Sound — 8
Having established itself as one of the leading lights of the Teutonic thrash subgenre of metal, Sodom was nevertheless still lacking in commercial success. Extreme metal fans, especially in continental Europe, were already absorbing (and continue to be inspired by) the proto-black metal themes and forays into thrash that marked Sodom's earliest days. The problem is that it's hard to sustain the development of a metal band while you're also working as a locksmith in a coal mine, as Tom "Angelripper" was at the time. He and his two friends needed to escape that life to make Sodom reach its full potential. That escape became possible with the 1989 release of "Agent Orange," a delightfully loud record about the ravages of the Vietnam War.
Lyrics — 8
"Agent Orange" has a strong underground edge that is carefully balanced by a booming production suitable for a more commercially successful band. Same for the album art: done by Andreas Marschall, a group of gunners opens fire on the treacherous jungle below them, like a video game poster. The furious, high-speed thrash serves as a template for Angelripper's fascination with the Vietnam War - from the lethal titular "Agent Orange" ("the fire that doesn't burn!"), the mid-tempo "Remember the Fallen" (in which he channels the snarl of Dave Mustaine, to my ears), and "Magic Dragon" (which is about carpet-bombing). But the capstone is the signature song that Sodom had lacked up to this point: the mighty "Ausgebombt." Often played live in conjunction with "Ace of Spades" (which it resembles), "Ausgebombt" is three minutes of glorious, catchy speed. The buildup to the chorus ("No trade with death, no trade with arms, dispense the war, learn from the past") is a reminder that for all the focus on the carnage and destruction of Vietnam, Sodom is conveying a deeply anti-war message. And the live version from "One Night in Bangkok" is even faster than the studio version, if that was possible!
Overall Impression — 8
With 100,000 units sold in Germany alone, "Agent Orange" deserves to be heard by so many more. And its success would enable a grateful Tom Angelripper to finally quit his job at the coal mines to pursue metal full-time. He writes in thanks: "It's plaintive that Chris Witchunter can't commemorate this 20th anniversary of 'Agent Orange''s first release with us. May he find his place and his merited peace in rock and roll heaven. Hiya Chris, I drink a beer to you!" It is one special beer raised in remembrance, to complement the innumerable beers hoisted for Sodom over the years.