Now that a thorough overview of Sodom’s career has been completed, and a short analysis from that overview has provided us with new insights, we can be more confident in our evaluation of their new album, Decision Day, in a way that allows us to tentatively explain the origin of its strengths and faults. This becomes especially useful with an album displaying averageness on all levels, showing no prominent ideas that distinguish it neither in the abstract nor the actualized, and furthermore, certainly not being more than the sum of its parts. The situation is one in which all that remains are the references that these streamlined and pre-fabricated pieces meant in their original contexts, and how this commercial product attempts to play on them for maximizing revenue.
Sodom has earned a solid reputation among the metal crowd through the years. Most fans of the metal underground will probably have heard about Sodom, or that of Tom Angelripper, and will express respect at the mere mention of either name. Their newest album displays traits which one would associate with their own brand of speed metal (a.k.a. thrash metal, incorrectly dubbed), but these seem filtered through mannerisms borrowed from styles acquired over the last two decades and a half while Tom Angelripper explored the mainstream side of metal. Decision Day is catchy, and every step and turn is a hook optimized for comprehensibility and mass consumption.
While the likes of Blabbermouth and Metal Injection will spew invariably positive praise or useless neutral nonsense, others like Angry Metal Fag will adopt a commercial hipster point of view that is not offensive but neither does it compromise their credibility with posers and people who do not listen to actual metal. Metalcore blog Metalsucks, on the other hand, will somehow turn music critique into human drama and social justice warrior campaigns based on pseudo social science. We at Death Metal Underground choose the rapier and the sledgehammer to dissect music on its own terms first while following the bread crumb trail to their recognizable sources instead, and will crucify the undeserving no matter how popular their status may be.
First impressions on relatively recent heavy metal albums by former speed metal giants like Sodom or Kreator are likely to be all over the place. Newcomers will be more enthusiastic about the more obvious style of Decision Day, since everything is new for them and every unit in metal’s tested arsenal of stimulating expressions will induce an adrenaline high. Divisions of opinion start to become more noticeable with experienced individuals which have been exposed to metal to the point of having attained a certain degree of desensitization. Veterans tend to fall into more clearly defined niches. These metal fan niches are usually centered around three main areas. The first consisting in a central neutral area, while the other two are the extremes of all-embracing love and corrosive hate.
Sodom displays the telling signs of a seasoned band that used to be considered true and insidious in its underground days, but has now transitioned to a cool and enjoyable packaging that mom and dad would buy for a teenager along with the latest Resident Evil game. The first of these signs is the fact that almost a third of the riffs are now written in a 2/4 meter and a tempo which can be followed with a relaxed bobbing of the head in a to and fro motion. More indicative of a mildly stimulating heavy metal anthem pattern than the bloodied fist in the face that Sodom is supposed to embody, Decision Day may find itself at home at a rock and metal bar. Second, the faster sections in the album are not that aggressive to begin with, at least not for someone acclimatized to the fires of underground metal, though they bear the hallmark sign of their creators, even if on the sleeves rather than branded on the skin.
The general feel of Decision Day is not so dissimilar to that one can receive from albums like Kreator – Phantom Antichrist. If we must compare them, however, the latter’s luck rides on providing mainstream metal candy of all sorts in the form of guitar stroking. Decision Day, on the other hand, places the whole of its weight on one sole support pillar: their already-existing reputation in the world scene of heavy metal. And while Sodom has never been known for their chops as innovating minds, one can perceive that they have decided to sit comfortably in an area completely known to them, and perhaps even decided to sit back and let the style speak for itself, as if new compositions are only meant as a living reminder of past glories. We should not miss the fact that guitarist Frank Blackfire was a member of Sodom around the years which saw Persecution Mania and Agent Orange come to life, and was involved with Kreator for Coma of Souls and their three next albums. These are all considered landmarks of metal by many people, which when correlated to the involvement of Frank Blackfire, give us a clue as to the origin of their competence. Sodom’s current guitar player, Bernemann, has been with the band since 1996 and clearly defines the epoch of Sodom characterized by more mainstream tendencies grounded in nu metal and alternative rock tendencies.
Sodom – Decision Day is neither disastrous disappointment, nor is it a corrective measure. Rather, we see a steadying and slight sobering up of the juvenile style that now inspires Sodom to write midpaced heavy metal with the simple object of inducing head-banging movements into the actions of lesser minds. Other tracks in this, their newst opus, also seem to fit the description of beer-smashing Rob Zombie stomp rock anthems for angsty teenagers can feel like bad boys.
What is to be rescued in Sodom’s Decision Day? If we strain our eyes hard enough, we may distinguish old impulses reminiscent of Agent Orange in some of the best riffs in the album. These are the hidden gold traces that hold this average album over the excrement trail left by Sodom over the last twenty-five years. This may yet be a sign of Sodom returning to greener pastures, though perhaps on a more mainstream path, so that before their hour of demise, a new Persecution Mania, enhanced by experience and madness.
Sodom – Decision Day may best be evaluated in a track by track basis, so that a deep examination reveals systematically to what extent does the generic nature of the appearance reaches. In the best of cases, we will be proven wrong, and some unexpectedly buried gem of a musical insight will appear in front of our eyes and suddenly the whole of Sodom’s music will acquire a new significance that forces us to reevaluate the way in which we have contemplated metal music until now. However, that is highly unlikely and the odds lean towards a pedestrian experience down the road of tired and old musicians that were never that good to begin with. We will proceed, then, in the interest of science.
The first track on the album is ‘In Retribution’, clocking in beyond the six-minute mark and composed with elements typical of Sodom. It fades in and then introduces a tough guy speed metal riff which soon gives way to classic Sodom vocals over power chords, then accelerating to a low-string attack. There is a throwback feeling in some parts of this, and perhaps the quality of the production, that make this sound like something right off of Agent Orange. The exception to this is the chorus, which is a mid-paced stomp with the clear intention of giving off the aura of a heavy rock anthem. The mandatory guitar solo comes close to the four minute mark and halfway through its execution we see a change of key that leads back to the main tone of the song, into the verse and back into the chorus. Under analysis, we see a thinly veiled pop song constructed with scraps of metal.
The next on the list is ‘Rolling Thunder’, a disappointingly generic title which tells much more about the song than one would imagine. Not that the song’s sound truly evokes the rolling of thunder, but rather that the choice of such a title reveals a lack of ideas so profound that it makes us suspicious of the contents of the song. When the music is explored we see half the “metal” song that we saw in the first. This is more verse-chorus construction thinly obfuscated, except that here, sections do not evolve through riff relations like they did in the first, rather this is the nu speed heavy rock approach that is still called “thrash metal” by many.
Next is the title track, ‘Decision Day’, which initially comes back to the typical Sodom sound, but then quickly diverges and includes a generic alternative heavy rock riff, progresses unto a singable pace and head-banging pattern, only to go back to nondescript chug-chug excuses for riffs. Fourth is ‘Caligula’, which would normally be promising article were it not for the sorry examples we have already witnessed here. This track takes the commercial putrefaction of modern Sodom to the next level, revealing a music that tries very little to provide the concrete narrative that existed in developed speed metal and early death metal, and instead rides on the candy methods of metalized pop music.
In ‘Who is God?’ Sodom balances the dangerous flirting of the previous song by going back to straightforward speed metal that lasts for about a minute before things turn into a rodeo, and the band’s nu metal influences show brightly in the embarrassing chorus. ‘Strange Lost World’ fares little better, and this time there is no presumption of speed metalisms, choosing instead to go direct into Rob Zombie mode. There is even a little of Marilyn Manson here, which makes us wonder if nu Sodom would sit well in a line up besides Rammstein and other ridiculous posers like Gwar.
‘Vaginal Born Evil’ appears to have the potential to be a truly evil song, until we speak its name out loud and realize how retarded it really is. Musically, this song contains some of the fastest and heaviest riffs in the album, which however, do not make them any less generic and lacking in the slightest creativity. What downgrades the quality of the songs even more is that the speed metal – sounding parts are intermingled with sections bearing the seal of immediately recognizable mainstream styles. Furthermore, there is an unabashed preference for chorus repetition that gives the music little extra worth when the rest of the factors are taken into account. ‘Belligerence’ shows a similar story: opening generic low-string attack speed metal riff, a break into a slower pace that lands in a gray area between nondescript heavy metal and stomp rock, followed by random rodeo heavy rock and more mid-paced acclimatizations that cycle ad naseam until the guitar solo is reached. The difference between this track and the last is that this one is more rodeo clown while in the previous a nu metal feel predominated.
The ninth track on Decision Day goes by the name of ‘Blood Lions’. This one opens more respectably with not one but three consecutive speed metal riffs leading to a slower one, after which this same opening is played again. This is Agent Orange raising its head again among the few early influences to be found still here. What follows is disappointingly generic but at least stylistically consistent in the musical sense and with respect to the traditional image that Sodom projects unto the world scene. ‘Sacred Warpath’, on the other hand, goes full on Kreator heavy metal, in that style that reminds us of Immortal in At the Heart of Winter without the excellent riffs and the holistic and conceptual vision necessary to make songs into memorable composition instead of simple hook collections. There is much more American heavy rock in this than European selling out. Not that the distinction is actually relevant at this point, both continents being absorbed under the flag of cheap and widely-available toilet paper.
‘Refused To Die’ starts with a cheap theatrical pseudo necromantic invocation that is soon underscored by clean guitar picking. More signs of the influence of Kreator heavy metal which are only confirmed by the cheapness of what follows. This last track is an exposition of uniform rhythms and chugs supporting a few hooks in a barren wasteland of mediocrity and conformity to be fed to unsuspecting teenagers and general small minds that cannot distinguish quality in art in the least. The Japanese edition of this turd of an album contains a bonus track, a cheap move that commercial acts desperate to sell extra editions with no added value typically execute on all-embracing idiots. The name of this extra candy is ‘Predatory Instinct’, which is surprisingly more Sodom-sounding as a whole than most of the content on the album. Should we consider this as a subconscious cry for help by musicians who have sold out?
As a whole, Decision Day is a sorry mix of poor American heavy metal, reminiscences works by better bands from back in the day and an unquenchable will to please an audience by covering several stylistic bases while at the same time staying updated. Albums such as these are a puzzle to some of us as it is difficult to understand why anybody would buy this music. It might sell as radio fodder, but Sodom is not a big name among beginners, it has never been considered a gateway band, and veterans will stick to the older albums. A recurring name is Persecution Mania, which is the best work that Sodom ever produced, and it is not even very good at that. Mildly passing and easily surpassed by its contemporaries at every step of the way, Sodom Decision Day is in no way a change from the band’s past mediocre modus operandi.