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Most “elitist metalheads” tend to go nuts for raw, old school, “evil/occult” extreme metal. With this definition, I’m practically classifying the whole 80s’ proto-black metal wave (heavy/thrash/proto-death bands with a raw/occult edge, like Venom, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Mercyful Fate, Sarcofago, early Sepultura, early Kreator etc.) and the rawest examples of 90s’ Scandinavian-derived black metal (Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone and similar names, usually excluding the most “symphonic” edge of bands such as Emperor, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Limbonic Art). Though I consider myself a quite open-minded listener, liking different kinds of metal (old and new) and having a kinda “bipolar” approach (maybe even more than bipolar!) at both “raw” and “melodic” kinds of extreme metal, I have a total predilection for the aforementioned “raw old school” stuff.
Between proto-black metal bands and raw “occult” stuff in general, early Sodom is my absolute favourite name. So, well, they are not only my favourite thrash metal band (with “Persecution Mania” and “Agent Orange”), but, thanks to their earliest releases, they’re also the peak of that kind of extreme metal I described in the first paragraph. “In the Sign of Evil” and “Obsessed by Cruelty” are the greatest examples of how to create raw, dark and hellish atmospheres, being just sloppy and poorly skilled musicians, but with a lot of passion and an insane musical concept in mind. Venom planted the seed with “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal”, spawning an enormous legacy of bands with the same attitude, pushing forward the standards of the genre; and Sodom’s “In the Sign of Evil” is undoubtedly the brightest (or the darkest?) star of this legacy.
Well, first of all... what you need to know is that, substantially, “In the Sign of Evil” consists just in five tracks of pure, raw, primordial, fucking thrash metal. Since the beginning, Tom’s main influences have always been British heavy/speed bands: Venom, Motorhead, Tank, Raven and similar stuff, pretty much like most thrash bands which were forming in those years. But the massive preponderance of Venom upon the other names, and the will (maybe unconscious and instinctive) of the band to expand that style in a more insane way, determined the uniqueness of Sodom’s sound. All those “satanic” cliches and “evil” vibes that, in those years, were pursued by bands like Venom, Hellhammer and Bathory, are findable on this EP in the most extreme, most paroxysmal, yet most “primitive” way you could ever imagine, sounding totally “alien” in comparison to any other band of those years. Even Bathory’s debut (that was going to come out few months later) is a far cry from this level of rawness, which sometimes reaches even grotesque levels!
Grave Violator’s riffs are extremely simple to play even for a beginner thrash guitarist, yet they’re absolutely genial for that time and deliver unique, intense demonic atmospheres that no one else was able to create in 1984 (not even Celtic Frost); Chris Witchhunter’s drumming is still sloppy and unformed, but, despite his limited skills, the guy shows to be very exalted, grinding out headache-inducer fast tempos which are often very inaccurate with the actual paces of the songs (but, well... this just helps in terms of rawness!), further enriched by continuous mayhemic fills. And then, we have the real boss, Tom Angelripper: his vocal performance on this EP is way sicker than any other one you’ll ever find in black and death metal. There are so many definitions I could give to his vocals: maniac, insane, absurd, twisted, tortured, depraved, hellish, grotesque, exaggerated, EVIL... none of these would be enough to describe them.
The raw production is just the cherry on the top: the guitar sound isn’t even so “razor-like” as you may think, considering the tendencies of most other speed/thrash acts of that time such as Slayer, Kreator, Destruction, Raven or Venom. The drum-sound is pretty “over-the-top”, while the guitars sound very, very muffled and confused, at the point that sometimes you can’t even distinguish the palm-muted riffing, and you have the doubt that they were being played in a punkier way, rather than the common thrashy style of the band. Obviously, it’s probably an illusion. However, the amateurish production manages to increase the raw, alien and enigmatic vibe of the record, working surely much better than most of those clean bombastic productions that we often find nowadays on albums that have just nothing to say.
However, in this case, it’s not enough to describe each peculiarity of the record in a generic and ambiguous way. Each one of these five songs is unique and personal, and deserves to be dissected and analyzed in order to obtain a complete, accurate description. The EP begins with a gloomy, creepy intro where a whispered evil voice declaims the following words: ”The sin of Sodom... is the sign of EVIL!!!”. Then, a dark intro riff comes in, along with Tom’s maniac, squeaky growls; and, after a creepy little solo (which gives atmosphere), “Outbreak of Evil” opens the onslaught, with blasting, insane rhythms and a perfect, coherent series of wicked fast riffs which manage to be extremely catchy and memorable at the same time, if sometimes slightly sloppy and repeated too much times. There are also some clear hardcore punk influences, audible on the pre-chorus and the chorus, but these riffs sound surely more evil than anything ever created by Anti-Nowhere League, The Exploited, Discharge, Poison Idea or Charged G.B.H.. Tom’s vocals bring right in your ears some historical words of Sodom’s discography:
”It’s time to die,
death stands behind the door,
Satan sends his warriors,
demons break out of hell!”
After this first full-speed song, rhythms tend to slow down... you may think. “Sepulchral Voice” begins with a slow, gloomy guitar intro, which shows all the genius of the band about creating spine-chilling, infernal atmospheres without being very technical. Some phrasings sound a bit sloppy, but the evil vibe isn’t damaged. After this intro, an extremely intense fast riff comes in, and Witchhunter goes nuts behind the drumkit, hammering like a fucking animal without control. These two parts continue to alternate each other cyclically, with Tom declaiming some satanic sermons over the slowest parts. This song is a true occult masterpiece.
“Blasphemer” is one of the greatest manifestos of the band. It begins with a pretty creepy chugging intro (accompanied by some evil phrasings and some horrifying laughters); then, another fast riff comes in. There’s a remarkable similarity with the main riff of Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare”, but the funny fact is that “In the Sign of Evil” came out some months before “Haunting the Chapel”. This song features also Tom’s most depraved vocal performance ever: I loved it since the first times I listened to the song and it has always been a huge source of inspiration for my musical conceptions about how an extreme metal vocalist should sound. The lyrics, too, manage to capture perfectly the pure essence of blasphemy in metal, offering what’s probably the greatest “blasphemous/satanic/antichristian” song ever made. Especially, the very first verse leaves no doubts about Sodom’s early direction (they were clearly following Venom’s path):
”Black metal is the game I play,
‘cause no one show me the right way!
I am a bloody antichrist, only believe in bad,
spit at the church, evil I get...
Sometimes, these lyrics get even a bit hilarious, especially around the second verse, when Tom yells out the funniest verse of Sodom’s career:
”My life begins at midnight twelve...
MASTURBATE TO KILL MYSELF!”
“Witching Metal” is another straight-to-the-point song: it features a single, catchy riff which sounds extremely wicked and really genial in its simplicity. The result is a totally demonic track. Maybe, from a technical point of view, it’s the worst of all: the rhythmic side of the song is often altered in a very sloppy and inaccurate way, especially in the verses, probably because it was easier to sing for Tom (if you wanna hear a technically “clean” version of the song, go for the 2007 re-recorded version). However, the ideas are brilliant and the raw execution just empowers them... so, after all, I don’t give a fuck about technical skills.
The EP closes with “Burst Command Til War”, which begins with an extremely angry shout by Tom (which sounds almost like he’s gonna puke). This, indeed, is probably the angriest song of the record, featuring a very brutal, aggressive and intense riff, and putting evil vibes a bit aside for once. This is the first Sodom song to deal with the topic of war (this is probably a Tank influence), which will become very soon the main topic of the band’s lyrics. On this song, Tom expresses all his skepticism and defeatism towards wars around the world, defining the soldiers as ”suicides without brain” and claiming that ”the overkill is near”. So, after three minutes of pure barbaric mayhem, the song ends with a final, enormous explosion. And then, the EP is over.
Well... “In the Sign of Evil” contributed to change my life, along with all the following Sodom albums. When I heard it for the first time, I was just 13 (well, almost 14), and I used to have a very embarrassing knowledge about metal. Sodom opened me a world and worked as one of the biggest contributes to my true musical formation, traumatizing me deeply and clearing my mind about what extreme metal should be (still without any closed-mindedness towards other subgenres or stylistic variations, if I actually find them valid). The thing that still nowadays shocks me the most if I think about those old times is that, the first time I listened to this EP, the bad production didn’t remotely annoy me. I mean, at that time I was pretty used to bombastic sounds (even Iron Maiden, in the 80s, being signed with EMI, used to have quite expensive productions), but when I listened to songs like “Blasphemer”, I didn’t even bother to notice the difference between professional and amateurish engineering, nor I did for the extremely sloppy production of “Obsessed by Cruelty”. I just went nuts for that music, listening to it over and over and beginning to love thrash metal and extreme metal in general. Nowadays I listen to so much thrash, death and black metal stuff, and I still think that “In the Sign of Evil” is the absolute, unchallenged peak of what is commonly defined as “proto-black metal”... or, to be more precise, I’d even define it as the absolute zenith of the whole “evil/occult extreme metal” current (though being not the peak of thrash and extreme metal in general, a title that belongs to “Persecution Mania”).
In the beginning, there was Venom. Though having evolved (or devolved, depending on your perspective) from existent modern archetypes of the period, most notably Motorhead, their brand of ‘black metal’ was a filthy new experiment, paving the way in shock and blood for even more savagery to follow. As those tendrils grew and enveloped the world, new appendages began to grow from the dirty, terrifying entity that was just burgeoning into what we now call extreme metal. One of these was Germany’s Sodom, who stepped up to the plate with their spiked bat ready to take on all comers. Even beating the mighty Slayer to the punch, they followed Venom’s blackened stylings quite closely on their early demos. It wasn’t until after those Bay Area barons of evil exploded with Show No Mercy, however, that Sodom began to garner world notice, with this, their debut EP, In the Sign of Evil. As much as this follows the skeletal precepts of Venom and Motorhead, with its straightforward, kick-to-the-crotch rocking, it also borrows a bit of the aggressive riffing nature from Slayer to become a bit more distinct. Moreover, this feels much more decrepit than any other metallic emanations from the time, mostly due to the deranged snarls of Tom Angelripper himself.
Indeed, the riffing itself is quite basic, caught somewhere between thrash and NWOBHM, with the pace of the former and the flavor of the latter, though the muddy, gritty production feels distinctly removed from either, more in line with their direct heroes, the aforementioned Venom. It’s this bent, hostile production, in combination with Tom’s (at the time) unique approach to vocals, that lends the blackened vibe so many pick up on within this EP. All the instrumentation is incredibly basic, just a few chords per riff (or song, usually) and roughly zero technical skill between the three of them. But the glory of this kind of dirty rollicking is that it doesn’t need any, and succeeds largely on the energy that’s naturally conjured, volatile and pissed off, and the rough edges performance-wise only add to that mystique, like these really were some drunken demons carousing through the streets, just a whim away from kicking down your door, cutting your throat, and stealing your girlfriend, just fucking because. Everything is raw and simple, but it’s all perfectly audible, the muddy bubbling of the bass just below Grave Violator’s fast, hooky guitars, while Witch Hunter’s drums provide the shambling skeletal backbone. The cover art is also incredibly iconic, even if it’s not all that artistic. But it suits the music, a simple statement of intended violence, coming right at you with blade drawn and a sneer to match.
Of the ‘Big 4’ of Teutonic thrash (at least my big 4), Sodom, Kreator, Destruction, and Tankard, I’ve always been drawn to Sodom the least, so it speaks volumes of their quality that I still listen to them a good deal. In the Sign of Evil is a fun, street-stomping 20 minute war machine of churning malevolence and take-no-shit punk attitude, and it’s not only a highly influential album for its time period, but an infectious journey worth repeating even today, for established thrash barons and headbanging neophytes alike. It’s not anywhere near their best, nor is it in any way amazing music, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, repeatedly stabbing you with the rusty sword of its notation while laughing maniacally all the while. More importantly, this is truly the starting point of German thrash, as it would lead in very short order to a little band called Destruction wanting a slice of the pie, and the mighty Kreator, possibly my personal favorite thrash band of all time, hot on those heals. In the Sign of Evil is not about to blow your mind, but it must be stated that history lessons are rarely so much fun.
-Left Hand of Dog
Almost as an autoimmune response to the filth peddled by infamous British bastards Venom, Sodom was formed quite early on in metal's germination towards extremity. Birthed in 1981; before Slayer, before Possessed, and before the other 2/3rds of the German 'big three' (Destruction and Kreator), both of whom were also trios in their waking years, Sodom manifest like a bullet from oblivion with a pair of noisy and violent demos that spread enough buzz to get the acquire the attention of Steamhammer; who teamed up with the band to produce their In the Sign of Evil EP. Through the years, it has proven to be noteworthy not only for the punk undercurrents and venomous onslaught it gestates, but also its seminal influence upon the dire future of black metal.
These were the halcyon days of the band's stage names, and the line-up consisted of band leader Angel Ripper (bass/vocals, later Tom Angelripper), Witchhunter (drums), and Grave Violator (guitar), who had replaced Aggressor from the demos, and together they volley an intense barrage of Satanic warfare which lay somewhere between the showy, viral ministrations of Cronos and crew, gravel pounding of Motörhead and perhaps the riot toned chords of Discharge. Some regimen of the band's future, more complex metallic embellishments does rear its head from time to time, but for the most part, the songs here were written through simplistic structures that generally alternate between 1 or 2 riffs. "Outbreak of Evil", one of the band's most enduring songs, still being performed in their regular stage rotation, is a fine example of how they integrate some wailing, spooky leads, and then bludgeon through a pair of minimal effort, punk fueled rhythms while Tom's younger, retching vocals corrupt the surface.
"Blasphemer" breaks out a broken thrash melody before the drums charge forward, and I've always found it curious how similar the primary guitar rhythm in the verse feels to Slayer's "Chemical Warfare". Once more, an incredibly basic tune here, given character largely due to Witchhunters incessant storming and the bouncing of the vocals as if some sociopath were conversing with himself in a padded cell. "Witching Metal", one of the band's earliest tunes, having appeared on both demos prior to this EP, is possibly my least favorite of its contents, sounding heavily like a sloppy, charging Venom track with a swift kick in the ribs, but I do enjoy the lead sequence and I find it hard to fault lyrics like 'Metal War Sodom, Wildfire Sodom, Bloodlust Sodom, Witching Metal!' which seem forward and compelling enough. "Sepulchral Voices" and "Burst Command Til War" are just as brute, but the latter is pretty charming for its echoing chamber of voices and the sloppy but memorable construction of the chorus.
Obviously, this is only the infantile precursor to the technical, focused riffing of the band's legendary efforts Persecution Mania and Agent Orange, and there might not be such a memorable piece here as "Nuclear Winter" or "Agent Orange", or even "Sodomy and Lust", but the band's boundless energy is already in place, and "Burst Command Til War" serves as a fitting foreshadow to the band's later obsession with warfare and post-warfare themes. This is not so much about impressing the listener with the music, but showing just how far metal was capable of going in 1984, and though its speed would be surpassed, it remains a landmark in Germany's speed/thrash history (not to mention black metal on the world stage), and still sounds pretty good by today's standards, when compared to all the retro underground acts who trip over themselves to achieve the same archaic appeal.
"In The Sign Of Evil" is the debut EP of one of Germany's finest metal bands, Sodom. Therefore this is without a doubt a classic. There are only five songs here but this record clocks in at over eighteen minutes. But they do not disappoint. There is plenty of raw energy on this EP to get you moshing in your bedroom.
The production is quite raw, and it really adds to the dark atmosphere of the record. It doesn't sound like a demo, but it's still quite dirty. The guitars are heavy, fast and unmelodic. They also have that chugging sound that thrash metal is known for. The music seems to have a bit of an early black metal influence, maybe even punk too. There also seems to be some elements of Slayer as well. Tom Angelripper is a master of guttural vocals and proves it on this EP, he sounds quite demonic and sings on the lower side. The drums are also quite fast, sometimes they're just plain brutal. I have trouble hearing the bass though. This is pretty much what you would expect from an underground thrash metal band that's just starting out.
All of these songs are fast and there are many similarities, but I'll try to point out some of their distinguishable characteristics. "Outbreak Of Evil" and especially "Blasphemer" both start off creepy and then get intense. "Sepulchral Voice" starts of slow and then get's extremely fast, then gets slower again, the whole song is like that. "Witching Metal" is probably considered the highlight of this EP and is sort of catchy. "Burst Command Til War" has very demonic vocals and the song itself appears to be war oriented.
If you are new to Sodom then this would probably be a good start. This and "Obsessed By Cruelty" is what got me into Sodom. This is very influential stuff and is still influential to this day. You want brutal? You got it. Look no further than "In The Sign Of Evil".
Sodom is widely hailed as being at the forefront of the first wave of black metal, accompanied only by the likes of Hellhammer, Bathory, and Venom. Their tenure within this style was relatively short, as on their first full length they were headed towards something closer to a pure thrash style, but along with the “Victims Of Death” demo, this little EP is about as good as it gets if your looking for something that really captures the darkened intensity of the early scene. Somewhere between the impish mutterings and rabid dog barks, the constant speed/thrash beats and the reverb heavy production, a strange sense of poetry emerges from the darkened ether.
There has been this odd consensus in some quarters that the production on this is lacking, but for this style everything seems pretty well ordered. The guitars have this sort of crisp clarity to them that is pretty heavily comparable to Nuclear Assault’s “The Plague”, though they sound a little distant in comparison due to the heavily reverb drenched vocals being extremely prominent. This approach was adopted on just about every major Darkthrone release, particularly their lesser acclaimed epic and progressive death/thrash debut “Soulside Journey”. The only thing that doesn’t really seem to have a lot of prominence is the bass, which again is typical of this style of metal.
Each one of these five evil numbers brings something unique to the table, though they all share in common a very morbid atmosphere. “Outbreak Of Evil” is the most thrash oriented and has a fairly constant flow to it, save the free time intro that sounds like an eviler version of the one at the beginning of Metallica’s “Hit The Lights”. “Sepulchral Voice” tends towards a sort of bi-polar mix of doom breakdowns and this wicked speed metal section that sounds like a twisted, faster and earlier version of an Agent Steel riff. This one also features the bass having a little bit more prominence and employs some distorted notes that sort of emulated, on a simpler level, what Cliff Burton brought to Metallica.
As things progress from here, the sounds get even more twisted and strange. “Blasphemer” gets extremely close to that same profane display of perpetually fast drumming and obscured speed riffing that was regularly employed by Bathory on their debut. The vocal delivery was also likely a pretty heavy influence on both Dead and Varg, as Angelripper manages to utter some pretty twisted stuff in a really garbled tone. “Witching Metal” goes back towards the proto-black thrash formula, but with more of a Venom flavor to the riffs. It’s more elaborate that the opening track and loaded with some pretty fancy soloing work, which also happens to be just a tiny bit too low in the mix. “Burst Command Til War” sort of preempts the mixing of vocal effects and synthetic sounds with the black metal formula, which a lot of black and death acts later picked up on. The riff on this one has a similar early power/speed feel as the one riff from “Sepulchral Voice”, but the context it’s presented in is so different that you hardly have time to notice.
Though this was probably much more influential on the later black metal scene than what most of what came after this was aimed at, every self-respecting thrash fan should have this in their collection as a historical proof that the thrash genre can be a lot more versatile then most give it credit for. You don’t see a heck of a lot of bands trying to explore this approach again to see if some new ideas could come out of it nowadays, and it’s a bit of a shame because many of the 2nd wave of black metal have either gone defunct or gone in different directions, and the 3rd wave doesn’t sound a thing like this. Nonetheless, along with the Hellhammer recordings and the Bathory debut, this is about as extreme as it gets for the early days of thrash.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on September 3, 2008.
My opinion is that Sodom during their career, passed through different kinds of thrash metal. For example with this EP they had a more black metal approach and then they turned to a purest form of thrash. During the 90’s they had a more punk influences while in the new millennium they turned to a pure thrash again. Anyway this EP was very important for the growing black metal scene.
In those days, there were only few groups doing that: Hellhammer, Bathory and Sodom. Kreator had a more death metal approach. My CD version has the intros to “Outbreak Of Evil” and “Burst Command ‘Till War” and it’s different from the original one but it is, anyway, fucking good!
I always liked this purity and spontaneity in a CD (there must be also IDEAS, obviously) and I really like these songs. They have the thrash attitude, with punk influences and blackened atmosphere. Angelripper's vocals are screamed and true bestial, very evil; so forget the ones of the last period or even the ones on 1987-1990 period.
What can be said for the beginning to “Outbreak Of Evil”?? Primordial black metal! The gloomy/punkish/thrashy riffs, the pounding drums up tempo. Great! “Sepulchral Voice” is a perfect combination of thrash/speed riffage and fucking gloom atmosphere. The vocals are always so extreme and raw… The intro to “Blasphemer” with fast guitar riffs and distorted laughs/screams is awesome. The refrain is one of the most extreme things at the time. Pure hellish atmosphere.
“Witching Metal” is great in the catchy/violent riffs. Pure headbanging. It’s like listening to Venom on speed. The up tempo parts on “Burst Command ‘Till War" are awesome and really nasty, while the refrain is pure violence with screams and an orgy of riffs.
All things considered, In The Sign Of Evil is a very good piece of early black/thrash and a milestone in the road to nowadays black metal. This is where the first thrash metal influences began to be mixed with another kind of violence and rawness that up till then it was unique and rare.
After two largely unintelligible demos, Sodom vomited these five songs upon us in 1984 - a great time for us munchkins to have been into extreme Metal, before any boundaries had been laid down and anything was possible so long as it was heavier than Venom. Sodom represented (and arguably still do) the dirty scum end of the spectrum, and started out the way they meant to carry on...
Each of the three most well known German Thrash bands - Sodom, Kreator and Destruction in case you're curious - undeniably have their own sound; and Sodom's role in the gang is the simple, almost punkish but always heavy sound, tweaked regularly throughout their career. At this early stage (now you can actually hear the songs - see the Witching Metal demo...) that sound was a Blackened Thrash one, god knows how long before people decided to put a label on what happens when two sub-genres that exist so naturally together get fused into a natural but nasty mass. These are conventional Metal riffs played from fast to breakneck (for '84 I guess - see Sepulchral Voice) as opposed to conventional Master of Puppets Thrash-style riffs (and I know that album hadn't been released yet, shush) or traditional tremelo Black Metal riffs. Driven by almost-blastbeats - standard hihat/snare played as fast as possible, complete with continuous double bass and the odd fill - and a snarled, slightly gargled but semi-coherant vocal, the songs are fine examples of early extreme Metal. Though they don't push any boundaries for the genre in terms of musicianship, and were arguably at least being equalled at the time in extremity (certainly surpassed now), the idea is the same then as it is now - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The intro for the aforementioned Sepulchral Voice is particularly haunting, and memorable moments are scattered throughout the cramped space ("Blasphemerrrr!!!!). My particular favourite has to be Burst Command Til War, for some backwards reason. This is a rare occasion where a song runs for nearly three minutes on only two riffs...and it's class! Heads-down, no-nonsense, no-brains headbanging hell, with twisted vocal effects added for a killer touch.
The Engrish lyrics aren't too hard to uncover, especially when laid out plain for you with a song title like Burst Command Til War, and admittedly can be fairly amusing. So, don't bother trying to learn them, and especially don't bother going looking for 'depth' and 'meaning' - why do people try and do that with Thrash?! Idiots! Nah, just let it compliment the evil of it all. Pedants usually pick up on Witchhunter's out-of-time drumming too...while I'm not drum buff, I might just have been listening to Sodom for too long and become immune to some of the failings, but I don't hear anything too out of place. In fact, while we're considering the supposed failings, this manages to sound better than the full-length that came after it...but that's another story...
This EP now seems to be irrevocibly paired with Obsessed By Cruelty, which is highly appropriate and no problem to anyone. This particular part of the pair, however, was deemed worthwhile enough to come back to, as you shall see...
Originally written for http://www.metalmongrel.com
This EP is one of my favorite Sodom releases. Sure, it cant touch Agent Orange, Persescution Mania or Tapping the Vein in terms of classic Sodom, but it sure as hell pisses all over the disaster known as "Obsessed by Cruelty" and it boasts some great catchy songs.
Outbreak of Evil starts this mini album off with some evil sounds and a finger tapped section before launching into a 4 and a half minute speed fest. Its as fast as Slayer, yet as sloppy as Venom...and it sounds fucking great! Very primitive, immature lyrics, but I cut them some slack for not having a firm grasp on the english language yet. Another above average track is Blasphemer, which borrows a riff from Slayer's Chemical Warfare (or did slayer borrow it from them? Who knows, or cares, they both rule). Witching Metal is the one that brings the points down a bit. It just dulls a bit, but Burst Command Til War is amazing for having just 2 simple riffs in it.
The production is great in my opinion. Its raw, loud and abnoxious. No instrument stands over another one. Tom Angelripper's vocals are the blueprint for what many black metal bands would copy, and Witchhunter's drums, while sloppy, are full of energy and honesty. The cover art, while goofy, is very foreboding. I can say that this is my favorite EP from the 80's behind Haunting the Chapel, so anyone who enjoys real metal that would rip your carpet up at home should give this a spin.
I first got into Sodom by listening to albums far later in their career. I listened to and loved albums such as Code Red, M-16, and their newest self-titled release. Those albums are major Thrash discs and I was always under the idea that Sodom was always just a thrash metal band. After listening to the band's debut EP I was shocked on how their sound has changed over the years. Though this EP has thrash metal tendencies it is pure Black Metal. Don't be confused as this isn't black metal such as today's bands like Immortal or Emperor. This however is black metal like bands from the 'first wave of black metal' which included acts such as Venom and Mercyful Fate. Actually to be honest this album is complete Venom worship.
First of all I should prove my knowledge on the group Venom and how I can validate comparing Sodom to them. Anyone that knows anything about Venom will know that the bands original demonic trio took the stage names Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon. My username is cronosmantas proving how much of a Venom fan I am. I may not be the most knowledgeable person alive on the band but I do believe I have far more knowledge about them then the average metal fan. Since they are one of my all-time favorite bands is safe to say I am also VERY familiar with their sound.
The first sign that this EP is complete Venom worship is that the band is a 3 piece outfit (just like Venom) and that they took shocking (and somewhat silly) stage names. We have Angel Ripper on "exploder black & red bass and bestial disaster vocals", Witchhunter on "atomic drum invasion", and Grave Violator on "dynamic power plant guitars". Now if that line-up doesn't sound like an early black metal band then I don't know what is. The band's name also screams of an early black metal band. When I first got into Sodom I always thought it was a weird name for a hardcore thrash metal band that mostly sang on the subject of war. Now that I know the bands bestial beginnings I can easily see why they picked the name (Venom even had a popular song off of their debut called "1000 Days in Sodom")
The album kicks off with a very short atmospheric intro that leads into the first song Outbreak of Evil. The beginning to this song actually reminds me a little of Norwegian Black Metal and I can see easily how Mayhem had some influences from this. After 18 seconds it's a full Venom clone. Angel Ripper even has some Cronos like growls.
The second song Sepulchral Voice is what I would consider the weakest song on the EP. It has some normal singing but it's just not very catchy. Perhaps my least favorite on the release.
Blasphemer beings with some cool, evil laughing and this song is far catchier. One of the best on the EP. On a side note some of the background laughing in this song sound just like the Voodoo black guy from the James Bond film Live and Let Die and it wouldn't surprise me if Sodom lifted it from the films soundtrack.
Now comes Witching Metal. Now for hardcore metal fans Venom's popular song Witching Hour and this song not surprisingly sounds JUST LIKE a Venom tune. This is the most Venom sounding song on the EP. Angel Ripper's vocals even sound like Cronos! Since I'm such a huge Venom fan it's not surprising that this is my favorite song on the EP.
Next comes another intro track that sounds very reminiscent to the Venom tour intro tapes that they used in the early 80's. Very evil sounding and kick ass. This leads up to a song called Burst Command Till War. The first four songs had very Venom type lyrics to "prove how evil we are" whereas this last track touches upon war/combat, a subject the band would focus on later in their career. This song has weird vocal effects on Angel Rippers voice to make him sound more evil but it just makes him sound sillier than anything. The song ends with some weird sound effects before a short outro stars up with the sound of an exploding nuclear bomb.
Overall it was an interesting EP (especially for a Venom fan) but I'm glad Sodom would evolve into the kick-ass thrash metal band that they became. This EP has some good material but Sodom is just FAR better at thrash metal than early black metal. It just lacks the overall catchiness that made the early Venom albums so good. The production overall is not bad considering but it doesn't help the potential some of these songs have. It's an interesting release but not necessarily a "must have".
On a side note I have one small complaint with the version I own released by Steamhammer/SPV records. The version I have has the "In the Sign of Evil" EP and the Obsessed by Cruelty LP on the same disc. There are 16 tracks listed on the insert but 19 tracks on the actual CD. This is because Steamhammer forgot to count the 2 intros and the outro on the In the Sign of Evil EP. It really gets annoying when you rip or play this CD to your computer as it mislabels all the tracks and leaves the final three tracks with "unknown" titles. It's not a big problem but very annoying.
This is a pretty raw and evil sounding EP. Here instead of Sodoms' awesome german Death Thrash, we have a sloppier, more evil, black metal styled sound. Very similar to Bathory's first LP, and both of them were integral to the first wave of black metal a.k.a Blackened Thrash. In addition to the overall more black metallish atmosphere, there is a very punkish element through the constant use of power chords, and the general sloppiness. For 1984, this was the fastest album around, except possibly for a few Dirty Rotten Imbecile albums that preceded it. Even Slayer's "Chemical Warfare" was not as fast as Sodom was in 1984. Slayer might have been heavier, and pretty fast in its own right, but Sodom pushed speeds faster that those of Slayer, but far less tight and coherent. This is a very important release for 1984.
The production is very reverb filled with good amounts of treble, so there is a underproduced sound to this. The instruments tend to echo greatly because of the reverb, and overall the production increases the overall effect of sloppiness. The production helps attain an evil atmosphere so necessary for black metal. The songwriting is pretty primitive, mostly verse-chorus-verse. Sodom wasnt exactly technically proficient on this album, but the majority of first wave black metal wasnt.
The guitars are fairly good. Not alot of solos, and when solos appear they are fairly incoherent, but the riffs are fairly good. They consist of Old school Blackened Thrash riffs based heavily on Venom and a good dose of punk. The guitar playing is mostly tremolo picked power chords, with some occasional single note picking such as the slower passages in "Sepulchural Voice" or the galloping intro to "Blasphemer". Alot of the riffs reflect what Bathory was doing at the same time, such as the evil riffs in "Outbreak Of Evil", or "Burst Command Til War". Good guitars overall.
The bass is present, and because of the lack of a rhythm guitar it is more or less its own instrument and does playing different from the guitars. It even has its own bass solo towards the end in "Sepulchural Voice". Good bass work.
The drums are pretty primitive, and very sloppy. They are mostly bass-snare-bass-snare with a ride or high hat cymbal running over it, a standard thrash beat. They are however played very fast, thus achieving said sloppiness. In addition, the drummer attempts to do some double bass drumming, which makes the drumming even sloppier. They are full of energy, so the drums are decent.
The vocals are very evil. They are puked rasps, through which a voice occassionally cracks through. Mid ranged mostly, though some lower pitched growls appear. A note must be made about the lyrics. They are very primitive. Sodom evidently had a very bad understanding of english at this point. Good vocals, primitive lyrics.
If you enjoy first wave black metal such as Bathory or Venom, then this EP should be quite enjoyable. Highlights are "Blasphemer" for its striking similarity to Slayer's "Chemical Warfare", "Outbreak Of Evil" for its creepy and dark atmosphere, and "Sepulchural Voice" for its changes between slow, doomish passages, and fast blazing ones.
"I love to drink my own blood, my sin is my life in a war with God..."
Leafing through the record rack, you zip past the first Stryper lp and chuckle 'cause you think of that kid in school who is totally into this band, totally religious, and totally gay. One, maybe two Saxon albums blow by along with possibly an oddball Samson album, perhaps Michael Schenker Group and some Scorpions, Krokus, Y&T, Sabbath, Billy Squier (groan), and probably, oh I don't know, Status Quo and Ratt. And Motley Crue. How'd half of this shit find cover in the metal section? You run over and punch the nearest store clerk. In the freakishly slight chance you may find them, you fondly hold position on one of the two Slayer records out if you had heard them, 'cause you're still trying to find your equilibrium after "Chemical Warfare" melted your Walkman earphones. Slim pickins for underground metal, not that you expect much more 'cause that's why it's underground. This mainstream crap the other kids are going ga-ga over just blows, man. You're just hoping something slipped in there that's going to rip the carpet off the floor when you put it on. The ep quickly snags your attention with its cultist cover art. 'The Sin of Sodom is the Sign of Evil' is the back cover tag line. With stage names reminiscent of Venom and Hellhammer, eye make-up ala Slayer's first lp, bullet belts and leather, you give this five-songer a shot. The gods that put out Slayer's records, Metal Blade, put this out as well. Hell, what was it, about five bucks?
A tiny, then-scary intro leads into rumbling guitars backdropping animalistic snarls and a blurb of fingertapping. You quickly realize this is quite the chaotic endeavor, and initial track "Outbreak of Evil" is the most timid tune on the disk, but you are woefully unaware of that yet. Downtuned, reverberating guitar tones carry "Sepulchral Voice" into existence, hissing and snarling at you through clenched teeth, and you once again realize you're being stampeded by a primal sonic force only bands like Slayer, Hellhammer and Venom (Metallica were wild, but not like this) have ever fabricated. Primeval speed, aggression and the quirky, drum-laden chorus dispel all other thoughts in your head.
No doubt, your intuition is on the money, and there's no better word to describe this affair than plain barbaric. Side two flips faster than my old lady when she finally reads the horrible lyrics.
Fiendish mirth arises from silence. "Blasphemer" is an unholy mess held together by frenzied rhythms and a rabid chorus while vocalist Angel Ripper laughs at you like a demon thrilled to be throwing you into the fire. "Witching Metal", an unrelenting event in its ferocity, sets up "Burst Command Til War": absolute Sodom. As subtle as a tragic blimp disaster, this savage track unhinges anything that isn't bolted down and banishes all innocence to another plane...and he's still laughing. With an intro that probably should have lead off the lp, "BCTW" literally erupts with pure rage and ends with an unkempt drum interval and thunderclap to close the crypt.
Alright, first things first - sloppy...oh yeah. Lyrics...about evil, war and Satan (black metal only existed back then as an album title and song, not really as a style. Satanic lyrics were the way of the day even for bands like Widow, Cloven Hoof, and Demon. Even Quorthon didn't know what he was creating - this is not a difficult concept to grasp, people) with not a sign of prose in the bunch. Production...even with the guitars overshadowed by everything else, still better than their second lp Obsessed by Cruelty. Musicianship...drummer Witchhunter throws in tam rolls and cymbal smashes at some of the most obscure times and probably couldn't play the same thing twice. The rest of them aren't too hot either, but it's their sheer fierceness that commands respect.
In the Sign of Evil fit right in with what I was looking for. It helped raise the flag of the German underground scene and scared all my teachers.
This is a great little EP for those that think Hellhammer died too fast and Deathstrike had a great thing going, had they managed to get it going. Some raw and evil black speed metal here, in the vein of the old Venom works, but with Angelripper's horrific death-croaks... he makes sense when he's barking orders, and he works here too, when he's destroying necrosluts with his blasphemic assault. The lyrics are a bit horrendously primitive (masturbate to kill yourself!) but the production is actually surprisingly good. A bit hollow-sounding, with the guitars slightly low in the mix, but this sounds better than Bathory, and about as good as the Hellhammer EP.
Okay yah, there may be those that say that Hellhammer sounds bad, so then you'll probably think this sounds equally as bad, but for what it is, it gets the job done. It's not nearly as reverb-filled as The Return or the first Possessed LP, giving a certain clarity that emphasises the interplay between insanely fast guitars, chaotic drums, and frenzied vocals. Oh there's bass too, but it's barely audible. Oh well.
The guitar tone isn't nearly as overtly heavy as Hellhammer, or as reliant on off-notes and insane bends, instead going for a cleaner early-thrash tone, that is also reflected in Angelripper's vocals, which is not as much a bark as that of Tom G. Warrior, or a shriek a la Quorthon. In the very last song (Burst Command 'til War) Sodom foreshadow their later approach to things - battle-thrash, while maintaining the instrumental atmosphere that is also present in the more deliberate Outbreak of Evil. The galloping Stained-Class intro of Blasphemer leads into another absurdly fast passage, while the midpaced sections of Sepulchral Voice echo a more deliberate Triumph of Death. Imagine the zombies joining the SS and getting Angelripper as their commander.
Highlights... well, probably all of the songs have their own moments, from the random Priest-meets-Slayer solo to introduce the whole damn thing... probably Outbreak of Evil is the catchiest, with its three-note sped-up doom and gloom riff before and during the chorus. Burst Command 'til War sounds most like later Sodom, except without the absurd thrash breaks that they would throw into their later works. The first few vocal lines of Witching Metal sound very much like Deathstrike's "The Truth" (it may be that Deathstrike ganked the passage, given that Witching Metal was a demo in '81 or so).
To some this work may not be as appealing as their later efforts (especially Agent Orange) because there aren't any overtly memorable thrash sections (Tired and Red, for example), but this is still a very effective work. It's surprisingly tightly played (contrast with Hellhammer) and again, very well produced. Pretty essential.
The first thing I noticed about this EP was that it was as close to black metal (somewhere between 1st and 2nd wave) as it was to thrash. This EP is perhaps an overlooked influence on the black and thrash that came after it.
The guitars have a thick tone and are pretty far back in the mix, and all of the riffs are tremolo riffs. The riffs are slightly repetitive, but that adds to the chaotic atmosphere.
Onkel Tom hasn't developed the signature croak that everyone knows and loves, and his accent is thicker than ever, which makes him almost impossible to understand. Their about as far back in the mix as the guitars, which adds to the raw nature of this EP.
The drums are the tightest aspect of this album. The highest instrument in the mix for a reason, the drums are powerful, incredibly fast, and incredibly frantic all at once.
Practically every song on here is recognized as a classic, and for good reason. But In the Sign of Evil is nowhere near as good as Sodom's future output, and suffers from tedium by the end. Good thing it's an EP, if it was a full length album in this style I think I would get bored relatively quickly.
In the spirit of Sodom’s classic, debut EP, I have tried to make this review as succinct as possible.
“In The Sign of Evil” is proof that you don’t need an extravagant production budget or anything more than adequate musical talent to create an exemplary heavy metal record. The songs are modestly constructed, using no more than three or four riffs per song; a dazzling accomplishment considering that the track lengths range from 3:05 to 4:48. In fact, “Burst Command Till War” contains just two riffs (!) and still manages to be a three and a half minute head-banging monster. The riffing techniques (bass included) are equally minimalist, primarily consisting of single note tremolo picking, yet the sinister guitar tone and Angel Ripper’s “Bestial Disaster Vocals” (as quoted from the booklet) generate an ominous atmosphere that enhances the eerily unassuming musicianship and sets the mood for an evening of killing, raping, pillaging, and other unmentionable evils. While wholeheartedly wicked, the lyrics (when decipherable) are truly laughable, consisting of classic lines like “masturbate to kill myself!” But generally speaking, the campy lyrics aren’t even noticeable because they aren’t printed in the booklet, and the listener will be too busy thrashing around incoherently screaming “AARGGHHHH!” “WAARRRRRRAGH!” etc.
In subsequent releases Sodom became more technically proficient, yet they could never match the raw intensity of this delightful debut that perfectly captured the vigor and spirit of a group of young lads who at this point in time simply wanted to play haphazard, earsplitting metal that would be world renowned for its unquestionable malevolence. In that sense, I’d say that Sodom’s mission was undoubtedly achieved.
“In The Sign of Evil” was recently re-issued as a value priced double pack (two EPs and two LPs for the price of one full length album), so there is now no excuse for not owning this extreme metal archetype.
When I first showed interest in this recording (something that feels like aeons ago), it wasn’t because of the music or by recommendation, it was because of the cover. Kinda ironic, this must be one of the more influential and credited albums in the metal underground, still I discovered it thanks to something as superficial as the album cover. So when I finally got to listen to the piece of plastic that hid behind the malicious knight I got confused. This was so different from anything I had heard before, so chaotic and evil I couldn’t believe my ears!
“Chaotic” equals shit too often, you say?, that’s not the case here. Even if the band couldn’t play their instruments very well (just listen to the drums, steady pace aye?), they somehow got this mini-album together and influenced a couple of thousand metalheads to “masturbate to kill yourself”. The music is basically extreme thrash metal played fast as hell with lethal riffs that make you want to bang your skull against the wall til' it bleeds. I.m.o. SODOM were the thrashiest of the grandpas of black metal and as you might have noticed they went on the thrash metal route later in their career.
People who find ‘vampiric gothic black metal’ scary better stay away from this to avoid a heart attack. The rest of you are free to enjoy one of the monuments of 80’s black metal. It’s available on cd together with ‘Obsessed By Cruelty’ nowadays.