Nearly 40 years after their formation, Sodom are still thrashing vehemently. Their new album Genesis XIX is an absolute scorcher. Instead of slowing down and polishing out all the roughness that fans adored in early years, the band has forged ahead stealthy with a palpable rawness, but with a fuller, louder production due to modern technology. The band tip their hat to their early material released in the ‘80s.
Genesis XIX includes a lineup of both newcomers and familiar faces. Frontman Tom Angelripper returns to the microphone and bass. Toni Merkel joined the band just this year on drums. For the first time on a LP, Sodom features two guitarists, Yorck Segatz and Frank Blackfire. Both joined in 2018, but Blackfire has prior history in the band. He played on arguably their two best albums: Persecution Mania (1987) and Agent Orange (1989). Heavy Music Headquarters talked to Frank Blackfire about the new album. He filled us in on the recording process, and why he feels it’s a nod to old school Sodom and ‘80s thrash. Blackfire also talked about rejoining the band and the group’s current lineup.
Darren Cowan: The last full-length Sodom album you were on was Agent Orange in 1989. How does it feel to be back?
Frank Blackfire: It feels great! I rejoined Sodom in 2018. It’s been pretty cool. We have a lot of fun together.
What’s the story of your comeback? What brought you back after nearly 30 years?
At the beginning of 2018 I heard that Tom (Angelripper) was splitting with his other band members. I was pretty surprised. I was like, “Wow, what’s that? I thought they were going to stick together forever.” It was a big surprise for me, actually. Maybe a week or two later Tom contacted me. He wrote me and asked if I would like to rejoin the band. I said, “Yeah, let’s do it, man!”
What do you remember about recording Agent Orange and was their a major difference with Genesis XIX?
When we recorded Agent Orange we went to Harris Johns’s studio in Berlin for three weeks or so (for) the whole process recording in the studio and being there in Berlin. This time we did it at home recording everything. The final mix was in a big studio with a huge analog desk as we know from the past. It was a little different. It was more relaxed recording at home. You can record anytime you are feeling good. Time is money in the studio. You gotta be quick, quick, quick. It’s a little more comfortable nowadays because you can record on your own computer. You can record your own ideas at home in your home studio. Technique-wise, it’s a little easier.
Genesis XIX was recorded by Siggi Bemm. It has an old school Sodom feel. Was that the band’s goal coming into it?
Siggi Bemm is a guy who is pretty well-known for metal productions. It worked out pretty good, actually. We recorded vocals in the studio. We did the final mix there. We wanted to go back to the feel of the ‘80s.
How do you feel about the mix? It seems like everything comes through really clear.
Pretty good. We took our time for the mixing, and tried to mix it the way we like it, pretty punchy. The drums have to kick you in the face. The guitars have to be aggressive. Vocals have to be right in front. It came out pretty good. Sure, nowadays you can make a louder, more powerful production than back then in the ‘80s.
How do you see this album compared to your previous Sodom albums, Agent Orange and Persecution Mania?
I think I still have the same feeling, song writing. Sure, everybody has aged a little bit. When you get older, maybe a little wiser (laughs). You learn some more on guitar. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but hard, brutal, in your face like thrash metal that used to be in the ‘80s. I tried to get back to the feel and the riffing of the ‘80s that made Sodom popular.
Sodom are traditionally a power trio, but with this album you have four members. What does Yorck’s extra guitar bring to your sound? How do you two mesh?
Tom wanted a second guitar player for a long time, but when he was together with Bernemann, I think Bernemann didn’t accept another guitar player. For me, it was nothing. I used to play in trio bands with Sodom. I used to play with two guitar players in bands. There is more punch with two guitar players. Two guitar players make the whole thing a little more fat and more aggressive. You can do more with two guitars, and make it more powerful.
Toni Merkel joined the band this year. How did he come into the band?
Toni and me have known each other for about ten years. He was also playing in my solo band. I knew him from another drummer I played together with. I always liked his playing style. When I heard Husky was leaving, I thought maybe we should get Toni in the band. I talked to Tom. He gave him a chance with an audition. That’s how it started. Toni got pretty quick into the songs. He already played a couple of old songs with me. Toni is a metalhead and knows old Sodom. We learned the other stuff pretty quick. We started rehearsing with him pretty quick a whole set list together. We were ready to play. He learned very quick. He didn’t take as long as other drummers to get into the set list, to play the set list tight. He’s a good drummer. It’s a lot easier with him. He can play much more fast and technical stuff that we couldn’t do before. So, he fits perfectly in the band. He’s pretty happy to join a band like Sodom. The feeling is great, everything is tight, and everything is cool with him.
Prior to completing this album, you released three EPs: Partisan, Chosen by the Grace of God and Out of the Frontline Trench. What can you tell us about these EPs? How do they compare to the full-length?
When the new Sodom lineup started to play live, we had a cover story for Rock Hard. They wanted something special to put on their CDs. At first we did a cover song. Then we started working on Partisan. I had a song ready. Yorck had another song ready. Partisan was recorded pretty quickly to show to the people how the new lineup is. We re-recorded “Agent Orange,” also because it’s always played live, and we wanted to do another studio version. We wanted to show how the new lineup is sounding. We continued that with Out of the Frontline Trench and we put out “Genesis XIX” on it, which was the first track we recorded for the new album. Of course, it was time for Sodom to bring out a new album. We were already putting songs together, ideas and everything. Every guitar player has his own ideas for songs. That’s how we worked around to record the new album. In between we wanted to bring out something to show the people how the new lineup sounds.
You released lyric videos for “Indoctrination” and “Sodom & Gomorrah.” Why did the band choose those songs as singles?
I guess “Sodom & Gomorrah” fits into the whole scenario. It’s like what Genesis XIX is all about when you read that piece of the Bible when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. We were creating new songs around this theme. That’s why we put “Sodom & Gomorrah” first. “Indoctrination” fits pretty good into the time we are living in. Who knows what’s going on next? The world is pretty weird nowadays. I think the album fits well into these weird times we are living in right now.
“Sodom & Gomorrah” has an old speed metal feel. It’s a major head banger! Tell us about writing that riff.
I like that song, too. We were working out riffs in the rehearsal room. We played them, and we did a little pre-production. We listened back to it. Tom listened to it and put vocals to it. He wrote the lyrics to it. We were doing it again, maybe changed it around a little. Then we thought; “Now it’s good. Let’s leave it like this.” We tried to get back to the old feeling for the whole album, like when Sodom started. Going back to the roots, you know back in the day, when Sodom started in ’82. We tried to imagine which bands put out albums back in ’82. The whole thinking process was kind of like this, going back to the ‘80s to get that feeling. Write the songs for the new album like this. Of course, it sounds a bit modern because the technology is higher than back in the ‘80s. We tried to catch that ‘80s vibe on this album.
Joe Petagno of Motörhead fame created the artwork. What are your thoughts on the cover?
This time the cover was done and we received it from him while we were recording the new album. We were still in the recording process, and the cover art was done already. This never happened before. We always had the songs and everything done, and then the cover art came. This time it was a little different, so we wanted to bring the whole feeling and artwork together. It combines pretty good. The artwork is great! Everything fits good together.
You mentioned COVID-19 and how everything is screwed up nowadays. It has definitely screwed up touring plans. Possibly the biggest show you have coming up is Mexico Metal Fest. That’s supposed to be with the Big 4 (Sodom, Destruction, Kreator and Tankard). Do you still plan on playing that festival?
Oh yeah, definitely. I guess there is a new date for it next year. I don’t know exactly which date, but they want the whole thing next year. Most of the dates were changed from 2020 to 2021. I hope we can play that. We pretty much have the dates for 2021. I hope we can play them all.
Will this be the first time you’ve played a show with all of the Big 4 on one bill?
For me, this will be the first time playing in Sodom. We played with Destruction, I think last year. We played some festivals together. My other band played together on another festival. I think it’s interesting for thrash people to have the Big 4 German bands all together. It’s definitely an interesting bill.
Did you play with any of those German bands when you played in Kreator?
Yeah, we played some festivals here with Sodom and Motörhead. Back then in the ‘90s there were always Christmas Metal Meeting festivals with Motörhead here in Germany. One time we played together with Kreator and Sodom. Destruction wasn’t around at this time. Their reunion was later, I guess.
(interview published November 26, 2021)