Sodom's Thomas Angelripper Wants Peace
Photo courtesy of El Festival del Diablo

Sodom's Thomas Angelripper Wants Peace

We talked with the leader of the iconic German thrash metal group about revolution, thrash, and metal's peaceful potential.
October 1, 2017, 12:54pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey in Spanish.

In the early 1980s, Thomas "Angelripper" Such was working in a coal mine. The desperation of seeing his life pass in a dark, deep underground pit, as well as the nonconformity he felt toward everything, motivated him to take his bass and start a band in an attempt to make a leap out of his precarious reality. With his rough voice, he said fuck it to everything, and in 1982 formed Sodom along with Frank Testegen. The deep, gut level rage of the rebellious working class man led to the creation of one of the most influential bands in the history of metal.

The rage, velocity, aggression, and rawness of Sodom made them a legend. The trio has fluctuated between black, death, and crossover metal, but they always maintained the thrash essence that defines them. War and its horrors have always been one of band's main themes. Sodom's rhythms make you feel like you're on a battlefield, where the machine guns never stop firing and bombs explode every second. It's music that evokes fire and destruction, but at the same time, critiques the thirst that humans have for destroying everything in their path.

Sodom was in Colombia for the first time 20 years ago, performing a historic concert in Medellín. In his heavily accented German, Angelripper recalls that the band was picked up in a van that was riddled with bullet holes. On November 25, the band will return to Colombia, this time to play at the gates of hell.

Sodom is one of the headlining acts for the third annual Festival of the Devil. The group is coming to the country to promote its most recent album, Decision Day, perfect for setting off the most profane pogos and filling Bogotá with fire.

From his home in Germany, Thomas Angeripper talked to us by phone about metal, punk, and the old school.

Noisey: After more than 30 years doing thrash metal, do you feel like the rage that's wrapped up in this music is the same, or has it changed?
Angeripper: It's distinct. I believe that times and music change. In the 80s, when we started this, it was a kind of revolution. We were opposed to everything: To cool, to teachers, our parents, the establishment. I remember my father telling me, "You shouldn't play music, you should go get a job," and I told him, no, this is what I want. Honestly, listening to metal in the 80s was something special. There were 30 kids in my class and I was the only one who listened to heavy metal. Now, things are very different. Now, you can't shock anyone with metal because the whole world knows what it is. With Sodom, we always try to maintain that spirit. I'm always trying to bring the feeling of the 80s to the stage, not as something commercial, but because of the pleasure of making music.

That idea of music as revolution reminds me a lot of punk.
Yes, in that time, it was the same revolution; it's just that the music was different. In the beginning, I liked punk a lot because a lot of [the bands] were even heavier than metal and I always tried to buy the heaviest things money could buy. I really liked Judas Priest, AC/DC, the things everyone listened to. But punk bands like The Exploited, Discharge, GBH, attracted me a lot. When I had parties at my house, I always liked to play the heaviest stuff. Obviously, we also put on better-known stuff like Motörhead, which was fantastic, but I always looked for more underground, extreme stuff, and I think that punk has always been a great influence on metal.

I know a lot of punks who started out as metalheads, but when they heard the rawness of punk, they switched over. Why didn't you ever jump over to punk?
I was really a metalhead. And later, it turned out that a lot of commercial punk bands appeared. In the beginning, punk was a kind of revolutionary protest. But later, between 1984 and 1986, the decadence began. There were a ton of kids who decided to be punk, but weren't. So I stuck with metal and when Venom came out, it was great; there was no turning back. But punk also crossed over to metal. I saw a lot of people wearing Venom and Motörhead t-shirts who had never listened to the bands. In my opinion they did it because it was trendy to say that you listened to metal. But I think that music is more than that; it's also a lifestyle, you know?

Nowadays, there are a lot of people who miss the old school metal and are always thinking about how it sounded before. What do you think about that nostalgia?
I think it's good. I've met a lot of metalheads at concerts, lots of young people, and they tell me "We like the old school [stuff] a lot. We're really young, so we don't know much about the current scene, but we have albums from before." They tell me that it's the only way to play good metal. I like that because the new generation is really interested in learning the history of the music, where bands came from. It gives me hope because I see that they're not people who listen to metal just because the whole world does, but because they have a genuine interest. That's what keeps the metal scene alive and helps you never change your taste just because somebody else likes something different. That was always the idea from the beginning: To create without anyone telling you how to do it, and without having to make it commercial. I make the music I like to listen to, and that's the secret to it all.

Why do you think that metal is a global language that people understand and share all around the world?
Because metal is the most peaceful music there is. We have fans in North Korea who ask us why we don't go there to play. Unfortunately, we can't, and it's a shame. The people in that country aren't free. Some years ago, we tried to play in Vietnam and it's prohibited to be a metalhead there. But now, with the Internet, there's the advantage of being able to listen to music anywhere. So no matter whether it's prohibited or you don't have money to buy things, if you're a metalhead, you can find a way to access the music because it's something that comes from the heart. But it's a shame that we can't play wherever we want, a shame that this isn't a free world. We've played all over, and even so, we can't do a concert in Iraq or North Korea—it's incredible. But in South America, people are free and, furthermore, they love metal. It's not like in Germany, where you can see any band, at any time. Here's it's nothing special. But in South America, the people wait, they save up for concerts, and that's something you really have to respect.

You've always said that Sodom isn't a political band, but it is a band with a message, which is anti-war. In these times, when we're on the verge of a new world war, do you think that metal bands should be committed to conveying some sort of message?
Yes, I think it's more and more important. In recent years, we've written a lot of lyrics against war or about why I feel worried that another world war is on the way. And yes, we can't change things because we're not elected officials, but we can take the stage and shout about everything we feel, and that's really important. I'd like to have more time to try to change things, but Donald Trump or Putin wouldn't listen to me. Also, I don't want to write empty words, especially when there are so many problems in the world. We have to talk about our opinion and if you read between the lines, you can find the message. We want war to end.

What's the best part of a life dedicated to metal?
I'm a metalhead, but I'm not a rock star. I'm a fan who makes music. And the best is that I can earn a living making music—that's a dream come true. Lots of young people ask me, "How can I become a millionaire with this music?". The truth is, there's no way to do it. When we started, there were only a couple bands, but I'm really proud of my groups, the musicians I've played with, and the fans who keep this music alive. Many people forget that bands exist thanks to their fans, and that's why it's always important to give something back to the people.

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