Tom Angelripper (Sodom), soldier of the peace

More than 31 years at thrash-metal’s service, but nonetheless nothing stops Tom Angelripper and his trio called Sodom. As a matter of fact, he delivers today the best of him, and maybe even the best thrash metal he’s ever delivered with firstly an In War And Pieces with its tremendously efficient heavy/thrash musical direction, and with Sodom’s new Epitome of Torture, the most diverse and dynamic record of his career, where violence and heaviness mix with some of the most melodic songs the band has ever written.

Sodom’s future seems then bright, unlike the vision of ou world that Sodom’s frontman describes in his songs. Angelripper is still inspired by mankind’s darkest sides and for him, writing about this subject is a way of condemning and facing the things that horrify him.

Tom Angelripper, the emblematic pillar and figure of thrash metal, tells us more about it in the following interview.

« Thrash metal is not a specific type of music for me : it’s just ‘do what you want, without any dictation from outside.' »

Radio Metal: This new album is more melodic and more diverse than the previous one. Did you think that In War And Pieces, even if it was a pretty efficient thrash metal album, was lacking diversity?

Tom Angelripper (vocal and bass): Yes, I think that In War And Pieces was a wonderful album, but when we started the songwriting for the new album, we had a new drummer, and that’s a big difference. When we started rehearsing, the songs were heavier, more melodic but also faster, like “Stigmatized”. There’s not a big difference between both albums though, it’s just new songs. We stopped the pre-production and production process because we wanted to do it in a better way. We asked Waldemar, our producer, for a bigger sound: I needed a bigger bass sound, for instance. I wanted to keep the old school Sodom spirit, you know. On the new record, the mixture between the melodic and the very aggressive songs is a big difference: the combination of both styles, that’s typical of Sodom, you know. When we start writing new songs, we never look back, we never look what we’ve done nor think about what we’re going to do.

That is not the first time you include some melodic parts in your music. You already did that, for example, on the song « Buried In The Justice Ground » in 2006. Was the work you did on this song a starting point for you, while writing this new album?

Yes, but bands of the 80’s are a big influence for us: I love Mötörhead, I’m a big Tank fan and I love bands that did this kind of music. You’re talking about “Buried In Justice Ground“, but songs like “Fields Of Honour” or “Peacemaker’s Law”, for instance, are Mötörhead’s style. I like that: it’s a way we’re going to write songs. “Tracing The Victim” is good and very melodic. The combination between Bernemann’s hard guitar riffs and this wonderful melodic side is Sodom. We’ve always had melodic parts in our songs. It’s not something new, unlike “Stigmatized” which is a bit death metal: someone can ask me who I had as a guest on this song, but I don’t need another singer, I can sing death metal. There were some death metal vocals on different albums, like on Tapping The Veins, for instance. So, we are free to do what we want. That’s the meaning of thrash metal: do what you want. We do music for us and our fans, not for magazines or record companies.

Seasons In The Abyss from Slayer is one the most successful thrash metal album in history, thanks to its diversity and the contrast between the fast songs and the most ambient and melodic ones. Is this album an influence for you?

Yes. I’m a big Slayer fan. It’s like when South Of Heaven came out: some fans said it was too melodic. I like melody, you know. We are musicians. We’ve always tried to compose better songs: it is very important to Sodom to write good chorus lines, and when you listen once to songs like “Epitome Of Torture” or “S.O.D.O.M”, you never forget them. That’s the way we do music. We’re just metal fans doing music: we’re not rockstars, we’re not Dream Theater, we’re not Rush. We try to do our best. Waldemar Sorychta helped us arranging the songs and I’m so satisfied with the result. Sodom is not a black metal band, but also not the typical thrash metal band. We’re heavy metal fans. Thrash metal is not a specific type of music for me: it’s just ‘do what you want, without any dictation from outside’. People tell me that the new Kreator is like this or like that and that now it’s our turn. I don’t mind. We just do the music we want to do. We never look at what the other bands do and that’s why this new record is melodic, but also aggressive.

« When we started, back in the 80’s, nobody talked about black metal or thrash metal. We were just metal fans. […] Doing heavy metal music was like doing a bit of a revolution. I hate the word “thrash metal”: what is the definition of it? There is none: we’re doing heavy metal, that’s all. »

Do you think it’s the classification of all those different metal styles that killed the diversity in metal music?

Yes, that’s awful: I don’t like it. What we do is heavy metal, you know. When we started, back in the 80’s, nobody talked about black metal or thrash metal. We were just metal fans. It was like a family: when you had a Motörhead or Iron Maiden concert, everybody would go there. Doing heavy metal music was like doing a bit of a revolution. I hate the word “thrash metal”: what is the definition of it? There is none: we’re doing heavy metal, that’s all. In my opinion, heavy metal means: good music, aggressiveness and you always have to try keep your own spirit. That’s what I said to Waldemar: we must keep the Sodom spirit. The sound is also very important: if you listen to any band’s CD, there’s a difference between them and a Sodom one. I don’t think of doing thrash, black or speed metal. Our first albums were a bit black metal, because of their lyrics and our attitude. Nowadays, we’re just heavy metal.

Nowadays it would be impossible to see, for example, Slayer as the opening act for AC/DC because people would be chocked…

Yes. Slayer opening for AC/DC would be a great idea, even if AC/DC is not the typical metal band! That’s what I like about festivals: different bands with different styles. If Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Motörhead are playing together, for example, it would be great. But what they do is things like the Big Four with Anthrax, Megadeth… Today, there is a black metal scene, a power metal scene, a thrash metal scene and so on: I hate it. It’s different music but it’s heavy metal. I don’t understand it and I’m always fighting against that. The problem is also that too many bands come out every month: they try to follow a special genre for their own music, you know. We never try to follow anybody. I hope that we’ll go back to the 80’s one day and say: “We are a big family, we’re doing heavy metal music so let’s be together and make a big party”.

The lyrics seem to be important to you, is it the case?

Yes, it’s very important. I’m a singer in a metal band, so I want to say and tell people something. I put so much energy into my lyrics that I don’t want to write lyrics like Manowar, for instance. If you’re in a metal or thrash metal band, you have to write about all the bad things happening in the world, like we did on Epitome Of Torture. I want to scream out these lyrics. I know that I can’t change everything: I’m not into politics. I want to say that we want to leave in a peaceful world, in freedom and do what we want. On the new record, the lyrics are very good. It takes some time to write lyrics like these: sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and write something down about what’s happening in the world. War is everywhere, you know. Look at North Korea: what’s the next step ? World War III? I’m afraid of what could happen.

If there were no war and if we lived in a very peaceful society, what would you be writing songs about?

(Laughs) That’s a good question. I’ll never get a chance to write other kind of lyrics in life. I could write about friendship, about how good our life is, about a having a laugh, but I will never get the chance to do it. In our world, there are more wars everyday, the situation is bad, and the economic situation, and not only in Germany, is getting worse, like for instance in South America or Greece. It’s so sad: I can’t change anything, so I try to do it with my lyrics.

It’s been now a long time since we haven’t experienced global wars like WWI and WWII. What’s your opinion about that? Do you think people have learned from that, that our era is better than the previous century?

No. I think that the war now is computerized: it’s like a game, you know. You can’t compare today’s wars with WWI or WWII, where soldiers fought against each other. Nowadays, you don’t know who your enemy is and that’s a problem, because you never see him. But we write songs about “old school” wars too like « Katjuscha », which was a soviet rocket launch built during WWII. What is a bit funny, it’s that Katjuscha is also a Russian name for girls and a traditional folk song! I remember that when we had an offer to play in Tel-Aviv last year, the first Katjuschas just started to fall on Israel’s soil: I told them that I didn’t want to go because it was dangerous, and this is sad because we can’t play worldwide. I know that we have friends all around the globe, even in North Korea, which is unbelievable, but we’ll never get a chance to play over there, for sure! It’s not a free world: when you start to plan a tour, you have to be careful, and that’s sad. Regarding Tel-Aviv, we’ll may play over there this year, but you never know what will happen the days before your trip.

Even though it disgusts you, isn’t there a part of you that is fascinated by all this violence?

Take the song “Cannibal”: it’s about Armin Meiwes, a German man who spoke with a person on the Internet and ate her after. It’s an incredible story, but you know, I’m not a horror movie fan: I think that life is hard enough. I don’t need to see movies to know it. I’m very interested in all that stuff, and not only in wars. M-16 and In War And Pieces were concept albums based on war but Epitome Of Torture is about everything: you have songs for the fans like “S.O.D.O.M” for instance, or songs like “Stigmatized” against any forms of oppression. We did a video clip for this one, by the way. I’m a song writer and a lyricist: I have to describe what I see. People don’t understand all the lyrics: sometimes, you have to read between the lines, but the message still remains the same, that is living in a peaceful world.

What was your new drummer’s implication on the writing of this new album?

Markus was very involved in it. When Bobby left the band after the In War And Pieces tour, we did a couple of festivals and shows, and then we all started to write some material for the new record. It was the first time that Markus was involved in a song writing process. We always create music in our rehearsal room. I hate bands that work with mp3 files sent to each member to rearrange their music. We work in our rehearsal room and Markus had so many ideas for the songs. I don’t want to compare Bobby and Markus, but Markus is a very fast, speedy and accurate drummer, so we are able, but we were able to do it however before, faster songs now: “S.O.D.O.M”, “Stigmatized”, “Epitome Of Torture” are like that. Markus is a good drummer: sometimes, his style is like Dave Lombardo. He was involved in the song writing , and that’s very important. He’s a metal fan: he’s played in several bands at the end of the 80’s, like Kreator or Voodoo Cult for instance. He’s a very good drummer, one of the best in Germany. He knows exactly what we want and how a Sodom song should sound like. His drumming on the new record is awesome. I’m so glad of having him in the band.

Are you in touch with Bobby Schottkowski, who left the band two years ago?

No, I’m not in touch with him anymore. I wish him the best however.

« I hope that we’ll go back to the 80’s one day and say: ‘We are a big family, we’re doing heavy metal music so let’s be together and make a big party’. »

The second song is called “S.O.D.O.M.”. Since it’s the band’s name, it must be a very special song for you…

It’s a tribute to the band’s career and to the fans after more than 31 years of presence. I like this song so much: it’s like “Sodomized” or “Sodomy And Lust”. We have to play it live: I’m so proud of it. When we started writing this song, we didn’t have any lyrics. We were playing it in the rehearsal room, and I sang “S.O.D.O.M” as a chorus line: all the guys told me: “That’s a good song title!”. I wrote this song especially for the fans.

You did a videoclip for the song “Stigmatize”. This is the first time you did this in a long time. How comes you didn’t do any video those past years?

I don’t know: it’s all about money, you know. If we want to do a video clip, we have to pay it ourselves. At the beginning, the record company paid the clips. This time, I had this new song I gave to Ronald [Matthes], the producer from the Lords Of Depravity DVDs. He said: « It’s a good story, I gotta write you a storyboard, we gotta do a video ». He didn’t want to make an animation or a video with the band performing, he wanted to do a small movie. He sent me the storyboard for this song and I was amazed. Sodom is against religious fanatism and against the big bosses who make big money. So we put everything in the video clip. The time was right. I think this album is going to be really successful and finance the video clip. People are waiting for stuff like this. We also did a tour clip with tour impressions from South America. It was not a typical video clip. I don’t want to do a video clip for every song or every album. I don’t want to spend my money for it. I want to spend my money for other things, like a good production. But the time was right to do something like this.

This video is a festival of violence. Did you want to show violence in all its forms?

Yes. I don’t want this video clip to be censored. There’s a version of it, a special one, which is very bloody, aggressive and violent that you can find on the Internet. As people can spread it via Facebook or YouTube, you have to be very careful. We don’t want to make any horror movies, but we want to reflect what’s in our lyrics.

Do you think that the media nowadays are too much fascinated by violence?

Who can you shock now? No one. On YouTube, you can see so many bloody things and some are awful. Anyone with a mobile phone can make a video on the street. Sometimes, you see some fucked up things on YouTube. But it’s the Internet: it’s a platform where everybody has the possibility to post everything they want. It’s an open book, and you can see everything you want. I saw some videos, and I was very shocked. It’s a danger for the youth, you know: they shouldn’t see all this stuff. You can’t shock anyone, everybody knows what’s happening in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

About working with Waldemar Sorychta, you said: « Waldemar is a true authority. He doesn’t let you get away with anything, he knows all our weak spots. Which occasionally makes working at the studio a little demanding, but at the end of the day, it’s all worthwhile, as the result shows. » Did Waldemar point some weaknesses in your way of playing your instrument?

No. The thing is that we did some pre-production with him. He would tell you to rearrange this or that, but in the end, we would decide what we would like to do and how it would sound like. I think that Waldemar is a good producer because what is important for him in the end is the sound, full of power and spirit. Sometimes, when I started to sing, he would give me many advice on changing this part or singing it another way. He would say to me: “I’m fascinated by your voice: you can sing like Tom Araya, scream like Cronos, do old school Sodom vocals or some Motörhead”. It was hard to work with him too because I had to sing every line in many different ways. He’s like a teacher: “You have to do this and that” or “Try to do it better or more accurate” ! It was hard, but in the end, the result is great: I’m so glad I’ve had him as a producer. He’s also a good musician and singer, something few people know. I told him once that I needed a bigger production, so that meant to think of how we would put the microphones for the drums, the bass and my vocals. I didn’t want a polished production, like In War And In Pieces: I wanted a heavier one, with a bigger bass sound. We had a big discussion about the bass sound: if you listen to Venom or old Sodom stuff, you’ll know what I mean. Waldemar said to me: “If you want the bass louder, the guitars must be lower”. In the end, we found a compromise. The production is very rough. We did a very good job: I hope we’ll have Waldemar as a producer for our next record. I don’t want to spend money on a high-tech studio, but on a good producer who will help us.

There’s a cover version of Motörhead’s « Ace Of Spades » on the vinyl version of the album. On the documentary about Lemmy, we can hear members from Slayer, Metallica or Anthrax saying that without Motörhead, all thrash metal bands would not have existed. Do you agree with that? Is Motörhead the grandfather of thrash metal and of Sodom?

Oh yes. I started to listen to Motörhead back in 1977 or 1978. They were the heaviest band around at the time. They led me to form a trio myself. I like the old Motörhead with “Fast” Eddie Clarke and “Animal” Taylor, which is the best Mötörhead line-up ever. But I think that the most inspiring album for me was Venom’s first one. However, Venom wouldn’t have existed without Motörhead. When Motörhead came up with their first record, it was something new. Motörhead is not a metal band, but they created the metal scene.

« Ace Of Spades » is kind of an obvious choice. This is one of the most famous Motörhead’s song. Why didn’t you pick up a more obscure song?

We did this one for the Teutonic Force sampler and they wanted a “commercial” song, and “Ace Of Spades” is Motörhead’s most famous song. We played it a couple of times live, so we decided to record it in our way. I like it, you know. We also recorded “Iron Fist” on Persecution Mania. “Ace Of Spades” is my all time favourite Motörhead song.

What can you tell us about the two bonus tracks that are on the digipack version of the album?

I don’t know, but I hate this. I talked to the record company : “Why do you put out a jewel-case with ten songs and a digipack with twelve songs ?” I think it’s their decision: it’s kind of a politic decision, it’s music business and I don’t like it at all. But if you’re going to buy the jewel-case with ten songs, you’ll get the other two over the internet. But doing a limited edition in digipack with twelve songs allows you to sell a lot of copies in a short time and get in the charts. That’s record company business, I hate it. In my opinion we should rather do a digipack with twelve songs for the vinyl edition. Vinyl is always for collector buyers and I like vinyl. Both songs that are bonus tracks are good songs…

So you would have preferred to have those two songs on the normal edition?

Yes, I just want to have all twelve songs on every version. It makes me laugh when the record company come up and tell us: “You have to choose two songs for bonus tracks for the digipack.” And I say: “Which two songs do I have to choose? I like every song!” I’m so sorry for this.

Interview conducted by phone on April, 30th, 2013
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Sodom’s website : sodomized.info

Album Epitome Of Torture out since April 29th 2013 via SPV/Steamhammer.

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