One of the things about the thrash renaissance that is most welcome is the remembrance of bands outside the Big Four. While the Bay Area bands, along with the New York scene, did define thrash and contribute countless classic records, the boundaries of the genre weren't compatible with America's. Thrash exploded everywhere, and nowhere more than Germany, which has solidified its legacy as the second home of thrash. In the dark years of heavy metal, when all but the biggest bands seemed forgotten, the German thrash scene was reduced to but a blip on the screen. But as thrash came roaring back to life, there's been an increased awareness of how vital the German thrash bands were, and how they carried the flag through the down times with more pride than their American counterparts.
Now that thrash is back in full force, bands like Sodom are getting more attention than they ever did before, and with an album centered around torture, I'm betting they'll be getting plenty more.
With the typical throwback flare, “My Final Bullet” teases the calm before the storm, a move that has become so cliché it's hard to remember how effective it was the first few times a metal band tried it. The song wastes no time getting to the point, tearing through sharp riffing and a quick shouted refrain of the title. The solo turns the song on it's head, but does so in a way that breaks up what would otherwise be an overlong cycle. The oddly self-referential “S.O.D.O.M.” ups the tempo, while wisely avoiding constant double-bass drumming, with the spelled out chorus something that should never work, but is actually rather fitting for what the band is doing.
The title tracks flips the playbook, slowing down the tempo as the chorus approaches, a little trick that makes the song infinitely better than if it had been raced through at full speed. That's the kind of songwriting usually only veteran bands are able to display. And then Sodom turns around and plays a song like “Stigmatized”, a more death metal inspired number that deepens the vocals to a half-growl, and ultimately goes nowhere.
The best Sodom songs, like “CANNIBAL”, are able to take all the fury and heaviness the subject matter demands and inject them with a healthy does of catchy songwriting. The riffs under the chorus of the song are exactly the kind of guitar playing that can get under your skin and infect you if given the opportunity, which is a high form of compliment. When Sodom is firing on all cylinders, they make the kind of thrash that even a non thrash fan like myself can appreciate. They do that often on “The Epitome Of Torture”, even with the few missteps they make along the way.
Worth noting is that the album sounds amazing. The production is the perfect blend of raw energy and clean sound, heavy in all the right places, but not self-destructive to the music. I can't say I've ever heard a thrash record that sounds better than this one does.
“The Epitome Of Torture” isn't going to redefine thrash, nor is it likely to be mentioned in the same breath as the comeback masterpieces of the other major thrash bands, but it's a rock solid album that deserves its fifteen minutes of thrash fame.