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Sodom's 1990 effort Better Off Dead is easily one of the band's best albums outside of the classic Angelripper/Blackfire/Witchhunter triple threat. Michael Hoffman's brazen tone was well suited to Tom's vocals, and the band were proceeding forward with another solid collection of songs, the most fun of which was "The Saw is the Law", which got its own EP release in the following year. There's not really a lot to say about this; it's your typical CD single with an album track (extended mix here) and a few bonus pieces, which offers almost no value in retrospect unless you are dead determined on acquiring the band's cover of the Bryan Adams song "The Kids Wanna Rock", in which case you might want to find a strong rope and a scaffold and...
"The Saw is the Law" was an excellent piece, with a mid paced plotting dowsed in NWOBHM tradition that delivers the vocals and predictable chorus like a hammer to the balls. This is an extended version of that track, with the effects, vocals and guitars more exaggerated, but to be honest I prefer the more condensed, 4 minute form on Better Off Dead, which managed to entertain without the need for laughable ballast. "Tarred and Feather" is a faster piece, which won't come as a surprise if you've already got it on the CD version of the full-length, but if not, then it would be the sole reason for checking out the EP in the first place. Lastly, there is the cover, which was an entirely mediocre blues/rock track to begin with, and has not suddenly improved just because Tom Angelripper and a bunch of punks are handling it. All you can expect is awkward, drunken gang shouts and a few ripping growls from the Man.
The Saw is the Law does have a nice cover image, but that's about all I can recommend it for. There's just no point in having this for "Tarred and Feather" when you can grab the Better Off Dead CD and enjoy it as part of a more compelling experience. The extended title track is silly and unnecessary, and as for Bryan Adams: anyone reading this could go sit on his/her toilet, jack off with one hand and strum a few chords on the other and come up with something more compelling, and it certainly does not rank among the band's better covers (like Tank's "Turn Your Head Around", on the full-length). An unusual choice, maybe, but lame just the same. I realize the band and label probably just wanted to scrape together some extra gas money for tours, but you'd have better served them by just buying Tom Angelripper a beer.
Well, isn’t this a curious piece of Sodom history; their most rock-ish tendencies pronounced in the highest order by all sorts of Michael Hoffman guitar caterwauling, in ways that go beyond even that of the formidable Better Off Dead album. This is perhaps indicative of the direction that Sodom would have gone in if Hoffman had stuck around and, ahem, not gone to Brazil.
Sodom was band that was defined by their guitarists; in the early days they were scrappy, fierce, and barbaric – wielding a sceptre but sometimes overpowered by its weight. Then came Blackfire, and with him I get these cold, stark images of nuclear winters and everything seemed very Cold War; arms races, the Vietnam War, and bleak prisons in some distant Soviet satellite were very much the order of the day – which came across in his militaristic, and clean playing. Andy Brings then came along a couple of years later and changed Sodom once again with his death-like riffs and noisy leads, Sodom turned into something more brutal but lacking in some of their former finesse. It was a scruffy sound for the no-thrash nineties. Hoffman, well, he was something completely different, he was like ‘Ausgetbombt’ times ten, and really brought out the band’s earliest influences, and for a time he - in places - made Sodom sound closer to Bomber than Obsessed by Cruelty whilst still retaining their signature sound, and he did it such stellar fashion that often I spend lonely nights wondering what would have happened if he’d stayed with them, when I’m not warning off vampires or Margaret Thatcher, that is. In fact it is only in recent years that a guitarist has ceased to be in control of Sodom’s sound (although I must stress it’s always had certain similar characteristics due to the inescapable charisma of Angelripper and Witchhunter, well you can’t exactly be meek and mild with those sort of names!) Angelripper himself acknowledges this, he is now fully in control of Sodom, and to me it is actually somewhat sad and the band have lost some of their personality.
So what do we have here? Well, it’s probably one of the oddest releases in the whole Sodom canon, which in itself is odd considering that it’s only got one new track and that’s a cover! Anyway, as if conveniently pre-empting my reviewing patterns, I didn’t cover ‘Tarred and Feathered’ earlier, how fitting! ‘Tarred and Feathered’, though perhaps musically typical of the Better Off Dead thrash sound is one of the stranger Sodom songs lyrically, it’s all about ‘beautiful red-haired ladies’ and the Inquisition…
…and no one expected that. It’s certainly a long way from masturbating to one's self; I’ll give them that. Although he had his earlier fumbles – which happen to be seminal metal moments – Angelripper is a classy lyricist and this song demonstrates it aptly. Notably, as the fastest song on this EP it shows Witchhunter at the height of his children -punching-cardboard-boxes powers, and what a joy it is to behold. Hoffman actually reiterates the vocal melody with his solo in this one, which is strange to say the least, or perhaps he doesn’t. But he’s typically vibrant and manic with his licks that sounded as if ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke was trying specifically hard to live up to his nickname.
Chainsaws rule, I can’t think of a bad song about them, or one that features them. ‘The Saw is the Law (Splatting Version)’ continues this and in fact I think this is the best chainsaw related song I’ve ever heard. Grinding at a slower than the Better Off Dead version it’s a fucking triumph of simplistic and anthemic metal; it really should have been a hit! But it turns out the general public don’t view Tom Angelripper wailing like the deranged killer he sung of as a major selling point, their loss, really. I actually read someone comparing Sodom’s Better Off Dead era to Megadeth around the time of Countdown to Extinction, this angered me, this song alone would probably be an okay line of comparison to, say, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, but still, no. You can’t compare Sodom being out-and-out awesome, violent yet still incredibly catchy to Muistane beginning his long, slow kowtow to the big flaccid cock of the mainstream music (I want to say disco here, but it isn’t wholly reflective of Countdown to Extinction, but rather a certain well known and reviled Megadeth number). So yes, simplicity is key, but none of that visceral feeling is lost. My only minor quibble with this song is that I’ve seen (saw, surely?) snippets of an even longer version from the Lords of Depravity DVD which incorporates a fairly well known horror theme (though its name isn’t so known by me) and sounds fucking fantastic! Hoffman plays a solo here, does it rule? In the famous words of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, and numerous other women who could be authors or novels, yes. Hoffman actually exceeds himself, and probably makes Mike Scaccia blush; Brian Robertson even doffs his cap. He crafts something really fucking memorable – that evil descending pedal note lick, stratospheric pentatonics that only a few people could pull off with that level of charisma, and all sorts of other flash stuff. But that wouldn’t matter because unless it sounded awesome, which encase you haven’t guessed yet, it does! Picture a chainsaw ripping through bodies sending deepest red blood splattering everywhere, now think of rainbows and that’s what this sounds like: violent and colourful.
‘The Kids Wanna Rock’, unfortunate really, “why?” you might ask. Well, this provides me with socially acceptable doses of Brian Adams, who I actually quite like. I know. Look, everyone else at parties and clubs when they are hammered will sing and shout when ‘Summer of ‘69’ comes on. I too, do this, it just so happens I’d probably still do it sober. Still, with a message that’s staunchly anti-disco, anti-Guido types doing press-ups on the dance floor, and anti-new wave it’s practically ‘All Men Play On Ten’. There, I feel better now. Interestingly enough, this features members of Die Ärzte on backing vocals (their singer Bela B also provided vocals to the German version of ‘Ausgetbombt’). But if you want to hear Angelripper sing it the whole way through there’s a live version from Japan taken from the Tapping the Vein era, Andy Brings gets through the solo without fucking up, which is rare for him. Go Andy, Go!
Final words? Er, Jethro Tull?
This is almost as much of a single as it is an EP. Sodom had kind of meandered off in their own direction after Agent Orange. They didn't sell out as the time period demanded, and they certainly didn't up and die either.
The Saw is the Law has an unquestionable magic about it, and since it indeed is a live staple (check out the version on One Night in Bangkok, which is about 28bpm faster), this seems to be confirmed directly by Onkel Tom and co.
The version found here (often referred to as the "Splatting Version") is just a trifle slower than the version found on Better off Dead, with a different intro and a bit quieter overall production (I'll give you a hint about fixing the production problem: If you aren't playing Sodom absurdly loud and proud, then you shouldn't be listening to Sodom at all, and should consider leaving the hall altogether!). This could very well be a pre-production demo of some sort, as seen with some of the bonus tracks from Destruction's Metal Discharge. There seems to be a bit less focus compared to the Better off Dead version, which has a far more driving feel than the version found here. However, this is actually an improvement. While the original is a more fist-pumping, neck-wrecking affair, this version is far more bludgeoning and reckless. The song itself is very simple: some guitar noise, a driving single note bassline intro (with some tasteful guitar wah-wailings) that breaks into the song. And your skull.
The difference in the intro has a lot to do with why the Splatting Version seems so vastly different from the original on the whole. On the original the bass isn't overdriven, and the guitar noise that precedes it resembles, of all things, the beginning of Hendrix's "Foxey Lady". But even more than that, there's the presence of an actual chainsaw that starts up, revs, and growls throughout the intro. Then the break into the main song completely opens up the throttle to accompany Mr. Angelripper officially starting the song with "THEE SAAWWW" (which conveniently has a fresh coat of gargled pain thinner). Just because of an actual saw being featured, this is really the one true version of "The Saw is the Law". There's little doubt that this is something of an overlooked heavy metal anthem. Just look at the title! If chainsaws aren't just as metal as witches at black masses or the mythical creature known as Exciter, then I haven't the slightest idea of what is. And not only is this about a saw, this about the saw being the law of the land. Ah, the subtlety that death metal never had!
The other two songs here don't really matter. Tarred and Feathered is fast and furious, and the Bryan Adams cover is a bit silly, but rocks hard enough with a fun message and doesn't go on for too long. That's not what you came here for though. You came here because you wanted THEE SAAWWW, specifically the version that rises above, capturing the essence of heavy fucking metal. If you don't have this, you're just not heavy enough.