Formed in 1979, Venom hailed from Newcastle, rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal reached its peak. Hugely influential, the band’s 1981 debut, ‘welcome to hell’, may have sounded like it was recorded in a kettle, but it still managed to have a monumental impact upon the nascent thrash scene, whilst Mayhem even garnered their name from ‘Mayhem with Mercy’, a short instrumental track that graced the album’s first side. The band’s second album, 1982’s ‘Black metal’, set the bar even higher and in spite of (or, perhaps, because of), the hideous quality of the recording (which no amount of remastering can greatly repair), the album came to provide the name for a whole genre of music. Of the line-up that recorded those hugely influential works, only Cronos remains in Venom, working alongside a revolving cast of musicians but parted, sadly, from the likes of Abaddon and Mantas who were so responsible for giving those early albums their aura of dread.
Enter Venom inc. Formed in 2014 by Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn (whose on-again-off-again relationship with the band saw him featured on both of the classic releases, amongst others) and Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (who was a part of the band’s line-up between 1989-1992), the band were given greater impetus when Anthony “Abaddon” Bray, also from the classic 1979 line up of the band, joined on drums. The band toured heavily, breathing new life into Venom’s classic material, and then, in 2017, they signed to Nuclear Blast for the release of ‘Ave’, their first release under the Venom Inc. banner and a crucial opportunity to reclaim their legacy.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Mantas, ‘Ave’ is clearly a project borne out of his dark passion and the eleven tracks on offer here highlight exactly what these three musicians brought to the Venom story during their respective tenures. Opening with the dark ‘Ave Satanas’, a track which inverts Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, washing it in sinister, horror-movie keyboards and huge swathes of guitar, it’s clear that Mantas has a clear idea of how he wants the band to sound, giving the music a taut, industrial tint that tips to a nod to Ministry whilst maintaining the band’s core metal sound. The Demolition Man proves to be a worthy vocalist, his gnarled and broken tones recalling the crust punk might of Rob ‘The Baron’ Miller (Amebix), as he grinds out the lyrics from between gritted teeth. For all the devilish imprecations, there’s a sense of life here, however hellbound, that suggests the three musicians were having a blast in the studio, and there’s no mistaking the energy and power of their performance. Having hit the ground running with the epic-length opening track, Venom inc. consolidate with the ferocious ‘Forged in hell’, a meaty riff fest that sees Abaddon offer up an adrenalin-soaked performance on the drums over which Mantas pours his sulphur-scented guitar runs. It’s a surprisingly vital performance the band having honed their skills to a razor’s edge out on the road in the preceding years. Next up, we get the monstrous ‘metal we bleed’, a claim to which Venom Inc. are more entitled than most, and which is hammered home with a cyclical riff that threatens to tear your head clean off your shoulders when played at suitably life-threatening volumes. A true heavy metal anthem, it sees Venom reclaiming the crown from those whom they have influenced over the years by ramping up the aggression and incorporating a vital groove. Opening to the sound of unimaginable suffering, ‘Dein Fleisch’ sees the industrial element that underpinned the opening track return, with the band mixing Vincent Price, nine inch nails and Kreator into one discomforting package, complete with heroic soloing and the ever-present sense that appalling acts are taking place just beyond the reach of our consciousness. The first half of the record concludes with ‘blood stained’, a blistering effort that simply blows the competition out of the water with its eye-watering riffs, coruscating vocals and epic solos – it pretty much ticks all the boxes when it comes to what I want from a heavy metal album, amazingly, Venom Inc. aren’t out of surprises yet…
Kicking off the second half of the record, ‘time to die’ is the sort of primal thrash that you expect from a group of late teens, musically experienced and nearly insane with hunger. It’s hard to believe that these industry veterans, responsible for at least two genre classics, remain so utterly dedicated to their craft, and yet ‘time to die’ delivers with ferocious precision; the only real question being who gets the plaudits for most unhinged performance. Arguably Demolition Man narrowly tips the scales with his acid-scarred vocals, but with Mantas and Abaddon flailing away at one another, it’s a close run thing. Not exactly a weak track, but perhaps the most traditional, ‘the evil dead’ is simply a great thrash song, whilst ‘preacher man’ edges unexpectedly into Megadeth territory with its malicious groove and rebellious lyric. Following on from the relatively restrained ‘Preacher man’, ‘war’ comes with all the sudden ferocity of its namesake, literally tearing out of the speakers with palpable rage. Once again, the band up the stakes, demonstrating that, while technical ability is important (and this Venom Inc. have in spades), there is no substitute for raw, open-hearted passion when it comes to making music. The staunch ‘I kneel to no god’ is a fine track, but lacks the raw firepower on offer elsewhere, offering up impressive musicianship, but feeling a touch sluggish, even overlong, compared to its incandescent forebear. As the album concludes, it may be too late for the band to offer up a name to yet another sub-genre of metal, but it doesn’t stop them from paying tribute with the devilish ‘black n’ roll’. A gritty, punk-infused track with a motorhead vibe, it ends the album on a high, Venom inc. having successfully laid waste to the opposition with a record that only occasionally dips below the exceptional.
At just over an hour in length, ‘Ave’ could arguably have done with a touch more quality control. Although it does not contain any bad songs, per se, both ‘the evil dead’ and ‘I kneel to no god’ feel overly long and staid when compared to the ferocious material that makes up the rest of the album. Shorn of those two tracks, this could have been an unequivocal classic. With them, it feels just a touch overlong to deserve that accolade. That said, ‘Ave’ remains a monstrous album, heavy, well-produced and with plenty of power. It is clearly the product of a group of musicians who know no other creed than “play hard, fast and loud!” A more than worthy album to bear the Venom (OK, the Venom inc.) imprint, ‘Ave’ is a surprisingly visceral outing that lives up to, and frequently surpasses, expectations. 8