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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Venom

Metal Black

Review by Mike Korn

Venom is one of the bands that really changed how I looked at music. When I picked up their incredibly raw and Satanic debut Welcome to Hell back in the early 80's, I was first repulsed and then mesmerized by the brutality within. This was my first true experience with "extreme metal" and I wager it was for many other unsuspecting mortals as well. By the time Venom's follow-up Black Metal came out, I was an eager disciple, greedily devouring every note from the devilish band. But that was long ago and a lot of things have changed in the interim. The wave of extremity begun by Venom has grown into a tsunami of flesh-ripping death metal like Cannibal Corpse and diabolical Norwegian black metal such as Mayhem and Darkthrone. Is there any place for Venom's old-school darkness in today's world?

There sure as hell is, if Metal Black is anything to go by. This is the rawest Venom record since At War With Satan even if founding member Cronos has two new acolytes in his cult. The band wisely declines to challenge the insane speed and distortion of modern day death and black metal bands and favors simple, catchy riffs delivered with crude and unrefined thuggishness. With 14 tracks, this runs too long, but it never really lets up with Venom's patented "Motorhead in Hell" style of blasphemous attack. New guitarist Mykvs shows some surprising chops with his soloing while drummer Antton is easily superior to his predecessor Abaddon. Cronos, thankfully, remains the ugly brute he's always been.

Maybe Venom is not quite as extreme as they were back in the day, but odds are that the Devil would still be pleased with his faithful sons' work on Metal Black.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Antechrist
Cronos' bestial roar of "Antichrist!" kicks this off with no wasted time and it's immediately clear we've got a production designed for maximum rawness and heaviness. This is a no-messin', almost punk like track that kicks you right square in the face
Burn In Hell
The pace is kept pretty fast here. This track isn't too bad but seems a little generic. The simple chorus of "Inferno! You're gonna burn in hell!" is kind of on the dumbo side, too, but I definitely like Mykvs' screaming old school guitar solo.
House of Pain
This track is based around a choppy, mid-paced riff with a lot of harmonic guitar squawls almost like something Zak Wylde would do. It sounds like some of the stuff from Venom's more recent "comeback" albums and is pretty monotonous.
Death and Dying
Fitting in with the cheerful subject matter, this is a grim little number that pounds away at your skull with thumping bass and hammering drums. Cronos has never sounded more sinister than when he spits out "Old Man Death! Death and Dying!" There's another great "rock and roll on steroids" solo to help nail it down.
Rege Satanas
I really dig the catchy feel of this tune. It reminds me of something that might have come from Black Metal. The bellowed chorus sounds goofy, like something drunken demons might sing at a bar in hell, but it's pretty memorable. I wonder who "Reggie Satanas" is?
Darkest Realm
This is one of my favorites, with a real evil stalking feel on the verse and a super-powerful burst of chugging speed on the chorus. Again, Cronos sounds like he's ready to pop a vein when he roars "Deafening volume and power in black/Light up the Skies with our Attack!". This would kill live.

A Good Day to Die
Like "Burn In Hell", this is a fast and furious tune, but not really going anywhere and it comes across as a bit of a filler. There's a pretty strange break in the middle where Mykvs' guitar work is melodic and totally un-Venomish.

Assassin
Another catchy bruiser, this is chiefly distinguished by an incredible string-mangling guitar solo. It's not exactly what you'd call a progressive, challenging track and the chorus is simple-minded even for Venom.

Lucifer Rising
This is more like it. Featuring chest-crushing bass-drum interplay, the track has a very ominous feel to it and man, is it heavy. Some surprisingly elegant guitar soloing helps elevate the song even further. Despite the general crude approach of the band, Mykvs emerges as a multi-faceted guitarist over the course of the record.

The Blessed Dead
This cut really mixes things up. There's a mixture of a slower, Sabbath-like riffing, all-out speed and a real cool bouncy chord progression under the verse that thumps along pretty well. The lyrics are even more foul-mouthed and angry than usual. The band shows some new tricks here!

Hours of Darkness
This is a slower track that smolders and stews instead of ripping your head right off. I like the church bells that emphasize the thunderous bass playing of Cronos, which is at its heaviest here.
Sleep When I'm Dead
This one really does rip your head off, starting off like a charging rhino as Cronos roars, "There's no one to save us/It's kill or be killed!" Once again, the mid-section is more melodic than you'd have any right to expect but I could have done without the "Whoa-oh" vocals.
Maleficarum
This is the album's epic and standout track. The opening riff barrage here is just so heavy and catchy. There's a bridge that is absolutely punishing and an orgy of riffing in the middle that had me headbanging furiously. This is great stuff, equal to any other "extreme" band out there.
Metal Black
Kicking off with an incredible gibbering from Cronos that was almost like rapid fire rap, this soon slams into the fastest and rawest cut on the record. It's not quite the equal of the seminal "Black Metal" cut, but it ain't far off. This is unrestrained thrashing mayhem! "This ain't no music for light hearted folk/We tell it straight to the rich and the broke/We're long haired punks without a care/Turn up the volume, join in if you dare!" Get a load of the almost bluesy solo before the tracks kicks back into the thrash...a perfect album end!  

 
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