Not much has changed on Sodom's 13th album, save for the fact that they sound truly inspired this time around.
Although Sodom is always spoken in the same breath as Destruction and Kreator as the progenitors of classic 1980s German thrash metal, they're a decidedly different band than their peers. Destruction and Kreator have soldiered along just as Sodom has, putting out records to this day, but in Sodom's case, founding member/bassist/vocalist Tom Angelripper has been churning out the new music with such reliability and predictability that it's more appropriate to compare his band to the likes of Motörhead. You know exactly what every Sodom album is going to sound like going in, and the only thing that matters is whether they're completely on their game or not. Their last couple albums, 2006's Sodom and 2007's The Final Sign of Evil, while workmanlike enough, didn't exactly measure up to such a high water mark as 1989's Agent Orange; a bit of a shame considering the renewed interest in classic thrash metal in North America these last four or five years.
With their 13th studio full-length comes another shot at proving to everyone that Sodom can still put our relevant music, and remarkably, In War and Pieces does just that. Interestingly, this renewed sense of vitality has been recorded by one Waldemar Sorychta, a producer best known for putting together slickly recorded, goth-tinged metal efforts by the likes of Lacuna Coil and Moonspell. Such a pairing would immediately raise the suspicions of longtime Sodom fans, but Sorychta does the right thing on this record by simply letting the band play. Better yet, In War and Pieces doesn't try to blow up the band more than it has to. Sure, Bernd Kost's guitars are layered a little bit, but Sodom still sounds very much like a trio, Angelripper's bass as prominent as you would hear it live.
As good and understated as the production is, it always comes down to the quality of the songwriting, and the 11 tracks on the new album sound very strong, as if benefiting hugely from the long layoff between albums. Unlike the Destructions and Kreators of the thrash world, who really emphasize ultra-tight instrumentation and often intricate riffing, Sodom relies more on groove, and that combined with some excellent dynamic songwriting this time around makes for their best record in at least a few years. The down-tuned title track could even pass for a Black Label Society tune, with all its pinch squeals and Markus Freiwald's mid-tempo drumming, but as soon as Angelripper enters the fray with his distinct snarl, it becomes a Sodom song instantly, and a very good one at that. "Hellfire" cranks up the tempo to a Slayer-like pace, but again the arrangement is a whole lot looser, letting the central hook lead the way and not worrying as much about how tight the performance is.
The closest thing to a big surprise on In War and Pieces is the heartfelt "God Bless You". It's not exactly commonplace to hear compassionate lyrics in a genre as outwardly aggressive as thrash, but Angelripper pays homage to soldiers with effective eloquence atop an arrangement that deftly shifts from mournful to proud: "They've gone to sleep, lain down the fight / Carry the weight of the land to the sky / The holy ground sacred by their blood / helmets resting on the gun's butt." Still, for the most part, Sodom gives Sodom fans exactly what they crave on this album: plenty of tracks like "Storm Raging Up" and "Soul Contraband" that expertly combine pure, palm-muted, fist-pumpin' heavy metal with moments of blazing thrash speed. It's nothing new, but in its own way, it's as satisfying as any innovative metal album can be.