Teutonic metal trio Sodom have been swinging their mighty axes for over three decades now, standing alongside Kreator and Destruction as the reigning overlords of German thrash. Their breakout 1989 release Agent Orange established the band's standing among the genre's most influential artists, and their thrash/punk hybridization, prominent military (mainly anti-war) lyrical themes and gas-masked soldier mascot “Knarrenheinz” lent them a memorable signature that's still solidly in play. Frontman/bassist Tom “Angelripper” Such remains their sole founding member (and writes most of their material), with the current lineup rounded out by long-time guitarist Bernd “Bernemann” Kost and new drummer Markus Freiwald.
Their fourteenth studio album Epitome of Torture upholds the Sodom banner, mostly adhering to their no-bullshit brand of gritty, breakneck thrash, but with a slicker production style evident in their most recent releases; Angelripper describes it as "hard-as-nails and contemporary, without ignoring our tried-and-tested old school attitude." The production was overseen by Waldemar Sorychta, who also worked with FEARnet faves Moonspell, Lacuna Coil, and Rusty Eye (to name just a tiny fraction of this guy's resume), and produced Sodom's brutal 2010 record In War and Pieces, which for me ranks among their best material in the past decade.
While Epitome is not as musically savage as that release, and there are more melodic threads woven through the overall sound, there's still connective tissue between the two albums – and the band remains as heavy as ever, with indelible hooks and mad bursts of barely-controlled chaos thanks to Bernemann's balance of mad energy and technical control. The energy runs highest in the crushing title track, and particularly the album's standout cut "Shoot Today - Kill Tomorrow," itself a snapshot of all three band members at the top of their game.
Freiwald proves himself more than worthy of the team, with thundering, angry rhythms driving "S.O.D.O.M." and the excellent "Stigmatized," which dips its claws into the death metal pool. Angelripper's super-aggressive vocal highlights come in the tracks "My Final Bullet” – which features some of the speediest picking on the album, plus an added touch of groove – and "Katjuscha," though he does occasionally play against type with slightly more melodic tones. The old-school thrash purity comes through on "Into the Skies of War," and ''Invokating the Demons,” which opens with a dark bass line by Angelripper, feels like a callback to the band's black metal roots in the mid-'80s.
While not as musically potent as In War and Pieces, Epitome of Torture is totally loyal to Sodom's punk-fueled thrash ethic, which should keep fans' horns raised plenty high. The few contemporary songwriting and production ingredients Angelripper, Sorychta and the team bring to the table don't dilute the overall energy of the music, but they don't really spice up the flavor in any significant way; it's still a solid entry in the Sodom catalog, with plenty of head-banging repeaters to be found. One of the best, the single "Stigmatized,” also features a twisted music video that is likely to ruffle a few feathers. Take a dive!