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Quality in music always comes first, but the value of a band can be measured also in other regards: integrity stands surely among the most important ones. While, during the early 90s, most thrash metal bands were trying to adapt their style to the newer trends (such as groove metal), Sodom prosecuted stubbornly and immovably on their own way, playing nothing but what they actually liked. Ironically, during the 90s, the band’s sound got even heavier and less mainstream-friendly than before, showing clearly that Uncle Tom couldn’t give a single shit about the “dominant trends”. After the phenomenal, yet less extreme “Better Off Dead”, Michael Hoffmann didn’t last long in the lineup, and the band had soon to replace him with another guitarist: this time, the choice fell on Andy Brings - a young, enthusiastic, skilled dude who contributed to renew the band’s sound and make another stylistic shift. Thus, “Tapping the Vein” came out in 1992 as a totally unexpected affair, inverting what the band’s trend used to be until then: while every full-length since at least “Persecution Mania” had represented a progressive decrease in terms of heaviness and “extremeness” (which was especially recognizable on “Better Off Dead”), “Tapping the Vein” turns the tables and offers you some of the heaviest shit you’ll ever have the privilege to hear.
Forget the relatively soft, smooth, heavy/speed-infused style of “Better Off Dead”: this album is a fucking monolith which offers pure, unadulterated brutality at ridiculous levels. This time, the band had the chance to record everything into a more professional studio, refining every detail: so, thanks to the higher budget, they managed to achieve the most granitic production ever heard on a Sodom album. Harris Johns’ work on “Persecution Mania” and “Agent Orange” remains absolutely flawless, but what he did on this record sounds just as heavy, only in a different way: the guitar tone is ridiculously gross, crusty, fat and loud, while still maintaining a compact, stainless edge (probably thanks to the contribution of Thomas Pätsch, who had just worked on the engineering of Protector’s thrash/death masterpiece “A Shedding of Skin” the year before) - and, at the same time, the drums possess a thankfully clear, tight, roomy and polished sound that manages to shine without problems even in the droning, fuzzy wall of insanely heavy guitars. However, this doesn’t detract the snare drum from sounding raw and clanky enough to pierce your skull without mercy at every drum beat, exactly as it should be on a record like this.
Regarding the actual music... in my “Persecution Mania” review, I observed how on that album Sodom were able to sound absolutely brutal, raw, barbaric and relentless without losing control of their own creature; well, on the contrary, “Tapping the Vein” often gives you the impression that brutality itself is somehow “taking over” the band’s songwriting, almost like Tom & co. were put under a schizoid possession that drove them to write violent music beyond their own control and beyond common logic, almost in a grindcore vein. The best definition I could use to describe this record is just ”pure, sightless, animalistic fury”. However, despite the apparently “anarchic” nature of these songs, there’s still a lot of work behind the compositions, every element has a proper utility into the band’s sonic mosaic, and the result is actually a very rich and stratified album which, ironically, shows Sodom at one of the most professional points of their career.
This album, as you may have already understood, is pretty much the specular opposite of “Better Off Dead”: in fact, on the previous record, most of the tracks were still fast and aggressive, but quite “restrained” in comparison to the band’s usual standards because of the lighter “speed metal” approach; on the contrary, “Tapping the Vein” takes the “Persecution Mania / Agent Orange” approach and develops it further in order to make it even more lethal and bestial, breaking the boundaries of standard thrash metal and outdoing even the violence of theoretically more “extreme” genres like modern brutal death metal: trust me, you’ll never hear anywhere something similarly face-melting. I still remember when I listened to this record for the first time: titles like “Body Parts” and “Skinned Alive” were already eloquent about the band’s new direction, but when the paroxysmally violent intro of “Body Parts” kicked in, I just remained shocked; still nowadays, every time I hear that insane opening with its absurdly brutal, fast, ass-raping riff introduced by that fucking violent drum fill, it never fails to traumatize me once more - confirming the timelessness of this track.
All the faster tracks on this album follow a precise formula: uncontrolled, hyper-fast drumming (which often verges on early-90’s death metal standards) and chaotic riff-sequences that, instead of being regularly followed by the drums, almost seem to do the total opposite by chasing the fast, schizophrenic and unpredictable paces, yet somehow managing to come off as cohesive and coherent even during the apparently most “off-time/randomic” moments. In fact, while the brutish chord-assault of “Body Parts” or the wicked, cynical slide-fest of “The Crippler” manage to sound still well-defined and quite intelligible for the most part, other songs such as “Skinned Alive”, “Deadline” and the title-track appear a bit more enigmatic in their compositional approach: inside their chaotic fest, you can’t predict for how much time a riff or a tempo will be kept unvaried, since a sudden change can occur when you least expect it (think about the weird alternation of tempos during the early moments of “Deadline” and “Hunting Season”, or the anarchistic and unpredictable riff-flowing of “Skinned Alive”); plus, these riffs almost seem to be classified in some sort of “hierarchic” scale, where only few of them shine clearly above the seemingly messy strumming - for example, the schizophrenic, surgical, high-pitched tremolo strums of “Skinned Alive”, or the compact, powerful riff around which “Deadline” revolves (which almost sounds like a more granitic version of a riff originally featured on Obituary’s “Gates to Hell”).
However, if this sounded to you like the description of a modern directionless tech death album, you’re completely missing the point: actually, if you listen with more attention, every single riff (from the messiest to the catchiest one) possesses its own consistency and makes perfect sense in the context where it’s placed, be it the whirling chaos of notes at the beginning of “Deadline” or the monochord break at 0:39 of the same song (which sets the mood for things to come). The contrast between the riffs is just apparent, and in the end, you paradoxically find yourself with a bunch of very compact, consistent and well-developed tunes, which still manage to sound fucking virile, abrasive, wicked, mercilessly warlike, and mostly alien to “open melodies” - in the classic “Persecution Mania / Agent Orange” vein. The band hasn’t lost its taste for breath-taking, urgent vibes, expressed as usual in a very pathos-infused songwriting: the breathless rush toward the chorus of “Hunting Season” or the sudden dramatic refrain of the title-track (placed in a very effective contrast with the grinding fast parts) are excellent demonstrations of that.
Apart from the “full-speed/death metal-friendly” department, there are also a bunch of songs which still show the band going for a slightly less extremist approach: “Back to War”, while still being a pretty fast song, possesses more of a “thrash ’n’ roll” feeling, clearly inspired by Motorhead and already displayed on other past tunes such as “Conjuration”. And, obviously, Sodom don’t forget to offer us some excellent hints of their punk influences, crafting two simple, catchy songs in the form of “Bullet in the Head” and “Wachturm”: the former shines especially for its breath-taking, urgent aggressiveness and its balance of melody and rage in Tom’s hateful vocals, while the latter must be remembered for being the first “joke song” in the band’s career (carrying a very humorous feeling even in its simple, powerful punk riffage), as well as being the first Sodom song ever to be completely written in German language after some flirtations on “Bombenhagel”, “Ausgebombt” and “Stalinorgel”.
All of this is already damn awesome and pretty fucking consistent on its own, but “Tapping the Vein” wouldn’t be the same without the “slow/mid-paced” component, whose role on here is more important than what most people would think: the granitic, assaulting mid-tempo of the title-track (emphasized especially during its intro) works as an excellent counterpart to the droning speed that constitutes most of the song, and the slow atmospheric section in the middle (with those strong, martial percussions) is just the icing on the cake. However, among the highlights in this sector, “One Step over the Line” absolutely deserves mention: it’s basically a slower, gloomier, more obsessive version of “Remember the Fallen”, which benefits from some wicked melodies placed here and there, a more dramatic atmosphere during the chorus and a harsher, more tortured vocal performance. And an even doomier, darker and creepier episode is represented by the closing track “Reincarnation”, which, along with slow marches infused with other sinister melodic insertions, features even an unsettling clean guitar section and an airy, epic keyboard-driven moment toward the end.
I also must add that this record represents Witchhunter’s apex, just little time before his girlfriend strayed him away from his musical path, conducting him on the road to ruin. On this album, Chris shows all his power through his most varied performance of all time: this could have already been imagined, since I have already mentioned a certain amount of tempo changes, but even the most “one-dimensional” tracks possess a lot of insane fills, which just accentuate drastically the violence of these songs. Even though the fastest parts could sound like “blind blasting without control” to many, the skilled German drummer shuts up all the potential detractors with his brilliant handling of double bass (especially recognizable during the merciless intros of “Skinned Alive”, “Wachturm” and “Bullet in the Head”), the backbeats of “One Step over the Line” and the creative, devastating fills of “Deadline”.
Tom’s vocals on this album deserve some more attention as well: this is where he developed the trademark style he still uses nowadays - which consists in a very acute, yet still harsh, barbaric and throat-ripping scream which sounds like an improvement of the “semi-clean” style he used on “Agent Orange” and “Better off Dead”: this new, mature style is here displayed successfully on “One Step over the Line”, “Deadline”, “Hunting Season”, “Bullet in the Head”, “Back to War” and the refrain of the title-track, plus the hilarious “Hitler-like” performance of “Wachturm” (due to the adoption of Tom’s beloved first language). The few remaining songs (which almost totally coincide with the album’s faster episodes, with the only exception being the slow “Reincarnation”) are sung with a quite deep, ferocious, almost inhuman growl which outdoes even “Persecution Mania” and “Agent Orange” in this regard, though still maintaining a certain “uniqueness” and a major expressiveness in comparison to all the copycat death metal growlers who were spawning during those years. Uncle Tom is just Uncle Tom, fellas. No comparison allowed.
“Tapping the Vein” is one of the greatest masterpieces ever created in the extreme metal genre: this record shows flawlessly how to create a musical opus that shows a surface appearance of “incoordination” (a component that provides an insane amount of bestiality which will please every extreme metal fan) while still possessing an underlying construction that ultimately makes each song consistent, strong and powerful. No grindcore band could do better in the same branch. Even though albums such as “Persecution Mania”, “Agent Orange”, “In the Sign of Evil” and “Obsessed by Cruelty” (as well as some other opuses created by Destruction) remain the absolute zenith of thrash metal and extreme metal in general, “Tapping the Vein” just comes immediately after, remaining still stuck in the pantheon of my favourite albums of all time.
The fifth offering from German thrashers Sodom, “Tapping the Vein,” is where the band really starts to experiment and play with their sound by basically offering up an album that contains everything they’ve done before and morph into a variation that makes for some worthy results when combined with new influences and elements.
One of the better qualities in this record is the fact that, despite this being ironically labeled as the experimental album in the band’s discography, there’s a thorough attempt at keeping this wholly traditional and recognizable as a band effort. Most importantly here is the welcomed return to a chaotic, frenzied riff-based attack that was missing on the previous album that recalls their early days in terms of intensity and intent to kill, such is the intensity on several of these songs. Frantically trying to riff along at a speed that was hardly attempted before in the bands’ history gives this such a fun attitude as the songs bend along with far more technicality than expected within the chaotic frame. As a side effect, this level of brutality and chaos in the music creates a sound more akin to death metal than anything they’ve ever recorded, and many tracks abandon their proto-black metal/punk and speed metal sound in favor of this new wave of technical-based chaos riffing, and feels far more like a logical continuation of their mid-period successes than what came after, the record preceding this one, ever did. This is mostly accomplished with the welcomed return of a stylistic element present in those successful works in the form of the lengthy instrumental interludes in the middle of the song where the band simply thrashes away with an up-tempo riff for several moments, a perfect situation overall for head-banging and continues the tradition carried forth in those records here with a strong combination with these newer, more brutal influences. Now, there’s still a lot of the band’s other early influences in here, for the amazing drum-work featured here is simply a large part of the band’s work and gets carried over into this collection of songs, and there’s also the vocals that are now given a deeper, darker touch to compliment the darker, deathlier material. Fear not, the traditional mid-range growls and snarls are still here from his punkier days so they still get a few chances to let loose here.
There’s a lot to love here in the record, and is thankfully divided up into two parts to really make it easier to digest overall. The first half of this is simply filled with traditional Sodom pieces that range from the absolutely vicious barnburner to a mid-tempo attack and even some nice, melodic moments that have always been a minor part of the band’s sound. All of the songs, though, are still filled with those traditional Sodom elements of frenetic, lively riffing that gives off a large amount of energy through a strong combination of some technical-influenced leads and plenty of that dexterous drumming that can produce moments of pure thrash splendor as easily as they can dip into the murkiness of death metal. For the most part, it’s still solid thrash territory here, but the fact that they get so close here on this first half is a nice surprise and gives the album a strong, full baseline to build on as it shows the band playing around and experimenting on their familiar works quite nicely rather than just on a select song or so buried deep in the later part of the album. For the most part, the experiment works as the brutality afforded to the songs isn’t all that out-of-place to the band considering where they were going for the most part, and in an odd way the lineage brought them here for it seems to feature the band having brought all their past glory into one place and expanded the sound with a new toy by injected their dirty thrash with a dose of technicality and some death metal brutality, then focused the result into a superb collection of songs overall.
Even though the album could essentially be called an experimental album in regards to the band’s career, granted a disputable point but certainly arguable at certain intervals within, the second half is where the band really lets loose and trying new tricks. After being completely absent for the upper part of the album, minor hints of punk return to the core are found here, mostly in those simplistic riffs and bouncy drum-patterns that are far removed from the more technical and devastating material that has been employed throughout here. However, rather than attempt to incorporate those punk-influences into a more cohesive effort with the rest of the material, they’re kept where they are as simplistic punk/thrash hybrids and don’t carry the same urgency and weight as the others, though they still carry the intensity factor to make up for it. The other big experiment here is a rather curious effort that offers a slowing of the tempo down to near doom-like levels that are mixed with atmospheric riffing, melodic paces and vocals and a generally relaxed vibe that never really keeps it’s thrash roots intact until the ending, and the ability to be as progressive as the track calls for is a nice step for the band that meshes well with the influx of technicality in the different tracks elsewhere, even if they’re not that technical or even experimental with playing around with those elements. There’s the odd traditional straightforward thrasher here and there to keep things on course, but this is where the experimental argument could easily be made.
The songs here are actually a lot of fun and definitely have a lot to love about them. Opener ‘Body Parts’ is a vicious blast of detonating, technical drumming with frenetic, intense riffing during the blasting rhythm at the beginning, lengthy thrash interlude and a return to more vicious riffing at the end to create a strong intro track. More impressive, though, is album highlight ‘Skinned Alive,’ as a thunderous, dexterous drumming intro with subtle bass-work underneath segues into vicious whirlwinds of technical-influenced thrash laced with utterly intense riffing, oppressive drumming and a stellar mid-paced thrash beat to create one of the band’s more enduring classics and is one of the album’s most brutal tracks in the process. Stepping off the throttle slightly, ‘One Step over the Line’ combines steady mid-tempo riffing with rattling bass-work, epic pacing with spacious patterns and chugging drumming with plenty of melodic pacing that feels more like a traditional track rather than the more experimental and brutal offerings found within. The vicious ‘Deadline’ is back to the more extreme ends of the spectrum with chaotic, frenzied riffing patterns, absolutely blasting drumming that adds an intensity and viciousness to the tempo and speed of the material before a slightly-slower middle-section drops the tempo for the outer momentum. Keeping up the intensity is the punchy ‘Bullet in the Head,’ a double-bass-driven punk-ish tune with up-tempo riffing and sterling drum-work that adjusts to the varying tempo-shifts as it tries to maintain a thrash feel throughout but still feels too driven by punk in the riffing to do so but remains a fun way to end the first half nonetheless.
The second half of the album, despite being somewhat of an experimental effort to the band’s sound, is still filled with some quality songs. ‘The Crippler’ starts it off with pounding, intense riffing that’s quite similar to a death metal attack along with the closest death metal-like vocals on the album only for the pounding thrash-like drumming to keep it from truly crossing over into that realm. Even more of a stylistic change is ‘Wachturm,’ which carries on a mid-tempo punk feel through-and-through with simplistic riffing, bouncy bass-lines and vocals with rather straight-forward drumming that never really changes gears throughout and perhaps the cleanest vocals on the album, making for a rather conflicting shift between the tracks. Things return to normal with the title track, with a straight-forward pounding intro with mid-tempo riffing, rattling bass-work that ambles along with the groovy tempo and fantastic drumming that kicks into a bigger speed on the second half with more thrashing drumming, frantic riffing and stellar thrash interlude that gives this a real classic and timeless feel for the band, signaling another highlight effort. Matching it in the intensity stakes is ‘Back to War,’ as the detonating drumming at hyper-speed with matching frenzied riffing carries an up-tempo pace with the stellar drumming that eventually settles on a punk-like rhythm that rides out through a fiery solo section into a blasting finale, making for two absolutely stellar speed-mongers. Despite initially starting off strong, the lone weak song is ‘Hunting Season’ is rather curious as simple pounding with atmospheric bass-work, utterly-intense drumming and full-on barnburner-paced speed throughout as it builds in intensity should be a lot of fun yet never really steps across the line into the upper echelon due to a rather curious factor of being too similar in style to other tracks already doing this better and therefore never really excelling on its own merits. It gets saved with another album highlight in closer ’Reincarnation,’ where a majestic, epic intro with slower pace, doom-like riffing with deadly vocals, haunting theatrics and rattling bass-work mix with a progressive bridge section that leads to fiery later half with increased energy, more drumming urgency and some technical riffing, so while it’s slightly too long as the haunting interlude that stretches the track out this is a monster effort and really comes off splendidly overall.
In the end, what we’re left with on this album is perhaps one of the most determined, focused and intense Sodom records in their discography, and is overall among their upper-tier works. Granted, it’s not as legendary as those earlier efforts which helped to forge an entire sub-genre and influence thousands of bands and musicians alike, but is more or less enjoyable for what it does with the material within, which is just plain-and-simple fun. The performances are simply spot-on, everyone gets a chance to shine whether it be in a drum-solo section, stellar riffing patterns or just cavernous bass-work because the production of the album sends off that vibe, all of which will find a place of admiration with a listener. Frankly, this one seems to fall in line more with their past efforts and not the preceding effort, which in the timeline feels out-of-place, while this one is more like a true continuation of those stellar works with the amount of traditional elements at play that are expertly played with and experimented on here, which make for an overall enjoyable and enthusiastic experience that’ll warm over fans of their traditional works and the more extreme metal fans that seemed to be the target here.
The lines that separate death metal and thrash metal were pretty well blurred by the time the 90s first rolled in, and in a few cases it could be argued that the style endured in spite of massive setbacks from 1992 on via a number of older school bands like Death, Obituary, and Benediction. But less attention is paid to a number of small outliers in the thrash scene who followed the same path, perhaps given the extensive number of better known acts that were caught up in the groove craze that Metallica and Pantera had started. Sodom stands as arguably the lone example of an older thrash band, Teutonic or American, that almost crossed over into death metal territory by adopting a truly extreme and aggressive approach that similarly won Demolition Hammer the unofficial title of being an embryonic death metal band in some quarters, while similarly resembling the niche between the two styles inhabited by Sepultura and Possessed.
Truth be told, every member of the Teutonic Trio exhibited some of the same qualities that Slayer did in the mid 80s while still retaining a distinctly thrashing character. But where "Tapping The Vein" differs with any of the work done by any of said German bands before is that the lines are almost blurred to the point of being actual death/thrash. Angelripper's vocals are so vile and sepulchral that they tend to exhibit qualities of both Chuck Schuldiner and Nocturno Culto, the riffs shuffle back and forth between a frenetic mixture of rapid chugs and tremolo lines more in line with "Leprosy" than "Persecution Mania" in terms of their speed and intensity and a thudding groove approach to slower material that is somewhat Metallica-like, but a little too dissonant and ugly to pass for what was typically accepted as mainline groove in the 90s. Everything from the dark and murky production to the occasional creepy keyboard atmosphere (especially on the closer "Reincarnation") have more in common with Nocturnus, Death and Messiah than with anything previously conceived in the thrash realm, and a slightly less muddy guitar tone is really the only thing keeping this from morphing into a direct emulation of said bands.
What truly throws the listener for a loop on this album, and probably the main reason why the death metal tendencies are so hard to miss is that things begin on the most intense note possible and subsequently takes very little time for a breather. "Body Parts" and "Skinned Alive" have a lyrical tendency towards gore that's difficult to miss, and the music contained within is way too fast and frenzied for even the likes of Sepultura save maybe the most intense moments of "Beneath The Remains". Similar stories are told in the cases of "Deadline", "The Crippler" and "Back To War", complete with all the obligatory drum mayhem and noise-ridden lead guitar shred fests to rival Morbid Angel, save a lack of overt blast beats. There are some brief moments of rest to explore some groove territory, culimating in a slower, "Eye Of The Beholder" styled Metallica homage in "One Step Over The Line" and a more upper mid-tempo punk oriented crusher in "Wachturm", each one emphasizing a scaled back thrash character with slightly cleaner gruff vocals. But even when at a slower pace, every second of this album is an exercise in sonic warfare that makes up for any lack of unforgettable riff work as heard when Frank Blackfire was manning the guitar with an unfettered, take no prisoners assault.
Sadly thrash metal was all but gone from the metal world by the time 1992 came around, but Sodom stands as one of an elite few that didn't get the message. Sometimes the flow of history makes it impossible to swim up stream, but in this instance, "Tapping The Vein" likens itself to a stubborn salmon that bucks the rapids and makes it to the spawning pool in spite of the journey literally killing it. In contrast to their 2 German counterparts, Sodom didn't spend most of the 90s in a stylistic rut, and this album can be seen in the same light as the lion's share of their classic 80s output. It's probably the only release put out the band that can appeal directly to the early 90s death metal fanatics rather than the either hardened mid 80s Slayer adherents or early 1st wavers still clinging to their pre-LP efforts, all the while still having all the necessary elements to keep their base satisfied. It's the same gas mask toting warrior, just with a bigger gun and a heavier dose of steroids.
After “Persecution Mania” and “Agent Orange had put Sodom on the map as one of the leaders of the German thrash metal scene in the late 1980s, the somewhat lackluster follow-up “Better Off Dead” was a bit of a letdown, but the band recovered quickly and came back with a vengeance in forging “Tapping the Vein”, an album considered by many to be their best effort to date. To be sure, the band has since put out numerous very strong releases, especially during the many years performing as a very stable three-piece consisting of Tom Angelripper, Bernemann and Bobby Schottkowski, but the point can be made that none of them are quite as good as this, perhaps the heaviest and most vicious album in their extensive catalog. In some ways “Tapping the Vein”, despite a few tracks featuring the band’s trademark punk influences, is almost as close to death metal as it is to thrash, not only in terms of Tom’s slightly altered vocal delivery but also as far as the actual music is concerned, as songs like “Skinned Alive”, “The Crippler”, “Hunting Season” or the title track, in all of their uncompromising brutality, are perhaps more akin to, say, the early releases of a band like Death than anything that came out of the Bay Area in the 1980s and 90s.
Thanks to Angelripper’s almost-death metal growls, all the songs gain a rougher, more brutal edge than usual, including those displaying Sodom’s customary punk leanings (“Bullet in the Head”, “Back to War”). Speaking of punk, “Wachturm” is probably as close to a full-fledged punk rock tune as we’re ever going to get from this band, and I for one hope they never write another one quite like it. How this track could possibly become something of a crowd favorite at live concerts is completely beyond me, as it is extremely bland and unimaginative (well, even for punk rock standards) on top of featuring some of the most amateurish gang shouts and stupidest lyrics this band has ever written. Though this is obviously supposed to be sort of a fun track and not something to be taken very seriously, it is still incredibly, well, stupid, which everyone unfortunate enough to understand a bit of German will likely agree on. When intending to bash some religious or other group, at least try to do it somewhat intelligently, lest you end up sounding precisely as dumb as the group you’re actually trying to attack. With ideas for goofy songs like these, it’s easy to see why, in later years, Angelripper felt the need to come up with his misguided alcohol-fuelled side project named Onkel Tom. Well, if only he had confined such ideas to that particular band: this is nothing but dumb proletarian music for the masses that should have never ended up on a Sodom record. Luckily, “Wachturm” is the only real dud on this otherwise excellent album, although the closing “Reincarnation”, while not a bad song in any way, lacks cohesion and simply doesn’t contain enough riffs or exciting moments for a song almost eight minutes in length. Besides, it feels a bit like a rehash of “Resurrection” off the previous record “Better Off Dead”, which was a decidedly mediocre song to begin with.
The remaining tracks, however, all range from very good to great quality-wise. “Body Parts” (including that delightfully hilarious line “wonders of technology, we’ve got plastic surgery”) is a fast, no-frills thrasher with a barrage of catchy riffs. “One Step Over the Line” slows things down for the first time and is a very well-written tune with a couple of smooth riffs and hooks and some the album’s best and most thoughtful lyrics to boot, showing that Tom can do a whole lot better than “Wachturm” when he actually puts his mind to it. In the end, however, the vicious hybrid death-thrash cuts mentioned above are the real strength of this album. Coupled with the meaty production courtesy of Harris Johns, they are good enough that even a surefire skip candidate like “Wachturm” cannot alter the fact that “Tapping the Vein” ranks right up there with the best albums the mighty Sodom have put out over the course of their long and illustrious career.
On a side note, the cover artwork is somewhat peculiar and conducive to all kinds of interpretations and questions, like why would anyone go to battle with a gun that uses your own blood as ammunition? Oh well, at least that shade of blue looks kind of cool …
Choicest cuts: “Body Parts”, “One Step Over the Line”, “The Crippler”, “Tapping the Vein”, “Hunting Season”
Tapping the Vein is not often mentioned in the same breath as the favored Sodom classics like Persecution Mania and Agent Orange, but if I can say one in its favor, it's pretty characteristic of the 'pure' Sodom sound. Take everything you loved about those albums, crank up the density and intensity, and simply slaughter the fan where he stands. That was the purpose of this effort, and to that extent, it's an enormous success. Where it falls apart, though, is in the smaller details. It offers almost no surprises, no huge choruses that blow the mind like a "Nuclear Winter" or "Sodomy and Lust". It's little more than business as usual, but if you're a steadfast Sodomite, that might be exactly what you want to hear.
As far as just the tones of the mix, this is perhaps one of my favorite releases from the German vets. The bass here is huge, like a meatgrinder being recorded straight to tape and then fluctuated to create notes that will act in accordance with the guitars. After but one album, Michael Hoffman had left Sodom, so the band have yet another new guitarist here in Andy Bings, but he definitely goes a long way towards renewing that Blackfire tone some might have been missing from Better Off Dead (which was a great album anyway). Tom Angelripper sounds fantastic here, with one of his most bloodthirsty, violent performance, very often bordering on the death metal grunts he was partially responsible for creating in the first place. The whole effort sounds like steel artillery being shot off in an enclosed stadium, painting the bleachers with viscera.
There are also a few undeniably great songs here, including the two barnstormers that blast open the proceedings, "Body Parts" and "Skinned Alive", riff choked and overflowing with the maniacal, distorted bass lines. Love the fucking vocal echoes in "Body Parts" during that sick breakdown. You simply cannot sit still for that. After this, the quality becomes a little mixed. "Deadline", "Hunting Season", and "The Crippler" are murderous and truly exciting, while a few of the others like "Bullet in the Head" and the rocking "One Step Over the Line" aren't so blessed in the writing department, though Tom's vocal presence does a bit to compensate. The leads here can rip aluminum with ease, and tucked into a few of the tracks are some excellent, raid fire rhythm guitars. I can completely do without "Wachturm/Erwachet", which is yet another of those Sodom stapes: the German punk/thrash/rock track, but "Reincarnation" is another standout, nearly 8 minutes long with some cautiously elevated warfare.
In the end, I love about half of Tapping the Vein and shall until I die, but I would probably find the rest skippable if the tones weren't so damn good. This is probably the most straightforward the band has ever and will ever record, the very essence of their warlike personality, conjured in the lyrics, the riffing and the blood-drugged, 'Rogue Trooper' mascot on the cover. It's sheer, unapologetic and shows a band that was in no danger of flying the surrender flag when thrash was beginning to get raked across the coals. If I could somehow experience the better 1987-89 material with this same production standard, I'd probably be so happy I would cease to exist, but the lack of total consistency in the songwriting drags it down below their more recognizable classics.
Well, Sodom must’ve realised their previous album had a few weak moments. Furthermore pretty much all thrash acts from the eighties were slowly getting an identity crises. Kreator were on their way to experiment on the ‘Renewal’ album (quite successfully) and let’s not talk about the downfall of post Cracked Brain Destruction. When thrash was rapidly losing ground after ’90, most bands watered down, got groovy, and a few desperate thrash bands jumped the death metal bandwagon (for instance Dutch thrashers Thanatos on ‘Realm Of Ecstasy’). We just had to wait what Sodom would do...with yet another new guitarist...
Sodom take back a lot of harshness, protoblack and death metal tendencies they’d showed earlier during their ‘In the Sign of Evil’ and ‘Obsessed by Cruelty’ days. But since the band had actually learned to play in the years since and a new guitarist obviously has a major influence on the sound, this renewed vigour turns into a new kind of beast. We can honestly say ‘Tapping the Vein’ was their fastest and most brutal album since Persecution Mania.
Just listen to ‘The Crippler’. Once of their creepiest songs since the old days. And besides that a superb fast thrasher as well! Or try opener ‘Body Parts’. You’ll immediately recognise Sodom but you just know something is different. Is it the riffs? the vocals? Hard to pin-point but the amount of proto death metal tendencies have increased but not too much. Or that eerie middle section in the title track. Yes, this new beast is lovely! ‘Deadline’, ‘Hunting Season’, ‘Skinned Alive’, there’s so much superb thrashin’ goin’ on here.
No weak moments? Yes, Sodom once again had to record an extremely dull mid paced song. This time it’s ‘One Step Over the Line’. Why did they keep doing that? ‘Wachturm’ is a funny anti-Jehovah’s witness rock tune sung in German but stylewise would’ve been better at the end of the album obviously since it does damage the continuity and tension. The doomy ‘Reincarnation’ closes off the album and serves as a nice method for calming down.
Body Parts, Skinned Alive, Deadline, The Crippler, Tapping the Vein, Hunting Season
Future became truly uncertain for thrash by 1992, it was no longer a popular subgenre and most bands were trying to push its standards away by playing pop like Metallica, experimenting with industrial sounds like Kreator or embracing the groove formulas Pantera made so trendy. On the contrary, death metal exploded in Florida and Europe, offering the alternative to the reigning cheesiness and stupidity on other metal subgenres. Mr. Angelripper & co. still delivered pure and simple Teutonic raging thrash with certain death metal reminiscence fortunately, instead of playing ballads. The addition of Andy Brings was essential to crystallize that death/thrash sound, the proper replacement for former Assassin guitar player Micha, whose technical fragility and absence of ideas nearly ruined the previous relative failure album Better Off Dead. Chris recalled back then:
“On Better Off Dead everyone wanted to implement their own musical taste. It was a bit of an experiment and not typical of Sodom”.
With the adequate production, equipment, personnel and stronger songs, in 1992 Sodom did the heaviest record on their career, as Tom says:
“We were pretty surprised of how a sound can change, he (Andy) brought a fresh breeze into the band and was very dedicated to the whole thing. The complete material for Tapping The Vein was done in no time. It was something very special to work in Dierks Studio, especially for a young heavy metal rock band like us. We had sold a lot of records and had the budget to record there but we were so naive to think that everything would be paid by the manager or the tax payer. In the end we had a first class production and we were happy with the sound. Well, it's an experience worth having”.
“Body Parts” and “Skinned Alive” are completely devastating, a spectacular opening for the album including the sharpest riffs, most accelerated beats and harshest vocals these guys ever conceived – discovering real aggression and terminal velocity, playing more violently and ferociously than ever before. The influence of contemporary Tampa acts is obvious, yet Sodom still delivers loose, energetic riffs that avoid low-tuning and bigger weight of death metal lines and tempos – it’s basically Tom’s voice which is guttural and harsh. Intensity remains uninterrupted on following tracks like “Hunting Season” and “Deadline” too, introducing more lethal riffage, frenetic double-bass kicks and ever raspier vocals, again configured without much difficulty or pretention but cohesive and properly-focused, adding proficient instrumental sequences and lengthier pickin’ parts that might not be immaculate but provide the music of certain humble level of complexity. The immense title-number and “The Crippler” increase the variety of structures and distinct rhythms – arrangements are slightly scruffy and technically imprecise at times, yet the pulse and punch of those incendiary, crushing lower-tuned riffs and hooks is creating a huge wall of sound, along with more guttural vocals, darker verses and Witchhunter’s hammering drumming. Straighter tunes like “Back To War” and “Bullet In The Head” feature simpler, uniform song-bodies and minimalist lines, still competently-executed despite their spontaneous composition. Among all the predominant roughness and speed, “Resurrection” incorporates slower beats, some slamming quiet riffs and lower-range lyrics, not particularly well-arranged but discovering an unnerving climax with those stratospheric synth-guitar effects and abstract words. On the contrary, “Wachturm” features a more casual feel, sense of humor, punkish riffs and catchy choruses.
Tapping The Vein is a much heavier attempt, much better produced than its predecessor, including musically stronger and better arranged songs – executed with greater precision and passion. Tom admitted back then:
“With the last LP we tried to get into a better light, not go full throttle. We got good feedback for the LP but the kids want the heavy stuff. The harder and the fastest the better - this time we did it like we wanted to”.
Brings undoubtedly brought freshness to the group, possessing the adequate skills to make Sodom’s music challenging and convincing again. His bigger technical capability and ideas made these songs more professional and complex, in contrast with the poor contribution and scandalous incompetence of his predecessor, Micha. Of course, Angelripper & co. never intended to be a progressive thrash band, they elude intricate schemes intentionally with a punkish, raw attitude that emphasizes aggression and velocity that never required superior arrangements or perfectionist performances. Simplicity had always worked for these Germans and this album is no exception, even though certain riffs here present surprisingly skilled, rich variations and decent progression with Andy completely inspired. So now Sodom are embracing some death metal’s principles, specially Tom’s vocals are substantially harsher and lower-tuned, focused on more serious, gory, bloody, disturbing lyrical issues - singing about drugs, sex tourism and human organ trafficking as well, even though Tom said:
“Most people don’t know what the lyrics are about. No one bothers to translate them to be able to understand them. It’s important to us. If I write lyrics it’s important to me that I just don’t write crap”.
The atmosphere is different from previous efforts; riffs are still quick and punkish but sometimes getting notably weightier, combined with Angelripper’s growling creating a darker climax than ever before. These cuts are however much more polished and sophisticated than mid-80’s German death/thrash stuff. Now that Sodom had gained considerable experience and musicianship, technically music ain’t so rudimentary and vulnerable as it was in the beginning – arrangements are more rigorous as well. Surprisingly, all those imaginative riffs, alternative structures and instrumental shifts came out effortlessly and fluidly – the chemistry between the members of this new incarnation made it possible, not only stunning on the execution of the music, also on its design and configuration on the preceding song-writing stage.
The 90’s meant the beginning of the end for thrash and the beginning of a brilliant period for death metal – Holy Moses and these guys were clever and took inspiration from both Swedish and Tampa scenes instead of emulating American groove, doing ballads or getting cheesy and melodic like power/thrash acts. Tapping The Vein is still a strictly thrash record, though Angelripper’s vocals bring back the intensity and guttural tone of those Teutonic mid-80’s death/thrash records, reminiscent however of 90’s death metal lyrical themes. The album was absolutely refreshing, denying contemporary fashions, honest and talented – the thrashiest stuff you could find in 1992 besides Demolition Hammer. The lack of inspiration, dullness and flatness on Better Off Dead was gone with Micha and Sodom were once again a solid band.
After the heights reached during the mid-to-late 80's, by the early 90's the thrash genre was in something of a rut. The "big four" had moved on to greener, more financially successful pastures (at least in the case of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax - Slayer just kind of stagnated, at least until the abortion that was Diabolus in Musica) and many of the lower-tier bands just disappeared, either from breaking up or fleeing like rats from a sinking ship for the rising grunge scene, or alternatively, the death and black metal scenes, which, for many fans, replaced thrash as the genres of choice.
Almost certainly as a reaction to this, in 1992 Sodom released Tapping the Vein, an underrated album that is several times more heavy and aggressive than it's predecessors, especially in the wake of 1990's Better Off Dead, which displayed a cleaner, slightly more accessible Sodom. Tapping the Vein is certainly the band's most death metal album for a plethora of reasons. The lyrical themes have changed - the war themes are not so prevalent as before, although still present. Instead, we get treated to somewhat gorier tales of drug abuse, horrific plastic surgery and prostitution.
Tom Angelripper's vocals are a much deeper growl here, as opposed to the thrash metal snarl of before and quite frankly he's never sounded more confident. His basswork doesn't stand out anywhere near as much as previously, in keeping with the albums more death metal feel, but it is still perfectly competent. New guitarist Andy Brings is a great guitarist; technically he may not do anything outstanding, but he doesn't need to - his riffs and solos suit this style of deathy thrash well. Its a pity he didn't stay in Sodom. The late Chris Witchhunter makes his final appearance on a Sodom album (excluding 2007's In the Final Sign of Evil) and he still has his trademark drumming style, although he is a little more professional and not quite as sloppy as on some of the band's earlier efforts.
There is a definite savage feel to this album - Sodom have never sounded so ferocious as they do here; indeed, they sound completely furious and brutal. There is a constant feeling that they are about to really break loose and possibly overreach themselves; fortunately this never happens. The downside to all this extremity is that, aside from Wachturm, a fun, incredibly catchy number with German lyrics, there no punky songs present that Sodom are well known for. Really, there is no feeling here of either Motorhead or Venom; instead, they now take their influences from Floridian death metal. Its hard to believe that a band who wrote a song like "Ausgebombt" also wrote this album. The songwriting, though, is very consistent - therefore choosing a highlight is difficult, although the aforementioned Wachturm, the brutal Body Parts (which may well be the most brutal song of the album) and the album's sleeper pick, Hunting Season, are definite standouts. There are a couple of let-downs though - One Step Over the Line and Deadline don't do much of anything and Reincarnation is slightly strange, reminiscent of Resurrection from the previous album. However, these songs don't detract from the album as a whole.
It's a pity that Sodom dropped the ball after this with their next few albums. As it stands, this is a testament to one of the band's more interesting periods and is certainly their most brutal album. Recommended.
You can say what you want but Sodom were the only ones of the German trio to have conserved a primordial brutality even during the thrash period of crises and chaos. Kreator and Destruction reached levels of pure shame with weak or, at best, not thrash metal efforts while these undying thrash metal worshippers didn’t care about anything, following the path to extremism that has always been their most important characteristic. This Tapping The Vein was put out in a period in which more or less every “old” thrash metal band was going crazy for stopped chords sounds and sluggish, crappy groove influences. This album is a step further in extremism by Sodom, being far more brutal than Better Off Dead and the releases by the end of the 80s.
It can be seen as a continuation of the early efforts because it shows a band that has recovered in primordial heaviness, forgetting awhile the more mature and less impulsive influences of the last period. So, this album is, to me, somehow more bound to a general form of early death metal because here the band took the classic Sodom thrash metal (already not the smartest one) to bring it to another level of brutality and nastiness. The band is again truly belligerent, angry and rawer. The production is awesome to me and supports the violence of the instruments in a perfect way, giving them a clear cut they deserve, conserving that raw touch that contributes in creating a truly gloom and devastating air of nuclear devastation.
The general tempo on the album is the up one and the first tracks don’t make sense in speed. They are angry, devastating and pounding. The riffs are truly pissed off and simple but extremely catchy. “Body parts” and “Skinned Alive” are just amazing in their schizophrenic, relentless tempo while “One Step Over The Line” is the first mid paced stop. Witchhunter does a great work here. He is always precise, quite inventive and most of all total impact. When he comes for the up tempo, the speed is unbelievable. As you can listen, the guitar distortion is far different from any Sodom release and it’s far more primordial and raw, following the dry out drums sound and the more suffocated vocals by Tom. His vocals on this album are truly massive, black oriented and nasty like in early 80s style.
Check the tremolo picking united to the palm muting riffs and the fast bass drum parts united to the up tempo on “Deadline” and you will to thank me. The violence is unbelievable and this time none can stop Sodom from destroying our poor ears. So, without hesitations we jump on the punkish thrash violence of “Bullet in The Head” and the death/thrash primordial sounds of the massive, gloom “The Crippler”. The violence reaches level of madness but we can’t stop our march because going on listening to these violent outputs, you want more and more and “Wachturm” is here to fill our veins of insanity through lots of punkish/black/thrash riffs and mosh tempo. We are not already stuffed, so we continue with the darker march of the title track that increases the speed, alternating up tempo parts to sudden stops for the refrain.
In “Back to War” the most violent side arises again and the bass drum work is again pounding with lots of galloping parts and an easily recognizable refrain/verse. “Hunting Season” is again fast, displaying no compromise parts and a good alternation of open chords riffs to palm muting. “Reincarnation”, in its dark, slow and apocalyptic march is even welcomed because at the end you are truly devastated and woozy. Anyway, the keyboards parts are well mixed with a more suggestive and unearthly atmosphere. All in all, this album remains one of the most violent efforts by this band and a lesson in heaviness to all those “no more thrash bands” of that period. Sodom are here to stay.
I am admittedly very poorly versed in classic thrash metal, and I'm even more poorly versed in the 'crucial' releases of Sodom; so much so that this is actually the only album of theirs I own. I know that it's a really good one, though. 'Tapping The Vein' seems to be one of the more underrated Sodom albums, but I can't really propose any reason why, apart from there being more famous and ostensibly important albums by the band out there. This is very heavy and intense thrash, which does appeal a bit more to a death metaller like me who doesn't particularly like Exodus or Anthrax. I've always been drawn more to Teutonic thrash metal than most American bands, and Sodom is effectively cemented as my favorite.
The music on this album, for the most part, seems extremely fast, despite operating at a lower tempo than most death and black metal bands. Very aggressive, uptempo thrash beats dominate the drumming, with a feel like they're constantly leaning forward and might collapse at any time. The effect is aided by the riffing, which alternates between speedy and vicious tremolo interesting (very excellent) and mid-paced thrash power chords (not very interesting). I've never been big on the archtypical 'thrash break'; it generally just ruins the flow of the song for me, which is why I appreciate songs where they're brief and kept to a minimum, like opener 'Body Parts'. Another element I enjoy a lot: the very harsh, verging on death growl vocals of Angelripper, which sort of sound like the most brutal singing that could be found on a Dark Angel album. No good-time shouts? Sign me right up.
The only time Sodom really falters is on slow songs which seem unnecessary in the context of the album, like 'One Step Over The Line' which honestly sounds like a Metallica b-side, and 'Reincarnation', though to a lesser degree. When the tempo is up, so is the quality, even on 'happier' songs like 'Wachturm', which might be the catchiest song in the history of metal. Essentially every track is a standout (which is a pretty surprising feat on its own), but the best are easily 'Body Parts', 'Skinned Alive', and the titanic of utterly BRUTAL thrash, 'The Crippler'. 'Once you cross the line/I will break your spine... THE CRIPPLAH! (THE CRIPPLAH)'. Indeed, Tom. Indeed.
There's a bunch of other great, underrated songs as well: 'Hunting Season', 'Back To War', 'Bullet In The Head', etc. They're all packed with great riffs, great, really memorable vocal patterns, and spirited, intense drumming. This is probably some of the best thrash out there; at least as far as my tastes go. It's heavy and riffy and verges on death metal at places, which is generally how I like my thrash, and it never makes me feel like I should go out and get a beer with my bros before getting ritually sodomized to get in some heavy metal frat. On that note, Municipal Waste is apparently throwing an AWESOME kegger that I just HAVE to be at!