Friday, January 28, 2011

Sodom - Agent Orange (1989)

Coming off the strongest studio material of their career, namely the Expurse of Sodomy EP and Persecution Mania full-length, the doors of the world were being blown open for Tom and his troops. Agent Orange, the last album to feature what I consider the band's classic, ultimate combo of Angelripper, Witchhunter and Frank Blackfire, would not disappoint, though like its predecessor, it suffers from at least one needless diversion which threatens its consistency: that's yet another attempt at a German-titled punk thrash track that is ultimately forgettable against the onslaught of finely crafted riffing that marks the band's straight, metallic artillery. Nonetheless, a lot of eyes and ears were focused on Sodom at this point, and 1989 is where they affirmed their position among the thrashing hierarchy.

It helps to have the immortal lead-in track, and like Persecution Mania's "Nuclear Winter", the title track "Agent Orange" serves this purpose with ample, lethal pageantry. It opens with a stock, quality mid-paced thrash rhythm similar to what one might expect out of a US band like S.O.D., but then takes a swerve into a deeper, melodic mini-bridge before the blitz of the verse. Again, we're treated to the predictable chorus with the great, death metal-like riffs brazenly propelling it into distinction, and it's one of the best songs here. "Tired and Red" is close behind, though, a labyrinth of tight riffs with a great acoustic breakdown and leads during the extended bridge. "Incest" cranks up the velocity, and while it's not one of their better songs, there are at least 2 riffs worth shaking your fists at, and it should please fans of "Nuclear Winter"; but a real surprise is found in "Remember the Fallen", a slower paced, thrash/heavy metal song in which Tom adds a subtext of melody to his vocals which is actually quite good.

Once again, the theater of war is explored through "Magic Dragon", which is for the most part another slower paced song until the fast, thrash/death metal breaks arrive in the chorus which are safely filed under the "Nuclear Winter/Agent Orange" category; this characteristic is also the very definition of "Exhibition Bout", but there's a nice thrash break at 1:20 sure to get the heads all banging. "Ausgebombt" follows, and as I mentioned on my review of the EP with the same title, it's similar to "Bombenhagel" from the prior album, a punk/metal track with lots of gang shouts, loud and distorted Lemmy-like bass lines and not much else to it. I can say that I do enjoy the lead there, it cuts straight through the simplicity of the song's structure, and the production of the track is superb, but it's just not that interesting. Perhaps a fraction better than "Bombenhagel", but I'm all too satisfied when the warlike thrashing of "Baptism of Fire" arrives to rescue any further decline.

Agent Orange might well be the best produced album of the first few decades of Sodom, with that sturdy, clinical Harris Johns mix that distinguished many of his great European efforts. The bass and guitars are extremely well balanced; you can always make out the plodding power of the former against the ballistic, ripping weight of the latter. Tom contributes one of his best vocal performances, and despite its serious lyrical bent, the entire album seems perfect for pubbing, or perhaps grabbing a few tankards while you play war games with acquaintances. I'll always favor Persecution Mania for its grimier ethics and vicious appeal, but Agent Orange does belong to the band's most notable body of work alongside that and the great 1990 effort Better Off Dead.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (poisoned till the end of their lives)

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