Friday, March 29, 2013

Into the Void: Obsessed By Cruelty

Sodom - Obsessed By Cruelty (Jun, 1986)
It would be hard to overestimate the influence that this album had on the scene. But in order to understand the album, you need to know a little bit of history. At this point, Sodom still didn't have a permanent guitarist. They had recorded In the Sign of Evil with Josef Dominic (stage name "Grave Violator"), but when it came time to put together their full length album, the axeman who laid down the riffs was Michael Wulf (named "Destructor"). The album was so slapdash and haphazard that the record company said "This is shit. Go do it again."

So the band went back to a different studio, this time with Uwe Christophers (named "Assator") and redid the album. The original recording of the album was given to Metal Blade for distribution in America, and the re-done version was pressed in Europe. Of course, it gets even more complicated, since all the CD reissues of the album have used the inferior US release (the original recording). Thanks to the magic of the internet, however, it is relatively easy to hear the Uwe Christophers copy of the album without tracking down a $50 vintage vinyl. And for this review, I've decide to focus on the European release, since that is the release that would have been available to bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone in Norway.

At this point, Sodom really doesn't sound like a band yet, and that's understandable, given their constant guitarist rotation (they would go to record Persecution Mania and Agent Orange with a third guitarist; one Frank Blackfire). On the US release, they just sound like a bunch of disillusioned teenagers flailing around in a garage. On the Euro release, however, the band tightens up their sound, particularly the drumming. They sound invigorated again, like they did on In the Sign of Evil. Yes, they still sound like flailing teenagers, but they sound excited to be flailing, rather than indifferent. Sodom followed the horrific trend of putting a pitch-shifted spoken word intro over some "ominous" music, but thankfully on the Euro release the intro is half as long and not quite as stupid. In either case, it's skipable. The real meat is the first song "Deathlike Silence." This song is the album. Good enough to name a record label after? Absolutely. The chorus is unbelievably infectious. It helps that the refrain "Deathlike...Silence!" is actually distinguishable, and that brings me to the weak part of this album.

The fact is that while there are a few good tracks besides "Deathlike Silence," ("Equinox," "Volcanic Slut," and title track "Obsessed by Cruelty" spring to mind), nothing else is memorable like "Deathlike Silence," and the reason for this is plain. Nothing is distinguishable. The guitars are simply 40 minutes of finger fluttering. As I listen to the album, I can't help but wish for the guitarist to just dig in to those strings! It's like he's completely unsure of anything he's playing, and thinks that if he wiggles around a lot, it will sound convincing. Frankly, it doesn't. There are definitely tremolo riffs and phrasings that hint at both the madness of Mayhem and the Teutonic death/thrash yet to come, but for the most part, the sound is weak, particularly when compared to In the Sign of Evil, which had an ultra-sharp and violent guitar presence. The vocals are also extremely weak because they're buried under a warbling reverb effect (although not as bad as the US release), and this renders them nearly devoid of vocal hooks (with "Deathlike Silence" being the one notable exception). Still, although I criticise it, many of the stylistic choices on Obsessed By Cruelty will be imitated by bands that I admire, like Mayhem.

I find myself wanting to like Obsessed By Cruelty a lot more than I do. Intellectually, it seems like I ought to like it, but it just seems so samey to me. Between the extremely weak guitar sound (thankfully for the band, Sodom reintroduced the ultra-violence to the guitars on Persecution Mania) and the vocals that sound so disconnected, even "good" tracks like "Obsessed by Cruelty" fade from the mind almost immediately upon listening. I'm glad that Euronymous and his friends were influenced by this album, because I certainly wouldn't have been.

Final Verdict: 4/10 - I originally thought I would score the album higher, but it's just not as good as In the Sign of Evil. If it had more tracks like "Deathlike Silence," I could get behind it more powerfully. But at this point, Sodom sounds like a band still waiting to become something.

And that's all that I have for 1986, believe it or not. 1987 brought us some fantastic things, including what some consider to be black metal's finest moment, so we'll be jumping into that as soon as possible.

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