SODOM – Genesis XIX (2020)REVIEW

Perhaps the most horrifying tradition held onto since the Old Testament’s initial dispersal, the book of Genesis offers an account of the creation of the world and God’s brutal interference with the early history of humanity that’d delineate the magical history of Israel’s ancestors and the establishment of the Jewish people. Well, this isn’t inherently horrifying but rather the divine moments of intervention where incest is remarkably common, often a necessity for the sake of a bloodline (see: The sons and daughters of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4), Abraham wedding his half-sister Sarah (Genesis 20:12) among others.) Nowhere is this incestual reality more bafflingly applied than the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where God sends two angels to the city on an RPG worthy quest: To find ten decent people, if they can then the city will be spared from divine retribution. What plays out next may as well be an episode of Futurama as a man named Lot takes them in, showing great hospitality until a mob arrives at the door asking to rape the two (male) angels. What? Well, God pulls the plug on a couple of cities soon after but not before Lot offers his two daughters (suggesting they are a fair trade, as virgins) to the mob. This irrationally pious man suddenly finds his life spared in devotion to this, a most brutal act of a repugnant god in -the- story that’d found me swearing off Christianity forever upon reading; At the very least there is no reasonable explanation for Lot’s wife dissolving into salt that works for me and… Hey, much less his daughter’s choice to get him drunk and rape him in his sleep so that they could continue the family line. The king of the Ammonites and the Moabites were the product of incest necessitated by God’s murder of Lot’s wife as they were running from the wake of a destroyed city, which was apparently full of folks super hot for angel butt. The explanation for this story when I was ten years old was essentially “God hadn’t said that incest was wrong, yet.” and I’ve been sickened by this foulest religion ever since. Not for the sake of moralization today but for the fact that Christians hinge their haughtiness on such a poorly written set of books packed with grotesque loopholes. Highly influential and prolific thrash metal band Sodom pull their name and the presentation of their sixteenth full-length album from the ashes of these biblical events, perhaps to invoke the sinister city that even Satan shook his head at or, to bask in the spectacular destruction depicted in those old stories. ‘Genesis XIX‘ looks beyond the dawn of creation to the impact of religion itself upon Earth’s impending destruction, a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom where Hell raises its banners last.

Eh, I’ll admit the symbolism of the brilliant Joe Petagno illustrated cover art and the fairly straight forward lyrics laced throughout ‘Genesis XIX’ are interesting enough on their own but my primary objective in approach of this latest Sodom album is to see what the return of ‘Persecution Mania‘ (1987) and ‘Agent Orange‘ (1989) guitarist Frank Blackfire brings back to the fold. The guitarist originally left to join Kreator for ‘Coma of Souls’ and some of their uh, marijuana influenced experimentation in the 90’s. So, this one has riffs eh? Yep. On account of my missing out on the four EP releases from Sodom since he’d rejoined in 2018, this record brings a deep hit of nostalgia to my classic thrash obsessed mind. Although ‘Genesis XIX’ offers a reasonable distillation of the most popular era of (one of) German thrash metal’s most important and representative bands, it isn’t an out of touch self-parody.

If you don’t know this band at all you’ve got a minimum of 3-4 hours of essential listening to catch up. The demos and first album delineate the most important characteristics of first wave black/speed metal hybridization handed down to the greater progeny. The second and third albums (with Blackfire) remain highly influential classics of late 80’s German thrash metal, a profound source of riffs that are still touched upon within death, thrash, black, speed and metalpunk to this day. Beyond that point we’ve got the 90’s where they’d slowly begin to touch upon death/thrash before eventually approaching from a more classic angle for ‘Code Red‘ (1999) and one of my personal favorite Sodom records ‘M-16‘ (2001). The band have slowed to a 3-4 year release cycle these last two decades ’til longtime guitarist Bernemann (since ‘Til Death Do Us Part’) left in 2018. This’d created an opportunity for recollection rather than revision as sole remaining founding member and bassist/vocalist Tom Angelripper would pull in Blackfire‘s return as well as drummer Toni Merkel (Sabiendas) and second guitarist Yorck Segatz (Neck Cemetery) for the first set of recordings as a quartet for this infamously tight trio act. Of course this isn’t a revelation beyond a live situation, most every Sodom record is written for at least two guitars. The remarkable event here on ‘Genesis XIX’ is perhaps that Sodom still not only sound like Sodom but that they’ve pulled off a sort of quasi-return to the feeling of ‘Persecution Mania’ while still referencing the gnarly angered death/thrash of the 90’s (“Nicht mehr mein Land”) and mid-paced anthemic stomps of the 2000’s (“Dehumanized”) across the span of the running order.

So, without any necessary hyperbole I could presage any closer dig into ‘Genesis XIX’ suggesting it is one of the better Sodom records. Yes, but there are sixteen of those and most of them are pretty good in hindsight but hey, the sixteenth one (just as the last several have) benefits from that hindsight without fully turning out a modern classic. If you are hoping for anything but a reinforcement of fandom or, a grand reintroduction of the qualities that’ve made this band so enduring then it’ll likely not be more than a grinding nigh hourlong buzz of mid-to-fast paced thrash metal. There are plenty of smaller details that make a big difference if you are such a fan of Sodom that you’ll notice the paradigm shift from ‘Decision Day‘ (2016) ’til now. To start, what a difference the dynamic mastering of Patrick W. Engel makes with this vinyl worthy rendering compared to the bloated and bass-gassed thud of the previous album. The use of analog recording techniques, avoiding plug-ins and digital contraptions to emulate tone, has made a remarkable difference. This is vital but perhaps not as much as the shift from Bernemann‘s slow-evolved legacy of riffing to the less melodically inclined Blackfire/Segatz duo, folks who find common ground in the intensity and phrasing of old Venom and perhaps Slayer records where a touch of rock is ok but heavy metal is the law. This emphasizes exactly why ‘Persecution Mania’ worked so well, Onkel Tom naturally revives as an angered beast when the riff attack is raw and presented with evil heavy metal intent. The pairing of “Sodom & Gomorrah” & “Euthanasia” perfectly resurrects this most classic heartbeat of Sodom that we all think of in passing without sounding like a half-assed rehash. Heavy metal idolatry be damned but, I can’t help but admire an artist who can look back at their work and still understand what made it something special or important thirty years later. As the title track arrives the established fan, as well as anyone nostalgic for the Sodom of the 80’s, will have gotten perhaps the best ‘return’ to the classic era of the band since… Well, since everyone had said the same of ‘Code Red’ in 1999 and ‘In War and Pieces’ in 2010. History repeats itself and perhaps for good reason in terms of this band.

~55 minutes is a big ask for my own situation in late November, wanting maybe a solid 38 minute ripper from Sodom and getting an extra EPs worth of riffs isn’t such a burden but I’m not sure what the Kreator-esque glide of “The Harpooner” brings beyond a lively start to Side B and “Dehumanized” is certainly more about the lyrics than any substantive riffing for my own taste. “Occult Perpetrator” has stylistic precedent, as does the Erosion-heavy “Indoctrination” and each surely add to the aggressive energy of Side B but the shot of hardcore punk barked clangor at the end of the disc bleeds a bit of the grandeur that Side A creates. Don’t take this as too harsh criticism on my part, I’d basically say the same of ‘Agent Orange’ if pressed for a serious review and I love that record. While it isn’t necessarily as iconic as “Bombenhagel” surely the goal of album closer “Friendly Fire” is to hit in a similar fashion and end on a high note. Of course they’ve pulled this off in a reasonable fashion but getting there to the payoff meant slugging through a few average, expected pieces. So, I have two major takeaways when analyzing ‘Genesis XIX’ in hindsight: Sodom have always ruled and they continue to do so with the right spirit in mind, defiant and aggressive thrash metal. Secondly, the baggage of nostalgia offers a necessary curse wherein re-gripping the old heart of ‘Persecution Mania’ also means the crucifixion of the album will be more thorough by some. No doubt Sodom doesn’t give a shit about pleasing everyone and they’ll have the last word in that regard. I can only suggest that this is one of the good ones I’d select from this band’s arsenal when making an argument for their sustained legacy. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:SODOM
TITLE:Genesis XIX
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):eOne Heavy [North America]
Steamhammer/SPV [Europe]
RELEASE DATE:November 27th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Official Website
GENRE(S):Thrash Metal

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