The German thrash metal band’s frontman Thomas Such aka Angelripper talks about their debut in India and three decades of the band’s legacy
Before pounding out heavy bass lines for his thrash metal band Sodom, Thomas Such used to work at a coal mine in Germany. His love for metal led him to take Sodom full-time and the band soon found themselves in the studio in 1984, to record and release their first EP, In the Sign of Evil. Although they started out as a black metal band [“If you interview black metal bands, they will always talk about the first two Sodom albums,” says Such], Sodom’s reputation as a thrash metal band was sealed with their third release, Agent Orange in 1989, arguably one of the most popular thrash metal albums of all time. The album climbed to the number 36 spot on German Album Charts, a feat which the band outdid only recently, with their 14th album, Epitome of Torture. “The new album reflects all that we did in the past,” says Such in an interview with ROLLING STONE India, where he also talks about playing Bangalore Open Air on July 6th and his own solo project, Onkel Thomas Angelripper, where he performs metal versions of beer songs and Christmas carols.
Has India been on your radar for some time now?
Well, at the time [we got this show] we had no tour on. We had a couple of festivals and a few weekends in Germany. But when we got the offer to play in India, it was amazing. We’ve played worldwide in strange countries, you know? We’re really looking forward. Sodom was one of the first [thrash metal] bands to play in South America, Bulgaria and whatever. Being there [in a new place] is really something special.
Some of the biggest names in thrash metal like Slayer and Metallica have played here. Did you think thrash metal had a big following in India?
I don’t know much about the Indian metal scene, but we were sitting and waiting for a tour offer. We want to tour worldwide. Thrash metal is very popular in the whole world. We also got some offers to play in Afghanistan, but we can’t, we don’t, you know? It’s too dangerous. And that is the situation of our world. We have a lot of fans in North Korea. I get mails and it’s unbelievable.
It’s been more than 30 years since Sodom came together. Most bands at least take one hiatus in that much time. Did you ever feel like you needed a hiatus?
I think 30 years is a long period. When we started the band in ’82, we never thought we’d be around for 30 years. The highlight was when we got the record contract in 1984. They [Steamhammer records] sent us to a studio to record an album. We’d never been to a studio. My personal milestone was in 1989, when Agent Orange came out. It gave me a chance to make a leap from my music. It was a dream come true. I could quit my job at the coal mine and just concentrate on doing the music. It’s been a long time, but Sodom is still a part of the national and international metal scene, you know. That’s why I’m so glad [we stuck around].
Speaking of which, what was it like working at the coal mine, while you were considering playing metal? Or did you just happen to join a band one day and then it all took off?
That was the problem. I talked to my father and mother and told them I wanted to quit my job at the coal mine. They told me, ‘Oh, you cannot do music. You cannot make your living from it.’ But that was my decision. I’d been in the coal mine for 10 years. It was a really hard job and when a record company offers you the money and the chance to go on tour, that’s what you wanna do. But now, I’m 60 years old and I’ll stop making music when I want. What can I do? I cannot get those regular jobs out there, you know? It was the best decision of my whole life [to quit working at the coal mine].
Epitome of Torture just came out last month. What are you writing and composing in thrash metal that you haven’t already done before?
The new album reflects all that we did in the past. I don’t want to compare it to any other album, but it’s a new album and we’ve got a new drummer [Markus Freiwald aka Makka] and I’m so glad to get him on the drums. He’s perfect.
Epitome of Torture is getting to the major album charts in Germany. It’s on number 32, which is even better than Agent Orange, in these times. It is very heavy but it’s got melodic guitars. That’s a combination that’s usual for Sodom. If you go back to [2001 album] M-16, there are always some slower tracks with more melody. And even with the production, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a high-tech studio. I mean, we’re a thrash band. We recorded everything in the rehearsal studio. I told Waldemar [Sorychta, producer on Epitome of Torture and their 2010 album, In War and Pieces] about the songs that needed a bigger bass sound or a bigger drum sound, like going back to the Eighties, like Venom, for example. Very loud bass guitar, and it works.
Thrash metal, with three members is not very common, but when it’s done correctly, like in the case of Sodom, it’s the rawest, purest form of thrash. Did you ever want to take Sodom to be beyond three members?
[laughs] I’m inspired by these kinds of bands. I’m inspired by old Motorhead and Venom. I like it. Sometimes, it’s a problem, like when we play live – you can’t do anything. But in the studio, you can add guitars and solos, but you can’t reproduce it in a live set.
I was so impressed when I saw Motorhead for the first time and I couldn’t believe how much sound they produce for three members. It’s rational, but I never think of getting a second guitarist in the band. At this time, I’m so happy with Bernemann [guitarist Bern Kost] on the guitars in the studio and live. Sure you need the right PA and backline, and I hope we get that in India so that we can reproduce the studio sound. What we don’t use any computers on stage. Everything is live.
Another thing I noticed about Sodom was their ability (or willingness) to play next to extreme black metal bands like Satyricon and Vader at festivals. Do you fit in just because you draw your own audience, or because the kind of music you play comes closer to other forms of metal?
Thrash metal is the purest form of heavy metal. When we started, nobody talked about “thrash metal.” Nobody knew this word. For us, it was about being free and to make revolutionary heavy metal music. There is no dictation from our side, there’s no commercial background. There are record companies, publishers and whatever but when we start writing songs, we never thought about [those] other people. Record companies tried to get more commercial and tried to change something in metal, but we like to do the music we listen to. I’m a thrash metal fan. We started with black metal in the beginning, but there were a lot of black metal bands at the time. If you interview black metal bands, they will always talk about the first two Sodom albums.
And Sodom is a band that never changed. In the Nineties, a lot of bands changed their music but we stuck to it. Every Sodom album is heavier [than the previous one].
I remember reading about your solo project, Onkel Thomas Angelripper, and how you turn Christmas carols and drinking songs into metal songs. Seems like Germans really like mixing metal with everything?
I think it’s a mixture between heavy metal with what they call “deutschrock” in Germany. It’s very popular. It’s very funny to do. Two years ago, I released my solo album, Nunc est Bibendum. Onkel Thomas, as a band, usually features people from all over the world coming on stage. It’s terrible, though. The promoters don’t want it. So we get some bands on stage, get some beers and microphones and sing the songs they want. It’s music for the fans. For the time being, we are writing songs for the next album and we are still together. It’s too funny to do. Hopefully I’ll get to play a few shows outside Germany [with Onkel Thomas].
What is Sodom’s setlist going to be like at BOA?
That’s a big problem. We have so many classics, we cannot play a show without “Outbreak of Evil,” for example. But we also want to promote our new album, so I think we’re going to do two or three songs from the new album. Sometimes, you play less than an hour at a festival, but what can you do? We have so many albums, so many classics and hits. But we’ll do a good ‘Best of’ setlist and some material from the new album.
Sodom plays at Bangalore Open Air alongside Dark Tranquility, Iced Earth, Ihsahn, Animals as Leaders, Leprous and Demonic Resurrection on July 6th, 2013 at Hotel Jayamahal Palace Grounds. Entry Rs 2,499, tickets available here. More event details here.