When I first started listening to metal, one of the bands that I was warned to stay away from was the German thrash trio Sodom. I was told that their music was too impossibly fast and extreme to be even mildly comprehensible. The first thing I did, of course, was listen to the first Sodom album I could find, which was 1989’s “Agent Orange.” In all fairness, I think the individual who warned me against Sodom was referring to the band’s earlier works such as “In The Sign of Evil” and “Obsessed by Cruelty,” since “Agent Orange” represents something of an aesthetic refinement of the German thrash movement that Sodom helped to create; the music is still fast enough to tear your face off, but the overall emphasis seems to have shifted from speed to fullness of sound as evidenced by a greater role for the bass and a reliance on powerchords in lieu of quickly jumping from one fret to another with insane tremolo picking (not to mention improved production values).
“Agent Orange” begins with the title track, which is one of Sodom’s best songs as well as a thrash classic in its own right. In some superficial respects, it resembles the more commercialized style of mid-1980s speed metal (as exemplified by albums such as “Master of Puppets”) with few of the same neoclassical pretensions of that era. The result is a simpler, more streamlined metal sound that is ironically less accessible than its American and British forebearers. The frentic thrash tempo only increases after the title track, moving into the panicked “Tired and Red” and the sexually inappropriate “Incest.” The epic thrash ballad “Remember the Fallen” (also a classic track) slows things down a bit but the pace afterward is relentless with “Magic Dragon” and “Ausgebombt” being the highlights of the second half of the album. Tom Angelripper’s gnarled voice is the perfect complement to the hellishly fast proceedings on “Agent Orange,” riding above the music like a tactical bombing raid and more than slightly resembling Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead. The theme of the Vietnam War introduced on “Agent Orange” would be revisited on Sodom’s 2001 album “M-16,” although “Agent Orange” is the superior album in just about every way. This is an essential thrash album that no metal fan ought to be without.