Sodom - _Lords of Depravity (Part One) DVD_
(SPV / Steamhammer, 2005)
by: T. DePalma (8 out of 10)
Apparently only the first half of a planned series, Sodom's massive documentary / concert package contains enough biographical glut to necessitate at least one woozy interim, but yields fascinating lessons for posterity.

The Germanic legend is re-lived from its inception through a range of media beginning with director Ronald Matthes' feature-length puff piece, "Historic Depravity". A film unfortunately hobbled as it tries to force depth from tedium, pushing 192 minutes as it attempts the definitive chronicle of the band. Opening with the now standard Heavy Metal narrative, a product of the European working class that musically reflected the harsh conditions of industrial labor, black and white images from the city of Gelsenkirchen are spliced with stock footage of local miners and scenes from the cult movie "Verlierer". The growing metal scene in the Eighties is framed by the lack of opportunity facing kids who wish to follow in the footsteps of Lemmy or Cronos rather than their fathers and grandfathers. From there, "Historic Depravity" goes on to reconstruct, year by year, the making of each Sodom album, tour, promotional video and fallout from each line-up change within the band (from Bloody Monster to Strahli), tracking down almost every relevant member for the camera.

Neither a true behavioral study nor a front for redemptive pose, the feature nevertheless provides a detailed chronology of the band through the maturation of its creator, Tom "Angelripper" Such, from adolescence to adulthood, protective of his craft and bridging the gulf between fandom and business. As a young man, Tom labors in the coal mines, his ancestral chain of toil. It's a proud job in comparison to other less demanding positions, and it pays enough to buy records and guzzle beer with regularity. He's hooked on early glam and hard rock like T-Rex and AC/DC courtesy of his older sister's collection, but also the New Wave of British Heavy Metal crossing borders into Germany. His life is changed by hearing Venom for the first time. Suddenly, "Motorhead was no longer the heaviest band".

As tactical recollections of Sodom's beginning are balanced by warm nostalgia, these early years turn a fascinating story with a palpable experience of memory that strike deep into the essence youth, as when Angelripper recalls buying his first bass guitar: "I couldn't even play. I just wanted it!" With little video offered of the trio's early years, a treasure of early promotional shots and 'zine excerpts provide the backdrop for narration, though all this static footage of seated interviews and old photographs takes a toll. Not until 1986 does the concert footage really come in, and it's here that one partakes in the most fruitful period of the band up to _Persecution Mania_. The interviews given pertaining to this period give a strong sense of each band member's personality through such varied contrast, and fall amusingly into total rock cliché: Tom, laid back, the brains; Chris Witchunter, the brute; and Frank Blackfire, preening guitar bimbo. Blackfire's unprofessional departure before the tour with Sepultura is discussed with the vague reasoning that the band just wasn't getting along, and Blackfire insisting he had to be true to himself, going on to tour in the States with Kreator.

It's questionable whether non-diehards will actually move further beyond this point in the story, filled with such anesthetizing details as what the weather was like on tour and how heavy each new record became. It's not completely worthless, just poorly handled -- and for all the asides regarding Sodom's reputation for boozing it up, this remains a sanitized affair. A long segment on Sodom's tenth anniversary concert and assorted cameos by fellow musicians scattered throughout the disc may cause the neck to rescind its slope, but never actually tell us something, absorbing praise from Peter Tägtgren, Lemmy, Abbath, Chris Barnes, the guys from Kreator and Tankard, Dan Lilker and fellated comments by friends at Metal Hammer and Die Arzte's Bella B. The exceptions to this are producer Harris Johns and painter Andreas Marshall, whose outside perspective and involvement in other mediums connected with music offer a refreshing turn. Then there are the management and record people to put it all in realistic terms. When SPV head Manfred Schuetz corrects his fabled assertion that the group was so terrible he had to record with them by reiterating that their shocking lack of skill would sell records, we agree: it's a big difference.

There is something of the same logic in Angelripper himself, probably rooted in his upbringing. As a former co-worker in the mines remarks, "the mines are dying and he's still making money with what he's doing". Music is a livelihood, and never feigning the guise of an artist, Sodom's activity during the past decade has been to reiterate and rehash its familiar product to a devoted following with only one cardinal rule: "Heavier means better". Perhaps what best puts this need to protect vocation into context is the firing of guitarist Andy Brings in 1995, which Angelripper places on the age gap between them, and Brings puts down to money. One realizes that both are correct because, essentially, they mean same thing. This is the deeper story that Matthes and Angelripper manage to project (perhaps inadvertently) from hours of interviews, and it's the most relevant to both listeners and aspiring performers.

Produced by SPV as a boon to their fan base, thus, never daring to present anything as less than an improvement with passing time, it nonetheless delivers a genuine and inspiring tale; at least for a little while. When we're told by Tom about his waking one morning after completing a tour, settling back into the daily grind at home and wondering, "What am I doing here?" before quitting his job at the mines permanently, it's more affecting than any recording of his in recent memory -- and we recall the opening narration which grimly states that in Gelsenkirchen, "Hardly ever does someone break out of his inherited fate". To challenge fate, to wrestle dreams from a cavern of soot is not a passion confined to one musician but of every man capable within himself. Despite its clumsy editing and even partial lack of entertainment, this is the richest and most important production connected to the band in years.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for "Live Depravity", the third live video product and technically the fourth live album from Sodom to date, which still doesn't compare to _Mortal Way of Live_. The footage here is culled from several festivals on German soil, including Wacken (2001), Full Force and Rock Hard (2003), a headlining show in Bulgaria (2004) and clips from various other spots on tour. The final sum of that list, a hefty twenty-two tracks, reveals the band enthusiastic and strong, leaning toward a post-'95 set-list for the completed presentation. (Originally this DVD was to be only the complete Wacken show, featuring the return of Grave Violator on guitar, but due to technical problems this was elided from the present release. The liners mention it will eventually surface on the next DVD and they mention that without the slightest hint of irony.) As might be expected, the older songs feel out of place wrapped in their modern sound and only a few were chosen for the final cut ("Outbreak of Evil", "Nuclear Winter", "Ausgebombt" and "Sodomy and Lust"). A small consolation that the material from _M-16_ sounds less scratchy and lethargic compared to the actual record.

Excellently shot with cameras at every inch of the venue, finalized in dizzying cuts with vivid and sharp visual quality (contra the former disc's often sickly tones) "Live Depravity" is the way a speed metal concert ought to look and sounds considerably beefed up with a guitar-heavy mix in stereo. Switch to Dolby 5.1 to actually hear the drums. The videos for "Ausgebombt", "Silence Is Consent", "Die Stumme Ursel" and a trailer for "Verlierer" complete the disc. Both features are housed in a sturdy fold-out case bearing the band's logo, equipped with one booklet per disc, filled with photos and extensive commentary for each album and performance.

Contact: http://sodomized.info

(article published 15/3/2006)


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ALBUMS
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7/5/2006 T DePalma 6.5 Sodom - Sodom
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