Interview with Tom Angelripper
Interview conducted by MetalMike
Date online: August 12, 2016
Legendary German Thrash band Sodom is releasing their 15th full-length album, Decision Day, in 2016. On it, the band has rarely sounded better so it was time to get some additional information direct from the source; bassist/vocalist Tom Angelripper.
Tom shared his thoughts on the new album and some of his lyrical inspiration as well as Sodom's tour plans and musical inspirations. He was also kind enough to share with us the thoughts of cover artist Joe Petagno, providing an unusual amount of detail about the concept and symbolism. Read on to learn all you could ever want to know about Decision Day.
MetalMike: Hi Tom, thanks for taking some time to chat today. Congratulations on Sodom's 15th album, Decision Day! Did you ever imagine back in the very early 80s that you'd still be releasing Sodom records 35 years later?
Tom Angelripper: When we started the band we had no idea that we would still be alive after 35 years. In the beginning our attitude was just to have fun. We got our first record deal in '84 and that was amazing; working in a professional studio for the first time. We were so lucky that Steamhammer believed in us. Being alive after so many years is the result of hard-working men and the loyal support of our fans.
MetalMike: The music business is obviously very different today from what it was back when you started Sodom. What was your motivation for starting a band back in the early 80s and how has that motivation changed over the years and kept you going?
Tom: The motivation to play in a band is still present. Yes, you are right, the music business has changed over the decades but it is so important not to get monopolized by it. We play music because we love it. We are just metal fans that go on the stage for a while and celebrate what we do. Keeping the spirit of the 80s alive is our main purpose.
MetalMike: You were one of the early singers to employ a "harsh" style of singing, one that has gone on to become immensely popular in not only Thrash but Death and Black Metal as well. Was it a conscious decision to sing this way or is it just "the way you sing"? Do you take pride in being in the vanguard of this singing style?
Tom: I think Cronos was the biggest inspiration for me but also Tom Araya. I am multifaceted in the way I sing. I like the typical screaming, shouting and barking like on "Sodomy and Lust" (originally on the Expurse of Sodomy EP – Mike) but I learned to sing melodies when I formed the Onkel Tom Band. On the new album Decision Day you'll hear all of those styles which makes this album so multifaceted.
MetalMike: Who were your early musical heroes? Was Sodom formed as a way to emulate any particular band or did you have your own vision of what the band would be?
Tom: Venom was our musical inspiration. When their first album came out, my world changed. We also like Raven and Tank and, of course, Motörhead were great heroes. We decided to form our own band, one that would be heavier than Venom and faster than Metallica. That was our slogan ; ) We created a brand new style we called "witching metal" so we could separate ourselves from all the other bands around at that time. The Sodom sound is unique making it more memorable.
MetalMike: After the debut Obsessed by Cruelty, which had an "evil" theme to the lyrics, you shifted to the signature "war" themed lyrics and artwork Sodom has become known for over the last 30 years. Why the change?
Tom: At the time I had a lot of books by Aleister Crowley. I was very interested in all the magic and satanic things. Later I realized my personality was changing in a negative direction so I stopped reading that stuff. Life and the state of our world are motivation enough for all the lyrical themes.
MetalMike: Decision Day is the second album with the current lineup featuring you (vocals/bass), Bernemann (guitar) and Markus "Makka" Freiwald (drums). The Sodom lineup has been very fluid over the years with you as the only constant. Did the consistency from the last album to this one make Decision Day easier to record? Do you feel like you've got the right partners in the band now to keep things consistent for the future?
Tom: Yes, they are perfect fits!! The songwriting and recording processes have changed. We worked out the songs without any pressure and we never talked about a release date with the label until the songs were written. That was a relaxed way of working. We recorded in different studios and rehearsal rooms. Each song was pre-produced and that gave us the opportunity to change something if necessary.
MetalMike: What do Bernemann and Makka bring to the process of creating a Sodom album? Is the songwriting shared and if not, are the other guys allowed to share their thoughts and ideas? Is the creative process a democracy or more of a benevolent dictatorship?
Tom: No, it is democracy and we can talk about anything. Each member has the same right to be heard. What would I do without a creative band? Makka had so many good ideas and came up with awesome drums for these songs. Berni came up with the guitar riffs and gave me the initial sparks for the bass lines, vocals and the lyrics.
MetalMike: The sound on Decision Day is pure German Thrash Metal that is surprisingly smooth yet very heavy. You worked with Cornelius Rambadt to produce Decision Day after working with him on some of your solo material. Was he your first choice and is the sound of Decision Day something that just came out of the material or was Cornelius brought in to get a specific sound?
Tom: He was the first choice. He knows exactly how the band has to sound and offers so many ideas for the production. He is a good friend of the band and also a wonderful technician on the road. He was the perfect producer to create the organic and authentic sounds we wanted.
MetalMike: As I mentioned before, one of Sodom's lyrical themes is war. Obviously this is as relevant a topic today (as you sing about on "Belligerence") as it has been throughout human history. As a history fan myself, I love hearing about past events and since I grew up in the United States I have a certain view of the D-Day events. As someone from Germany what is your perspective on what happened in 1944 and is that what you brought to "Decision Day"?
Tom: The song "Decision Day" is just one song about that historical event but also reflects the situation today. In my opinion, the next Decision Day will come but will be more ultimate. The main topic describes the current state of our world; bad news every day especially when you consider how much the world has changed since the latest album. Sectarian killing, cold war, nuclear armament, abolition of democracy in many countries, starvation and all the destruction, that inspired my lyrical mindset and fits perfectly with our music. It is sad but true.
MetalMike: What are some of your favorite tracks from Decision Day? Are there any that have special meaning compared with the rest? Which ones do you think will be the first ones you try out live (if you haven't had a chance to play them live yet, that is!)
Tom: I like each song but I think "In Retribution", "Blood Lions" and "Caligula" will make it to the next set list.
MetalMike: The artwork for Decision Day was created by Joe Petagno, famous for his work with Motörhead. As a Motörhead fan, was it that much more special to have him create the cover? I notice he gave your mascot some gasmask hoses that look suspiciously like Snaggletooth's tusks
Tom: I am so proud that he did the job. He is a great artist and a pioneer of rock and metal covers. When I got in contact with him I was so surprised that he has known the band since the beginning and was a follower of our career. You are right, it looks a little bit like Snaggletooth but it has nothing to do with the Motörhead covers, it is just his style. It looks fantastic and we are so pleased with it. He also wrote down some words about his artwork, which are very interesting:
"After having spoken with Tom about the current state of world affairs I wanted to visualize the History of Man from the dawn of creation to the mess we have today.
This cover art is a picture of the archetype of the Apocalypse which is hidden in us all.
The eruption of unconscious material happens from two directions simultaneously from above and from below.
I used Knarrenheinz as a symbol for the countless numbers who have soldiered on thru' the centuries in one guise or another just to get us here anno 2016 where we seem to be on the brink of another possible eruption.
Knarrenheinz's head is exploding due to his inability to hold these unconscious contents hidden or suppressed any longer. He's in the throws of a dissociation of the upper and lower realms of the psyche much like the world today.
Pictorially this is a nuclear explosion which turns into a goat's head with horns (hidden but there) forming a symbol of the lower realms erupting.
The barbed wire crown that was a symbol for oppression and incarceration and was keeping his head/psyche from erupting is now a Crown of thorns.
The Snake skeleton on the left is symbolic for the USA whose bones spiraling downwards morph into human DNA and form the North American continent.
The Bear skull on the right is symbolic of Russia and the European continent with the Middle East leading down to the falling victims of war and mass destruction.
The cave painting at the bottom left is the Neander Valley and our humble ancestral beginnings as well as our first encounters with warring against one another.
The Valley of Death is depicted on the right side.
Historically the painting reads from the bottom up or from the quagmire to the present and if we aren't careful it could also read from the top to bottom.
That having been said, all is not lost, there is hope seen in the crosshairs of the sight pointed at Knarrenheinz's heart.
This circular shape can also be a mandala/quaternity symbol for wholeness - if we can kill off the lower instincts it's possible achieve transformation and a new world or aeon.
Decision Day or Double D-day"
MetalMike: I see quite a few festival dates on Sodom's calendar for this year. It seems like the days of touring Europe and the rest of the world are slowly fading and festivals are becoming much more commonplace. Do you think this is a good thing? Which do you prefer; a huge festival audience and a 45-minute set or a smaller club with 90+ minutes? I assume they both have their pros and cons...
Tom: Yes, there are so many festivals around. We like both, the festivals and the club shows. Both are important for a band. Playing all the festivals is like touring. We have to plan very carefully if we decide on any tour dates. Too many bands are touring around Germany and Europe. We have no plans for that right now.
MetalMike: Do you have any extensive touring plans to support Decision Day?
Tom: Not yet. At this time, I have some personal problems to attend to so we are not able to tour outside Germany.
MetalMike: It is pretty amazing that Sodom, along with Kreator, Destruction and Tankard, the "Big 4" of German Thrash, are all still alive and kicking in 2016. What has changed for the better since you started out and what would you like to go back to if you could?
Tom: I am so proud of them. They still kick ass and stand up to the fucking business. A "Big 4" tour would be great but its not easy to arrange. Too many different labels, publishers and booking agencies that want to follow their own interests. I keep in touch with the other guys and hope to find a way for that tour...
MetalMike: Do you listen to your German compatriots in those other bands? Do you hear album's Like Kreator's Phantom Antichrist or Destruction's Under Attack and do they influence you in any way? Are you friends with the members of those bands and do you share ideas?
Tom: We are still friends and I listen to their albums. I love them both but there is no inspiration coming from them...
MetalMike: Why do you think German bands like Sodom have stayed "true" to their roots where the "Big 4" Thrash bands from the U.S. have all drifted away from the sounds that made them famous? Have you ever entertained the idea of releasing something really experimental under the Sodom name or do you feel there's plenty of room for growth and innovation within the style you've created?
Tom: No, we never considered changing anything. I remember back in the 90s when a lot of bands left their roots and guided their sound in other musical directions. We never did because we love Thrash Metal without commercial influences. Thrash means being free to do what you want. Historical bands like Sodom are getting more accepted and achieving bigger cult status.
MetalMike: What do you guys do when not actively involved in creating music? Are you able to support yourself entirely with music?
Tom: We are always around music but sometimes the family needs more attention. I am still a passionate hunter and I try to spend time doing that where I live as much as possible. Over there I can relax.
MetalMike: Are there places you've played that have been especially enthusiastic for Sodom's brand of Thrash Metal? Are there any places in the world you haven't played yet that you'd like to get to?
Tom: I think South American fans are so enthusiastic and they are still hungry to see real Heavy Metal bands. We have never been to Africa but we have connections with some South Africa promoters. That would be great...
MetalMike: Decision Day will be released in several different formats; a digipak CD, a double LP and a box-set for European distribution only. I'm sure it will also be available through a number of digital outlets as well. What is your take on all the different choices fans have? Is it too much or simply giving the fans what they have shown in the past that they want?
Tom: I am not a big supporter of all the different releases. I know a bunch of fans are going to buy all the stuff and spend a lot of money. I like vinyl, but only the black ones. ;)
MetalMike: Before I wrap up, what else about Sodom, touring or Decision Day do the fans need to know (and that I didn't ask about)?
Tom: We don`t have any tour dates yet. At this time I have some personal problems to resolve so I can`t go on a longer tour outside Germany but we have many festivals and weekend shows booked so you will find us. ;)
MetalMike: Tom, thanks for taking some time to answer these questions and share your answers with the readers of The Metal Crypt! I wish you great success with the new album and hope to see you on American soil in the near future. Where can the fans keep up with where they can check out Sodom?
Thanx Mike and also a very special thanx to your readers. I will keep you informed about the next tour dates. Thanx supporting us and sorry for my poor (D)English ; ))))
|Other information about Sodom on this site|
|Review: Agent Orange|
|Review: Persecution Mania|
|Review: Better Off Dead|
|Review: Tapping The Vein|
|Review: Masquerade in Blood|
|Review: Code Red|
|Review: In the Sign of Evil/Obsessed by Cruelty|
|Review: The Final Sign of Evil|
|Review: In War and Pieces|
|Review: Decision Day|
|Review: Decision Day|
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