Venom! Where to begin? After all, they are one of the most important heavy metal bands of all time. No question. Not many bands can claim to have invented an entire genre, but that was happened with their debut album Welcome To Hell. In the space of half an hour they invented black metal and thrash metal. They even gave the former a name with the follow up Black Metal. I even went to the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984 for show later released as the 7th Date Of Hell video. I still get chills up my spine when I think of the 'In Nomine Satanus' / 'Welcome To Hell' / 'Warhead' triple header.
But things started to go pear shaped after their conceptual masterpiece At War With Satan. The next couple of albums were pallid in comparison, and the original line up started to fracture with guitarist Mantas leaving prior to Calm Before The Storm. The less said about Venom for the ten years after that the better, as vocalist / bassist Cronos departed, and their name was dragged through the mud with a series of bad albums. But, 1997 saw the classic lineup reuniting for the excellent Cast In Stone album, but it all fell apart again with drummer Abaddon, who had been the sole survivor throughout all the lineups, finally leaving, to be replaced by the brother of Cronos.
Even so, Resurrection was a surprisingly good release, but then it was time for guitarist Mantas to leave again. Which left Cronos back in charge of the Venom name, something he seems to enjoy. Even so, it was six years before the next album Metal Black appeared, and it really wasn't worth the wait. The live dates were equally disappointing, so I wasn't holding out much hope for this new album, Hell. It's another new lineup as well, with guitarist Mykvs, who'd replaced Mantas twice, leaving to be replaced by the rather disappointingly named Rage.
But, what do you know? This is absolutely splendid! I did not see that coming. Naturally enough, there is nothing new or groundbreaking about this release, but Venom have finally managed to tap into that aura of evil that carried them through the early eighties. Some of the songs are good enough to fit onto the classic albums with the raw energy of "Straight To Hell," "Hand Of God," "Armageddon" and "Blood Sky" quite astonishing for a band of their vintage. Sure, the album does overstay its welcome, and could easily have been trimmed down from thirteen to ten tracks. Nobody would have missed the likes of "Stab U In The Back" or "USA For Satan."
Even so, this is one of the nicest (evilest?) surprises of the year. And don't go running away after the final track – there's a surprise waiting! Altogether now;
"Look out beware, when the full moon's high and bright, in every way I'm there, in every shadow in the night, cos I'm evil in league with Satan"