Metal Black

Sanctuary (2006) Kevin Fitzpatrick

Venom – Metal Black cover artwork
Venom – Metal Black — Sanctuary, 2006

Anton LaVey, Richard Ramirez, and Phil Knight. Three famous individuals who, despite being all about the evil and doing their part to ensure eternal damnation, they still don't hold a black candle to three young boys from the north of England, who've done more for Satan's public relations than anyone ever could.

Conrad Lant, Jeff Dunn, and Tony Bray, otherwise known as Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon, otherwise known as Venom. The release of their debut album Welcome to Hell brought Satan from the Bible to the record stores faster than you can say Beelzebub. It was rough and it was raw and it was evil. It didn't matter if they were sincere or not. When you're 11 years old and listening to songs like "In League with Satan" and "Witching Hour" with a big-ass pentagram on the cover (with the single point down, not up like those pussies in Rush and Led Zeppelin), you best believe it's gonna make an impression. This impression became only more indelible with their next and undeniably best album, Black Metal.

But as you get older and wiser, you see beyond the message and take a good look at the messenger. Sure they sang about Satan and evil but did they really mean it? Fuck no, but that didn't stop them from making a huge impact on the heavy metal scene that continues to this day. Any band and I mean any band that has used Satan as a marketing tool owes allegiance to Venom. They made Satan popular, they made Satan cool. But over the next 3 years, during the release of the next couple of albums, Venom, and all the wannabes in the genre (Sure, there were great bands, but let's call a spade a spade, shall we?) made Satan commonplace and dare I say it……boring.

When the devil dust settled in late 1986, black was out and thrash was in, with a whole new group of bands waiting to take up the slack. This culminated in the release of Venom's really-not-good album Calm Before the Storm. Venom's line-up and sound had changed with the times but had unfortunately invalidated the group and after a couple more albums that barely deserve a footnote, Venom packed it in for good. Or so we thought…..

It's now 2006 and Venom has returned. A resurrection, if you will. Despite being little more than Cronos and a couple of flunkies, the Venom of today is better than any fan of the genre back in the day could have expected and slightly better than the group really deserves. With the truly absurdly titled Metal Black, the band aims to reclaim their seat at their master's left hand. The trouble is, by now we're much older, a whole lot wiser and not falling for it again. I really like this album, but I hold no illusions - I'm digging it purely for the nostalgia value and nothing more. If they were to gain more than a hundred new-generation fans I'd be very surprised. All this doesn't amount to a bad album per say, but it is nonetheless, an album with a very limited scope and range and (although time will tell) lifespan.

Everything for the "old-school" fan is here - the satanic, once-spooky-now-cliché lyrics, and the music, which for Venom was always an issue of execution, not talent is left relatively intact. All this adds up to a great nostalgia piece but on its own merits with today's metal, it's almost laughable. I'd like to think that a whole new generation of fans will latch onto this and discover the genre for itself, but it's just not gonna happen. Nowadays we have groups like Dimmu Borgir, Gorgoroth and Darkthrone hammering out the metal and while they certainly wouldn't exist without Venom, they've taken the genre so far beyond what Venom could accomplish; they've come dangerously close to invalidating the band all over again.

Venom – Metal Black cover artwork
Venom – Metal Black — Sanctuary, 2006

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