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Venom

One of the most infamous bands ever to crawl out of the North East, VENOM are widely regarded as being the demonic inspiration for hundreds of scary black metal acts. They may well have instigated the genre. Dogged by numerous personnel adjustments, even the trio of main “original” players were subject to a leave of absence: vocalist/bassist Cronos (aka Conrad Lant) between 1987 and 1994, guitarist Mantas (aka Jeff Dunn) for one album in 1987 and 2002 onwards, and drummer Abaddon (aka Tony Bray) from 1999 onwards; therefore only Cronos remains.
As punk-rock spread to a variety of movements and genres, the song remained the same for the British hard-rock and metal scene, still in awe of ‘Zeppelin, `Sabbath and ‘Purple. Evolving slowly but surely when the likes of JUDAS PRIEST and MOTORHEAD rallied to the cause, there was another lurking in the Geordie-land shadows waiting to pounce – VENOM.
Formed in Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1979, when Messrs Jeff Dunn and Tony Bray (under the Guillotine moniker) snapped up Conrad Lant (from Dwarf Star) to supersede guitarist Dave Rutherford, they struggled to keep players. Switching to bass and, in turn, replacing ex-Oberon singer Clive Archer by the summer of 1980, Conrad took on both roles as VENOM now became a trio.
True to their self-proclaimed position as Satanic grand-masters, VENOM allegedly refused to support anyone, spitting out their debut album, WELCOME TO HELL (1981) {*8} without having played one solitary gig. Critics were all the more stunned, then, at its merciless black occult assault and proto-thrash/speed-metal fury; menacing songs such as the title track, A-side `In League With Satan’, its B-side `Love Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’ and `Angel Dust, spewed out like some sprawling hybrid of the aforementioned BLACK SABBATH and MOTORHEAD.
Signed to nearby, Wallsend-based independent, Neat Records, VENOM made the rest of the NWOBHM combos sound like kindergarten amateurs. When the band did eventually begin playing proper gigs, they were forced to play halls rather than clubs, their notorious, pyro-happy stage set a mite dangerous for the narrow confines of a small club. The trio’s self-explanatory follow-up set, BLACK METAL {*9} – released towards the end of ’82 – still remains the benchmark against which many Beelzebub-friendly bards compare themselves. No need to play this set backwards to find words of wickedness, `To Hell And Back’, `Raise The Dead’, `Bloodless’ and `Countess Bathory’ were poisonous with no antidote. Interesting was the outro of `At War With Satan’, only a 2-minute of what was to come next.
By the release of the Top 75 album, AT WAR WITH SATAN (1984) {*7}, however, VENOM had begun to take a more considered approach to writing and playing, elongating the opening side-long title track into 20 mind-blowing conceptual minutes. Inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Book of Revelation and a storyline that involved the guardian to the gates of Hell (namesake Abaddon), VENOM promised further publications, but when realising the full scope of the task it came to nothing. Normality resumed for the second side, `Rip Ride’, `Cry Wolf’ and `Woman Leather And Hell’ thrashed and bashed back to oblivion. But some fans were unhappy that the musical mayhem of old was being compromised, although it did contain the classic fun-time addendum of-sorts, `Aaaaaarrghh!!’.
Though the band were still packing in the crowds, POSSESSED (1985) {*6} was a slightly disappointing studio set; their fourth with producer Keith Nichol. Black metal yet to materialise with any great force, VENOM were still thought the jokers in the pack, their bark worse than their bite despite some decent tracks in `Powerdrive’, `Burn This Place To The Ground’ and the title track.
When an album “Deadline” was prophetically shelved, a live double set EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK (1986) {*5} preferred, Mantas became upset by the way things were going and finally bailed out for a solo career. The album itself was made up from one side at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 8th October 1985 and the other, recorded at New York City’s The Ritz on the 4th and 5th April 1986.
Neat Records now pushed out of the equation, Filmtrax Records delivered the Mantas-less CALM BEFORE THE STORM (1987) {*4}; twin-guitarists Mike “Mykus” Hickey and Jim Clare provided hard-rock-by-numbers for producer Nick Tauber. Forsaking Satan for sword-and-sorcery, the “Deadline” theme was wasted on the likes of `Beauty And The Beast’ and `Under A Spell’, titles given to later re-issues of the below-par set.
When a departing CRONOS snatched both Mike H and Jim C for his own venomous solo band (his `Dancing In The Fire’ and `Rock N’ Roll Disease’ were unleashed in the early 90s), the sting in the tail of the once-mighty VENOM was in a spin as only drummer Bray remained. Thankfully, with the help of a contract on Under One Flag (aka Music For Nations) – during which time the acquisition of singer/bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (ex-ATOMKRAFT) and the reinstating of Jeff Dunn proved equally fortunate – PRIME EVIL (1989) {*5} chalked up album number six; Al Barnes performed as rhythm guitarist. VENOM were now a pale shadow of the infernally inclined thrash/death bands they’d helped to spawn.
The much-improved TEMPLES OF ICE (1991) {*6} resurrected VENOM, in part, but, while the title track, `Faerie Tale’ and `Tribes’ pointed the way forward, a cover of DEEP PURPLE’s `Speed King’ took the quartet back several steps; JUDAS PRIEST’s `Hellbent…’ (from their previous 12” EP `Tear Your Soul Apart’ and featuring alternate lyrics) was in a similar vain.
To make things worse, the increasingly moribund black metallers stumbled on. Further personnel changes came when Al’s berth was taken by both Steve White (guitar) and V.X.S. (keyboards/sound effects); this taste of VENOM finally laid the beast to rest on 1992’s THE WASTE LANDS {*6}. On the other side of the spectrum, CRONOS was confusing matters even worse when his outfit released an album entitled `Venom’ (1995) – something had to be done.
Inevitably, the triumvirate of old was reunited when all parties (Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon) regurgitated classic nuggets, from `Seven Gates Of Hell’ to `Black Metal’, on their `Venom ‘96’ EP. The evil was fully restored when VENOM’s “back-from-the-dead” set, CAST IN STONE (1997) {*6}, drew in listeners from the old school hard-rock and thrash-metal, remembering that the world of rock music had evolved in the past decade. Opening with a cut that forked into the final grooves of their previous aforementioned EP, `The Evil One’, and further songs represented by the usual suspects of Devil worshipping (`Raised In Hell’, `God’s Forsaken’, `You’re All Gonna Die’ and so on), VENOM’s coffin lid was re-opened for business.
Probably sick of two decades trying in vain to promote the band from the back benches, Bray/Abaddon decided to quit, leaving the remaining pair to rope in Cronos’s brother Antton (aka Antony Lant) for RESURRECTION (2000) {*6}. Proving to be a worthy replacement, Antton’s machine-gun-speed drumming more than satisfied followers of the re-vamped trio; check out `Pandemonium’, `All There Is Fear’ and `War Against Christ’.
When Mantas bailed out for the final time in 2005, uncertainty once again rose its ugly head. With former VENOM-ite Mike “Mykvs” Hickey in tow, the tables were turned for 2006’s METAL BLACK {*6}. There was no need to guess where their Satanic-themed dirges lay: `Antechrist’, `Lucifer Rising’, `Rege Satanas’, `Burn In Hell’ and so on, all riff-tastic to kill time, or for that matter, anything else that got in their way.
2008’s simply-titled HELL {*6} – their introduction to Universal Records in the States – the set spawned yet another fresh axeman in La Rage, who was joined a year later by sticksman Dante Needham when Antton left to explore some metal grooves further afield by way of Def Con One. Unlucky for some, album thirteen FALLEN ANGELS (2011) {*6} was evidence that VENOM were here to stay. While numerous Scandinavian acts were recapturing the ethos and energy of Cronos and Co, there was no substitute for the real thing; from `Hammerhead’ and `Nemesis’ to `Valley Of The Kings’ and the title piece, VENOM were strengthening their grip on their already-smitten disciples.
Then, FROM THE VERY DEPTHS {*8} was uncaged in the first month of 2015. Cascading guitar fret-work from Rage, incendiary drumming from Dante, and Cronos’s guttural growl from beyond the grave, the visceral VENOM were in no mood to take pasty-faced prisoners. In tasty tracks, `From The Very Depths’, `The Death Of Rock N Roll’ (killing off King Creole), `Evil Law’ and `Long Haired Punks’, the trio rode to Hell and back. If one blistering band was ready to unseat the mighty MOTORHEAD from their metal throne, VENOM damned all their demons to Hell and rolled the dice for a place under the hand of Lucifer himself. Now if this was only serious!?
© MC Strong 1997-2001/GMD // rev-up MCS Jan2015

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