Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sodom - In The Sign Of Evil (EP)

In The Sign Of Evil (EP)

Released 1984 on Metal Blade (US vers.)
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 17/09/2003ce

1 Outbreak Of Evil
2 Sepulchral Voice
3 Blasphemer
4 Witching Metal
5 Burst Command Til War

Angel Ripper - exploder black & red bass + bestial disaster vocals
Witchhunter - atomic drum invasion
Grave Violater - dynamic power plant guitars

Oddly enough Sodom's debut EP is one of those records that makes me feel alive and happy inside. It may seem at first to be nothing but typically crude black/deth metal recorded by semi-retarded german teenagers -- but then that is exactly what I love about it. This is the sound of REAL kids pounding out their frustrations -- they'd probably sound like Iron Maiden if they could, but that ain't gonna happen because they're creeped-out self-loathing adolescent dorks whose parents just scrimped and saved to buy them a guitar last Christmas. They barely know how to "play" at all, but when was that ever a prerequisite for kicking out the jams?

Their creepy dorkdom is so touchingly on display in the band photos: they all wear tons of raccoon eye makeup (except the drummer who's hair is JUST long enough to come down and cover his eyes.) Angel has a haircut that is "Moe from the Three Stooges with a mullet in back" and Grave's 'do is a helmet-shaped mini-'fro (apparently they still live at home with mom & dad cuz they haven't even been able to grow proper metal hair yet!) The three Sodomites are shown in three separate shots, not in a group photo -- no doubt done for economic reasons, because Angel and Witch are obviously wearing the same black leather jacket, Witch and Grave are wearing the exact same studded armbands, and all three of them are probably sporting the exact same bandoliers full of shell casings. In other words -- they only had about one-and-a-half cool outfits between the three of them!

Admittedly I also have an exotica fascination with this record -- the liner notes are full of awkward grammar and misspellings such as found in the translated-from-Korean instructions that come with your cheapest electronic consumer gizmos. The lyrics and vocal pronounciation in the songs themselves are much the same -- like many great German (and Japanese) groups, they sing exclusively in English though they can barely speak or understand it.

"Bestial disaster vocals" is a PERFECT description of A. Ripper's singing. He phlegm-barks out the lyrics when appropriate, but when he's not "singing" he is constantly making all these wonderful sounds in the background -- teenage Darth Vader panting, Vincent Price B-movie cackles, animal growls -- all rendered from under gobs of supposedly creepy echo and reverb.

The other notable element in the Sodom sound is Witchhunter's indescribable approach to the drums. He blasts out tribal math-patterns on the snare, toms & bass drum -- but seems to be perpetually a fraction of a second behind the beat and therefore trying to accelerate to catch up -- his tempos sort of subliminally wobble around, or at least seem to (particularly when he lets loose a salvo of what passes for a "fill") -- though the teetering grooves never fall apart. A colorful musical metaphor might be the sound of a robot trying to play a drum solo while tumbling down a flight of stairs.

But nearest and dearest to my heart is poor Grave Violater (sic). Besides being the dorkiest teenager on earth, he can just barely play the guitar -- he is moderately able to play the most basic bar chords with a metal rhythm, and that's about it. So it's probably no surprise that he got kicked out of the band after this record and was never heard from again musically. (Maybe they only let him join the band in the first place because he owned those cool bandoliers and studded arm bands!)

As far as the songs -- most start with clouds of industrial echo chamber clatter while Angel Ripper goes: "HuuuuHHHHHUUUUAAUHAHAHA!!!! ERRRRRRRooooguuggghh!!!!" and so on. Then they kick into a cloddish riff (often "E-G-A-G" or "E-F-E-G" or something equally clever) over a falling-down-the-stairs "beat." There is barking in mangled english and occasionally a brief guitar solo. Yet in spite of such a basic formula, the tunes are actually kind of diverse and memorable.

After introducing the record by announcing the slogan "The Sin of Sodom is the Sign of Evil!" over electronically treated claps of thunder, "Outbreak" features relatively convoluted riffing (by the standards of this record) and a chorus you can make out well enough to sing along with: "Keell Christ! / Angel Dies! / Keell Christ! / Autbrayk ov EVIIILLLLLLoouauooaugh!!!!!"

"Sepulchral" is unique on this record because it features fast AND slow parts!

"Blasphemer" is a furious gallop, the drums almost playing something like the standard "metal backbeat." Cackling and barking and vomiting sounds also figure prominently, creating an audio verite depiction of "blasphemy." The chorus is more sing-a-long fun: "blahssfemah!!! blahssfemah!!! BLAHSSSFEEMMAAAHHAHUauauaooough!"

"Witching Metal" is the showpiece for Grave's guitar work. Meaning he gets to play a "guitar solo." It sounds like two or three guitars overdubbed, going up and down a scale in even rhythmic and harmonic increments. In fact more than anything it sounds like he's practicing the scales from of his "How to Play Guitar in 10 Easy Lessons" book. This one's got another catchy chorus too, approximately: "Saah-dumm, wott fayar! / Saah-dumm, raupp lass! / Saah-dumm, WITCHINGUH METALLLLooaughghahhhhh!!!!"

Finally "Burst Command Til War" is their magnum opus. It begins with more musik conkrete noize (phony air raid siren, bombs, clanking, throttled yelling, etc.) Then kicks into the most "up" jam on the record. Angel has some extra flangey video game effect on his voice in addition to the usual three quarts of reverb and gallon of echo. The climactic line comes out as: "BOST KOMMANTILL ... (quivering tonsils, big drum roll) ... DUWAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHHKKKK!!!!!!" The last word doesn't sound anything like "war" it's just a gut-wrenching howl.

As far as the band's history and place in music, Sodom is sort of like the Hawkwind of "deth metal." They still crank out albums to this very day, though only "Tom Angelripper" is still in the lineup. Some genre enthusiasts (aka headbangers) love them, but even more seem to think of them as a crude and stupid travesty that somehow dulls the shine on their favorite genre of music.

I don't pay much attention to anything they've done except this album, and I don't care to because what I have heard from their later records sounds like "generic deth metal" with competent guitar solos and non-cheesy production values and all that. "In The Sign Of Evil" however is a unique document of the way teen angst and rebellion play out in different corners of the world. It's punk as fuck and comes straight from their rotten stinky little broken teenage hearts. They put no "thought" into their art, they are just trying to look and sound as badass as possible. Because no one understands them anyhow.

In conclusion:

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