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Welcome To Hell (1981)
 

In January 1981, heavy metal meant bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden (who were weeks from releasing their second album), Motorhead, Angel Witch and Diamond Head, among others. There was no Slayer or Metallica and certainly no Bay Area Thrash scene. There was no German Thrash Metal. Brazil was bereft of any sort of Black/Death Metal and Scandinavia's most widely known musical output was from a disco group. Even Ozzy Osbourne had only released one solo album at this point. The hard rock/heavy metal landscape was far different from what it is today; it was quite different than it would be, even a few years later. When people listen to Venom for the first time, most are unable to truly fathom what this band signified because they've heard heavier and faster bands. They fail to realize that all of this had to start somewhere. This was the birth of extreme metal. This trio from Newcastle, England was very influential to the Thrash, Death and Black Metal bands that came after them. Venom influenced bands including Slayer, Bathory, Hellhammer, Possessed, Death, etc. And how many others did those bands go on to influence? Even Metallica cited Venom as an influence, in the early days.

Welcome To Hell is the raw sound of heavy metal in its most primal, feral form. The sound of a band holding nothing back, with a style that took the essence of Motorhead, punk rock and Black Sabbath, shook it all together then distorted the result until ears bled and people ran screaming for cover. This album is the musical equivalent to the Earth splitting asunder, opening up and revealing a filthy, gaping maw to the Kingdom Below. It's the sound of sinners screaming in eternal damnation, hellfire licking at their charred and blackened limbs. It's the sound of a succubus mating orgasmically with a mortal man. It's the sound of Lucifer's voice emanating from Linda Blair's lips. It's the sound of a sacrificial knife slicing bloodily between a virgin's breasts.

"Sons of Satan" bursts from the silence, as soon as you put the record on, with all the energy of a Motorhead tune. However, this features more bass, which adds to the aura of doom, and very raspy and diabolical vocals. The song rages from the inferno of black flames, though there is a slower section in the middle that showcases a relaxed bass line, before bursting forth once more with conviction and fury. Though they weren’t entirely dissimilar from other NWOBHM bands, Venom’s entire presentation was as terrifyingly unique as Black Sabbath’s debut was a decade before.

The next song is "Welcome To Hell" and it sounds like a chainsaw attempting to slice through a steel girder. This is a little slower, featuring a mid-paced thrash riff that would go on to be ripped off a million times from Motley Crue and Celtic Frost to Bewitched and legions more. The sound is rugged and low-fi and suits Venom just fine. There’s an almost intentional sloppiness to the record; the guitars and bass are so raw that you start to question whether some of the things you’re hearing are really even there. The drums are produced pretty poorly too, but they’re so frantic that it’s excusable. Cronos’ nearly atonal vocals are also a plus: his signature growl and occasional shrieks have been echoed by Tom Araya and dozens of other thrash vocalists. This song may have been influential in its use of female vocals for a brief spoken word passage, as well.

"Schizoid" is next, is another uptempo song with memorable riffs and enough changes to keep the listener interested. This is a great example of Venom's ability to join together insane speed (for the time) with a very catchy chorus. This is a menacing account of a mentally disturbed murderer stalking his victim and it sounds as if it was actually recorded somewhere in the pits of Hell. Somehow, it would be hard to imagine it any different. It definitely fits the dark, sinister and filthy atmosphere of the songs.

"Mayhem With Mercy" is a brief instrumental that serves as an interlude. This acoustic passage has a somber feel to it and the sound of the winds blowing only adds to the cold effect. This piece stirs feelings of abandonment, solitude and hopelessness. This is all swept aside as "Poison" rocks in from the darkness. This is a relatively fast song, using Satanic imagery to convey a pretty sickening tale that, probably, was all-too-common in those days. This certainly isn't the darkest song on the album, but it fits in just the same and features some killer thrash riffs and hellish solos. This atmosphere continues with "Live Like An Angel (Die Like A Devil)". This song has some of the best riffs of the whole album, especially the twin guitar harmonies around the two-minute mark. This, as well as the wicked solos, helps to give the song somewhat of an epic feeling (if this can be applied here).

Side two begins with the fastest and most evil song on here, "Witching Hour". The rumbling bass joins the sound of flames flickering in the wind as the gates of Hell open wide and demonic screams issue forth. This brilliant song must be heard to really be appreciated, especially the awesome lead solo. The song ends in a frenzy of hellish chaos. This is followed by the merciless and unrelenting "One Thousand Days In Sodom". What the song lacks in speed, it makes up for in heaviness and power, crushing those that dare stand before it and grinding their bones to dust.

Quickening the pace once more is “Angel Dust”, another barbarian at the gates that rips them from hinges with a bursting chorus. Much like "Sons of Satan", this is uptempo and reminiscent of Motorhead. Cronos screams with quite a bit of conviction and it serves the song very well. Then the fires turn black. With the unholy entrance of “In League With Satan” the draconian mood ascends to another level. Just when you think this album’s psalms to Hell have already been penned in their purest form, this innocent song comes along to crush them and all other feats of darkness up until that point and some time after… the morose, back-masked intro, the distorted and demonic vocals, the droning chorus, lyrics written with the tears of priests… This plodding tune adds a lot to the evil atmosphere of Welcome To Hell. The finale, “Red Light Fever”, is more basic than most of the group’s tracks, beginning with what was, probably, the heaviest riff of 1981. Abaddon never deviates from the most basic of drum beats even during the tune’s moments of pure outburst, a solo that’s foremost white noise while Cronos growls whatever seems to come to mind. As the song nears its conclusion, it speeds up to a chaotic frenzy before everything runs out of steam and fades out.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement yielded a lot of talented bands, many of which were underappreciated. Venom was not one of these. With a sound that was, at the time, the most reckless, menacing force in music, Venom rightly garnered acclaim and infamy. Though their music might appear a bit derivative these days, their striking sonic departure was pretty revolutionary at the time and it is easy to say that they were the first extreme metal band. Welcome To Hell represents the first step in the evolution of Thrash, Death and Black Metal. While it may seem tame by today's standards, it is important to keep in mind that Venom is the band that paved the way for those that came after. Yet this was only the first chapter.
 
(6 Apr. 2009)

 
Bloodlust (1982)
 

The Bloodlust single was released by Neat Records in August of 1982, a couple months before their second L.P. This single was not any more important than the dozens of other releases just like it, but it happens to contain two of my favorite Venom songs so it seemed appropriate to review it, here.

"Bloodlust" starts out with a couple of stray guitar riffs and then Cronos shouting, "Come on, turn it up!" Abaddon utilizes a classic old school drum beat that is typical for the period as Mantas unleashes a Hell of a guitar solo as Cronos shouts his name. The song never really gets up to high speed, as this is more of a relaxed tune and has all the evil atmosphere of a 70s/80s horror movie. Even the lyrics echo this sentiment well enough:

"Now I shall feast
On your life giving blood
Leave you to die
On the land you once stood"

Everything about this song is perfectly executed with regard to the feeling that they were going for. With the campy lyrics and the obvious sense of humour, it is clear that Venom could not only make hellish music but they could also have a good time while doing so; something many later bands forgot how to do.

On Side B is the song "In Nomine Satanas". This song is a little heavier and mid-paced. It is pretty relaxed, like the first one, but still a little more serious in its delivery. As the song nears its conclusion, everything calms down and all that is left are terrifying, drawn-out guitar chords as the drums pound randomly and the dreadful voice of Cronos speaks out over the screams of the damned:

"Hear infernal legions plead
As Satan sings his songs of war
As I see mortal corpses rise
Up from the depths"

Bloodlust is a great single, featuring a killer B-side and served as a good way to keep Venom fans sated until the release of Black Metal while offering up two classic songs that would have been at home on either one of the first two albums.
 
(6 Apr. 2009)

 
Black Metal (1982)
 

Black Metal is the second full-length album from Venom. After releasing the mind-shattering Welcome To Hell, along with a handful of singles and demos, the unholy trio from Newcastle returned with another slab of dark and primitive metal. While their debut L.P. was like a full-on assault, their sophomore effort utilizes more sadistic methods of torture. Black Metal is actually a bit more structured than the first album, though the band - bassist/vocalist Cronos, guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon - elected to maintain the same formula, overall. The sound is best described as rusty nail vocals crashing up against a tirade of riffs belted out at terrifying a speed.

Wasting no time, the band opens up with both barrels on "Black Metal", the ballistics cocked very much toward nuclear activity, as Venom spread their infection far and wide. In many ways this anthem is typical of Venom - frenetic, ferocious, yet behind it all there's an undeniable structure. This isn't noise for its own sake, but a full-on representation of why Venom captured the imagination. The album begins with this terrible racket. They wanted to get a chainsaw sound, but that wasn't wild enough for them, so they cut into a studio door that had a bolt through it to give it such teeth-grinding racket. They left no gap at the front of the record so that the needle went straight into this chaotic sound. And that was just the intro. The actual song has all of the power and energy of "Witching Hour" with a bit more focus. This is fast-paced all the way and features the same horridly great sound from Welcome To Hell. It is fitting that the vocal delivery of Cronos is filled with conviction as he screams the words "black metal" as the sub-genre that Venom created (and named with this release) took this very seriously.

The next song, "To Hell and Back", begins with a great riff that is reminiscent of the more relaxed feeling found on such songs as "Bloodlust". What it lacks in intensity it makes up for with an overall dark feeling, largely due to Cronos. Mantas unleashes a killer solo that isn't so technically impressive but adds a lot to the atmosphere of blasphemy. This is very much a celebration of Satanic decadence and it comes across very well.

"Buried Alive" is an atmospheric piece reminiscent of Hammer Horror or Edgar Allen Poe; a claustrophobic song that's moody, grim and grimy. It tells the tale of someone who is, literally, buried alive and you can almost feel the earth being shoveled on top of the coffin and the panic emanating from within. It is, possibly, the darkest song recorded by Venom. The feeling is absolutely morbid and this one song epitomizes Black Metal. The guitar riffs are eerie, the vocal performance is ghastly and the drums are minimal, but effective. The desperation in the vocals and the tension in the guitar melody work together to give the listener the feeling of being buried alive, even to the point where you begin to panic and seek to claw at the lid of your own coffin. The lyrics could not be more perfect in creating a vivid mental image of this:

"As they lower me down into that hole in the ground
I scream out for help but they hear not a sound
I tear at the lid, my fingers they bleed
Is this happening to me or is it just a dream"

This dark and somber song leads directly into "Raise the Dead". This was originally recorded as part of the band's initial three-track demo; the one that got them noticed. It lacks none of the energy or ferocity of the original, yet it is a little more focused. It is a fitting counterpoint to the previous song and picks up the tempo of the album without quite reaching the frantic pace found on the opening track.

"Teacher's Pet" is kind of a follow-up to "Red Light Fever", being about smut. Even an album obsessed with the darker side of life seems to have its light-hearted moments. After such a truly dark and epic piece as "Buried Alive" and then the release of "Raise the Dead", this is almost a necessary way to end Side BLACK. As for the song itself, it is pretty fast with an oddly slow section that seems bluesy, while ending with a fairly thrashy riff. The lyrics are total perverted nonsense, but they display the humour of the band well.

Side METAL begins with the classic song "Leave Me In Hell". This begins with a pretty fast-paced thrash riff and drags the listener back into the fiery depths while also featuring some great lyrics:

"I don't want to be born
I don't want it
Leave me in hell"

This unholy tune embodies everything that was great about Venom. As the song slows down, the atmosphere becomes far more hellish and morbid. The solo is filled with dark feeling and dances around your mind like the flames of Hell. This is the glorification of all that is demonic, evil and possessed. The last, desperate line from Cronos adds a nice effect.

"Sacrifice" follows and is another typical, fast-paced tune of pentagrams, goats and Satanic majesty. This song really shows how the band has improved regarding song structure. The same feeling is present but the delivery is a little more focused. Perhaps, some people are under the impression that Black Metal is so well-known because of the title and the sub-genre that they inspired, but it truly is a masterpiece of an album.

The next song is "Heaven's On Fire" and the title is pretty self-explanatory as the lyrics tell of a Satanic war upon the heavens, turning the skies into a blazing tomb. Just when you expect some filler, this song slices through your ears like a knife. These riffs are as lethal as any other on the album and probably inspired many in the soon-to-be-born thrash scene, such as Dave Mustaine and Kerry King. Venom may be musically limited but this album shows that they truly use what talents that they possess to the fullest.

"Countess Bathory" is a song inspired by a real-life medieval noble woman who perpetrated many atrocities, not the least being the laughter of virgins, in the misguided belief that bathing in their blood preserved her youth and beauty. The story inspired a Hammer Horror movie (Countess Dracula) and inevitably attracted the attentions of Venom. This was the beginning of a lengthy fascination between metal and this Eastern European woman. This song kind of bleeds from the final riff of the previous song, keeping a relaxed pace. In a strange sense, the guitar riffs seem to hover above the rest, like a dismal black cloud. As the son gprogresses, the melodies become more menacing and sinister as Cronos screams the name of the Hungarian counterpart to Vlad Tepes.

Some of the best riffs of the album herald the coming of "Don't Burn the Witch", which is the last full song of the album. These riffs are very dark and nocturnal in nature, leading into yet another classic Venom song. This track is faster than some, but not really fast. However, it's not really mid-paced either. Whatever it is, this unholy piece of blackened thrash delivers in every possible way, musically and vocally. The lyrics could not suit this any more. The solo near the end fits in perfectly and the song fades into a preview of "At War With Satan", the first twitch of a magnum opus that waits, patiently, in the darkened shadows to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting world in the future. The ending is absolutely epic and could not have been done better.

Black Metal is every bit the classic that it is regarded as and deserves all the credit given to it and more. This is required listening for anyone claming to listen to Black Metal and if you don't own this... you deserve to be buried alive in an unmarked grave with a dagger sticking out of your chest. Suffer for eternity as the war shall soon be at hand...
 
(6 Apr. 2009)

 
At War With Satan (1983)
 

In March 1983, less than six months after the release of Black Metal, Venom released their third L.P. At War With Satan. Concept albums are like holes in the ceiling; however much you might hate what they represent, nonetheless they exist. They have to be dealt with and, occasionally, a band manages to come up with something so worthwhile they actually transcend the usual indulgent nonsense that defines the concept. Venom pulled off this, somewhat, unexpected triumph in 1983, when they unleashed At War With Satan on the eager public.

Actually, to call it a concept album is a little misleading. In actuality, the concept was firmly established in the title track alone, being somewhat of a sprawling epic that took up the whole first side of the album. It was a real risk for the trio of Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon. For the first (and last) time they stretched out allowing their imaginations to run riot on tape. The result was emphatic, hellish and violent, yet also somewhat complex. It was a departure for a band that was, up to this point, renowned for their method of full-on attack. At the time, producer Keith Nichol caught some grief for, maybe, not giving it a production job that would raise it above the rest of the albums coming out that year. However, it was actually an improvement on Venom's sound.

"At War With Satan" is an epic metal masterpiece of hellish proportions, a gore-soaked take of war between demons and angels. From the thunderous intro and gritty thrash riffs that intriduce the song, the feeling of tension begins to build. The frist scream emitted from the lungs of Cronos is like a murderous release. This is absolutely the most ambitious work ever composed by this blasphemous band. The lyrics could not be any more perfect and read like a fantastic story:

"The warriors gather slowly around
The sacred city, Hell
Satan screams a vengance
On the land as the angels fell"

The atmosphere of the song becomes even more hellish and dark as things slow down and Cronos screams in demonic fury:

"Lucifer's demonic laughter
Assist our quest, Belial prays
Free from Hell who serves the master
Sound the charge on Sabbaths day"

The song speeds up to a chaotic pace for some time, yet there is a definite structure present here that shows a band that has matured (to some degree) since Welcome To Hell. Cronos sounds absolutely possessed here and his bass is filled with doom and plague. As the song progresses, the fury of Hell is unleashed as Cronos screams, "Take to the skies!" The guitars are thrashy and unrestrained, yet with focus and determination toward a single goal: total and complete destruction. There are so many changes in riff and tempo that the song truly feels like a lengthy journey through the mists of the past. Venom really put everything that they had into this epic song and it shows. Sadly, there are a couple of brief moments where it seems like a riff is building and then never quite gets unleashed in the most satisfying way, but this is a minor concern for something so monstrous. The melodies and solos near the middle, right before the evil spoken word part, really show the NWOBHM sound at its finest, as much as Venom may have wanted to deconstruct this style. After about thirteen minutes, things get very quiet and eerie, leaving only an acoustic guitar and a bit of somber wailing in the distance before the guitars return to crush and kill all signs of life... as if, on a miserable journey through desolate wastelands, a sign of hidden beauty was found in the middle of this emptiness... You see something strange and foreign, so you gaze upon it with curiosity for a few brief moments before determining that it is utterly useless and stamping it out forever. Life, light and beauty have no place here. As the song continues, the instruments seem to be emitting random sounds as they burn at the fiery depths, while Cronos, demonically, tells the grim tale and a funeral bell chimes in the background. This is the culmination of the darkness and evil that Venom wished to convey and it is something that really has to be heard to be understood. No mere review could ever do this justice as this isn't just something to listen to; rather, it must be experienced. It cannot be unheard and the subconscious changes can never be undone.

After this epic monstrosity, there is little room to regain one's wits before "Rip Ride" tears into you. Yes, after that lengthy journey, there is still more. The second side of the album is more in keeping with what one might expect from Venom: six cuts that go for maximum impact, offering subtlety as hostage to ferocity. This song thrashes at full speed and never lets up. With wicked solos, hellish screams and great fucking riffs this piece is worthy (if anything could be) to follow up the previous song. Just when you'd imagine the band would have run out of energy, they are here to proclaim:

"Our evil always will reign"

"Genocide" rages from the pits of Hell at a bit more of a relaxed pace than the previous song, though still possessing enough lethal energy to slice your throat wide open. The refrain is very catchy and the riffs still possess a bit of epic feeling in them. It's almost difficult to believe that, just mere months after releasing the classic Black Metal, Venom still had so much creativity boiling over.

The next song is "Cry Wolf", beginning in a very strange manner for this trio. This is a good example of how the band managed to mature while maintaining their edge. This tale of lycanthropy is the longest song on the second side and features classic reference to "The Wolf Man". After another wicked guitar solo it sounds as if Cronos is making the transformation from man to wolf, on tape. The chorus isn't the greatest, but it's so brief that it really takes nothing away from the song.

"Stand Up (and Be Counted" begins with the feeling of doom in the bass-heavy riffs and in the great lyrics. The title of the song is kind of stupid and there is somewhat of a less serious feeling in the vocal delivery, but this song still features some good mid-paced thrash riffs that have enough of a dark feeling to be worthy of being on this record.

"Women, Leather and Hell" begins with a chaotic outburst. This picks the pace back up and rages along with violence and disregard. While not being as ridiculous, this song seems to follow along with "Teacher's Pet" and "Red Light Fever" in being more about useless topics rather than conveying any real sense of dread. There are still enough killer solos and riffs to keep you interested, though nothing will quite compare with Side A.

The last song isn't much of a song at all. "Aaaaaaarrghh" is pure chaos and nonsense, all at once. This might be interesting to hear once, but it loses its appeal after that first listen. It's just a couple minutes of random riffs, screaming and cursing. This probably represents what those on the outside think heavy metal sounds like. This shows a band that has run out of steam. After the epic title track, any band would have the right to be exhausted and somewhat hysterical, especially after following that with several more songs.

At War With Satan has largely been regarded as the moment when Venom should have cemented their place atop the throne, yet something seemed to be missing. There was the general impression among critics that it could have been so much more than it was - on all fronts. The band came very close to making a massive leap forward but didn't quite pull it off. It could be that the last couple of songs left a bad taste in their mouths and left people with a poor impression after the album had begun in such a glorious manner. Either way, this album provided closure on the first chapter of Venom's career and also showed a lot of people that they didn't quite have this band figured out as much as they liked to think.
 
(7 Apr. 2009)

 
Die Hard (1983)
 

A few months after unleashing At War With Satan, Venom began releasing a lot of singles, mini-albums and compilations. The first of these was Die Hard, released by Neat Records in August 1983. Oddly enough, with the number of songs put out during this period, they could have issued them all on one full-length. It certainly would have been superior to Possessed. It wouldn't be until 1986 when they caught on to this and released The Singles: 80-86. At any rate, what we have here are two solid Venom tunes that are worthy of being in anyone's collection.

"Die Hard" begins with a dark thrash riff, a slow build of the drums and a maniacal laugh. The pace isn't necessarily fast, but it's far from slow. It's more of the 'relaxed' Venom tempo that is found on songs like "Welcome To Hell". There's some interesting bass work, in the middle, just before and during the guitar solo. It adds a certain depth to the sound. Anyone that has seen Cronos, live, knows he can really shred on the bass when given the opportunity. Of course, the lyrics reflect the band's Satanic image, right from the first lines:

"Satan, Father
Help me from this grave
Demons, Warriors
Ever be my slaves"

The next song is "Acid Queen". This one burst forth with increased speed, yet the intensity is ephemeral as the verse is more subdued. Cronos sounds out of his mind on this one, and the lyrics seem to cover drug use from an evil perspective.

"Demon controls my mind - leaves the real world behind"

The song speeds up for a bit, featuring a lethargic lead solo as the depraved vocals rage over the trademark Venom guitar sound. The best description of this would be nasty or ugly, rather than dark or evil.

The US version of this features a third song, "Bursting Out". This version begins with a somber intro, before exploding at full speed. During the verses, there are moments where the guitars stop and the vocals are only backed by drums and bass, giving it more of a rock feeling, but only for a few seconds. There are some vocal effects on sections of the song, as Cronos seems to be echoed by distant, demonic voices. The lead solo is lethal and frantic, ending in a chorus of hellish screaming and the sounds of broken glass, with a bit of feedback swirling around. This provides a nice bit of chaos and adds some darkness to the song. Unfortunately for those outside the US, this is actually the best track on here.

All in all, these songs could have been saved for an L.P. but they go well together to create an interesting release and add nicely to the stockpile of Venom tunes.
 
(12 Apr. 2009)

 
Warhead (1984)
 

Warhead is the second of the singles put out after At War With Satan. This one was recorded at Impulse Studios in Newcastle and produced by Venom, with assistance from longtime engineer Keith Nichol. It was released on Neat Records in late January 1984 and it featured three different covers, each positioning a different band member at the forefront. It appeared in both 7" and 12" forms. The former contained only two songs while the latter had three, as well as an extended version of the title track. The single debuted on number 3 in the HM chart and stayed in the top 30 for 15 weeks. This release led to a monumental episode in the history of Radio One, when Tommy Vance conspired (by offering to pay sum of money to charity) to get the not-very-radio-friendly A-side played during daytime programming, to the distress and bewilderment of many sensitive souls.

"Warhead" begins with the faint pounding of drums and distant screaming. The music slowly builds and rises in volume until an explosion kicks the song into gear. There is a very primitive feeling on this one. The thrash section retains a subdued feeling, while the slow doom riffs dominate the sound. This is a very powerful song that should have been included on Possessed. Supposedly, many of those tracks were in existence as far back as the recording session for Black Metal anyway.

Side B features "Lady Lust", revisiting a common theme. For one reason or another, Venom likes to pay tribute to the ladies of the night as often as possible and this single is no exception. The song begins with a thrash riff and Abaddon's pulsing drums. Later on, Cronos gets a few moments to play with his bass before Mantas returns with a shrieking guitar riff. This song is fairly generic, not doing a whole lot for me.

Thankfully, the 12" version features a third song, "The Seven Gates of Hell". This is the best song presented here, as well as one of the best Venom tracks ever recorded. This one begins with an eerie intro, as the music slowly rises up from the murky depths. The song features a morbid pace, evil lyrics and incredible execution by all three band members. This one possesses somewhat of an epic nature, as well as very memorable riffs and vocal lines. The middle section features sparse guitars, mostly carried by drums and bass with some demonic vocals.

"When the flame of life grows cold
We chime the silent bell
And the unborn child is old
The seven gates of Hell"

After this verse, there is a very nice lead solo, maintaining a creepy feeling as it slowly winds its way through the mist. A sense of tension seems to be building after this point, as the pace quickens for a bit, faster and faster, before settling down once more. "The Seven Gates of Hell" is a true Venom classic. The reason why this song wasn't featured, prominently, on an L.P. remains a mystery.

Warhead is a very essential release, provided that you obtain the 12" that includes all three songs. The second track is kind of a letdown, but the others are prime examples of why Venom was so great.
 
(17 Apr. 2009)

 
Nightmare (1985)
 

The Nightmare E.P. is interesting as it seemed to spark some controversy. The cover artwork was deemed too graphic, so it was pulled. A different version was then released in October 1985, featuring the band members on the cover. This is the Nightmare single, containing one less song that the initial E.P. After a short time, the original version was re-released, with the three songs that it initially contained, plus a live song added on. As for the music, it was recorded in the same studio as the rest, Impulse, and engineered by the same Keith Nichol that handled all of the material up to this point.

Side A begins with "Nightmare". This song starts with a somber acoustic part before really kicking in. It is pretty mid-paced and even the lyrics are kind of subdued. They deal with more realistic horror, rather than taking the Satanic approach that the band was known for. The vocals come across with conviction and feeling, while the guitar riffs have the feeling of a cool autumn night. And make no mistake; this music is made for a nocturnal setting. It serves to create a dark atmosphere, in an entirely different manner than previously used. This song is unique and memorable; definitely one of Venom's best.

Side B features "Satanarchist". This song is introduced by some eerie feedback and demonic voices. A faster pace dominates the track, providing a good sense of balance with the other tune. It isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is a good, straight-forward Venom song. It's short and memorable, featuring some decent Black/Thrash riffs.

This is one of my favorite Venom singles, mainly due to "Nightmare" being such a killer song. As mentioned in the reviews of other singles, it really seems counterproductive that they released so many singles and yet never bothered to use them for an L.P. In all reality, these were some of the band's strongest songs and would have made a Hell of an impact if put together as a full-length album. At any rate, it is recommended that you track this down, in some form or another. If you can't find the original, pick up The Singles: 80-96 or The Seven Gates Of Hell - Singles 1980-1985 , which was released a bit more recently.
 
(18 Apr. 2009)

 
Possessed (1985)
 

After touring, extensively, and releasing a ton of singles and mini-albums, Venom finally returned to the studio. Possessed was released in April 1985. The album was planned before the At War With Satan L.P., in fact a lot of it was written at the time of Black Metal. It was always planned to have a collection of shorter, punchier songs, and so it was made. The guitars were, again, laid down at Impulse Studios but Abaddon took some time finding a place with the desired sound for his drums. In the end he went to Sussex, to a place called Moor Hall. The album cover features two infernal children, standing in Venom Welcome To Hell shirts, smiling diabolically. This image is displayed in negative form but didn't turn out the way the band wanted it to. It was going to be another gatefold sleeve with these kids on the front, then when you opened it up there would be toys covered in blood and guts. The way it turned out it did not tell the story the way it should and basically the reason for that was because the L.P. was rushed into the shops. The album entered at number 7 in the HM-charts and stayed in the top 30 for three months. In other countries, like Sweden, they did even better. Possessed entered the Swedish chart (for hard rock albums) at number two. Simultaneously, the import album Canadian Assault was at number four. The crusade to get Possessed alongside the first trilogy of Venom albums in terms of recognition is futile and really not necessary; it's the lack of groundbreaking factors, not the lack of quality songs, that keeps it as one of Venom's most underrated efforts. Welcome To Hell will always remain the seminal foundation for extreme metal, and is one of the most influential heavy metal releases of all time. Black Metal is still unparalleled when it comes to simplistic quality in metal, and of course the epic title track of At War With Satan was innovative at the time. But Possessed was released when the floodgates of extreme metal had already been opened by Venom themselves.

This was one of the last Venom albums that I got, as the negative reviews kept me from giving it a chance. I should have known better than to listen to other people's opinions of music. A lot of the criticism may come from the fact that the aesthetics of the album weren't up to the same levels as the first three, for reasons already explained. In all honesty, even if the original concept had been realized, it wouldn't have been so great. Along with the weak visual impact, several of the song titles seem to lack the evil message that was present in the past. There was also the matter of the vast number of singles that were released between this album and the one that preceded it. Some were among Venom's best songs and even the inclusion of a few would have made this an instant classic. But, actually, for such a straight-forward album, the song structures seem a bit more complex and intricate. There are small touches that aren't so perceptible, yet add another dimension to the songs. Another thing that might have caused the negative backlash is that Venom didn't bother trying to 'keep up' with those bands that they had influenced. They continued to do their thing, releasing music that still had the same spirit as their first release, more or less.

"Powerdrive" begins in sort of an unexpected way, not really feeling like the first song of an album. It feels more like a B-Side from one of the singles. This song features the trademark Venom sound, traveling on demon wings with a mighty roar, incinerating all in its path. Mantas really shines as his lead solos are much more complex and melodic, adding something to the sound.

The next song shows Abaddon using a bit of double-bass in the beginning. "Flytrap" scorches incessantly, featuring a killer riff that makes it easy believe that this was written a few years earlier. Once again, the guitar solo is a step up from the past, in a sense, though the lyrics are kind of a step down. The song title isn't really as diabolical as what one would expect. Aside from that, the music is pure Venom.

"Satanarchist" was the B-Side to the Nightmare single. It has a fairly creepy intro, before bursting at full force with a quite memorable riff. Cronos sounds in top form, here, and the raw production suits the feeling created by the music. This song is energetic and packs a punch.

Next up is "Burn This Place (to the Ground)". This one blasts forth at light speed igniting hellfire with burning sulphuric rage. This fast-paced song utilizes much the same approach that is found on Welcome To Hell, simply with a little more power and force. There are certain points that hint at a brilliant riff soon to emerge, but it never quite happens.

"Harmony Dies" has more of a subdued tempo than the previous songs, while keeping with the same feeling. This is simply raw, under-produced, primitive Black Metal. There are really great guitar harmonies on this one, as well as a wicked solo. This is like a purifying plume of destruction to bring forth renewal. The ending is sudden and kind of creepy, with the strange effect.

The last song on Side A is the title track, "Possessed". This is probably the prime offering of this opus and still remains one of the foremost and memorable blasphemous pieces in Black Metal history. The song begins with an ominous intro with Cronos sounding particularly evil for the first couple verses.

"Look at me Satan's child
Born of evil thus defiled
Brought to life through Satanic birth
Raised in Hell to live on Earth"

This song is one of Venom's best and a real highlight of the album. This is pretty much mid-paced, throughout, though the thrash feeling picks up later on. This is accompanied by more drum beats that were standard in the early 80s. The song ends with a return to the eerie sounds of the intro, as it fades into the abyss.

"Hellchild" starts Side B, wasting little time to get right into the fire. This energetic song has some very memorable guitar riffs. Mantas does a great job with the solos, matching the fury of Cronos. With killer songs like this, it is odd how this album doesn't get more praise.

The next song is "Moonshine", which is a bit faster than the previous one. The rhythm is a little reminiscent of "Angel Dust", except for the execution. This is a bit more intense and the great backing section to the vocals adds a dramatic effect. It cannot be said enough how the lead solos have improved, adding greatly to the record. And, for anyone wondering, the lyrics are about a morbid obsession with the light of the moon.

"Wing and a Prayer" is a furious instrumental that is very well-composed. The bass melodies, in particular, are surprising. The intensity builds throughout the song, sending the listener into a frenzy. In a strange sense, the bass lines add an epic feeling of doom to the song.

The next song is "Suffer Not The Children", which fades in and then blasts forth at a healthy speed. It contains a whispering chorus amidst the metal mayhem, and the dichotomy works pretty well. Half-way through, there is some interesting guitar-work that adds to the feeling of Hell, accompanied by more whispers from the unknown.

"Voyeur" is the obligatory smut track, having less of a serious feeling but thrashing along just the same. This one is fairly straight-forward, being a full speed aural assault. The improvements in the guitar playing make this even more enjoyable than the previous tracks of this lyrical nature.

This is followed by "Mystique", which begins with the bass creating a sense of doom. As the drums join, the guitar can be heard in the background under a choir is hissing, moaning ghouls. Cronos sounds especially vicious on this song, which is the longest on the record. It keeps a subdued pace throughout, going for a darker atmosphere. The final solo of the song is utterly amazing, with regard to the feeling that it creates. This is very impressive.

The album ends with "Too Loud For the Crowd", which seems to be in the same vein as "Stand Up (and Be Counted)" in the sense that it feels like an attempt at creating some sort of Metal anthem. It is kind of catchy, but it doesn't quite reach the levels of the previous song, which would have been a brilliant way to end the record.

If you haven't heard Possessed, you need to. Forget what you might have heard about the album. This is pure Venom, nothing more and nothing less. Maybe, the album could have had a little more impact if it had started with a song like "The Seven Gates of Hell" and ended with "Mystique", skipping out on the final song. The lackluster cover art didn't help, either. Regardless, don't let the negative opinions of other people lead you to believe that this is a sub-par album. To Hell with them. Your Venom collection is not complete without this album.
 
(18 Apr. 2009)

 
Calm Before the Storm (1987)
 

Following the less-than-exceptional release of Possessed, the unholy trio was torn asunder as Mantas left the group to pursue a solo career. To fill the void left behind, Cronos and Abaddon recruited two new guitar players, Mike "Mykus" Hickey and James Clare. One would never have known much was going on, as the mini-albums, compilations and live records continued to be released, such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. By 1987, the time had come to enter New Marquee Studios, in London, to record a new L.P. Of course, with a different studio came a new producer. Keith Nichol, who had been producing their albums from the beginning, was replaced by Nick Tauber. The result was Calm Before the Storm, released in November 1987.

While the previous record was a bit of a step down, compared the the earlier material, Calm Before the Storm represented a complete departure from the Satanic-themed Black Metal that Venom was known for. The music took on more of a melodic thrash approach while the lyrical content shifted to more typical Heavy Metal themes. Coming from the originators of Black Metal, this was quite a shock.

The record begins with "Black Xmas". This one wastes no time in getting right into the thrash riffs. The first thing that one may notice is the fact that the vocals are less harsh and evil. Actually, Cronos seems to have injected a lot of melody in his voice, utilizing a cleaner approach. The production doesn't sound bad, at all, and the guitar solos are pretty enjoyable. The riffs are okay, but nothing exceptional. This sure as Hell isn't "Sons of Satan", "Black Metal" or "At War With Satan", but as an opener it does well to acquaint the listener with the change in sound. Some bands, that experiment with their sound, try to hide this by beginning the album with a song that is more in tune with their previous efforts, and then sneaking the new style in there. As always, Venom is very up-front.

The next song is "The Chanting of the Priests". This one is similar to the first one, being a shocking display of mediocrity, especially the hilarious vocals. Cronos actually does this rather well, but it's just so unexpected that one can't help but laugh. The "woah-oh-oh" part, with the back-up vocals, is the most despicable thing I've heard yet. It's difficult to belive that any of the band members really thought that this was a good idea. There is a section with deeper, more evil-sounding vocals but the lyrics certainly don't warrant such effects being used. The riffs and lead solos aren't bad, really. This just isn't what one wants to hear when tossing a Venom record on.

"Metal Punk" sounds a lot more like the real Venom. This one is fast, filled with energy and showcases the vocal delivery expected of Cronos, though the chorus is annoying. During the last minute of the song, things slow down and the feeling is kind of killed. All in all, this is merely a substandard representation of the band.

This is followed by "Under A Spell". Like the previous track, this one shows that the band could make music more suitable of the Venom name, though uninspired. Of course, the melodic vocals used for the bridge and the chorus are... suddenly, Helloween. This is utterly sickening. Clean, harmonized vocals have no place in Venom! Never! The solos are adequate, but this tune has done too much to offend the band's fans for anything to salvage it. I feel like I've just been aurally raped.

"Calm Before the Storm" has the unenviable task of following this atrocity. It begins with a dark intro, creating a decent atmosphere. The riff isn't half bad, though not worthy of a Venom record. The first time that I heard this song, it was quite late at night and I wondered, "Why does this album get so much Hell?" I must have been bloody delirious. This is absolutely unacceptable. I once read that this album sounded as if Bon-Jovi had recorded an album under the Venom name. Right now, this doesn't seem like a bad description.

Next is "Fire", which possesses a sound much closer to what one would expect. It is the only song with even the slightest mention of Hell. While it sounds passable, by comparison to the last few tracks, this song is mediocre at best. It earns points for lacking clean vocals, but then the unimaginative songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. At least it was fairly short.

"Krackin' Up", as one might infer from the title, is plagued by ridiculous lyrics. The song has a little of the old Venom feeling, but not really in a good way. For anyone that says lyrics don't matter, I defy you to listen to this song and take it seriously. The title sure as Hell is appropriate, as it had me 'cracking up' for the whole two minutes or so that it was playing.

This abomination is succeeded by "Beauty and the Beast". Indeed, it seems that Dio was writing lyrics for Venom, as it is difficult to accept that this was the doing of Cronos. As anticipated, the chorus is contaminated with more melodic absurdity. This is bloody awful. Even a few decent riffs can't possibly save this. Unfortunately, this song is a bit longer than the previous two. It's strange how most think that Cronos left the band after this album, because it was so terrible, when he's the one that made it such an unbearable and distressing experience. Further condemning him is the fact that his solo project continued with this contemptible sound.

"Deadline" continues the punishment. It begins with a mildly tolerable thrash riff, but the song features more utilization of clean vocals for the chorus. It isn't as horrid as on some of the other songs, but it's not very pleasant. The solo is alright, but nothing special. By this point, the album has become extremely tedious.

The next song is "Gypsy", which uses more trademark Venom riffs, along with some double-bass. Of course, the whole sound is ruined with the horrendous vocal delivery. This track certainly doesn't hold a candle to Mercyful Fate's song of the same title. Forget Thrash Metal; this should be classified as the first suicidal Black Metal album. It was written and recorded by a (former) Black Metal band and it makes me want to kill myself, rather than listen to any more.

The final song is titled "Muscle". Indeed, this idiotic title is making a certain sexual reference. Venom lost their Satanic approach, but they kept this kind of nonsense? Utterly appalling. I can't imagine anyone could really be so interested in songs about sex, except for those who have never gotten any. This song is as fucking awful as it gets. This makes Motley Crue sound dangerous. It sure is a Hell of a way to end an atrocious album.

Calm Before the Storm is an abomination. This is an undeniable fact. This terrible piece of excrement gets worse as it progresses. If you ever have the misfortune of hearing this, run for cover. Don't get fooled into believing that it may be passable because the first song isn't so overly wretched. The album is completely worthless, with exception to its ability to provide a load of laughs. Unless you need a dose of humour or simply possess a morbid curiosity that compels you to witness the grim demise of Venom, avoid this at all costs.
 
(24 Apr. 2009)

 
 

Prime Evil is the sixth full-length studio effort from the legendary Venom. However, it is from the band's dark period, post-Cronos. Released in October 1989, this record saw the band making a comeback of sorts, abandoning the Hard Rock feeling of Calm Before the Storm for more of a Thrash Metal approach. This was an improvement, but still too little, too late. After Welcome to Hell and Black Metal, Venom ceased to exist for a lot of fans. Albums such as At War With Satan and Possessed were decent enough, but never managed to reach the same heights as their old stuff, at a time when the band really needed to deliver something extraordinary. After leaving behind their Black Metal days in an attempt at garnering mainstream attention, they still could have come back with an incredibly strong album and put themselves back on the map, but Prime Evil simply failed in this regard.

The worst aspect of this L.P. would have to be the awful vocal performance of Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan. He lived up to his nickname, completely demolishing any chance that these songs had at being enjoyable. Most seem to think that he was a good replacement for Cronos, since he utilized a gruff vocal delivery, but his efforts are rather uninspiring and mediocre, at best. To make matters worse, he has an irritating habit of rolling his r's, almost all the time. This is so annoying that it kills many of the songs. This could have been a better album, had they found a different vocalist or managed to, somehow, bring Cronos back into the fold. Still, there was never any possibility of this being great since the songwriting is so average. There are some pretty good thrash riffs, here and there, but the majority of the tracks are average. In some ways, this picks up from where they left off with Possessed but, just like that release, there is just something missing. Prime Evil lacks the one or two really killer tunes that would have helped to push it to a higher level. That said, the music is definitely more in line with the band's roots than the preceding record. Most of these songs are quite solid, just not great. The only bad ones are "School Daze" and the re-recording of "Live Like an Angel, Die Like a Devil", which only goes to show just how far Venom had fallen. The playing is a little tighter, but the atmosphere is totally gone and the vocals are horrendous.

The production is good but still more on the raw and under-produced side. The drums are slightly to high in the mix, but otherwise everything is as it should be. The band had not joined many others in going for something slick and modern, yet, and still retained an older type of sound. The guitars are the driving force and it shows in the production. If only more time had been spent on the songwriting and arrangement.

Prime Evil is a solid Thrash Metal album and much more worthy of the Venom name than Calm Before the Storm. However, it is average and the new vocalist makes a good deal of the material difficult to listen to with his cringe-worthy performance. This is worth a listen, nonetheless, if you are able to get past the flaws. It does not hold up to the band's older releases, but it is alright when looked at as a separate entity.
 
(19 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Temples of Ice is another one of Venom's forgotten albums, from the dark era when Cronos was no longer part of the band. Much like Prime Evil, it features some solid but average tracks and fails to impress. The cover art does not help any, as it looks like a screen capture from a Saturday morning cartoon. Again, this album shows a band that is not concerned with proving themselves to anyone, only in making an L.P. filled with sub-par music, disappointing anyone that was still hoping that Venom would have a return to form. Released in May 1991 on Under One Flag, this rare album has been disowned by the band, since then.

The music is rather boring and generic. It is not even all that thrashy, at times. It straddles the fence between 80s Hard Rock and traditional Metal, more than anything by this point. Dolan's pathetic vocals are still present, though now the effect is not as detrimental since nothing worth a damn has been presented, musically. The lyrical themes are much softer and more lame, rather than the occult, Satanic approach from before. Just the weak song titles and horrid artwork are enough to have the listener view the album as inferior. There are traces of Venom's old style, but mixed in with the stench of modernity. While being much better than Calm Before the Storm, the lack of a dark atmosphere and the terrible replacement vocalist make these albums exceptionally hard to enjoy. There are some interesting ideas to be found here, though none of them live up to their potential.

By 1991, Thrash Metal seemed to be dying out, anyway. It is too bad that the Second Wave of Black Metal did not explode for another year or two, as that might have been enough of a motivation for Venom to return to their roots and contribute, once again, to the sub-genre that they created. Instead, fans got a release that demonstrated just how much the band was running out of steam and creativity. That they could not even maintain the Thrash and ended up allowing more traditional Metal and Rock ideas into the arrangements was enough to prove that Venom had hit a dead end.

Temples of Ice is an interesting album and more of a curiosity than anything else. Do not bother going to great lengths to acquire this, as it is not worth the trouble and you will likely get bored of it in no time. This represents yet another missed opportunity that Venom had to regain credibility and relevance, but opted for a safe and boring album filled with bland songwriting and haphazard execution.
 
(20 Nov. 2011)
















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