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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CD Review: Sodom - Agent Orange reissue

Sodom - Agent Orange reissue
2010 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



The late eighties and early nineties were a bit of an anomaly for metal and thrash was no exception. Blame it on hairball heaven or blame it on a cash cow mentality by record labels of the day. The indies were a safe haven for thrashers who wanted to remain pure to themselves, but inevitably the style was forced to slow down and mosh to a toxic waltz half-speed rhythm. Blame that on Metallica's Black Album plus And Justice For All beforehand.

Testament, Kreator, Megadeth, Destruction...nobody was spared the manifest edict to produce less velocity and more melody, lest they be relegated to the minors like a pitcher refusing to throw a change-up when directed by his catcher and coach. On the one extreme, this toning down measure produced a few jaw-slackening Cold Lakes, but the savvier bands like Testament and Exodus worked the slowdown mandate to their advantage. Even if Testament undeservedly took a whipping for The Ritual.

Fortunately for Sodom, 1989 wasn't a stake in the heart like it was for some death-thrash bands. Following their breakout Persecution Mania from 1987, Sodom found a way to embrace a few luxuries in embellishment with Agent Orange, one of the crown jewels in the Teutonic horde's catalog.

"Tired and Red" is a prime example of branching out, not selling out, and it's why Agent Orange is one of the most enjoyable albums Sodom wrote. Bookended by insane thrash segments, the centerpiece of "Tired and Red" is a stamp-heavy skid motif and flowery acoustic interlude. This schism was seldom pulled off with ease in metal back then. Revolutionary? In 1989, you betcha.

Agent Orange is still so fast you occasionally hear Chris Witchhunter trip over himself on the hammer strikes, which is part of the charm. "Incest," "Agent Orange" and "Exhibition Bout" are all so goddamned quick your neck tendons can hardly contain the abuse, and yet Sodom inventively wrote backend breakdowns within these songs they accent the speed of the album. They made a compelling argument in 1989 and though studied and blueprinted by today's acolytes of thrashers and metalcorists, there's seldom few who get it as right as Sodom did.

In some ways, Agent Orange is superior to Persecution Mania, though the rabid devout will tell you otherwise. The elemental leap from Sodom's mind-melding debut Obsessed by Cruelty is like a promise delivered by the time Agent Orange came around. The slow march introducing "Baptism of Fire" shows terrific discipline, particularly once Sodom volleys back and forth between two sets of thrash lines, each more abusive than the other and expertly meted back-and-forth.

The Motorhead-meets-GBH ass pounder "Ausgebombt" is one of Sodom's finest moments and is the selling point of Agent Orange, to the point you get a live and German version of the cut on the bonus disc of this reissue. Sure, "Ausgebombt" makes no bones who it tributizes, but Jesus, what a hellish pair of solos Tom Angelripper yanks out, one being a two-second detonation, the next a scale-happy shredfest.

Always keep in mind Sodom is at heart a war protest band, despite their death metal roots. "Exhibition Bout" criticizes bullfighting while "Magic Dragon," "Remember the Fallen" and the title track are open remembrances to both the Vietnam conflict as well as World War II. "Magic Dragon" may be one of the slowest tunes Sodom has ever written, but that's only for two minutes before they open their blast furnaces in destructive fashion. The cataclysms of war seldom rang this convincingly in the eighties, "Disposable Heroes" notwithstanding. Angelripper's quixotic solos jerked at hyperspeed still carry weepy and reserved tones wholly appropriate of the song's subject matter.

The bonus disc to Agent Orange features five previously-released live cuts and of course the German version of "Ausgebombt." A so-so bonus for this package but it's the main guts you're after if you don't already own Agent Orange. If you were put out by the manic slowdown in speed metal back in the day, kick back a second time with Agent Orange and realize not everyone sold their souls. Some gained them.

Rating: ****1/2

1 comment:

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