Venom, the original inventors and founders of Black Metal, the creators of Thrash, Speed, Death and Power Metal, started way back in the 70’s. In Newcastle, a young Heavy Metal / Punk Rocker called Conrad Lant met a guitarist called Jeff Dunn and they quickly discovered that they both shared the idea of creating a band that was heavier and more over the top than anything anyone had ever seen before, more Satanic than Black Sabbath, louder than Motörhead, with a pyrotechnic show to rival Kiss, and with even more leather and studs than Judas Priest, the ultimate ingredients for the Ultimate Metal Band.

Jeff, the guitarist who started the band Guillotine (the band’s original name)along with guitarist Dave Rutherford and bassist Alan Winston, hadn’t long parted company with their singer and drummer when they met Clive Archer at a Judas Priest concert, Clive was in a band called Oberon and wasn’t happy with his guitarist and bass player, then finally after a few meetings the members of Guillotine decided to give Clive and his drummer (Tony Bray) an audition, they got the job and Guillotine were finally a full band again. The only problem was, original member Dave Rutherford wasn’t really getting on very well with the new guys, although Jeff saw their potential, especially the mad pounding out-of-time drummer, Tony; the world knows them better, of course, as Jeff = Mantas and Tony = Abaddon.

“When I joined Guillotine they were a five-piece,” recalls Cronos. “In fact, I got in there as a rhythm guitarist. The guy they had previously had short curly hair and just didn’t look the part, so I took over on rhythm guitar with Jeff on lead.”

The quintet was quickly whittled down to the infamous trio of Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon – and most would regard this as being the classic Venom line-up.

In 1981, the band first shocked an unsuspecting public with the single ‘In League With Satan’, a seven incher that was so savage it made Iron Maiden sound like grannies with dyspepsia. That same year, the band’s debut album, ‘Welcome To Hell’ was unleashed – the audio equivalent of rubbing a tab of salt into a gaping wound.

“Actually, what a lot of people don’t realise is that the album was really no more than a collection of demos! It wasn’t a true album, which is why there’s such a huge difference in sound quality between ‘Welcome To Hell’ and the next album, ‘Black Metal’.”

In a strange way, the very demo quality of the record probably did much to boost Venom’s growing popularity as the uncrowned kings of the rapidly expanding metal underground. The fearsome trio were no longer just a joke for the masses – they had substance and real potential. Their roar was ferocious, unnerving and utterly vitriolic.

A year later, having now established themselves as pariahs of the metal world yet conversely building a strong fan base among those who worshipped noise, Venom returned with arguably their most important album…’Black Metal’

Not all the songs for what was to become one of the definitive metal albums were brand new, with the compositional ink barely dry on the proverbial pages. ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Raise The Dead’, for instance, had dried mud on their boots.

“There’s a tape of Clive Archer singing ‘Raise The Dead’,” laughs Cronos. “And we had ‘Buried Alive’ written for the first album, but didn’t feel we were capable of doing it justice.”

‘Black Metal’ was released late in 1982, to a massive acclaim from the metal underground, and even the mainstream started to take some notice. For Cronos, there was a sense of vindication, although critical acceptance never bothered him. The man’s dream was coming true, even it was a nightmare for others.

This masterpiece was followed by a conceptual piece, ‘At War With Satan’, which they deemed a glorious failure, the sweeping strokes of the concept setting up the music in a manner that demands a huge production, one that sadly the band were unable to deliver, because of budgetary constraints. Such was the lot of Venom in the early 1980s, constantly learning to experiment and to be creative within the limited confines of their independent status. And yet, one can’t help feeling that, in actuality, Venom’s music was actually enhanced by not having an enormous budget.

“I know that Venom never played anybody’s game. We were always true to just one thing: ourselves. Whether we succeeded or failed, it was on our own terms. I can’t stress that enough, because it’s the creed that defines us.”

The band then decided to record a single called ‘Warhead’. Nothing weird there, except that it got airplay on the Radio One Breakfast Show!

Cronos recalls: “We didn’t do the single with that in mind at all. But Tommy Vance picked up on the song and loved it so much he started to give us a lot of airplay.”

The upshot was that Mike Reid, at the time doing the Breakfast Show, decided to play a snippet from the song each day for a week, building up to airing the whole track, much to the shock of many used to smoother fare with their bacon and eggs.

While this single didn’t catapult the band to superstar status , it did ensure that, for a time, Venom were almost synonymous with metal in the minds of the mainstream British public, those who remained oblivious to the charms of Iron Maiden or Motörhead. But things were starting to get a little fraught in the Venom camp, with Mantas starting to lose touch with the others.

The band went to America, to headline a tour that saw Slayer supporting them. In Los Angeles it was amusing to notice that the assorted members of Slayer were at the front of the stage headbanging furiously when Venom roared into their set. To Slayer and a whole generation of young American metalheads, the Newcastle nutters were genuine heroes – they provided a way forward, the sound for a new generation.

For all their impetus and momentum in America, Venom clearly lacked the financial wherewithal to make the move to the next level. And, if that American tour proved one thing it was that the road ahead was gonna be tough. Mantas was clearly distracted at times. He seemed to lack the ambition and focus, and by the time the band were ready to record their next album, ‘Possessed’, his contribution was almost at a standstill.

‘Possessed got something of a muted response from critics and fans alike when it was released in 1985, but on reflection the album is actually better than seemed to be the case at the time.

With Mantas increasingly moving away from the roots of the band, there was to be a split. As the band prepared ideas for their next, and seemingly crucial, record, Mantas – the man who started the band in the first place – was asked to leave. He was replaced by two guitarists, American Mike Hickey (known just as Mike H) and Englishman Jim Clare (Jimi C). It was a case of the band taking advantage of their changed circumstances to expand their sound.

Now a four-piece, Venom found that they could try different things musically.

“Having Mike and Jimi in the line-up did take us in a different direction. It was an exciting time, because it gave us a real shot in the arm. Mantas was losing interest before he left, and what we needed was a shot of enthusiasm, which we got from the new guys. ”

The new look Venom released just one album, 1987’s ‘Calm Before The Storm’. This was a period when the whole thrash movement was at its height, and the genre was starting to fragment. Some bands were becoming more sophisticated, while others were delving into altogether more extreme areas of music. It was a tough time for Venom, because they were almost caught in the headlights.

While the sound of the album still had a brutal edge, nonetheless the dark imagery of the past had given way to a more sword & sorcery approach. Up to a point it worked quite well, but there was always a feeling that this line-up of the band was destined to fall apart quite quickly. As so many other bands have found in the past when changes do occur to the delicate mechanism that is a rock or metal band – especially one as important as Venom had been – it’s as if a chain reaction has been set in motion. For Venom this certainly seemed to be the case. The decision by Mantas to leave the band actually unbalanced it, and there was inevitability that, without a crucial figure such as the guitarist, more upheaval would follow. At the end of 1988 the band decided to split.

After ‘Calm Before The Storm’, the front man – who had become the figurehead of the band over the years – decided it was time to move on. Not only that, but he took the two guitarists with him, intent on starting a new career, by forming a band called…Cronos. Amazingly, Abaddon – now on his own – teamed up with Mantas and they decided to start a new project which they at first called Sons of Satan because they had assumed Cronos would take the name Venom.

Cronos’ decision to leave, and the subsequent return of Mantas, left two of the three originals there. But how do you replace someone like their erstwhile colleague? Venom chose to bring in former Atomkraft bassist/vocalist Tony Dolan (who, for a while, was known as The Demolition Man), completing their new look with the arrival of Al Barnes as a second guitarist.

The problem was that this band were musically sufficiently removed from what had gone before to cast doubts over the sense in using the band name. However, the release of 1989’s ‘Prime Evil’ album proved that this new line-up had a freshness that might just succeed in dragging Venom towards a new era. Certainly, there was a lot of confidence around them at the time, as well as a careful respect for what went before.

Unfortunately, Venom fans weren’t totally ready to accept this new incarnation of their favourite band. So, while both ‘Prime Evil’ and 1990’s ‘Tear Your Soul Apart’ had enough quality moments to suggest that this line-up deserved better, the inevitability was that past glories weighed them down.

Venom soldiered on with Dolan however it quickly started to fizzle out. The band had run its course, and with extreme metal now far removed from what Venom had once stood for, and also the advent of the grunge revolution, they seemed strangely middle aged and a little staid.

Eventually, Venom decided it was time to call ‘time’ on their illustrious career. But anyone who thought that would end the saga obviously reckoned without another, welcome twist in the tale.

Cronos had been hard at work with his band throughout, not trying to sell out huge arenas but content to release his albums and play the medium sized venues. Then in 1994, Cronos had recruited new drummer Mark Wharton of Cathedral and along with his guitarist Mike Hickey, they went into the studio to lay down the demos for the new album, during this session, and at the request of Mark who was a massive Venom fan, they recorded some of the old Venom classics. Neat Records immediately asked if they could use the tracks on a compilation album and everyone agreed; this was the Cronos album entitled ‘Venom’. This not only featured new material with a classic Venom approach, but also re-visits such old Venom favourites as ‘1000 Days In Sodom’, ‘7 Gates Of Hell’ and ‘At War With Satan’. It was a project that re-ignited the bassist/vocalist’s love for Venom.

“Doing this did get me thinking about getting the classic Venom line-up back again. By that point, the band had split up. So, there was no messy problem with having to get rid of anyone. I just thought it could be great fun.”

Cronos made contact with his old band mates, and eventually the re-union got off the ground. For a time, they played much bigger gigs than the ones they’d been doing in the ’90s and headlined the Dynamo Festival.” (with 90,000 fans).

The revived trio released one album, 1997’s ‘Cast In Stone’, but were soon submerged by problems that seemed to overshadow any rapport they might have. And there was soon a standoff between Cronos and Abaddon that eventually led to the latter leaving to pursue a solo career, leaving the frontman and Mantas to move forward. They recorded an album in 2000 called ‘Resurrection’. Cronos recruited his younger brother Antony Lant (Antton) to fit into the picture.

Of course, this is Venom, so nothing was stable for long.

In February 2002, Cronos had a climbing accident which meant he couldn’t play his instrument, sing or anything as he was wearing a neck brace- it was estimated he would have to go through a year or two of recovery. Mantas decided to start his own band called Mantas 666, then after he had recorded his album he released a press statement declaring that he wasn’t going to return to Venom and he wanted to pursue his new direction with his solo band, leaving Cronos to carry on with the name, so Cronos called on his old band mate Mike Hickey who’d always wanted a second chance at Venom,.

In March 2006, Venom released a new album called ‘Metal Black’, with a sound and intensity of the 80’s Venom. They increased their live appearances after its launch, starting with a UK Tour. Venom received a great response from their legions of fans despite not being sure of what reaction they’d get as they hadn’t appeared live on their own soil for almost 20 years. The band were also invited to the BBC to record a session at Maida Vale Studios, it had been the Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show which first saw Venom at the BBC in 1985. The album sales were going very well so the label released the track ‘Antechrist‘ as a single.

The band then headed for the summer festivals with four main appearances across Europe. Venom loaded up the pyrotechnics and started in Italy by headlining the Gods Of Metal Festival, then the sold out Sweden Rock Festival, the Tuska Rock Festival in Finland, and finally the Earthshaker Festival in Germany.

The 1997 ‘Cast In Stone’ album was re-released to the delight of Venom’s fans as the album had been almost impossible to get hold of for a number of years. Later the same year, the 2 CD ‘Cronos Anthology’ was released which compiled all of the Cronos recordings from the original Neat Records releases, again mastered by Cronos; he included live bonus tracks recordings of the Cronos band playing songs from the Venom ‘Calm Before The Storm’ album.

In September Venom started their long awaited American Tour with support by Goatwhore. They kicked off the tour in Arizona on the west coast to an ecstatic crowd, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Springfield and Philadelphia. The American legions came out in force and the tour was a great success.

In January 2007, Venom announced their new guitarist RAGE, a hardcore metal guitarist from the very depths of Newcastle, he had regularly stood in for the bands previous American guitarist, and the band wasted no time in getting down to work with the new blood, writing the new demos for their next album and planning their next live shows.

Cronos was back in the Townhouse mastering room with the ‘Resurrection‘ album to make sure it stood up to the sharp production quality. The album was released in April with additional sleeve notes and unseen photos and artwork.

Yet another album was released in May 2008, entitled ‘Hell’ which was a fierce collection of intense black metal in true Venom style. The positive reviews spoke of an increased intensity in the music, the new guitarist raging through the riffs while Cronos snarled and spiat every word, slamming his bass lines down in a fury of blackest metal.

A select number of special summer festival shows began with Venom headlining day one of the Hellfest 3 day festival in France, which was their first show in France in 23 years. The performance went down a storm, and Metallian Magazine released their yearly DVD of the festival called “Hellfest 2008″ complete with a track from Venom: ‘Welcome To Hell’ [fest].

In 2009 Cronos started work on a special edition release of the ‘Black Metal’ album to coincide with 30th anniversary of the formation of Venom. The album wass released in late August worldwide with a DVD of the “7th Date Of Hell” show, the legendary video of the concert the band played at London’s Hammersmith Odeon (now HMV Hammersmith Apollo) in 1984. The video has only ever been released on VHS so for the DVD the footage has been digitally re-mastered.

Danté was officially named as the new drummer in Venom after weeks of auditions and the band spend the next few months locked in the studio rehearsing the new line-up in time for their ‘South American Dates Of Hell Tour 2009’, including dates in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and then Brazil.

Venom are now preparing to play the Metal Hammer Stage at High Voltage festival in July 2010

Hell has returned – Hell fucking Yeah !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Post a Comment