FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 39: Venom – Black Metal

Posted: April 27, 2013 by kingcrimsonprog in First Impressions Articles

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 39: Venom – Black Metal

This is the thirty-ninth entry of my blog series ‘First Impressions.’ In each entry of the series I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful than a traditional album-review, but which does contain more personal flavour.

I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.

If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.

Eschewing the very popular 1983 theme I’d been developing, I’m going to blow everyone’s mind by covering an album from 1982. In case you couldn’t tell from the article’s title, or the picture, that album is Black Metal by the Venom.

I haven’t ever really had a plan to listen to Venom. I remember seeing a live video of ‘Witching Hour,’ a few times, mysteriously always soon followed by a live video of Slayer’s ‘Black Magic/Raining Blood’ being played late night on MTV2 back in my teenage years. I remember not particularly liking it, but again, a recurrent theme in this series and my life, that’s because I didn’t actually listen to it. I heard it, but I didn’t give it a fair chance.

That’s the only Venom I’ve heard though, apart from snippets in all the documentaries (and web based mini-documentaries) that I’ve seen. Or at least it was until earlier this year, when I listened to a few seconds of ‘At War With Satan’ on youtube, once.

I do remember I had an acquaintance who bought their album, but I at the time thought that it was just because of Metal-hipsterism and not actual enjoyment (prior to me knowing the name for the concept of being a hipster, but frequently witnessing it by the more-metal-than-thou-brigade and occasionally-to-frequently engaging in it myself, before developing as a person and realizing that it was annoying & unnecessary ((although many metal fans will admit, some shadow of that always sticks, even if you try and get past it))).

Although I was able to overcome the obvious face of Metal-hipsterism, I struggled to overcome the more insidious wrath of the reverse-Metal-hipsterism, which was the hipsterish tendency to ignore cult things because they have cult status; ie. Because I’d seen people pretend to like Extreme Metal just to be cool, I deliberately disliked it, to be cool by the route of not having to be cool. Cool?

On the subject of Metal Hipsterism; I recently watched Metalsuck’s excellent video series about the top ten Metal albums of all time, one of which was Venom’s Black Metal, and they brought up the funny point that Venom have probably sold more T-shirts than albums, and that when you go to a live Metal gig, you’ll always see someone in a Venom t-shirt (a fact I agree with, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert at all, other than Muse in Belfast on the Absolution touring cycle, where there wasn’t a Venom t-shirt).

I recently kind of developed a bit of an interest in Venom, on three fronts:
1) When I was compiling my list of 500 Metal albums you should hear if you want to be able to talk about Metal and be fairly informed about it one of the obvious choices was Venom’s Black Metal and thinking about it put me in the mood to give it a fair chance with my current ears.
2) Inventing this first Impressions series and Black Metal being an obvious choice for it, especially after listening to Diamond Head and Angel Witch
3) They made a good impression on me as people in documentaries, and like with Alice Cooper that made me want to check out their records.

On the tip of liking them in documentaries; one of my favourite lines in the entire Metal Evolution tv series was from Venom’s singer Cronos (who I’ve also heard guest singing on Probot’s album and on Cradle Of Filth’s ‘Haunted Shores’ off of the Dusk And Her Embrace album (not actually one of my favourite tracks there; those being Heaven Torn Asunder, Funeral In Carpathia and Dusk And Her Embrace. ((– Artemis spread the bliss of this Lupercalia!))). The line in question was about them being accused of having satanic messages hidden in backwards-masking, and Cronos essentially says of his detractors that they spent all their time looking for satanic messages by listening to it backwards and couldn’t find anything real, but that they had missed the obvious satanic messages audible if you listened to it forwards, as it was in a song called ‘IN LEAGUE WITH SATAN’ on an album called ‘WELCOME TO HELL.’

So, Venom. Are they NWOBHM? Are they Thrash? Are they first wave Black Metal?

Depends who you ask. What do I know about each? NWOBHM – I’ve tried a bit of most of the main bands, and three or so full albums (most of which have been First Impressionededed) Thrash – Too fucking much. First Wave Black Metal – Two or three songs by Bathory, that dull Mercyful Fate album, half a Hellhammer song, and something related but not appropriate; A Celtic Frost cassete from the library once, about eight years ago.

Also, I have some early Kreator and Sodom. But I don’t like those band’s until they got a bit more Anthrax and Metallica influenced. I love Agent Orange for example, but I do honestly find myself incapable of liking Obsessed By Cruelty and In The Sign Of Evil.The only album I’ve found more unpleasant is Napalm Death’s Scum, but at least Scum has a few good songs like ‘Siege Of Power’ and the title-track on it.

I don’t like repetitive pounding. [No sex jokes please, this is a family site] I don’t particularly like the d-beat getting overused, and I really hate wind-tunnel, tinny, echoey, small productions. You can call me untrue and drown me in hipster piss [drown in piss ey? Family subject if I ever saw one], but I’d much rather listen to Five Finger Death Punch play good songs with a too-clean production that Mayhem play dull songs with an awful production. Guess that makes me a sissy, doesn’t it mr. teenager wearing leather and make-up, holding a toy sword. Or the vocal minority should stop being so bloody insistent with their instances that things are better when they’re poor quality.

Why do I bring this up? Because my overriding memory of Venom is that they are supposed to have a ‘bad production’ aesthetic. This may prove a barrier to me enjoying them.

Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try. I remember a time when I wouldn’t listen to Black Sabbath because the production on ‘Paranoid’ was awful compared to Demanufacture. I remember not wanting to get into Motorhead for fear of repetitive pounding. I can adapt.

[Play]

First song starts. It’s the title track. The intro has me worried I won’t be able to hear anything at all. But then it comes in a bit more. I carries on and actually reminds me a bit of Kill Em All. When he shout’s ‘lay down your soul to the gods rock n roll’ over a drop out, I see some hope for this. After the second time it happens, there’s interesting things happening musically too. When it happens a third time and finishes the song it’s a really satisfying ending.

The production is poor. Its not even that its poor though, its just so weird. The production is bizzare. It sounds… damaged? … far away? …in another room? Something. Something is just wrong with it. It can’t have been a deliberate choice, or the person who made the choice would have been sectioned under the mental health act…and then thrown off a bridge by the record company’s bailiffs.

The next song starts off. I think it’s a bit less Thrashy and a bit more rock. I say “I think” because I can barely hear it. I am squinting with my ears.

I’m trying to be patient, but this takes some damn concentration. When the solo comes in it’s a bit audible. Kinda. The riff they play for a few bars just to end the song is fun.

The next song starts with a comedy-toned burial prayer. ‘Buried Alive’ its called. Guess the burial thing fits in then. It’d be a bit out’ve place on a disco song about the-way-my-baby-jiggles. Anyway, the Venom intro sounds a bit monty python to me. Then some dark clean guitar comes in that teases me like its going to be Machine Head’s cover of ‘Message In A Bottle’ but is rather an icy and atmospheric Venom intro. Wow. Didn’t expect this from Venom. This is far from dull pounding. When the song comes in, it continues to be a ploddy, groovey affair. The solo section gives it a bit of power, even if the bass does sound like its mocking you. The post solo return of the previous section is really effective and powerful. I’d love to hear Down or Corrosion of Conformity cover it.

Next tune, ‘Raise The Dead’ is actually a bit more of what I wanted from Saxon; awful, horrible production aside. But its got that power and feel I like, with a fun Overkill’s ‘Sonic Reducer’ cover sort of feel to it. If you were to require some ‘classic heavy metal’ soundbites, this could be one of them.

Next up, the oddly inappropriate ‘Teacher’s Pet’ comes in, confusing the tone of the album with audio dialogue, a nyah nyah in musical form, and later a blues section that really sounds like the one in Nuclear Assault’s ‘Butt Fuck’ – you know, the one where he says about putting a blues part on a thrash album? That one. Followed by it fading out with a gang chant of ‘get your tits out for the lads.’ No. Seriously. It actually does. Then it wises up and gives me more of what I want musically. Go on song, you know it makes sense. You’re not Van Bloody Halen. You’re also two years early. You’ve ripped off the future!

Next up ‘Leave Me In Hell.’ It seems great. If I could hear more than a quarter of it I’m sure it’d be good. The very stompy bits after he says ‘I Don’t Want It Leave Me In Hell’ are very reminiscent of something Lars Ulrich would do. And the part under the solo is too. Reminds me a bit of ‘Jump In The Fire’ but by some strange road under the shadow of Marilyn Manson’s ‘SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT MUTHERFUCKER’ part of ‘The Reflecting God.’

This whole song is awesome though. Why wasn’t it covered on Garage Inc?

Next up, Sacrifice continues to defy my predictions of dull endless pounding. This is no obsessed by cruelty. Its frigging good. Its got a lot of musical credibility indeed, its catchy even. Its like a mixture of Motorhead’s ‘America’ and Maiden’s ‘Two Minutes To Midnight.’ – only without the advantage of being audible. I hate to drive home the point so much, but jeez. It sounds worse than listening to Soul Of A New Machine on the lowest volume setting with one earphone barely in your and the other one stuck up your nose.

Scum was abrasive and unpleasant. De Mysteries Dom Sathanis was tin. This is just… a terrible accident? It doesn’t sound like actually hearing something. It sounds like remembering it, a fuzzy half memory. ‘I’m sure that song I heard last night was good…how did it go?’

You’ll be glad to know that Heaven’s On Fire is not a Kiss cover from their Vinny Vincent era, but in fact a very enjoyable slab of catchy, fun, proto-thrash. Ironically, it’s the closest thing on the album so far to dull repetitive pounding, but its probably my favourite moment so far.

Countess Bathory comes in next and sounds mysteriously a little like Nirvana. Then it decides to be brilliant as well when the choruses aren’t happening. Now I’m a bit upset. If this album was produced like a proper album, it’d be a real banger. Give these songs a Bay Area Crunch and a little clarity between the instruments and you’ve got a damn good album on your hands. I mean, it probably seemed like an amazing album in their practice room. It’s an actual shame, I’m not just being fussy. This is a great record.

Next up comes ‘Don’t Burn The Witch’ which is what Angel Witch wanted to do. Its got the definitive sound of thrash in its DNA, its catchy, its inventive and its charming. I think Slayer might’ve stolen its main lead line for something… I think it was something off of Seasons but my memory is vague.

Curiously, this song seems less dreadfully produced than the others. Consequently it is the best thing on the album.

The album ends with an atmospheric build up with talking, background howls and symphonic hellish noise. Basically, Danny Filth heard this, and invented his entire career as a reaction.

Oh wait. It does the mental thing of starting At War With Satan for less than one bar and then fading out. At War With Satan preview? What the heck is that. You aren’t Queen. You can’t go previewing things.

And then its over. That seemed so short but it was actually forty minutes.
Huh. Who would have thought. Apart from the ill-advised ‘Teachers Pet,’ direction, the songs seeming to be in the wrong order for my brain, and the frequently mentioned production, this is actually not just not-as-bad-as-I-thought-it-would-be but actually a really diverse, interesting, inventive and impressive record.

Venom, I never gave you the credit. I didn’t think this would be anything more than buzzsaw trills and soulless constant d-beats. If only Andy Sneap had produced it. Sure it wouldn’t have been so cool to the necro crowd, but itd’ve been easier to listen to and stop people like me ignoring it.

I’ve got the actual At War With Satan playing now while I proofread and tidy up the spelling and grammar. It takes the unusual and unexpected position of being really bloody good. What kind of topsy turvey universe is this? Why isn’t this as famous as the first two albums? This is genuinely top-notch stuff. Magnum, if you read this, listen to all of At War With Satan. I think you’d love it.

Oh well. You wanted to know what I thought about Venom. Now you do. See you soon.
Phew. Got through the whole thing without making a Spiderman joke.

Comments
  1. The Mackers says:

    Venoms production on there first couple of albums, I’ve always loved it, years before I read everywhere that is apparently a “bad” production, but i wouldn’t have it any other way, especially for this band. It sounds cold and raw! Has a lot of personality! Andy Sneap? give me a fuckin break!

    Like

  2. I didn’t, I’m afraid. I think I hate Venom. It just sounds so unprofessional. Like you say, at times it’s hard to make out what’s actually being played, and that could be no band’s goal.

    Like

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