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The seventh album from German thrash band Sodom, “Masquerade in Blood,” is a huge step in the right direction following such a disappointing preceding album and certainly looks to get the band back in the right direction with a heavy, raw thrash album the way they’ve been doing for a while now.
Having ignored the previous album somewhat, this is a true return-to-forms thrash album that retains a lot of familiar territory to the bands’ sound while featuring some rather impressive and enjoyable times ahead. The fact that this features more of a thrash-based sound means that the guitars play a very important part of the album’s vibe with a sort of crunchy, heavy vibe that’s a lot of fun to hear. This is brought on mainly due to the return to thrash-oriented riffs which have a chunky, heavy tone that sounds like a true thrash band should, even if they manage to shift between the mid and upper-tempos as they do here. Slowing down off the throttle allows the heaviness to come forward even more distinctly, never really generating any of the speed or viciousness that was associated with the other songs presented, a tactic employed by the band previously but not when combined with the sheer heaviness in the riffs that this one packs. While they’re not as technical or complex as what had been increasing ever-so-slightly into their sound, that the guitar riffs are a lot more fluid and graceful over the material is where this one really works well since the songs are constructed to contain far more vicious and chaotic riffing patterns than the simplistic style that was employed on the last level. As the bass is given a much larger role in the sound this time around, the fact that this one comes off as heavy as it does here with a high level of crunchy, heavy bass-lines to really get a great thrash sound out of the band. Coupled with the heavy drumming that’s stylistic and dynamic when it needs to or just keep the heavy, chugging rhythm intact it does solid work all around and keeps the songs straight-forward and quite impactful.
As the album is split in to, there are no real big stylistic changes between the two but there’s a definite impression that runs throughout the songs. The first half, for instance, is mostly made-up of straight-forward solid thrash songs that return to the more fluid riffing style that injects subtle technical styled riffing, whether it be in furious up-tempo gallopers or more in a mid-tempo mode. Seeming to shift at will between classic-sounding thrash tracks that are quite well-written and energetic with barreling drumming that keeps the material frantic yet still confined by the sharply-written riffs which shift the song’s pace when it threatens to get too out-of-hand, to efforts that seemingly chug along with a plodding pace that the band sporadically tampers with being used to fine effect as well as to more full-on punk-influenced numbers that retain the viciousness and aggression those utilized throughout their career all mixed together with the more pronounced focus on the thrash and heaviness that’s found throughout the whole album, and as such this ends up being the more cohesive part of the album even if the second half’s best songs are slightly-better written. Beyond this, the first half to the album is quite energetic and enjoyable.
By and large, the second half of the album really shouldn’t be as disjointed as it is since there’s the potential for a lot of great material to be found but as it stands, it just doesn’t stand-up to the more cohesive and more-overall solid first half. Despite the second half having arguably the better songs if measuring the best against the best, frankly due to the decidedly cool option of injecting more of a classic, old-school thrash pattern into the riffing that nicely contrast with the heavier, more oppressive atmosphere rung up from the other tracks as these utilize a lighter approach to the theatrics that were never really explored much in the first half, the fact that the weakest songs on the whole album pop up there make for quite a disappointing conundrum with a couple songs that are hampered by weak writing and a lack of energy in their performances. That this is featured on an album from this band is where it really sticks out since there’s not any of these features on any of their other effort as even their punk-sounding stuff is up-beat and energetic. That said, there’s still a lot of great stuff overall on the second half with some vicious riffs, a few whalloping drum performances and the experimental track replaced instead by a more traditional track even if it’s an epic-length compared to the other songs here. It’s just those weaker tracks that keep this one from getting any better.
While the songs aren’t the best in the band’s career, they’re still good enough overall. The title track gives us a taste of what to expect right off the bat with heavy guitar riffs and plenty of chugging with stylized drumming that returns to more thrash territory with slowed mid-section and growling vocals and full-on shifts between thrashing up-tempo and atmospheric mid-tempo passages which is quite a strong opener. Follow-up ‘Gathering of Minds’ is a big change up as groovy mid-tempo riffing with appropriate drumming that goes for more of a chugging thrash sound dominates the first half of the song that slows the tempo down considerably but still meshes well with the slowed-down, atmospheric mid-section that includes moments of up-tempo blasting throughout. The flashy ‘Fields of Honour’ makes a big impression as an up-tempo rocker with stylish melodies, heavy riffing, furious drumming with sporadic double-bass fills and clanky bass-work to get an extra dose of heaviness into the effort. By contrast, ‘Braindead’ features vicious, intense riffing paired with appropriately-guttural death metal-like vocals battered along with pummeling drumming, short blazing solos and a punk energy and efficiency to the brutality though still rooted firmly in the thrash realm. ‘Verrecke!’ is slightly less damaging with its rattling bass and punk-drumming coupled with simplistic riffing, catchy punk-rock choruses and loud, caustic drumming in a short package. Closing out the first half, ‘Shadow of Damnation’ is a really enjoyable thrasher with vicious razor-wire riffing merged with the typical heaviness from the crunchy bass-work and barreling drum-work that keep things up-tempo but lacking viciousness of the other material due to a more restrained vocal performance that decides to keep things more rooted in enunciation than on brutality, yet this never impedes a fine all-around track.
The second half of the album is where some of the better material lies, though it still retains the feelings evoked from the first half. ‘Peacemaker's Law’ starts it off with a bang as a classic old-school thrash intro collides with vicious riffing, barreling drumming and frenetic pacing that slows down to normal speeds on the solos but keeps the intensity throughout for another worthy offering. The devastating ‘Murder in My Eyes’ carries a great stamp with its brutal heavy riffing, pounding drums and vicious pacing collide in a barbaric thrash effort, barreling along with simplistic-yet-devastating patterns and fiery solos that feel more traditionally thrash amongst the brutality. Going for three highlights in a row is ‘Unwanted Youth,’ as the dexterous punk-like drumming meshes with heavy guitar riffing, clanky bass-work and a decidedly old-school feel in the riffing patterns that barrels the track along at a fast pace accompanied by solid drumming and energetic performances. The first real out-and-out clunker track in ‘Mantelmann’ is mostly due to its bland writing for the stagnant riffing, rigid drumming and punk-like energy in riffing and drumming don’t make for an energetic performance or effort, and the more death-metal vocals over the track are quite ludicrous. Thankfully, this is more than made-up-for by ‘Scum,’ as its dissonant intro segues into blasting drumming with utterly vicious riffing and heavy, pounding bass-lines into an epic-length track that compliment the various change-overs from thrashing barn-burner paces to heavy mid-range tempo and feedback-distorted extended outro. The last original track, ‘Hydrophobia’ is definitely commendable enough with crunchy heavy riffing, solid drumming and mid-range pace to start off but gains extra intensity with more pounding drumming pattern that quickly shifts back to restrained tempo. Unfortunately, it ends on a sour note with the Anti-Nowhere League cover of ‘Let's Break the Law,’ as despite this being a fun, raucous effort that’s performed admirably and definitely sounds close in spirit, the track sounds so far removed from their original tracks it sticks out as such and really doesn’t deserve the status of being on the album proper, instead sounding like it should be a B-side and really ends the album on a disappointing note.
A far better offering than the previous effort which was still really enjoyable in its own right but now more of a conscious return to traditional thrash metal madness, this one definitely feels the closest to a true continuation of the band’s evolution that was really getting interesting. There’s times where the vicious and intense thrashing that felt like a cross-pollination with death metal was supposed to be continued here with some minor changes that were incorporated to make this somewhat less energetic but even heavier than what was coming before in the discography which really makes this an improvement over the last effort. While there’s some lousy tracks here that really bring this down, it’s a solid and entertaining effort that should win back some fans looking for more traditional, straight-up thrash or those that have been fans of the band in the past for it seems like they’re trying to appease them more than anything here which ends up working nicely.
• “We worked with Ulli Poessel for the first time after Wolfgang Stach had gone a different direction with bands like Guano Apes. Ulli is from the Ruhr area, from Gelsenkirchen, and I said we'll just try him out. He hadn't produced heavy bands like us before, maybe Rage but they don't compare to us, but I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound and we got along really well. Ulli didn't produce in the actual sense of the word, actually it was us that did the production. Strahli's guitar tuned down to C...that was all new to Ulli, but we knew exactly where the journey was going. Even Steif did a fantastic job...but I noticed that working together with him was difficult”. – Tom Angelripper
Sodom should be merited for being one of the very few thrash acts which were capable of doing honest music in the apocalyptic mid-90’s – specially in the old continent, where the downfall of the subgenre had been dramatic and the inability from the veterans to reinvent their musical motifs worrying. Angelripper & co.’s knack for reinvention may not be prodigious, but they proved to be clever and sagacious embracing a style of music which most thrash fans were familiar with. In 1995, Sodom‘s punk journey was prolonged, regardless of Brings walking out on the band in hardly amicable circumstances – he’d later claim that the front-man had fired him without explanation – deprived of the voracity and impetuosity of Brings’ playing, Angelripper & Steif got someone in the same vein to replace the teen player: Strahli, another young musician, formerly of a punk band called Unwanted Youth, which contrary to his predecessor, didn’t seem to sympathize with American pop-rock – no Kiss t-shirts.
The punk values of the prior studio effort prevail in most of these songs – take “Mantelmann” and “Verrecke!”, which are envisaged without tousled ideas and perpetrated with ear-piercing fury and dynamic light, driven by decibels and shouting lyrics. The innate speed of punk breaks through even more uncompromisingly on “Braindead” and “Fields Of Honor”, as well as the strident footprint and homogeneous configuration of riffs, which reveal few variations on structures and even less-unsteady arrangements and rhythm models. It’s all about attitude. But Sodom don’t seem to feel content only with doing punk, for much more ponderous beats, down-tuned lines and atmospheric fragments set an ominous, dark mood and feel on “Gathering Of Minds” and “Hydrophobia”, on which Angelripper’s brutally hoarse, bleeding-throat yelling accentuates the depth of the verses; or also the title-track, which despite being primarily produced by propulsive riffs and double-bass furor, contains also underlying, thicker riff-conceptualizations and one crushing pace during that solemnly-motivated break. Therefore, velocity is still an authoritative factor, mostly inflexible, with sporadically sufficient room left for less-up tempo arranging and more expansive scales from Strahli, which are still a fanciful exception. In conclusion, this effort might be thought of as Sodom’s return to thrash, as their ideas are less-obdurately standing in the punk tradition – the riff essence on “Murder In My Eyes” and “Shadow Of Damnation” nod towards less-uniform palm-muted mannerism, more dimensional variations and to some extent, more technical gestures. But it might as well be thought of as an album of contrasts – think of “Scum” and “Unwanted Youth”, which replace thrash principles by stubbornly hammering lines, syncopated and repetitive, while the Steif’s groove is more condensed in its approach, designing neither substantial instrumental journeys nor relevant soloing sections, pretty much of a cross between hardcore aesthetic of simplicity and groove metal sonic physicality.
Sodom’s now taking the writing more seriously, regardless of staying faithful to the previous record punk parameters. The arranging of structures and riffs is more diverse and amalgamated, not rich or complex by any means, yet more calculated. Certainly, the songs have gained substance and forcefulness, now that these Germans are not condensing their music in 2-3 minute-length pieces, even though instrumentally there hasn’t been an appreciable improvement – while lyrical themes have turned from the recurring issues and flippancy of Get What You Deserve, now more restrained and sort of abstract, delivered by the front-man’s most hair-raising pitch and modulation, in the spirit of Lemmy having a bad day. Guitar lines from Strahli have more extent, a wider sonic halo than Brings’, beefed up diligently in the mix, contributing to bring out some atmosphere and darker interiors, but not at all in the same technical level of his predecessor. The newcomer player’s style is more rigid, limited and subdued, something tangible on his succinct soloing particularly, not keen on embarking on instrumental journeys either – which might be the ideal idiosyncrasy to complement Angelripper’s musical mindset at the time. This thrashy-punkish, atmospheric sound seemed to require uniform guitar playing, straight-up groove and emphatic production, in order to attack the listener, rather than tactfully impress him. Tom saying:
“In hindsight I think it's a pretty bombastic sound, but of course you would have had to do a more differentiated production. It sounds quite muddy but you can feel the aggression and the potential. Actually it's what I wanted, but I am not really happy with the mix (…). At some point you have to conclude recording, saying: “that's it”. In the end Masquerade In Blood sold really well but I think Steif didn't want to go in the same direction. We began to move apart”.
So the overall level of musicianship has taken one step back here, not necessarily meaning that this line-up didn’t actually gel. In fact, Angelripper has claimed some of these songs to be the heaviest Sodom ever came up with rightly, an argument cemented by Strahli’s unaltered, deafening distortion, and Atomic Steif’s manic double-bass assault, harmoniously linked with Tom’s fulminating bass – even though the tightness and sharpness of the performance has obviously decreased, not to mention its stretchiness and clarity, due mostly to the noisy production and the new guitar companion fledging playing (check the Motörhead-like Japanese bonus track cover of Saxon’s “20,000 Feet” for further details).
Masquerade In Blood might not stand out from other Sodom records for its technical aptitude and song-writing inspiration, yet as the front-man has pointed correctly, it contains some of the heaviest, most rabid cuts on these Germans’ extensive discography catalog. This time, it’s not all about speed and attitude only in contrast with Get What You Deserve, but about the atmosphere, the constitution of riffs, the bigger depth of vocal themes, without leaving out the punk habits. But Steif’s reaction to the album results is notably cautious:
“The sound didn't turn out all that well. This wasn't our best production, I have to admit. A lot of people resented the rumbling bass sound, and that was already the remix! With the previous mix you could unscrew your tweeter. You only needed your woofer (...). Not quite a hit, but we were already in a crucial phase”.
This is a record which also introduced a new name in the band’s ranks, probably the most intriguing character Angelripper & co. ever teamed-up with, one that helped to bring the front-man’s musical fantasies to life with a brazenly direct style: Dirk Strahlmeier (aka Strahli) – R.I.P.
Thrash metal on the whole might have been dying a painful death by the mid-90s, but particular acts remained very busy during this time, including the 'Big Three' of the German scene...or rather, two out of the three. Sodom, at least, were quite prolific, releasing a bunch of albums, each one a very mild shift in style. Masquerade in Blood, which comes straight on the heels of the fluid, barbaric punk thrash of Get What You Deserve, is essentially Tom Angelripper manifesting a dream: for Sodom to at last become Motörhead. They had certainly hinted at such intentions through the past, but seriously, if not for the very subtle difference in vocals due to the different accents, and a few of the more brutal tunes (like the first), this could be a fucking Motörhead record if the NWOBHM band was in a hostage crisis.
Let's not forget, Lemmy and his boys have come close to thrash metal on a number of occasions in the 90s and 21st century, so it's not a huge stretch. Sodom are certainly still more warlike and political by way of their lyrics, but the huge bass tone and riffs here are very reminiscent of the British legends' slack-jawed, pure rock and roll aesthetic approach, even when thrashing out. I would point out that I at least prefer the guitar tone here to Get What You Deserve, because you can actually hear it and there is more than just bluesy noodling and raw fucking about to accompany Tom in his diving lines. No surprise, this is because Sodom have acquired yet another guitar player! Dirk Strahlmeier steps in for Andreas Brings, and brings a big, chugging tone with him to tracks like "Hydrophobia" and the brutal opener "Masquerade in Blood" itself. Unfortunately, so few of the guitars performed here even hinge on memorable that the effort and power being splayed out here seems rather wasted.
Masquerade in Blood does not lack for dynamics, and there is some distinction in the track list between rockers ("Fields of Honour", "Verrecke!" and the cover of Anti-Nowhere League's "Let's Break the Law") and thrashing, violent velocity ("Murder in My Eyes", "Scum", "Shadow of Damnation"), but the riffs are unanimously boring, with notation patterns that can't have taken more than a few moments total to whip into songs. Tom sounds his disgusting self here, not a lot different than the past two albums except where he's flaunting his Kilminster impression, and the bass is thick as blood pudding, but I don't think there is a single track I could point out as a 'highlight'. Mildly amusing, perhaps, but this is quite likely the least impressive Sodom full-length in 30 years, and not worth acquiring unless you're the textbook completist.
Sodom somehow always managed to write at least acceptable albums and this Masquerade In Blood is another example of the goodness of their music. Sincerely, I didn’t like the too punkish style of Get What You Deserve too much. To me that album marked the lowest point in Sodom’s discography even if it was not bad. This album instead marks a slow and, anyway, not complete return to a more canonical form of thrash metal and also the production helps a bit in this. Anyway, I must warn you that if you are searching for the most representative album by this band, I don’t recommend you this one but of course the various Agent Orange, Persecution Mania and Tapping the Vein.
And now, let’s go to the core of the album. The title track starts with heavy riffs and pounding drums. The production, as I said before, is again quite thrash metal and less punk. The guitars are massive and all the instruments are pretty heavy while Tom’s vocals are unmistakable in the rough and raspy tonality. His bass masticates a bunch of notes with its metallic and truly distorted sound. The tempo is not so fast but with the following “Gathering Of Minds”, the speed increases in some parts and the punk “Fields of Honour” breaks in. This time the Motörhead in influences are heavier and also the production is truly similar.
The refrains in these songs are really well made and recognizable. The melodies are very good even if the band is not on total speed. “Braindead” features more growlish vocals and heavier tunes, preferring a more death/thrash approach while “Verreche!” is another very funny punk song in classic Sodom style and it can be considered the faster one up ‘till now. The vocals are schizophrenic and the black/punk influences are far more present. The solos are quite simple and in tremolo picking style, as a simple insert of brutality to an already heavy sound. Again, the Motörhead influences enter in a song like “Shadows of Damnation” where the riffs have something more “hard-rock” inside.
“Peacemaker’s Law” and “Murder in my Eyes” are far more thrash in style. Here the riffs are more compact and brutal while the rhythmic session is truly fast, especially if we talk about the drums that are always on up-tempo. The palm muting riffs are fast and hammering in their really heavy distortion. “Unwanted Youth” has always something punk inside even if the aggression is again the thrash one. “Mantelmann” is again incredibly funny in its punk attitude through heavy riffs and black vocals during the refrain. On this album, even the more punk style songs are better done and with an improved songwriting compared to the previous Get What You Deserve and this is a sign of the regained inspiration by Sodom.
The longer “Scum” marks a new direction with more mid-paced parts and furious thrash restarts in old school style. The refrain is dark, violent and somehow the general atmosphere brings me back to Tapping the Vein. The heaviness and the brutality are always well balanced and now it’s time for “Hydrophobia” to break in with its walk under mid-paced tempo parts and speed restarts. It’s not the best song here but always manages to be convincible and not boring at all. The last song is a cover and is mostly punk but good in its simplicity and “harmlessness”.
With this album Sodom showed signs of a future and imminent return to thrash metal and the punk parts are far better. It’s a good half-era Sodom album and worth at least a listen for all the Sodomaniacs. It’s not their best but shows improvements and always quite catchy lines. I liked it.
Sodom have completely gone in the "Sodömhead" direction here, except completely lacking what makes Motorhead really fucking cool. This is pretty much a bad Pro-Pain album with a German accent. All the songs sound basically the same with very few exceptions, and the whole thing is marred by terrible production and mediocre songwriting.
The opener, "Masquerade in Blood" is a good representative of about 9 or 10 songs on this album, though it is slightly better in quality from the average. Angelripper's vocals, though, suck from the get go. The pronounciation is still a bit off ("highpocrites!"), but the menacing snarl is gone, replaced by a punkish bark.
The next song, "Gathering of Minds", has to be the most completely uninspired waste of time that Sodom has ever come up with. Single-note slow riffs under a designed Big Dumb Chorus... GATHERING! OF MINDS!!! - the ennui is overwhelming, and distressingly this is the second longest song on the album. The longest, "Scum", is also just about as worthless. The main riff is somewhat memorable in that Drunken "come back here, drink our beer" Wisdom sense, but when it is dragged into the ground without a good counterpoint, it gets pretty fucking terrible.
The rest? Well, there's about eight of the same song, from the German Version (Verrecke!) to the compact version (Mantelmann) to the extra long version (Fields of Honour). All are between 2 and 3.5 minutes long, and none have any distinguishing characteristics. This is pretty much a parody of Motorhead, and we ain't laughing.
There's an Anti-Nowhere League cover, which somehow lacks the snot-nosed malfeasance of the original, and is slightly more memorable in the uptempo rock 'n roll riffage, but pretty much other than that it fits right in with the insipidity.
Basically worthless. What the fuck is wrong with this band??