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Venom at Hellfest Summer Open Air in 2008
|Also known as|
|Origin||Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom|
|Genres||Thrash metal, black metal, speed metal|
|Years active||1978–1992, 1995–2002, 2005–present|
|Associated acts||Atomkraft, Cronos|
Venom are an English extreme metal band formed in 1978 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Coming to prominence towards the end of the new wave of British heavy metal, Venom's first two albums—Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982)—are considered a major influence on thrash metal and extreme metal in general. Venom's second album proved influential enough that its title was used as the name of the extreme metal subgenre of black metal.
Venom's original personnel came from three different bands: Guillotine, Oberon and Dwarfstar. The original Guillotine featured Jeffrey Dunn and Dave Rutherford on guitars, Dean Hewitt on bass guitar, Dave Blackman on vocals and Chris Mercater on drums who replaced Paul Burke, the original drummer when the band was founded. Blackman and Mercater were later also replaced by drummer Anthony Bray (b. 17 September 1957 in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear) and vocalist Clive Archer of Oberon, and later on Dean Hewitt was replaced by Alan Winston on bass. Around that time a number of personnel changes occurred. Clive Archer, Eric Cook, Tony Bray and Ian Kell formed a band while working at Reyrolles. Ian Kell was replaced in summer of 1978 and went on to play in folk band "Kropotkin Lied" In the late autumn of 1979 Conrad Lant, from the bands Dwarfstar and Album Graecum, replaced Dave Rutherford who went on to play with local Jarrow band Silver Fox. Lant later switched to bass after the departure of Winston. The band members took on new stage names. Archer became "Jesus Christ", Lant "Cronos", Tony Bray "Abbadon", and Jeff Dunn "Mantas".
Prime influences of the formative band were Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motörhead and Kiss. Other musicians that have influenced Venom are Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, the Who, the Tubes, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley.
In late 1979 Lant introduced the band to his original song ideas as he didn't want to keep playing the same cover songs, and with Dunn he began writing new songs for the band. Lant had yet composed songs like "Sons of Satan", "Bloodlust" and "Welcome To Hell", while Dunn had yet composed songs like "Angel Dust", "Red Light Fever", "Buried Alive", "Raise The Dead" and "Live Like An Angel, Die Like a Devil". Dunn and Lant redefined together these songs with a mutual collaboration an then, after a few weeks Lant recorded a rehearsal session on a basic cassette recorder which he played for the label he worked for, although as the band rehearsed in an old church hall the sound was not good. In April 1980, Lant was able to persuade the label to give him some free studio time and the band recorded a three song demo. Soon after, six more tracks were recorded for just £50, with Lant taking vocal duties on the song "Live Like an Angel". Archer then left the band, and Venom's line-up became a trio.
Venom's professional recording debut was the 1981 single "In League with Satan"/"Live Like an Angel", which was released by Neat Records. Later that year they released their full-length debut, Welcome to Hell.
Welcome to Hell was a big influence on future thrash bands. Venom's music was faster and harsher than most heavy metal contemporaries and while Satanism and other dark topics had been featured in metal before, the subject had rarely been more prominent. Lant was quoted as saying that this celebration of evil subjects was inspired by the perceived need to out-do musicians like Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath, who would "sing about evil things and dark figures, and then spoil it all by going: 'Oh, no, no, please, God, help me!'"
Their second album, 1982's Black Metal, is cited as perhaps the most important influence in the development of black metal, thrash metal, death metal, and other related styles that are often grouped under the extreme metal umbrella. Many defining elements of these genres are first found in the lyrics and song titles created by Lant, his unique singing style and larger than life presence. The artwork designed for Venom's albums were also the inspiration of Lant and his illustrations for the first two albums are regarded a some of the most epic album sleeves of all time, going a long way to help sell the albums before people even heard the music. Venom's first two albums inspired cult followings to this day. While many of their NWOBHM peers (like Iron Maiden) had found measures of popular success or critical acclaim, or (like Def Leppard, were moving away from heavy metal towards hard rock), Venom were still regarded by critics as "a trio of rock stars".
In 1984, Venom recorded the At War with Satan album, an epic 20-minute title track, with substantial influences of many different musical styles, which took up the first side of the LP. The title track written by Lant, was a deliberate way for him to shove a middle finger up to the critics who said Venom couldn't play. The B-side was focused on the rapid-fire, three-minute "scorchers" Venom were known for, including "Stand Up And Be Counted". A live video, The 7th Date of Hell Venom Live At Hammersmith Odeon, was also released that year. In 1985, Venom released their fourth studio album, Possessed, which was recorded in a stately home, and saw a band enjoying their success with different chefs being flown in every day during the album's recording, lavish parties of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. By this time Venom had released several singles (Warhead, Die Hard and Manitou to name a few) and live EPs (The Assault Series including Canadian Assault, American Assault and French Assault). Cronos and Abaddon appeared on the Combat Tour Live: The Ultimate Revenge video with Slayer and Exodus. Cronos cites the Possessed album as underestimated. "I don't think there's any songs that are kind of overlooked, I just think some songs maybe weren't recorded as well as we could have recorded them. Like say for example on the Possessed album, I still think there are great songs". During March/April of '86, Venom the band seems ready to record the fifth album (then never released), called Deadline, but internal relationships begin to deteriorate. A live album, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a second live video, Alive in '85, were released in 1986. Dunn then left the band to release a solo album.
Two guitarists, Mike Hickey and Jim Clare, were hired to replace Dunn. Their fifth album, 1987's Calm Before the Storm, moved away from Satanic themes in favour of "sword and sorcery" material. This was a new direction for Venom, although it didn't last long with only a short Japanese and Brazilian tour in 1986, so the band decided to split, and Lant, Clare and Hickey all left to form Lant's solo band Cronos.
Bray was left as the only group member, but he was able to convince Music for Nations for a deal to release a new Venom album on the Under One Flag label, using Deadline demo tracks which were recorded with previous line-ups but never released. In 1988, Bray offered a vocals/bass role to Tony Dolan (The Demolition Man) from Atomkraft. Bray and Dolan wrote new material prior to Dunn's rejoining the band along with rhythm guitarist Al Barnes. Together they recorded Prime Evil (1989), Tear Your Soul Apart (1990) and Temples of Ice (1991). Barnes then left the band, and Steve White from Atomkraft was hired as his replacement. They released The Waste Lands in 1992, also without success. Music for Nations refused to release any more Venom albums, so Dolan and Dunn quit, effectively disbanding Venom. Bray continued to release compilation and live albums up to 1995. Nonetheless, Dolan, Dunn and Bray continued performing as a trio.
In 1995, Lant, Dunn and Bray reunited the "classic" line-up, beginning by headlining the Waldrock Festival on 24 June 1995. They recorded and self-released the Venom '96 EP with four re-recorded old tracks and one new song, resulting in a record deal with the SPV label. Following this was a live CD/video box set, The Second Coming, composed entirely of songs from their classic era such as "Welcome to Hell", "Countess Bathory", "In Nomine Satanas" and "Black Metal". An album, Cast in Stone, was next released in 1997, split between two discs which was one of all new material and the other with re-recordings of popular early-'80s songs.
By time 1999 arrived, it was time to supply SPV with the second album in their deal and internal conflicts between members of the band did not take long. Eric Cook (manager of Venom) and Abaddon meet each other and decide not to work with Cronos again. So Abaddon writes a letter to Cronos with the intent of firing him out of the band. The letter written by the drummer communicates that the role of Cronos in the band and his service is no longer necessary and that he would carry on the band with Jeff "Mantas" Dunn and other people. So Cronos calls the German record company SPV/Steamhammer to communicate the situation of the band and wish everyone good luck for whatever they decide to do. At that point the record company furiously refused to point to point blank to have a line-up of Venom who had no Cronos in the band. After that, Conos answered Abaddon telling him: "You can't kick the Devil out of hell, I’m firing you!". Despite this, the band tried to invite Abaddon to play with them again but Bray did not want to perform on the album and he was replaced by a nu-metal drummer called "Anton" which, among other things, was the younger Lant brother. This line-up released Resurrection in 2000 on SPV. However, in 2002 Dunn was next to leave the group and Lant replaced him with a US guitarist, Mike Hickey, which already took part in 1987 release "Calm Before the Storm" and Cronos solo albums. In late 2005, Venom released a career-spanning four-disc box set, MMV, which includes an exclusive mini-poster of the band's seven-date tour of Europe with Metallica and a 60-page picture book, with interviews and pictures. The set includes all their best-known songs, along with rarities like live tracks, demos and outtakes. This line-up of the band released the Metal Black album in 2006.
In 2007 Mike Hickey left the band and guitarist Stuart "Rage" Dixon joined the band and this line-up released the record Hell the following year. In 2009 drummer Danny "Dante" Needham joined the band and Lant wrote that this will be known as "The Epic Line-Up Of Venom", and they set off on a full South American tour. After headlining festivals around the world for the next couple of years gaining in popularity, they released the Fallen Angels album on 28 November 2011.
Venom released their fourteenth studio album, From the Very Depths, on 27 January 2015. The band also played one song, "Rise", they were working on in the studio, live for the audience at Rockfest 2014.
In April 2015, in anticipation of a date of the M-pire of Evil (Mantas and Demolition Man band) at the Keep It True Festival in Germany, the organizers of the festival, asked Mantas and Demolition Man if they could play the songs of Venom with Abaddon. Mantas had not talked to Abaddon since 1998. So after thinking a bit, the two ex-Venom played along with Abaddon without having done any rehearsals for the show. At this point the three brought together the Venom line-up of 1988–1992 under the name of Venom Inc. for the sake of the fans (instead of the name "Iron & Steel", that was initially conceived by the members themselves).
On 3 February 2017, Venom Inc. signed with Nuclear Blast and released their first album, Avé, on 11 August 2017. The two singles off the album were "Dein Fleisch" and "Ave Satanas".
After playing on the Blood Stained Earth Tour 2017, the band continued to play until the beginning of March 2018, when at the end of the Australian tour, Abaddon asked for a break from the band's activity (due to the birth of his daughter, Anja) and agreed that he would be temporarily replaced by the band's front of house engineer Jeramie Kling for a period of one or two months (until April 2018) to complete the European tour before he came back. However, following some internal disagreements, Abaddon was fired and replaced by Kling. Meanwhile, Kling (from The Absence) took his place on the band's European tour and on recordings for the next record.
As Venom were one of the first incarnations of extreme metal, influencing many thrash metal, black metal, death metal and other extreme metal bands, their exact genre has been a topic of debate. Venom have been labelled various genres by members of the press. Most prominent genres are black metal, thrash metal, and speed metal.
Cronos insists on calling it black metal, without passing judgment on the genre that later would flourish in Norway:
...It's one of the things when I first saw when I saw the Norwegian scene beginning in the early nineties. I thought: ok, I know they said Venom are an influence, etcetera, etcetera; let's see where these guys are coming from. And then when I started to read the lyrics, read the interviews and see they were kind of saying the same thing, but about their country, they had their religion, with all the Norse gods like Wodan and Thor. And then all of the sudden the Christians came in and they tried to destroy their religion. It's great that they stayed within in their country's beliefs for their lyrics as well. So, they're not the exactly the same things as Venom, they invented something of their own, which I think is fucking great...
Welcome to Hell influenced several later bands. Venom's music helped shape the development of many thrash metal bands, specifically the "Big Four of Thrash" (who in turn were highly influential): Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth (Metallica opened for Venom on an early 1980s tour, and Venom opened for Metallica and Slayer on the Ride the Lightning tour, and Slayer played with them and Exodus on the Combat Tour in 1985). Venom would also be of extreme importance to the black metal scene and even the early death metal scene, with numerous bands copying styles, themes and imagery from the band, such as the Swiss band Hellhammer (later to become Celtic Frost), whom also helped pioneer the genres. Music critic Bradley Torreano wrote that Venom "caught the attention of both metalheads and punks, the band was emulated by the former and turned into camp icons by the latter." Henry Rollins once compared the band to Spinal Tap.
While many fans and musicians see Venom as an important band, their music has nonetheless been the subject of debate. The biggest criticism is Satanism, which is the main driving force behind the band's music and album covers. Cronos explained in 2008 that the reasoning behind it is for entertainment purposes.
I've always been interested in Satanism, but we're entertainers, and we used subjects like Satanism and paganism to entertain people, like horror movies do. Listening to a Venom album is the same thing as watching an Evil Dead movie. I don't go around murdering virgins in my spare time. It's frustrating when people can't make that distinction; I mean, David Bowie's not actually from Mars, is he? But we were always being misquoted in the press. Venom admit to dancing around a campfire with virgins? Nonsense.— Cronos
Critic Eduardo Rivadavia of AllMusic writes that though Welcome to Hell influenced "literally thousands" of bands, Venom were "critically reviled". Critic James Christopher Monger, however, declares that the members of Venom 'grew as musicians' as their careers progressed. Ethnographer Keith Kahn-Harris argues that Venom's limited technical skill, particularly early in their career, was a profound, though inadvertent factor in Venom's influence: being unable to mimic more technically proficient metal of their predecessors or peers, Venom instead opted to focus on sheer speed, creating music that was inspired by earlier metal, yet simultaneously blazed new trails.
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