Legendary metal act Venom is back with Metal Black, its first album since 2000’s Resurrection. This long-running band has influenced many of the metal acts you know and love, such as Metallica and Slayer. In addition to the new album, 2006 also marks the 25th anniversary of its debut album, 1981’s Welcome to Hell.
Before going any further, I must claim vast amounts of ignorance when it comes to Venom’s back catalog. Sure, I have heard of the group, but I had never heard Venom before this album. I guess that could be taken one of two ways: You may opt to dismiss my opinion out of hand since I am not intimately familiar with a band that influenced so many. Alternatively, you could say, perhaps we will have a new fan to welcome into the fold, or someone with an unbiased opinion who won’t be influenced by any status the band has attained or previous successes. After that little exposition, do you still want to know what I think about the album? If so, please continue to read. If not, I will bid you adieu; perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.
When I first received this pre-release copy, packaged in a plain jewel case with no liner notes, labeled with a basic white sticker bearing the name Venom, the album title and, on the back, a simple song listing, I thought that this couldn’t be the same Venom I had read about in long-ago Metallica interviews. Or could it? I initially worked on the assumption that it wasn’t. Then I did a little looking and found that yes, indeed, this was new music from that Venom.
After the first couple of times that I listened to Metal Black all the way through, I must say that I was not terribly impressed. There did not seem to be much substance to the music. Frankly, it felt like a generic metal band that had not yet found its voice. The recording is rough; at times it sounded like the guitars and drums were out of synch, almost like a live album. The lyrical content covered the old death-metal standbys of Satan and death: Song titles include “Antechrist,” “Burn in Hell,” “Death & Dying,” and “Lucifer Rising.” The riffs were heavy and the double bass relentless, but they didn’t really stand out as anything all that special. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to think of this alleged legend.
So, I listened to the CD a few more times, hoping to find something to latch onto, some sign as to why Venom was so influential in its early years. Then, while listening, something dawned on me: This is what the heart of those early years of death metal were like. A new world of heavy music was unfolding, a world Venom helped usher in that presented music that was raw, primal and full of energy.
Therein lies the beauty of this album. Metal Black is a throwback to those hands-off early days: Back then, death-metal records were underproduced purposely. They allowed energy to flow directly through the instruments into the mix board. Minimal intervention was used in compiling the tracks. Using that approach, on Venom’s latest LP, guitars come through with crushing riffs, drums and bass fold in around them, and vocals come in on top.
Was that change in viewpoint the signal of a new dawn for my appreciation of the music? Yes and no. Listening through that newly realized filter allowed me to gain respect for Venom and what it appears to be attempting. It allowed me to let my guard down and just get swept up in the destructive riffs emanating from my speakers. And let me tell you, the music on this album is heavy. This was some of the heaviest music I have heard in some time that didn’t fall under some other new-wave metal label. The drum work is also fast and thunderous, and keeps time with the banging of your head.
At the same time, I did not feel the music. It was heavy and fast, to be sure, but the words did not sink in and the technical merits of the performance seemed to be lacking. I like riff-based music occasionally, but I also like musical gymnastics of acts such as Iron Maiden or Dream Theater. I know, I know, this is a different style, but other bands have fused technical aspects with the heavy riffing. So, I do not believe that I am sold on Venom based on this album alone, even though my opinion has changed since my first disastrous listenings.
Some have compared this album to Metallica’s St.Anger, not in execution, but in intent. Where the Metallica album was meant to hearken back to their early, rawer-edged days but didn’t really succeed, Metal Black goes a long way in its quest to evoke the early days of death metal. The trio of founder Cronos, Antton, and Mykvs has done a good job at bringing this metal fan a taste of those early days. Put into the context of an early metal release, I could see this as a breakthrough album. Sadly, though, in this day and age, Metal Black is little more than a nostalgic time capsule. It’s headbanging heavy and easy to get into, but nothing terribly special.
Bottomline. Venom may not have made an instant fan in this guy, but it has made an interesting argument for the return of old-school death metal at its most raw. The unapologetically heavy guitar riffs are the best part of the album. This is recommended for fans, or for those curious about the band, but it may not be the best starting place for newcomers.
Mildly Recommended. **.5 / *****
01. Antechrist: Click HERE to listen to a streaming demo.
02. Burn In Hell
03. House of Pain
04. Death & Dying
05. Rege Satanas
06. Darkest Realm
07. A Good Day to Die
09. Lucifer Rising
10. Blessed Dead
11. Hours of Darkness
12. Sleep When I’m Dead
14. Metal Black
The album will be released by Sanctuary Records: