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Spare me the “early stuff” line.
You try facing down life as a coal miner. You want to get out of it so badly that you start a band. That band takes hold, and you escape the mines. You become one of metal’s most influential musicians. 30 years later, you are are still standing, like one of your biggest heroes, Wyatt Earp. From the safety of their keyboards, lesser souls tell you to hang it up. You can’t imagine it. You are still doing it, making heavy metal that’s hardly changed in ages. The production is more modern now, but you still sound like you. You still have your job, one that you created and have held for decades. Most people don’t have anonymous malcontents slinging mud at them daily. They haven’t earned that status. That’s why they’re anonymous, and you’re Tom Angelripper. Your band is Sodom, and it is your life.
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What does thrash metal mean to you?
I think thrash metal means to be free, doing what you want. Sodom is a band that gets no inspiration from the music business. We just do what we want, and we keep on doing heavy metal music so aggressive and so rough as possible – that is thrash metal.
You’ve done Sodom for almost 30 years. Has your conception of it changed during that time?
No. When we started in ’82, we never could have realized that we would still be alive after 30 years. We never stopped doing the music. We never changed, really. We do our music because we are metal fans. I remember back to the ’90s when a lot of bands changed their style, changed their music, trying to get more commercial, with a lot of bands splitting up in this time. But we never [did that]. We just keep on going, because this music is my life.
Sodom is known for being an anti-war band. Does this come from Germany’s role in the World Wars?
No, I don’t think so. It’s a big inspiration when I see the news, when American or German soldiers go to die in Afghanistan or Iraq. The bad situation in this world – that is a very big inspiration to me when writing lyrics. A thrash band like Sodom has to write about these bad things. I know I can’t change anything, but I can scream it out. I’m not politically active, [but] my dream is living in a peaceful world.
Do you see any tension between wanting a peaceful world and making art that’s sold by how violent the packaging is? Sodom has this guy with a machine gun, and he looks bad-ass and macho.
I know what you mean, but we just describe [violence]. If you read the lyrics or you read between the lines, we just describe it. There is no opinion; you’ll never find any political opinion in the lyrics. We do heavy music, so we have to write heavy lyrics and do heavy covers. But the soldier you see on Persecution Mania and Agent Orange – he’s fighting for a peaceful world. And I know that American soldiers and Germans, they’re fighting for a peaceful world, but they never get [it].
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What’s the history of the Knarrenheinz mascot?
We changed our music and our lyrics in ’87, with the Persecution Mania album. Before, [when] we did Obsessed with Cruelty [and] In the Sign of Evil, we were so much inspired by occultic things. I got a lot of books from Aleister Crowley, which were the big inspiration [at] this time. But in the end, you get sick in the brain. When we started writing lyrics about real life, and that was Persecution Mania, that was the birth of Knarrenheinz. We also have a new song on the new album, which is called “Knarrenheinz”, and this describes his adventures [over] all of the years.
What does “Knarrenheinz” mean?
Knarren – it’s like a gun. And Heinz – it’s a famous name in Germany for a male.
Religion seems to be a concern of this new album. You have songs like “God Bless You” and “The Art of Killing Poetry”. What does religion mean for you?
It’s not just about religion. It’s about religious fanaticism, you know, and all the terror stuff. And “God Bless You”, it’s a song about when a soldier goes to military service or goes to a war. The last words he hears from a family or from friends is, “God bless you”. Religion – to me, personally, it means nothing. But if it [becomes] fanaticism with religious things, that’s a very bad situation.
Do you make your living from Sodom?
Since music is your career, how does that affect your art? When you write an album, are you thinking of the sales?
Yes, I hope we have a good-selling album, because if you don’t sell enough copies from your new album, you don’t get an option from the record company for doing the next one. That is the problem. But nowadays you cannot make money with selling CDs. You make your money with touring around and making concerts, making live shows.
Do you talk to your contemporaries in German thrash, Kreator and Destruction?
Yeah, I’m always in contact with them. You heard about the drummer [Bobby Schottkowski] leaving the band.
I got emails from Schmier (Destruction frontman) and Mille (Petrozza, Kreator frontman). They had some ideas for a new drummer. They wanted to help me. But we found a drummer in Dortmund who is a good drummer, who played in Onkel Tom and Kreator also.
We have so many festivals around Germany. All the time I meet with Schmier, getting some drinks and having a good time. We always talk about going on tour with Kreator and Destruction. It’s very wonderful – we did it in 2000. And it was very successful. People could see the three bands on one stage for the price of one ticket. That is my dream [that Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator play together again]. But that’s the business. There are different record labels, different publishers, and different booking agencies who follow their own interests when you tour with support bands and all that stuff.
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Desperadoz – “My Gun and Me”
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What’s the status of Desperadoz?
Desperadoz – it’s a wonderful band. I’m not more than the singer. I did the first album in ’99. It was brilliant. Alex [Kraft, guitarist, now also vocalist] is a good songwriter, and I was very interested in American gunfighters like Wyatt Earp and Jesse James and Billy the Kid. That was a good combination to do a kind of Western metal music, which no band did before. But we did not get much success in this time. We got just three or four live shows. That was a very low-selling album, so we didn’t get a chance for a second one. But nowadays Alex is the singer of Desperadoz, and he keeps on going with new albums. It’s not a big band in Germany, but they do wonderful music.
How did you come to be interested in American gunfighters and American history?
I like the feeling. I like Western movies. But it’s not just the movies. I started collecting books. I imported from America, getting books about American gunfighters, a lot of books about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. I also started collecting Winchester rifles. I’m very interested in everything that has to do with Western movies.
Why do Westerns appeal to you?
I think it’s the freedom. There are so many good Western movies around. I think the first Western I ever saw was Once Upon a Time in the West. I saw it in ’69. I was in a cinema with my father. I will never forget [it]. It’s the best Western movie ever. I like the adventures. [But] I think the real Western life was not so much like you see in the Hollywood movies.
German society has a lot of rules. Because the Western has this figure of the outlaw – the guy who’s breaking the rules – did that contrast appeal to you?
Yes. The real outlaws and gunfighters – I think that they lived in the time without any law. In Germany, you’ve got the law for everything. That could be. I like this [idea].
I think [of] Wyatt Earp; he was a town marshal in Tombstone. There was somebody who fought against the bad. I think what inspired me so much was the shootout at the O.K. Corral, you know? That was good fighting against the bad guys. And the good guys win in the end. Somebody like Wyatt Earp, he never got shot. He survived the shootouts for so long.
What are you listening to these days?
I’m always listening to the old-school stuff. There are so many bands coming out every month. I never have the time to listen to anything, or to everything. I don’t have the money to buy everything. When I listen to music at home, I always get my old Raven, my Tank stuff, my Venom stuff. It’s like sitting in a time machine going back to the ’80s stuff.
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What’s your practice routine like?
We just do it in a rehearsal room. We rehearse two times a week. And I have my bass guitar at home. Everything we do – writing new songs or planning a tour – we do it in the rehearsal room. Like in the old days, getting some beers, you know? We do kind of a jam session around and start writing new songs. I know that other bands, they’re gonna write songs [with] MP3 trading. You’ve gotta set your guitar riff to the drum computer. I hate it. We just do it like in the ’80s. We do everything in the rehearsal room.
What books are you reading right now?
I don’t have time to read books. I have some books about my hobby, hunting. That’s what I’m very interested in. But I never read. I never find time to read books.
So you like to go hunting.
Yeah, yeah. And that’s what I try to do one time a week. I have my own district here in my city. So this is the time to relax. I don’t take my handy with me, my mobile – I want to be free there. I just can relax, be in nature, be in the forest. And that’s what gives me so much power when I come back.
What do you like to hunt?
I like to hunt roe deers and boars, rabbits – what I got in Germany. But it’s not [just] a hobby for me, it’s a kind of passion. I [have done] it for 15 years now. When I was a little kid, I was very interested in wild animals, and I’m also interested in guns and all that stuff.
Are you hunting for food, or is it more of a sport for you?
It’s both, you know. I eat it. It’s also the hunting. Sometimes you go five times, [and] you never shoot something. But that is not the main point, shooting something. The main point for me is relaxing and being there, being in nature.
People talk about fishing the same way.
Yeah, years ago sometimes I went fishing at the North Sea. But hunting for me is more relaxing. People who don’t go hunting, they can’t realize what I mean.
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Tom Angelripper explains what “Knarrenheinz” means
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What does Sodom mean to you?
That’s my life. That’s the most important thing in my life. It’s also my family, my wife, my kids. I hope that I’m going to stay healthy. I hope that I can do it for a couple of years [more]. I know that when we are touring, we get so much back from the fans. They always push the band to keep on going.
Have you thought about life after Sodom?
No, no, I don’t think so. I don’t know what I can do when I stop doing music. I’m 48 years old now, and so I have a couple of years [more] to do it. But I see Lemmy. Lemmy is 65 nowadays, and he’s still on the road, still on the stage.
But just music, it’s not enough. It’s also my family. It’s my friends. It’s my hunting. It’s everything what I like. I don’t know what I can do when I stop doing this music. I wouldn’t know what I would do. I’m going to try to stay in the metal scene and be an amateur or whatever. I always try to help younger bands for getting in the scene. But I have to get on the stage. I have to do my music.
What hasn’t Sodom done yet that you want to do?
What I want to do is a big U.S. America tour.
That would be good.
Because we never get a chance, really. We were supposed to do it this year, a couple of shows, but the promoter didn’t really help us to come over. If you go to U.S. America, you need the papers. You have to go to the embassy. You get the permission, the working papers. And [the promoter didn’t do that]. And then he said we have to go as tourists. We can’t go as tourists. We are not famous rock stars, but you need the papers. We want to bring our own instruments with us.
So what my plan is to do, the end of next year make a U.S. tour. That’s my dream. We have a lot of fans that are waiting. There are so many cities we’ve never [played] before. It’s so sad that we never really had a chance to go over. I know Kreator, they are touring all the time around [the US]. But now the time is right for Sodom.
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