look back to the eighties…
"I start crying.”
(Laughs) But do you feel there is still some of the old flame these days? What happened to Metal after 30 years?
"It’s getting too big in my opinion. When we came up with our SODOM demos, everybody was shocked. Our parents. Our teachers. Nowadays, Heavy Metal became a normal way, you can listen to it all the time. Back then Heavy Metal was a kind of revolution, it was really something special. Nowadays… everybody listens to Heavy Metal, it’s become nothing special. It’s getting too big in my opinion. And the spirit is gone. You know, I like playing in big festivals, like Wacken. But it’s a kind of circus at the same time! It’s not what I think about of what Metal has to be. We have so many Metal bands all the time, but if you want to go to a Metal club in my hometown, it’s gone! In my opinion, the Metal scene is getting too big. I remember back in the eighties, in my youth, I grew up with this kind of music. My family, my daughter never listens to Heavy Metal. They are not shocked if they listen to SLAYER or whatever. "Oh, my father is a Metal musician.” It’s nothing special. I think the times really changed, but I always try to keep the spirit. I try to do my music in my old school way, both in the rehearsal room and when playing live. When I play ‘Blasphemer’, ‘Obsessed By Cruelty’ or ‘Outbreak Of Evil’, I always turn back to 18 years old. It’s like sitting in a time machine, playing these songs. It was a time in which the Metal scene was really strong, and really big, and really something special. But I’m so proud of the new generations I talk to… Last week we played in Ukraine and I met some Metal fans who were 16 years old, maybe. And they had patches of VENOM, TANK, HELLHAMMER, all the old school stuff. And I talked to them and they told me these bands from the beginning are the real Metal bands. They were not interested in the new bands coming out. And I asked if they don’t listen to AMON AMARTH or the likes and they said no, they listen to VENOM and TANK. So there is a new generation really interested in historical bands. I have to tell you, the times have changed. But I’m so proud that I’m still alive, doing the music and a lot of shows… SODOM is always a band a lot of people want to book, and we still keep the old school spirit. If you listen to the new album, it’s a new SODOM album and it’s not too modern. SODOM is a band that never really changed. We always try to do better songs and better music, but we never changed our style. We don’t want any SODOM fans disappointed, and besides, the music we do is exactly the music we like to listen to.”
I find the last album very good, and it’s a pleasure to see you’re still going strong, aggressive, old school and metallic. How happy are you with "Decision Day”?
"I’m really happy with it. You cannot repeat the time, but you can try. We are really satisfied with the album. We got a lot of good reviews, in magazines… I never mind, you know (laughs). But I got some impressions from the fans who really liked it, and that is important to me. We don’t want to become the biggest band in the world, just do good music for us and the fans. And if we get successful with it, why not? It’s ok. But we already have a couple of songs, and a couple of lyrics for the next album, and we think about what we can do for the next album. I hope the band will keep on going for the next years…”
So do I!
"I don’t want to do it as long as Lemmy, for example. I saw Lemmy three weeks before he died, he played in Düsseldorf. I sat there and I said to my friend, "it’s the last time we see Lemmy alive on stage.” He was really sick, really ill. This man has to go to bed, not be on a stage. But he said, "I want to die on stage.” I don’t, I want to die in bed, you know. But I think that for the next couple of years we have ideas… as long as we stay healthy and we are creative enough to write songs and have ideas we’re going to do the music.”
And I sure hope much lies ahead for SODOM! I hope you readers enjoy this journey to the past half as much as I did. Deep thanks to Tom and may evil always be outbroken and sodomy expursed!