The deeper you care to dig into the underground, the more likely you’ll eventually unearth crews of thorny bangers who “only care about the demo material.” It works for a band like Sodom because the material produced from ’82 to ’86 that culminated with the rawest of the raw one-two punch of In the Sign of Evil and Obsessed by Cruelty was the stuff of legend for troglodytes consumed with the roots of death and black metal.
Sodom 2.0, however, is what truly put the band on the map, and that essentially commenced once Frank Blackfire arrived (with the eternally gas-masked Knarrenheinz in tow) for 1987’s excellent Expurse of Sodomy EP. Frank is credited for convincing Sodom linchpin Tom Angelripper to ditch the satanic crypts in favor of concentrating on the advancing thrash scene, and the band has never really looked back or elsewhere since.
Only Kreator surpasses Sodom in terms of largest impact Teutonic thrashers, and that’s likely thanks to Mille Petrozza’s relentless touring compulsion. It was Sodom that hit the loudest first, though, as 1989’s Agent Orange was the first German thrash album to crawl onto official charts. The years that manufactured that particular record and what many consider to be the preeminent Sodom release, 1987’s Persecution Mania, were golden—fervently dedicated to pushing the limits forged by their power-trio progenitors Motörhead, Venom, Raven and Tank, and somehow thriving with a little extra cash in the back pocket while playing a style whose express aim was to annihilate.
However, Blackfire’s pursuit of an increasingly technical style eventually clashed with Sodom’s wonderfully undercooked crux, so he split to join the more adventurous Kreator in 1989, which ushered in a new era that forced Angelripper to rely on a revolving door of musicians to fill out Better Off Dead (1990: Michael Hoffmann on guitar), Tapping the Vein (1992: Andy Brings on guitar), Get What You Deserve (1994: Atomic Steif on drums) and Masquerade in Blood (1995: Strahli on guitar).
The most significant stretch of stability found Sodom in 1997, with the addition of Bernd “Bernemann” Kost on guitars and Konrad “Bobby” Schottkowski on drums. The newly assembled trio plowed through the late 90s and early 2000s with five releases of relentless German thrash interrupted only by a one-time reuniting of the classic Angelripper/Grave Violator/Witchhunter trio in 2007 for The Final Sign of Evil, a re-recording of the full set of songs originally intended to make In the Sign of Evil a proper full-length.
Stability can lead to complacency, though, and complacency is the number one enemy of thrash. As a wise man once stated with regard to this off-shoot, “Never fucking relax. Just get evil all the time. Live for violence, die for metal, fuck off in Hell.” Well, Sodom seemed to have become…relaxed. Tom eventually butted heads with Bobby, which lead to the arrival of Makka behind the kit moving forward. And while 2013’s Epitome of Torture and 2016’s Decision Day were certainly solid efforts, particularly the latter, the truth that the band had grown apart quickly became public, and it was clear that a portion of that pioneering energy and intensity had ebbed over the years. So, Sodom being Tom Angelripper’s baby, he sacked everyone in the spring of 2018 in favor of becoming a fiery four-piece for the first time in the band’s long history.
In a word, Partisan can be described as ohfuckyes.
The production is great: it summons the gnarly rawness of the late 80s without sacrificing clarity, and it gives the overall direction a more “live in the studio” feel. This suits the opening title track perfectly, as the Blackfire-penned “Partisan” jumps from the gate with an urgent rumble ripped right from the band’s classic era. Tom’s voice hasn’t sounded this beautifully sour in years, and that acrid rasp counterbalances the song’s brief, mellow half-way point perfectly before a wild ‘n’ loose lead brings everything back to a full gallop up and through to its end.
“Conflagration” follows, and it’s easily the most explosive thing the band has done in well over a decade, perhaps even since Tapping the Vein. It opens with a very brisk, punky vigor that gives Tom’s bass plenty of room to thunder, and the only thing more satisfying than the gnarly riff breakout shortly after the 2:15 mark is the sheer velocity attained during its final minute. If you’re an old-school Sodom fan and don’t find yourself ready to flip shit over by the time Angelripper howls “CON-FLAG-RAAATIOOOON” just before the 4-minute mark, you might consider hanging up your gas-mask permanently. The fact that “Conflagration” is a Yorck Segatz-penned song makes it clear that the new guy has spent a lifetime with Persecution Mania in close proximity, and it paints a very promising picture for what’s to come when a new full-length drops in 2019.
A live version of “Tired & Red” from the Rock Hard Festival in 2018 closes out the EP, and it serves to assert just how abrasive the band plans to be during their quickly approaching European tour with Exodus and Death Angel. Adding a second guitarist obviously opens things up a lot more with regard to what can be done on stage, so expect a number of classics that haven’t been belted out for years, and trust that it’ll be heavy.
Metal fans have been falling for the old “back to our roots” stunt for longer than any of us would like to admit, but if Partisan is any indication of what’s in store for Sodom’s future, fans can indeed expect a pleasant treat. Well, that is, if you happen to be the sort who considers being asphyxiated by a long, brutal nuclear winter a real “treat.” If you’ve gotten this far, signs point to yes.
Exceptional Teutonic thrash is most often intended to be raw, hostile and toxic. It sure is satisfying hearing one of the greats deliver on that promise once again in such an old-school manner.
NO SAMPLES. Just look for Partisan on CD, 10″ LP and digitally this coming Friday.