Q&A: Sodom’s Tom Angelripper on ‘Decision Day’

Text by Joseph Schafer.

Alongside Kreator, Destruction and Tankard (plus Accept, depending on who you talk to), Sodom wrote the foundational sonic texts for teutonic thrash. Faster, gruffer and less interested in rock and roll than its Bay Area counterparts, German thrash underpins much of Western Europe’s extreme metal pantheon. 

Sodom remain the meanest of the bunch. Where Kreator chose melody, Sodom chose velocity. Where Destruction chose technicality, Sodom chose simplicity. And where Tankard chose partying, Sodom chose… not partying.

Bassist and singer Tom Angelripper’s early works with Sodom presaged black metal, but in 2016 the band is a modern death-thrash exercise in consistency. Every Sodom album is worth listening to, even if they aren’t all Agent Orange

On the latest Sodom release, Decision Day, Angelripper uses the wars from our past to reflect on the ills of our present. Every song sounds foreboding, as if Angelripper might be writing from a bunker, waiting for the bomb to drop, which doesn’t sound so implausible considering his infrequent live performances. Angelripper wrote us to talk about World War 2, getting into the US and the armageddon that might be right around the corner. 

War has been a topic close to Sodom for years, but the title track, “Decision Day” centers on WWII. Why talk about that war in 2016?
Tom Angelripper:
I saw a very interesting documentary about the allied forces’ invasion. Despite high losses, the war ends with that operation. The song “Decision Day” is just one song about that historical event, but also reflects the situation nowadays. So, in my opinion, the next D-Day will come but will be more ultimate.

You’re a native German, but “Decision Day” seems to be sung from the US or Allied perspective. What compelled you to write a song about WW2 specifically from the Allied perspective? 
I know that Germany is responsible for all the death and destruction during the war. It is a sensitive topic for a German to talk about it, but I don’t want to take up position for any sides. I just describe the war events.

On the same note, why did you deviate from the modern war theme on some songs, such as “Caligula?”
The movie from 79 was a big inspiration. It’s about the most notorious and relentless tyrant who ever ruled the imperium. One of his famous quotes reads as follows: “let them hate me, as long as they fear me.”

There seems to be a film theme running through the album. “Rolling Thunder” is a famous war film and Decision Day was famously immortalized in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Does film inspire you as a songwriter? 
Movies are not primarily the motivation for writing my lyrics. It’s the current state of our world. The disturbed relation between Russia and the United States, the foreseeable end of the European Union and other conflicts. Bad news every day. Especially when you consider how much the world has changed since the latest album. Sectarian killing, cold war, nuclear armament, abolition of democracy in many countries, starvation and all the destructive frenzy – that inspired my lyrical mindset and fits so perfect with our music. It is sad but true. I am not politically active, but this music gives me the chance to enter the stage and to scream my rage out. That is like a therapy for me.

Rolling Thunder was the first offensive of the US in Vietnam and was the go-ahead for a terrible war.

“Sacred Warpath” was featured on an EP two years ago, why did you decide to include it on this record? 
We just love the song and it was kind of pre-promotion for the new album. It is completely re-recorded for Decision Day.

“Blood Lions” seems to recall Cecil the Lion, who was killed last year by American dentist Walter J. Palmer. Is that accurate? And even if it’s not, is the cause of rare animal conservation special to you in any way?  
 I saw the documentary Blood Lions. There are some hunters out there paying thousands of dollars to kill a male lion. These lions are canned, so it is not dangerous for the hunter to shoot them. I am a hunter too, but I select some of the deers, stags and boars in my own hunting district to keep control of the population. Also, I like the meat, but I would never pay so much money just for a huge trophy. This killing business is horrible. I hate it. This “hunting” has nothing to do with expertly hunting.

Your early albums were a huge influence on the second wave of black metal bands. Since your last record, black metal has really captured imaginations especially in the United States. How do you feel about Sodom’s legacy in that genre now? 
These albums were the spark to the powder keg and they are still a big influence to the scene. There was a big change between Obsessed by Cruelty and Persecution Mania, but I think we chose the right way. In those times, I had a lot of books by Aleister Crowley. I was very interested in magic and satanic things. But later, I realized that my personality changed into a negative direction, so I felt better stopping with it. Life and the state of our world bring enough motivation for all the lyrical themes. 

It seems, at times that thrash as a metal subgenre has been stagnating, creatively. Many of the best modern thrash records are made by veteran bands like Sodom, while black metal is more of a young man’s game. Do you feel there are any inherent limitations to thrash? 
Yes, it’s limited because we never accept any modern or commercial influences and keep old school instrumentation and songwriting. But we are still creative and are able to write exciting songs for the listeners of thrash metal and Sodomaniacs.

You were forced to cancel your Maryland Deathfest appearance in 2015. Could you explain in greater detail why that happened, and do you have any plans on returning to the US in the future? 
It’s so sad. We know that we have a huge fan base in the US waiting to see Sodom live after so many years. It was a shame. We`d been traveling to the embassy in Frankfurt to request all the papers to get the work permits, but one important sheet was missing from the promoter’s side. So they sent us back home without any chance to start the trip to the US.  So, that was a bad cooperation between us, but not our fault. We hope to find a serious promoter next season to help us over. We had a lot of chances for a tour or just some single dates, but we were always fucked up by some locals and stupid entry requirements. It’s always so sad for the fans when a band is announced and then gets canceled because of faults that others are responsible for. It’s a shame, but the day will come to return.

I noticed that the Decision Day cover by Joe Petango is specifically reminiscent of some of his famous Motorhead paintings, specifically Another Perfect Day. Was that intentional? And how did you and Petango come to work together on the album art?
Yes, but this artwork has nothing to do with any Motörhead tribute and the similarity with some of their covers are purely coincidental. It`s just his way to create an artwork. I am so proud that he did the job. He is a great artist and a pioneer of rock and metal covers. When I got in contact with him I was so surprised that he knows the band since beginning and was a follower of our career. He also wrote down some words about his artwork, which is very interesting:

“After having spoken with Tom about the current state of current world affairs, I wanted to visualize the history of man from the dawn of creation to the mess we have today.

This cover art is a picture of the archetype of the apocalypse which is hidden in us all. The eruption of unconscious materials happens from two receptions simultaneously, from above and from below.

I used Karrenheinz as a symbol for the countless numbers who have soldiered on through the centuries in one side or another just to get us here, Anno 2016, where we seem to be on the brink of another possible eruption. 

Karrenheinz’s head is exploding due to his inability to hold these unconscious contents hidden or suppressed any longer. He’s in the throes of a dissociation of the upper and lower realms of the psyche much like the world today. 

Pictorially, this is a nuclear explosion which turns into a goat’s head with horns (hidden, but there) forming a symbol of the lower realms erupting.

The barbed wire crown, a symbol for oppression and incarceration that was keeping his head and psyche from erupting is now a crown of thorns. 

The snake skeleton on the left is symbolic for the USA whose bones, spiraling downward, morph into human DNA and form the north american continent. 

The bears kill on the right is symbolic for Russia and the European continent, with the Middle East leading down to the falling victims of war and mass destruction. 

The cave painting at bottom left is the Neander valley, and our humble ancestral beginnings as well as our first encounters with war against one another. 

The Valley of Death is depicted on the right side.

Historically, the painting reads from the bottom up, or from the quagmire to the present. If we aren’t careful it could also read from the top to bottom.

That having been said; all is not lost. There is hope seen in the crosshairs of the sight pointed at Knarrenheinz’s heart.

This circular shape can also be a Mandala or quaternity symbol for wholeness – if we can kill off the lower instincts it’s possible to achieve transformation and a whole new world or aeon.”