Many of the essential records in the development of the heavy-metal underground were recorded in — to be kind — less than ideal conditions. So the prospect of re-recording Sodom’s 1984 EP, In the Sign of Evil, regarded as one of the key proto-black-metal releases, should be cause for excitement. Problem is, the original artifact sorta sucked. Critics at the time savaged the German thrash band’s debut for its wobbly musicianship and “limited” English skills (e.g. “I turn the cross upside down/ And read Satanic bible with fucking grown”). And even today, In the Sign of Evil is best appreciated with a healthy sense of nostalgia.
The Final Sign of Evil reunites current Sodom vocalist/bassist Tom Angelripper with long-since-departed guitarist Grave Violator and drummer Chris Witchhunter, both of whom played on the In the Sign of Evil sessions. The idea was to re-release the album in its intended form, including seven tracks that were, for budgetary reasons, never recorded. On that front, The Final Sign of Evil should be considered a triumph, since the 2007 version of Sodom is every bit as charmingly sloppy as the 1984 version. Drums and guitars constantly phase in and out of sync on high-speed blasters “Blasphemer” and “Outbreak of Evil,” which is no surprise considering that Witchhunter hasn’t been inside a studio since 1994 and Grave Violator’s last recording experience was the 1984 sessions. Sodom even hired their webmaster Toto to produce the record instead of going with a professional, resulting in an authentically amateur sound not too far removed from the original’s.
The seven previously unheard tracks are marginally more accomplished in terms of songwriting than the five repetitive thrashers reprised from the original EP, but that ain’t saying much. Without a lick of surprising material, an update in sound quality or improved musicianship, The Final Sign of Evil is just a historical document, and your enjoyment of it will depend on whether you think it’s an important historical document. Moonspell and Destruction both offered superior re-recordings of their early material in 2007, and it would have been nice to hear Sodom go the same route. Instead, they remind us that “classic” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” Now, if only Metallica would get around to re-recording . . . And Justice for All.