Monday, January 10, 2011

Sodom - Obsessed by Cruelty (1986)

The early Sodom might have lacked the razor edged refinement of their countrymen Destruction, or the barbaric ballast of Kreator, but they made up for some of their lack of musical pedigree and production standards with a lot of heart. By heart, of course, I mean the one being ripped out of the listener's chest and stamped upon. Obsessed by Cruelty, arriving two years after their EP inauguration In the Sign of Evil, is in turn both the most lo-fi and disgusting of the 'Big Three' debut full-lengths, but its primacy would nonetheless make a mark on a scene seduced by wretched extremity on both sides of the pond. It's little more than an expansion of the EP's heavily punk driven speed/thrash metal sound, with a new guitarist (Destructor in place of Grave Violator), and its often sloppy to the point of being nearly incomprehensible, but it's quite god damned evil, and certainly lives up to its hype as an influence upon splatter-thrash, death and black metal.

You don't get a lot of precision here, the songs just seem to fall together; like "Volcanic Slut" which sounds so amateur as it creeps between oozing bass and feedback atmosphere to a storm of speed, the guitars cruising at 100mph. But it seems about as organized as an improvisational death/thrash jam, especially when the solo careens over the bridge, and especially through Tom Angelripper's gnarled vocals. "Brandish the Sceptre" goes for the artery with a tearing force that foreshadows some of their career highs like "Nuclear Winter", but some of the drums in the transitions sound a little lazy or unpracticed. Some of the slower, more traditional rocking pieces like "Deathlike Silence" and "Proselytism Real" seem to steal the thunder away from the more bewildering speed of others, but it's not because they're somehow more complex; Tom's vocals just seem to meld better where they get a chance to expand syllables over the better paced riffs. That said, there's something uncannily entertaining about the brute bursts of "Witchhammer" or "Nuctemeron", with that same loose, distraught menace that Venom once had, Hellhammer or Bathory before the Viking phase commenced.

There's some part of me which has always struggled a little with Obsessed by Cruelty. It's a hot, sticky mess, but a fun mess. It seems almost all cohesion had been thrown to the wolves in the name of slovenly sadism, and I will admit that there are few points at which the riffs are so sterile that I have become bored through the years. It's actually a very, very similar tone to Venom's first two records, except those had the benefit of superb, unforgettable songs that never stopped pounding against my skull. A few numbers here deserve their spot on a Sodom career highlight reel ("Deathlike Silence") but I'd say that both of the EPs which sandwich this album are superior, and the most critical weapon here is that of jilted, atmospheric nostalgia, and the flaws here are just a few too many to brush off entirely, no matter how much I'd like to coddle its cult classic status. It's far more raw than, say, Pleasure to Kill, but also less extreme in its execution.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
(with a frightful weight)

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