There are few bands more important than Venom. Anyone with a passing interest in metal will know the tale of how three Geordie youngsters with a love of punk and an unhealthy appreciation for Dennis Wheatley novels created black metal single handedly with 1981’s “Welcome to Hell” and the following year’s “Black Metal” firmly establishing the sound, style and look of the genre that has literally millions of disciples today. So although Venom’s place in the pantheon of metal gods is not in dispute, it’s a shame that for the past 30 years they have lived off the back of those two seminal records whilst continually releasing albums that have no hope in hell of recapturing those former glories. Will 14th full-length “From the Very Depths” be the one to break the habit?
Although still rooted in the punk/metal hybrid sound that has served them so well over the years, Venom in 2015 is an altogether different beast than what was conjured up by the unholy trinity of Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas, who laid down their souls to the gods rock n’ roll so many moons ago. “From the Very Depths” has a full and sturdy production that ensures each instrument is heard loudly and rudely, and the scuzziness and occasional mistakes that characterised those early days have been ironed out. Venom seem to want to compete with the very best and Cronos, current guitarist Rage and drummer Dante are all accomplished musicians and, for the most part, the quality of songwriting on display here is testament to their dedication.
The title track and ‘The Death of Rock n’ Roll’ that kick start the album are proper old-school metal bangers that tear along furiously with some excellent guitar work from Rage and some suitably hefty bass-playing from Cronos, one of the most underrated wielders of his instrument in the game today. The old goat is evidently having fun here as he grunts lines like “Light up the Marshall stacks/We’re killing Kid Creole/With devastating thrash/The death of rock n’ roll”. This no-frills, heads-down approach serves the band well and is further demonstrated on the barnstorming ‘Long Haired Punks’ and the rip-roaring speed metal of ‘Grinding Teeth.’
There are a few issues however. While the band may want to show that they’re not just some one-trick pony, when they take their foot off the gas and attempt to play more thoughtful, mid-paced numbers, the whole thing falls embarrassingly flat. ‘Smoke’ and ‘Temptation’ are both dull as ditchwater clunkers straight from the Generic 101 school while the clichéd stop-start refrains of ‘Mephistopheles’ won’t have anyone selling their souls anytime soon. Thankfully the gnarly thrash and ego-boosting crowd noises of album closer ‘Rise’ leave things on a high, although at 14 tracks and 53 minutes, the end should have come at least 10 minutes earlier.
While Venom will always exist in the shadow of those first two monumental records, to write them off as has-beens would be unfair. They’re evidently making a real effort to remain relevant in a fast-moving world and with a solid line-up capable of penning decent, engaging songs their future for the time being is assured. New kids on the block like Midnight may be more exciting and the missteps in the songwriting need to be ironed out, but for the most part “From the Very Depths” is a record you should think twice about before dismissing off-hand. These long-haired punks deserve it.