Sodom’s Never-Ending Assault Continues With “Bombenhagel”: An Interview with Tom Angelripper
Sodom returns to the heavy artillery on their new Bombenhagel EP. Their latest record is a bombastic retaliatory strike, following last year's full length, Genesis XIX. This three-song blitz includes a rerecording of the title track, which has been a Sodom concert staple since its original release in 1987 on Persecution Mania.
“Bombenhagel” stands out from the rest of Sodom's repertoire. Musically, it blasts ahead with a hardcore punk attitude, and some of their fastest blast beats on record. It changes up the speed with a mosh breakdown, where the guitars drop their sonic dive bombs and shred all over the place. Its lyrics deal with the horrors of Nazi bombing raids during World War II, and even concludes with a satirical rendition of the German national anthem.
The Bombenhagel EP brings forth two new blistering tracks – “Coup De Grace,” which examines the disastrous state of current events with manic, thrashing precision, and the western shootout-themed “Pestiferous Posse,” whose title is really fun to say three times fast.
A key figure to Sodom's longevity is their squadron leader Tom Angelripper, who serves on bass and vocals since their inception in 1981. He's a tough as shrapnel, Lemmy-like figure of Teutonic thrash metal, with a similar infatuation with the wild west, cigarettes, and alcohol.
As Sodom approaches their 40th anniversary next year, the Invisible Oranges staff spoke with Mr. Angelripper in a phone interview. Topics cover the origins of their classic song “Bombenhagel,” reuniting with classic guitarist Frank Blackfire on their most recent albums, and plans to return to the United States.
What was the original inspiration of the song “Bombenhangel” when you wrote it in the eighties?
In the beginning I had German lyrics for the song. And the record company told me they were concerned with international, so we don't bring any German lyrics on it. But we did that later with “Ausgebombt.” I was always interested in history and wanted to write an anti-war song. Of course we had the German national hymn at the end of the song. We got a lot of problems back in 1987. People say that Sodom was a Nazi band or fascist, you know. We just played the hymn in the song. We are not fascist, we're just making music and writing songs about war and things that happened.
Persecution Mania as a whole sounds much more thrash metal driven than the earlier Sodom records. What prompted this musical evolution?
That was Frank [Blackfire.] Because Frank was a better guitarist than we had before. It was Grave Violator on the first alum and Destructor on the second one. Frank was a real metal, real precision and more aggressive guitar sound than before. And he had a completely different style to write songs. And it's so funny, because when we write songs now with Frank, it sounds the same. He always had the same guitar sound, and same style, writing and arranging songs.
The Persecution Mania album, it changed the lyrics. That was more important. We had a different producer, Harris Johns, who was a great producer. He helped us really play all the songs straight on point. He was like a dictator, ya know. He told us what to do. But in the end he was right. In the end, we didn't want to get more chaotic like Obsessed By Cruelty. We wanted to get more thrash metal. And also, changed the lyrics. I was so interested in Aleister Crowley on Obsessed By Cruelty. I want to write songs about real life, and bad things in our world. I'm really interested in historical things. I don't want to write fantasy lyrics like Manowar.
Harris Johns also plays a guest guitar solo on "Bombenhagel", both the original and the re-recording, correct?
That was my idea. Because Harris, on every album he produced, he plays an instrument on it. Maybe just the guitars, or doing background vocals. He wanted to change the guitars to be completely different from the Persecution Mania “Bombenhagel.” I said “Nevermind, do what you want.” In the end it's perfect.
To me, “Bombenhagel” stands out a lot from the rest of the album. It's a little faster, it almost has blast beats, and then it has the slower, mosh pit party section, and of course the national anthem at the end. Did you envision it becoming such a classic song?
Since Persecution Mania came out, we play it at every show ever since. We cannot leave the stage without playing that song. It's different to the audience, but it's so fun. It's more punky and there's a little Motorhead in it. There's no set list without Bombenhagel. When we play the song they make a big mosh pit around, and big shouting. That was the idea to make the song with the new drummer, two guitarists, and different guitar solos. We're going to play exactly this version in the live set in the next shows.
The Persecution Mania album art includes the first appearance of your gas mask and gun wielding mascot, Knarrenheinz. Did you mean for him to become a recurring character?
Yeah. It's like a sort of mascot. When we recorded Persecution Mania our chief of record label had an artist with a finished product that would fit perfect to the music. And he came up with the soldier. After Persecution Mania, Agent Orange came, and we had this, what you say in Germany, it's “Knarrenheinz.” It's a man with a gun. It's going to be on every cover. It's like old Maiden in the eighties.
We had some covers without him like for example 'Til Death Do Us Unite, which some people don't understand. “Why don't you use Knarrenheinz again on the cover?” But 'Til Death Do Us Unite is an outstanding album that's completely different. And I like the cover, which is my favorite.
There are so many ideas. I always try to take different artists. On the last cover of Bombenhagel, it's an Italian graphic artwork. We always try to do different artists to do a reinterpretation of Knarrenheinz in different situations.
What are the inspiration of the two new songs on your Bombenhagel EP, lyrically and musically?
I think “Coup De Grace” is one of my favorites on this thing. It's a typical thrash song. It's a song which Yorck, my guitarist, wrote. When he writes songs, he's inspired by crust punk bands, and there's some black metal stuff in it. “Coup De Grace” is a typical Sodom song and people really like it. The lyrics are about everything. Because when I started writing these lyrics, I realized that everything is getting out of control in the whole world. It's not just the climate change. It's everything. What we're going to see on TV today or yesterday, what happened in Afghanistan, and what happens in the whole world. It's a shame, and I'm so scared about it. I'm going to write about it. I think in the next 50 or 60 years we are gone. I'm not scared about myself, but the next generation, they will pay the price for it. I know I can't change these things, I just can scream it out on stage.
“Pestiferous Posse” was recorded on the Genesis XIX sessions. We took the decision not to put it on the album because of the length. The lyrics are about my all time favorite, I'm a big western fan. I'm really interested in US American history, and the shootout near the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. It's really interesting. The world is split between Democrats and Republicans, and the same problems, they had at O.K. Corral in these times.
I have a lot of books from Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday and Tombstone, cowboys. I'm really interested in this history of this small, small town. It was a silver town. I visited Tombstone when we did the Dezperadoz photo session back in 1999. You have the same problems in US America nowadays too. It never changes.
I have a lot of books about Jesse James, Billy The Kid. I'm really interested in who was the real man. Not just in movies. Wyatt Earp is the big sheriff of Tombstone, big marshal, but he never was a real marshal. But, he died in the mid twenties so he could tell the story and change the story. And he was the only one who wasn't hurt in the shootout at the O.K. Corral, so there was a bit of magic about it.
What was the song writing process like for these new songs on Bombenhagel?
I think Yorck and Frank came up with guitar riffs. But we go to the rehearsal rooms and we put everything together with the whole band. I need the drums, I need my bass guitar. I arrange the songs, because I am the singer. There's not a main songwriter. I think on Genesis XIX, Yorck wrote more guitar riffs and songs than Frank, because Yorck is a metal maniac. And Frank is more of a rock guitarist. I think 80% came from Yorck. He came up with so many guitar riffs, so fresh. But we had to arrange them with a drummer.
It's impressive how Sodom still sounds like Sodom after all these years, and with so many different line up changes through the ages.
I never change my bass sound. I never change my vocals. You know in the end, it doesn't matter who plays the guitar. But now we're like a family. We're like friends. There are no more discussions about what to do. I know what to do. They say “Tom, you are right. You're in the band for 40 years. You know what the fans want to hear.” We put everything together and try to write better ideas.
Your vocals sound just as ferocious on Bombenhagel. How do you keep your vocals sounding tough after all these years?
Smoking cigarettes. (Laughs) I don't know. There is no special technique. I just scream it out. I have some songs where I'm gonna scream like Tom Araya or scream like Cronos. I just press it out. I remember last Saturday, we had our second show this year at Essen. We played nearly two hours. And I didn't have any problems. I know I smoke too much cigarettes and I drink before the show, and I can also drink a whole bottle after the show. There is no special secret. Other people say you have to drink tea with honey. If you have problems with your vocals, nothing helps it really. Just press it out, you know?
Cigarettes and drinking. Rock 'n' roll!
But I want to quit smoking. It's better for singing anyway. But it's not so easy. If you smoke 50 years, 45 years, it's not so easy after that. My drummer has electric cigarettes but it's not the same. I tried. You get your nicotine but it's not like smoking. He quit smoking cigarettes, but he does electric cigarettes. I'm not sure which one is better. I've got to try something in the next try.
So when you're not writing these aggressive songs, what else do you do to relax?
I try to get as much information as possible. I want to know what's happening in the world. A lot of my friends are not interested in the world. But I want to know what's going on. And why we have the problems in Afghanistan. What happened this, why happened that? And it's really scary for me. It's not only the music. It's just writing good lyrics about something. We are not Manowar or other bands writing this shit. I want to write serious lyrics that I hope people will understand.
This is the second time you've mentioned Manowar in this interview. Are you not a big fan?
I'm a Manowar fan. I was a Manowar fan for the first two or three albums I like really much. But when I read lyrics from different bands, it's the same. You get a chance to write something down to tell people about something. And I want to take the chance to write it down.
Sodom has a noticeable punk influence on songs like “Bombenhagel.” What are some of your favorite punk bands?
When we started listening to music we started with punk music. There was no metal. I always bought punk records because sometimes they hit harder than some of the records. I love The Exploited. But later, I got the first Venom record in my head and then I was gone. That was the shit. Here it is. The new Venom was something that really inspired us to do the band. There are a couple of songs with punk influences in it. Why not? There's no special way to why we write songs. We're going to do everything. In Genesis XIX there's “Indoctrination.” It's like a punk song. At concerts we talk with fans and people say “if you do more punk influence into the music,” they like it. There's no dictation from record companies. Sodom is the only band worldwide where we do what we want. And if we have success with doing what we do that's perfect.
What else are you excited about in the future?
Next year is our 40 year anniversary and we talk about what we're going to do. Maybe a special box set. I hope we can do a bigger tour, would be a dream. And we can do other shows. That is the most important thing nowadays.
What would you like to say to all Sodom maniacs in closing?
I think the time is right to come back to the US. I know all the bands are touring around, and we never get a real chance. I think when this pandemic is over, we are in contact with some promoters. We have a strong fan base there. We play South America, we play everywhere. But we never got a chance to play US America. Maybe in 2022, whatever happens after this pandemic is over. The people wait too long. We have to come back as soon as possible.
Sodom's new album Bombenhagel will available August 20 via Steamhammer/SPV.