Venom

Venom are an English extreme metal band, formed in 1978 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.


Considered a seminal influence for thrash and coming to prominence towards the end of the 'New Wave of British Heavy Metal', Venom have found little mainstream success or critical acclaim, but are widely regarded as highly influential, particularly for their first two albums, Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982).


The title of Venom's second album would become influential and definitive enough to describe an entire subgenre called black metal, even though the band's music would not be considered 'black metal' by today's standards. The nature of Venom's high-pitch guitars, harsh vocals, use of pseudonyms, and unrelenting emphasis on Satanic lyrics and imagery is considered the template for the subgenre's later successes, and arguably for the broader extreme metal movement in general.


Band history


Early years

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 Mercaters on drums. Blackman and Mercater were replaced by drummer Anthony Bray and vocalist Clive Archer of 'Oberon' and soon after, Dean Hewitt was replaced by Alan Winston on bass. Around the summer of 1979, Conrad Lant from the bands DwarfStar and Album Graecum replaced Dave Rutherford on guitar.


Prime influences of the band are Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Mot?Ârhead and Kiss. Other bands cited by Venom as an inspiration are Queen, The Who, Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, Van Halen, The Tubes and Rolling Stones.


A few days before a show at a local church hall, Venom's bassist Alan Winston left the band. To fill in, Conrad Lant borrowed a bass guitar from Steve Thompson (later to become Venom's first producer) at the studio he worked at (Impulse Studios/Neat Studios). Playing the show with the borrowed bass plugged into his Marshall guitar amp and effects pedals, he created an unnerving racket and the 'Bulldozer Bass' was born.


Venom's lyrics often featured Satanic references, and the band members took on new stage names. Archer became 'Jesus Christ', Lant became 'Mr Cronos', Bray became 'Tony Abaddon', and Dunn became 'Jeff Mantas'.


In April 1980, the band recorded a three song disc, featuring "Angel Dust", "Raise the Dead", and "Red Light Fever". Soon afterward, six more tracks were recorded for just ??50, with Cronos taking vocal duties on the song "Live Like an Angel". Archer soon left the band, and Venom's line-up became a trio.


Welcome to Hell

Venom's 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.


Though crudely recorded with sometimes dubious musicianship, Welcome To Hell was still a remarkable tour de force for the era. 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. Cronos 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!"'


Black Metal

Their second album, Black Metal (1982) 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 Cronos and his unique singing style as well as the guitar work and solos performed by Mantas.


At War with Satan

Though they would later be cited as important, neither of Venom???s first two albums sold well upon their original release. And while many of their British metal peers had found measures of popular success or critical acclaim (or, like Def Leppard, were moving away from metal towards hard rock), Venom were still regarded by critics as ???a trio of buffoons???


In an attempt to prove their status as serious musicians, Venom recorded At War with Satan in 1983. The epic 20-minute title track, with substantial progressive rock influences, took up the first side of the LP. B-side of the LP was focused on the rapid-fire, three-minute ???scorchers??? Venom did best.


Later work

In 1985, Venom released their fourth album, Possessed, which was not as successful as previous albums. Guitarist Mantas then left the band to pursue a solo career.


Two guitarists, Mike Hickey and Jim Clare were hired to replace Mantas. Their fifth album, Calm Before the Storm (1987) moved away from Satanic themes in favor of Tolkienesque ???Sword and Sorcery??? material. This was even less successful than Possessed, and Cronos, Clare and Hickey all left Venom.


Abaddon 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 Under One Flag label, using Deadline demo tracks which were recorded with previous line-up but never released. In 1988, Abaddon offered a vocals/bass role to Tony Dolan from Atomkraft. Abaddon and Dolan wrote new material prior to Mantas' 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 replacement. They released The Waste Lands in 1992, also without success. Music for Nations refused to publish any more Venom albums, so Dolan and Mantas quit, effectively disbanding Venom. Abaddon continued to release compilation and live albums up to 1996.


In 1996, Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon reunited in "classic" line-up. They recorded and self-released Venom '96 EP with 4 re-recorded and one new song to get a deal with SPV. An album, Cast in Stone, was released in 1997, split between new material and re-recordings of popular early-'80s songs.


Abaddon left Venom in 1999 and was replaced by Cronos' brother Anthony "Antton" Lant. This lineup released Resurrection in 2000 on SPV label. In late 2005, Venom released a career defining 4-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.


Mantas again left the group and was replaced by a returning Hickey. The Lant/Lant/Hickey lineup released the Metal Black album. Hickey left the group 2007, with a guitarist calling himself Rage serving as his replacement. This lineup released the record Hell in 2008. Anthony Lant has since left the group and has been replaced by a drummer calling himself "Dante".


Genre


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 has been labeled various genres by members of the press. Most prominent genres are black metal, thrash metal, and speed metal.


Influence


Welcome To Hell influenced "literally thousands" of 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 Slayer played with them on the Combat Tour in 1985). Venom would also be of extreme importance to the black metal and even the early death metal scene, with numerous bands copying styles, themes and imagery from the band.


Venom often used Satanic and other 'evil' themes in their lyrics, but critic Bradley Torreano declared that the band had "their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks", with a sense of humor and irony that was sometimes lost on their fans and other musicians. Torreano adds that Venom " the attention of both metalheads and punks, the band was emulated by the former and turned into camp icons by the latter."


When asked about the criminal actions or violent behaviour of some later black metal bands (notably, there were a string of arsons and a few murders in the Norwegian black metal community in the 1990s), Venom's members reportedly expressed disapproval, stating the point of Venom is to make controversial music, and "How can you make albums and tour if you are in jail?".


Criticism


While many fans and musicians see Venom as an important band, their music has nonetheless been the subject of debate and criticism. Critic Eduardo Rivadavia writes that though Welcome to Hell influenced "literally thousands" of bands, Venom was "critically reviled" and composed of "incompetent musicians." However, critic James Christopher Monger declares that the members of Venom 'grew as musicians' as their careers progressed. Ethnographer Keith Kahn-Harris argues that Venom's limited technical skills, particularly early in their career, were 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 a music that was inspired by earlier metal, yet simultaneously blazed new trails.


Venom's members were apparently well aware that their musical skills were questioned, especially by other bands. During a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984, guitarist Mantas was doing a between-song rant when he remarked rather loudly: "A lot of bands are out there tonight, waiting for Venom to make a mistake. Well, we are the fucking mistake!"


In his Black Flag tour diary, singer Henry Rollins wrote about a 1986 performance when Black Flag opened for Venom. He opines that Venom was hilarious, with mediocre playing and a stage performance focused on appearances rather than music; Rollins asserted that the musicians used portable fans to keep their hair flowing while on stage. Rollins wrote, "It was like seeing Spinal Tap ... I expected them to go into 'Sex Farm' at any second." Rollins writes that he and some tourmates drew magic marker pentagrams on their hands to flash at Venom and offer ???Hail Satan??? salutes. For their final number, Venom asked the audience to chant what Rollins thought was ???Black Funky Metal???, which briefly made Rollins suspect that he had overlooked Venom's sense of humor, until he realized Venom was actually saying ???Black Fucking Metal.??? Venom reportedly laughed off Rollins??? comments saying "Henry didn't have the balls to speak to us back then, he hid backstage, but now he mouths off behind our backs. His band were useless and that's why he writes books now. He even got the date of the show wrong. Go write some more books and we'll keep making music."


On the DVD extra material of the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, bassist/singer Lemmy of Mot?Ârhead jokingly opines that Venom "fake it" on their instruments, implying that they are not skilled musicians, though later amending the statement somewhat by stating that Venom was "all right". When interviewer Sam Dunn tells Lemmy that he himself was "blown away" by Venom back when he was twelve, Lemmy responds, "Anything will blow you away when you're twelve. A day at the beach will blow you away when you are twelve."


The band was named an honorable mention on MTV's list "The Greatest Metal Bands of All Time" where they were refered to as having, "the speed (but not skill) of Mot?Ârhead, the sinister quality of Sabbath and the showmanship of Kiss ??? on a low budget." and that, "The quality of their songs is debatable".


Members


Main article: List of Venom band members
Current members
Conrad "Cronos" Lant - bass guitar and vocals (1979???1987, 1995???present)
La Rage - guitar (2007???present)
Danny "Dante" Needham - drums (2009-present)
Former members
Guitar
Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn - guitar (1979???1986, 1989???2002)
Mike "Mykvs" Hickey - guitar (1987-1988, 2005???2007)
Jim Clare - guitar (1987-1988)
Alastair "Big Al" Barnes - guitar (1989???1991)
Steve "War Maniac" White - guitar (1992)
Drums
Anthony "Abaddon" Bray - drums (1979???1999) (b. 17 September 1960 in Newcastle)
Antony "Antton" Lant - drums (2000???2009)
Vocals
Clive "Jesus Christ" Archer - vocals (1979-1980)
Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan - vocals, bass guitar (1989???1992)

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