Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sodom - In the Sign of Evil (1984)

Along with Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer, Sodom was one of the pioneers of the First Wave of Black Metal with their debut E.P. In the Sign of Evil, which was released in 1984. This emerged from the darkened depths of Hell some months before Bathory's self-titled album, just to put this in perspective. Sodom would later go for a pure Thrash Metal style, more similar to fellow German bands Kreator and Destruction, but this release is total blasphemy and evil captured on tape. There is a strong Venom influence, though this is darker and heavier than anything that they produced, yet not nearly as coherent as the early Slayer albums.

This twisted affair begins with a brief and horrifying intro that leads into rumbling guitars and animalistic snarls, like the sound of something escaping from Hell to wreak havoc upon the living. "Outbreak of Evil" is aptly titled. The drumming has somewhat of a sloppy feel, yet it works very well within the context of the music and is still more coherent than Hellhammer. Angel Ripper's vocals are more of a puked rasp than anything else, sounding very sinister and evil. The guitars, mostly, consist of tremolo-picked power chords and seem similar to what Bathory was doing around this time. Overall, this has a very evil and barbaric sound.

"Sepulchral Voice" is next and this was the first Sodom song that I ever heard; the one that got me interested in checking this band out in the first place. This begins with a few singles notes being drawn out over the sound of rabid demons waiting to be unleashed upon the living. This slow and ominous intro yields to unrelenting fury as the song picks up speed and Angel Ripper's venomous vocals slice through the wall of sound. The pace alternates from deathly slow to very fast, throughout the song. This primitive sound was very influential to bands such as Sarcofago and others in the Brazilian scene, for example. Near the end, there is even a brief bass solo before the song reaches blinding speeds once again. This one song probably best exemplifies the dark feeling of this E.P.

The next song begins with a brief build-up of guitars and demonic laughter before erupting at full speed. "Blasphemer" is one of the fastest and ugliest pieces of Black Metal on this album. The atmosphere is one of pure Hellish chaos. This unholy song is held together by frenzied rhythms and a rabid chorus as Angel Ripper continues to laugh like a demon that is filled with demented joy to be hurling you into the fires of Hell. The overall pace is reminiscent of Kreator's "Tormentor" (which actually came the following year).

"Witching Metal" has more of a traditional metal sensibility, while being unrelenting in its ferocity. Angel Ripper seems quite possessed at this point and Witchhunter does his best to keep up with Grave Violator's fast guitar riffs. He throws in oddly timed rolls and cymbal crashes at obscure moments. Either way, it works and the fierceness of his performance commands respect. This violent song is fairly short.

An eerie intro leads into "Burst Command Til War". The sound is Hellish and evil and would have been a good way to begin the album. The final song if this classic E.P. truly does burst forth from the dark shadows, claiming all pathetic lives in its way. The effect on Angel Ripper's vocals adds to the demonic fury of his delivery. The riff on this one has a similar early power/speed feel as the one riff from “Sepulchral Voice”, but the context it’s presented in is so different that it isn't so easy to notice. The song ends with more chaos and something that sounds like a bomb exploding and incinerating thousands.

In the Sign of Evil features five songs that each bring something unique to this release, while all maintaining the same morbid atmosphere. This E.P. was very influential to those Black Metal bands that came later and it is a shame that Sodom did not stick with this sound for a while longer to fully explore what could have been achieved, before moving on to pure Thrash Metal. In the Sign of Evil really captures the darkened intensity of the early scene and is about as good as it gets regarding early extreme metal. If you own only one Sodom album, make sure this is the one.