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Class 6(66)

Sodom: Agent Orange

23/07/09  ||  Habakuk

Introduction

No Class6(66)-section can be complete without this album. It is the only Class6(66) I know, so I’ll fix that. Ever wondered where all these copy/paste thrash bands got their formula from? Ever wondered why so many bands need album number 3 to really hit the mark? Ever wondered why a guy would wear a gasmask standing inside a plane? The answer to these questions is as simple as it is syntactically incorrect: Sodom – “Agent Orange”. This is not one of the first thrash metal albums, this is not a technical thrash album and I wouldn’t even call this the best thrash album out there, but it screams classic. The point is, “Agent Orange” defined a sound that from today’s perspective doesn’t seem special, because it has been so widely adopted. Thrash’s always been like that, basically. Well, with “Agent Orange”, Sodom started ‘always’ and set in stone genre trademarks. They certainly didn’t invent the thrashing wheel, but they added rubber tyres (with metal spikes), springs and greased everything a little bit so that everything is still rolling until this day. Their influence on subsequent thrash acts can hardly be overestimated.

Songwriting

8. I can probably point out the correct position of the half-time eighth note chugging break in half of the songs without hearing them. In those songs where I can’t, it’s because they placed it somewhere else than 2/3rds through the song. Case in point: Sodom apply a simple yet effective verse-chorus-solo-verse-solo-bridge-pattern to many of their songs, but they have made a lot of progress since Persecution mania and execute it perfectly with enough tempo variations to keep the listener engaged. Of course, there also is the compulsive clean guitar part somewhere on the album, and it’s not bad at all. A couple of songs stray away from the standard formula, and those are needed to elevate the album from sheer genre typicality to high quality. These songs are positioned well within the song order: It all kicks off with “Agent Orange”, which succeeds at what they wanted to do with “Nuclear winter” on the predecessor. It’s easily the best track on this album and one of the best in Sodom’s whole back catalogue or German thrash metal in general. With a playing time of just over 6 minutes it’s the longest song on the album – Quite fitting, since I can’t fight off the impression that they put a little more of everything into this than into some of the other songs.
The second highlight towards the middle of the album is ‘Magic dragon’ that features great variation alongside the lyrics, invoking a slowly-dragging ‘calm before the storm’ that suddenly bursts into ’six thousand shots per minute’ uptempo and transforms into a galloping medium-paced ending that would make Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore and his riding Valkyries proud.

Further towards the end, “Ausgebombt” shifts the pace to catchy full-speed punk complete with d-beat all the way through the song, simplistic, bass-heavy riffing, gang vocals and anti-war lyrics. Once again, this showcases what “Bombenhagel” on “Persecution Mania” should have been. It’s just ten times better, because they openly embraced punk instead of hiding a three-note riff behind a thrash façade. I’m not saying the rest of the song are filler (however there are some that can be classified as such), because these three songs set the bar very, very high. “Tired and red”, “Remember the fallen” etc. are far from bad, they just lack that little something that would put them alongside the aforementioned kings of Hamburger Hill.

Production

8. Produced by Harris Johns, “Agent Orange” sounds quite dry, in the best possible way. It features a rather prominent bass for a thrash record, adding a gritty edge to the heavy guitars. The drums come with quite a great ‘snappy’ snare sound and the bass drum sounds just a little bit soft, but that’s a minor complaint, since it all fits together for the straight thrashy style they employ, and even better on the punk outburst that is “Ausgebombt” or the rockish Tank-Cover of “Don’t walk away”. A couple of war samples are embedded into the sound and actually do provide some atmosphere, something that not every album manages to do.

Guitars

8. Shrrreeeddddd!! Frank Blackfire was left with the worst artist name of the bunch (and that’s saying something), but he shreds the pain away throughout the album. Sometimes the riffs underlying the vocals turn out a bit bland, though, so it’s basically simple chords played really fast, and one after another. Apart from that however, he comes up with a bunch of killer riffs like the start to “Agent Orange” or most of the half time breaks that may be simple but score high on awesomeness. His soloing is not bad and quite melodic together with some whammy bar wailing, but he doesn’t unleash anything especially memorable or particularly great, except for the compulsory dive bomb in “Ausgebombt”, of course. That one was a must, I know. But still: 10 bucks into the Pun-Box, please. Rules are rules.

Vocals

9. What do you expect, it’s Tom Angelripper… Now while his grasp of the English language has evolved from “burst command til war”, he’s still a lot of fun to listen to. He simply uses his fast, raspy way of talking into ze mikrofone wiz a German accent for the verses, but the best thing are his bellowed choruses with an echo effect. In-cest! In-cest! In-cest! Agen Torage!_ Doesn’t get any better. Plus, when he uses a hint of melody like in “Remember the fallen” or the cover song at the end, he doesn’t embarrass himself, and that’s a bonus.

Bass

8. What do you expect, it’s Tom Angelripper… The bass is loud, heavy, as nasty as you’ll get it without actual full-on distortion, it follows the guitars and sometimes wanders off the guitar path for short single-handed adventures. Nice. Especially for a thrash album.

Drums

8. Very good performance by the recently passed away Chris Witchhunter. “Agent Orange” shows he was a solid, hard-hitting thrasher at the time. He makes standard beats sound interesting by adding little details, he knows his fills and how to use them, and you gotta love the beginning to “Ausgebombt” when he spices up the d-beat with a short doublebass roll. Or “Tired and red” around 4:00. Still, the bass drums could be a little bit more prominent, if you ask me. And if you’ve read until here, I’ll just imply you’re asking.

Lyrics

7.
“Operation Ranch Hand
De down de dess
Down on der farms
Assaultergains de population
Supress by militarry arms!
Only you pvevent de forrst
Legalize – de war!
Dey a deprives of zer power
Radication widout law!”

I can’t make out the meaning of it all (knowing Angelripper’s native language doesn’t help), but every self-respecting thrasher knows these by heart, I think. OK, so what do we have… “Agent Orange” is a song about Agent Orange, “Incest” is about incest, “Remember the fallen” is about remembering the fallen, “Ausgebombt” is about being bombed out, I get it, I get it. Hang on… “Magic dragon”?? No no, Operation Magic Dragon. Phew. Still don’t know why he says AC 47 instead of AK 47 in that song though. Whatever. In-cest!

Cover art

6. Hmm, it’s an Andreas Marschall painting, of course, and it shows the insides of an airplane. Some guy is pumping some bullets invented to slaughter!! into the jungle with his big bad Gatling gun while probably secretly listening to Sodom on his headphones, some other dude does his best hunchback impression, and Knarrenheinz, the band’s quasi-mascot stands in the back with his gasmask on, because that’s how he rolls. He has traded in his “Persecution mania”-era M16 for a Colt Commando with a Grenade launcher because he wants to symbolize the added punch the album has compared to the last one. No Agent Orange to be seen, but that can actually be found on the back, where another aircraft is discharging some. Oh no… Knarrenheinz! You’re on the wrong plane!

Logo

7. The classic, sharp-edged Sodom logo. You can’t do much wrong with that one, but on this album they gave everything and tried to make it shinier by adding a couple of blinking highlights on the very edges. Wow! They should have gone with the Sky-Earth reflection thing they used later.

Booklet

7. “This album is dedicated to all people – soldiers and civilians – who died by senseless aggressions of wars all over the world.” Hurrah!

Overall and ending rant

Everyone has heard of this album, I hope. Do your part in deleting the ‘of’. This is an absolutely essential genre landmark.

8,5

  • Information
  • Released: 1989
  • Label: SPV
  • Website: www.sodomized.info
  • Band
  • Thomas ‘Angelripper’ Such: vocals, bass
  • Frank ‘Blackfire’ Godsdzik: guitars, backing vocals
  • Chris ‘Witchhunter’ Dudek: drums, backing vocals
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Agent Orange
  • 02. Tired and red
  • 03. Incest
  • 04. Remember the fallen
  • 05. Magic dragon
  • 06. Exhibition bout
  • 07. Ausgebombt
  • 08. Baptism of fire
  • 09. Don’t walk away