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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”