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The fire that doesn't burn - it BANGS - 84%

Pyrus, March 27th, 2004

Sodom has always been the most straightforward of the Holy Trinity of German Thrash; while Destruction shredded their foes with lethal speed and wailing melody, and Kreator, by their third album, worked themself up to a method of intricate, technical disembowelment, Sodom thundered ahead with straightforward, neckbreaking brutality and heavy-handed force. Agent Orange is one of their most technically-minded releases, but is still fairly simplistic compared to albums like Coma of Souls and Release From Agony.

One could say that Agent Orange isn't so much nine individual songs as a solid chunk of thrash metal divided up into nine sections; this is both a strength and a weakness of the album, as a couple songs–"Incest" and "Exhibition Bout"–are kind of unremarkable. Not bad, by any means, but merely sort of forgettable. You headbang, you move on. And apart from two, maybe three, tunes, there aren't any songs that are just out-and-out kickass and unique all the way through. Everything has at least one of those "generic German thrash riffs."

But this is not as much of a condemnation as it sounds, because tradeoff for this is the prevalence of moments of sheer headbanger glory. On this album are to be found some of the absolute best opportunities in history for a discerning thrasher to fuck up his or her neck beyond all repair. For instance, "Tired And Red" is a basic piece of superspeed metal with two moments of major distinction. The first is at the 1:56 mark when the song cuts off abruptly and goes into a melodic interlude vaguely reminiscent of "Children of the Sea." It's hard to tell whether this is a good thing or not, as it's a beautiful section, but totally rapes the flow of the song in a disjointed, disturbingly Opeth-y way. But all is forgiven at 2:40 when Sodom blasts into a classic mid-tempo thrash riff straight out of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium." Simplistic, but utterly brutalizing at the same time, and thus perfect for headbanging.

The title track and "Magic Dragon" are both around six minutes, and both go through a varied selection of tempo changes. "Agent Orange," in addition to a badfuckingass chorus ("THE FIRE THAT DOESN'T BURN!") has one particular moment that really demonstrates the genius of this band–at about 3:30, they go into a driving thrash metal riff break that continues for about sixteen bars. Then at 3:55, they're still playing the same riff, but the drums switch beats to a frenzy of double-kick with the snare drum on the 1 and 3 beats, instead of 2 and 4. This minor percussive modification completely changes the sound and mood, and shows how great this band really is at working with limited resources. And it's not a question of whether that section there is headbang-worthy, but whether YOU are worthy of headbanging to IT. As for that other tune I mentioned back at the start of this paragraph, the first two minutes of "Magic Dragon" are a great example of how simple guitar work can do great things for atmosphere. Slow buildup..."the calm before the storm" indeed. And then of course the riffage rules, and the tempo change at 4:30 has an überwicked gallop designed for maximum neck abuse.

"Ausgebombt" is one of the "different" tracks on this album; as has been said, it really does sound like Motörhead. But we all know that that's a good thing. The only difference is that, unlike Lemmy, Tom Angelripper sings in the GERMAN ACCENT OF FEAR, and God bless him for it. Fun, bass-driven thrash rock with an awesome gang vocal chorus. "Don't Walk Away," the closer, is a throwaway cover tune that shows that even the most fatalistic, battle-scarred of German thrashers still have a sense of humor and an appreciation for the fine art of goofy hard rock.

Then there's the two real highlights of this album. "Remember the Fallen," a tribute to all those who have "died in a senseless war," is a solid mid-tempo thrash anthem with a neat little guitar wail thrown into the riff and some truly awesome harsh vocals from Mr. Angelripper. The best part of this song is at about 2:10 where the thrashing comes to a stop in a long extended notes...fades...and then the drums pick back up and we thunder back into the steady march of the bullet-ridden dead. The other piece of pure kickassitude is "Baptism of Fire," which tears along at a nice pace with some sweet drumwork, seeming like another solid piece of thrash–until we get to the chorus. Oh my God, the chorus.

You know those moments where all the instruments fall into harmony on one rhythm and riff and just create the perfect conditions for headbanging? This is one of those–your spine jerks, your hair flies (and your hair BETTER be long enough to fly, motherfucker), your cranium bobs up and down like a bobblehead doll on methampetamines, and everything around you disappears into a trance of music-induced self-abuse. PTOMAINE! CREMATION! BAPTISM OF FIRE FUCKS YOU IN THE SPINE! This chorus is one of the top ten moments of thrash fucking metal, period, and is highly recommended for neck strength-building exercises.

So when all is said and done, Agent Orange is not exactly a masterpiece of thrash metal music, but it's certainly something you should buy for the combination of remarkably vicious gang vocals (did I mention those? They rock), solid riffage, and most of all, utter headbangability. If you find pleasure in the rapid vertical movement of your upper spine, neck and head, then this album is for you.