Dissecting the biblical destruction throughout the latest German thrasher.
Among metal's visually astounding history lies thrash metal, a genre driven by iconic mascots, legendary album covers, and profound musicianship. Bands were enlisting the likes of Ed Repka, Michael Whelan, William Benson, and of course, Joe Petagno, among many others for assistance with bringing their madness to life, leaving behind imagery that shaped the direction of the genre, as felt today. Of those who carried the thrash throne forward with true visual dominance was Germany's SODOM, who are now preparing the release of their new full-length chapter, Genesis XIX, with their mascot Knarrenheinz at the helm.
Arriving on November 27th via eOne Music, Genesis XIX finds the German trailblazers at a high point in their renowned career, bridging SODOM's ever ferocious songcraft with the profound artwork of Joe Petagno for excellence in audiovisual approach. SODOM never cease to fail in the album cover department and Petagno's vastly detailed depictions illustrate Tom Angelripper's profound lyrical vision with ease as axemen Frank Blackfire and Yorck Segat fire off with maelstrom of razor sharp riffing. From the brief and sinister opening of the instrumental Blind Superstition to the drumming masterclass of closer Friendly Fire, Genesis XIX is a testament to the longevity of the German unit, proving once again that they have yet to take their finger off the trigger.
We talk to SODOM frontman Tom Angelripper and the legendary Joe Petagno about the holy destruction of the forthcoming Genesis XIX:
From Johannes Beck’s landmark ‘Persecution Mania’ (1987) to Axel Hermann’s bloody ‘Code Red’ (1999), Sodom has worked with a plethora of artists across the band’s renowned discography, bringing to life the themes embodied within. What do you look for in an artist when approaching this particular element of a release?
Angelripper: I never got to know Johannes personally. He was a friend of Manfred Schütz, the SPV managing director, and he offered his artwork for the Sodom release. We agreed that it fits perfect to our music, as we changed the musical and lyrical concept for 'Persecution Mania'. That was the birth of our iconic band mascot, 'Knarrenheinz'.
Axel Hermann is a good friend of ours; he did countless artworks for bands before he created our 'Code Red' and 'M-16' (2001) cover. We are always working with artists who understand where we are coming from and what is important for the next particular Sodom cover.
You've had quite the variety over the years, hence Sodom's strong visual presence. That said, what drew you to Joe Petagno for 2016’s ‘Decision Day’?
Angelripper: Since my youth, I was so impressed by Joe's work on all the iconic Motörhead covers he did. In 2016, I found his contact on a website and got in touch with him. I asked him if it would be possible to do the next cover for Sodom. He said yes and I was so proud that Joe did the job. He is a great artist and a pioneer of rock and metal covers. He knows the band since beginning and was a follower of our career. The 'DD' artwork looks fantastic and we were so pleased with it. He also wrote down some lines by his own about his artwork, which is very interesting:
"After having spoken with Tom about the current state of world affairs, I wanted to visualize the History of Man from the dawn of creation to the mess we have today. The cover art is a picture of the archetype of the Apocalypse, which is hidden in us all. The eruption of unconscious material happens from two directions simultaneously from above and from below.
I used Knarrenheinz as a symbol for the countless numbers who have soldiered on thru’ the centuries in one guise or another just to get us to anno 2016, where we seem to be on the brink of another possible eruption. Knarrenheinz’s head is exploding due to his inability to hold these unconscious contents hidden or suppressed any longer. He’s in the throws of a dissociation of the upper and lower realms of the psyche, much like the world today.
Pictorially, this is a nuclear explosion, which turns into a goat head with horns (hidden but there), forming a symbol of the lower realms erupting. The barbed wire crown a symbol for oppression and incarceration that was keeping his head / psyche from erupting, which became a Crown of thorns. The snake skeleton on the left is symbolic for USA, whose bones spiraling downwards morph into human DNA and form the North American continent. The Bear skull on the right is symbolic for Russia and the European continent with the Middle East leading down to the falling victims of war and mass destruction. The cave painting at the bottom left is the Neander valley and our humble ancestral beginnings, as well as our first encounters with warring against one another. The Valley of Death is depicted on the right side.
Historically, the painting reads from the bottom up or from the quagmire to the present, if we aren’t careful it could also read from the top to bottom. That having been said; all is not lost, there is hope seen in the crosshairs of the sight pointed at Knarrenheinz’s heart. This circular shape can also be a mandala / quaternity symbol for wholeness - if we can kill off the lower instincts, it’s possible achieve transformation and a new world or aeon. Decision Day or Double D-day." - Joe Petagno, 2016
That's as great as an album cover analysis gets, my friend. With ‘Genesis XIX’ now being the second consecutive cover Petagno takes on, one could say you were incredibly satisfied by that of ‘Decision Day’, obviously. Visually, what were you looking for this second time around?
Angelripper: We talked about Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah. There are also countless ancient artworks about this theme around that we found on the net. 'Genesis 19' was of course also a song from the EP 'Out of the Frontline Trench' we released in 2019. Joe always likes to listen to the new songs we recorded so far. Also, the lyrics inspired him. Later, he did some pencil drawings to discuss the recent changes, before he started airbrushing the artwork.
Joe, upon the announcement of ‘Genesis XIX’, audiences raved about the cover for it shines with your signature use of vibrant color palettes to best illustrate a deadly occurrence. Having worked with bands of all subgenres across decades of metal’s rich history, it goes without saying that you’ve definitely left your impact on the genre for generations to come. With new technological advances and research materials galore, where do you find yourself now as an artist compared to when you were first getting your bearings?
Petagno: Pretty much in the same place as I’ve always been, technology hasn’t made a great difference in my methods. I don’t utilize a computer to create my Art. I use traditional methods and materials. I do use Photoshop for some processes like Shirt designs and logos etc. as it facilitates faster variant designs. Yup, time is still money.
It doesn’t take much to notice the obvious symbolism on our rifle holding angel on ‘Genesis XIX’, who stands above the destruction beneath as a savior of sorts. Where did you and the band find common ground in terms of the creative approach to the cover this second time around?
Petagno: We took it from the Bible, obviously. Tom requested Knarrenheinz to be the destroyer of Sodom and Gomorrah, and again he gave me free rein to interpret it as I saw fit. I took my inspiration from Genesis 19 - 24:36 and I might add the reason so many of these old stories are still relevant today is because the world we experience today is an actualization we mankind created ourselves. It’s an innate characteristic and it’s definitely going to be our demise if we don’t get our minds right.
Seeing as this is now the second consecutive cover you collaborate on, it would appear you’ve struck a good partnership. What can you comment about your working relationship?
Petagno: Tom and I are obviously on the same wave length i.e. Their music suits my art and visa versa. Our relationship is one of mutual respect for each others respective talents. We also share an inherent foreboding regarding the course humanity has chosen.
Angelripper: Our collaboration was very creative and constructive. We discussed many details to make sure everything would be perfect. Once he started his final work, there was no chance to change anything because he doesn't work with digital software, but I always have full confidence in his work.
Definitely. The amount of detail present here is profound, which of course takes great patience and heart. About how long did the painting take to complete?
Petagno: Yeah sure, it took some time, maybe 80/100 hours. I don’t count and art isn’t that kind of job. We started discussions well over a year ago, so I had a lot of time.
It wouldn’t be a Sodom record without Knarrenheinz, would it? He's come a long way since his first form on ‘Persecution Mania’. Symbolism is front and center here as he takes on the role of a gun-wielding savior, looking down upon a destroyed civilization. Where did you and Joe find common ground in this interpretation of Knarrenheinz?
Angelripper: We agreed that Knarrenheinz should be at the center of the action, symbolizing God`s vengeance campaign again the sin cities. Some details offer reckless symbols.
Seeing as Joe portrays Knarrenheinz as a sarcastic savior of sorts, one could say that the cover won’t be particularly popular among the imperialist-driven, nationalist crowd who argue that military intervention brings peace. With political tension around the world heightened, where does the biblical ‘Genesis XIX’ stand among it all?
Angelripper: The cover doesn't have any political statements. We know, of course, that war can never bring peace and religion is the basic evil of humanity. Knarrenheinz represents the memorial for a world full of social injustices, egoism and belligerence. He fights for a fairer world and threatens the world rulers to finally come to their senses.
The cover of course takes on an interesting play on religious iconography, which is taboo in a sense given that the Jesus-like Knarrenheinz is gun-toting and destructive. Aside from the obvious thrash maniacs, who is ‘Genesis XIX’ meant for?
Angelripper: The Book of Genesis is the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Knarrenheinz represents God, who destroyed notoriously sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, by burning sulfur. This story is told in the chapter of Genesis 19. The Bible provides little historical backgrounds, but I always find it very exciting to study it to learn more about it. We want to polarize and don't know of any taboos when it comes to our artistic freedom and creativity. People who don't like it don't need to buy the record. Our art doesn't have to please everyone. That has always been our motto.
Joe packed the painting with an incredible amount of detail that further strengthens your message. Thrash itself has always been a politically charged genre, both in lyrical themes and in imagery. What role do you feel that art plays as a political outlet?
Angelripper: Art can point out grievances and make people think, but we know that we could not change anything to live in a better world because we ourselves are not politically active. However, being a singer and songwriter in a thrash metal band gives me the chance to scream my rage.
Joe, the illusive pink and purple hues contrast really well with the dark blues, giving emphasis to the details present on the electric skies and the angelic take on the soldier. What inspired this color palette choice?
Petagno: I have no idea where those colours came from, I woke up one morning and there it was. I was as shocked as anyone. Maybe it was divine intervention?
Perhaps it was, and it worked to a great effect. You’ve introduced millions to records through your art and to this day, continue to do so with a new generation revisiting these Motörhead covers. That said, do you recall a time when an album cover captured your attention and made you pick up a record?
Petagno: Every time I purchase a record. Usually, if it has inferior artwork I’ll leave it in the shop. I’m of the opinion that if a band has something important to shout (auditory) about, they better have something equally as loud for the eye (ocular) to notice. Metal is perhaps the most ocular oriented of all the music genres.
You're not wrong there. Though many would look back to your days illustrating for Motörhead, one can’t help but notice that your drive is still there, delivering excellent covers for a new generation of bands that carry the torch forward, such as Spirit Adrift, Mammoth Grinder, and more. You are still really active. Is this at all as exciting as it once was when you were illustrating in the late 80’s and 90’s?
Petagno: If people like looking back, fine, they are certainly welcome to. There are some good pieces to look back on thru’ over 50 years of my career. I never look back, fast forward’s my game. Now is the only thing that’s real. And hell yes it’s still exciting! It’s what I do. In fact, it gets more interesting as I approach the precipice and I have every intention to continue. It’s a vocation, age has nothing to do with it. As long as I can hold a brush, I’ll rage against the dying light.
As long as you keep drawing, we'll keep covering, as we're doing with ‘Genesis XIX’, which is truly an audiovisual masterclass from two leaders in their class. Sodom led thrash metal and you led metal artwork. What do you hope fans take from your work when they hold that fresh vinyl LP in their hands come November?
Petagno: If people think the cover art complements and enhances the band’s music, message and it causes a stir / controversy upon release, then I’m pleased.
Speaking again to the great visual appeal of early thrash, you’ve been exposed to an endless amount of powerful works of art. That said, do you recall a time when an album cover captured your attention and made you pick up a record?
Angelripper: I bought a lot of albums because I liked the cover without having heard the music first. Artistically designed record covers have always fascinated me.
Almost three decades in and yet you and the band stand tall among the metal ranks, radiating with thunderous energy that stems from an obvious passion for thrash. Is this the pre-release excitement as strong for you as it once was?
Angelripper: I think we are stronger than ever. As long as we stay healthy and creative, we will keep going. And sure, we're still very excited when a new release is about to come and that will never change.
Like Knarrenheinz, you've transformed and evolved as a creative entity with every subsequent release, which happens to be many. Where is Sodom now compared to the early ‘Witching Metal’ (1983) days?
Angelripper: We have of course developed further without denying our roots. We are happy that we are still there after almost 40 years. I very much hope that we never disappointed our fans. We have always been loyal to people and the fans have always been loyal to us. We never adapted and only did what we wanted to do, often against the entire music industry. Our success has nothing to do with luck, it`s just the result of hard work, man.
Genesis XIX arrives on November 27th via eOne Music. Pre-order your copy HERE.