Venom is an English metal band, formed in 1979. Coming from the NWOBHM, the classic line-up of the band was composed of Cronos (vocals and bass), Mantas (guitar) and Abaddon (drums).
Venom’s innovative style, with a very heavy sound for its time, the harsh vocals of Cronos, the fast pace and satanic lyrics, made the band stand out in the world scene consecrating them as one of the most known and important metal groups of the 1980s. Their first two albums, Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), became a reference in the genre and are considered the first extreme metal records released.
Venom was originally formed as a quintet (vocals, two guitars, bass, and drums) under the name Guillotine in 1978. Their original influences, or more properly, those of their guitarist Jeff Dunn, who led the band musically and ideologically, were the punk/metal musical combinations of bands like Motörhead, the aggressive and fast riffs of groups like Judas Priest, the attraction to occult groups like Black Sabbath, and the visual drama of bands like Kiss. They were also influenced by legendary seventies hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin.
Blankets in London (2014)
After the original vocalist and drummer left the band due to personal differences (drummer Chris McPeters decided to get married and vocalist Dave Blackman became upset when a group rehearsal with fireworks ended up setting fire to his garden), chance determined that Jeff Dunn met at a Judas Priest show in Newcastle, those who, until then, were members of the band Oberon: drummer Tony Bray and vocalist Clive Archer. Noting that both showed dissatisfaction with the metal scene at the time, where the heaviest bands became Judas Priest and Motörhead, Dunn offered both musicians auditions for the vacant positions in the band.
In late 1979, the second guitarist, D. Rutherford also decided to leave the project for personal reasons, and the second guitar position was taken by Conrad Lant, whom Dunn had met at the home of a mutual friend. With the advent of Lant, Venom had completely defined the musical and lyrical character, for which it would come to be known, the band changed its name from Guillotine to Venom and its members adopted pseudonyms by which they are known today (Cronos: Conrad Lant , Mantas: Jeff Dunn, Abbadon: Tony Bray and Jesuschrist: Clive Archer). At this time, original bassist Dean Hewitt was replaced by newcomer Alan Winston.
Winston would eventually leave the ensemble in less than a year, a week before the band’s first gig at the Meth Club in Wallsend, England. From that moment on Cronos took over the responsibility of playing bass, saying that “playing bass couldn’t be that hard after all.” Venom thus became a quartet with a vocalist (Jesuschrist) a guitarist (Mantas), a bassist (Cronos) and a drummer (Abbadon).
In April 1980, this line-up went into the studio to record the first demo including three of their classic songs, “Angel Dust”, “Raise the Dead” and “Red Light Fever”. But this would be Venom’s only known recording as a quartet, because Clive Archer left the band soon after. After that, the group would concentrate on writing new songs and rehearsing the ones they already had, until they found a new vocalist.
It was during one of these tests that Cronos took the microphone to accompany one of the songs newly composed by Mantas (“Live like an Angel”), and afterwards Mantas and Abaddon recognized that the combination of chanting and guttural screaming was exactly the kind of sound they were looking for for the band. As such, Cronos stays on as bassist and vocalist.
First Albums – Classic Lineup (1981 – 1986)
Cronos at Party.San Metal Open Air (2013)
Venom’s first recording as a trio was the single “In League with Satan”. This was one of the songs included on Venom’s debut album, “Welcome to Hell” , released in late 1981. It is considered by many to be the first thrash metal and black metal album, and had a great influence on the development of these styles, becoming a “watershed” in metal. Welcome to Hell contains the song “Mayhem with Mercy”, which was the inspiration for the name of the Norwegian band Mayhem. The album was actually a collection of demos and, according to Cronos himself, is the reason why there is a big difference in sound quality between Welcome to Hell and their second album.
A year after the release of Welcome to Hell, the album “Black Metal” was released, considered by many to be Venom’s most important album. Black Metal is cited as perhaps the most important influence in the development of black metal, thrash metal, death metal, and other styles that would form what would be defined as extreme metal. He was responsible for christening the black metal genre that emerged in Norway in the early 1990s, due to the admiration that the musicians had for the band.
The group’s third LP “At War with Satan” brought a variation in the stylistic level of interpretations (including a 20-minute epic-like title track, which had already been introduced on the previous recording). At War with Satan put Venom on the same level as other successful groups of the time such as Iron Maiden and Motörhead. It also sneaked into the album charts in the UK (#64) and Sweden (#48).
In 1985 Venom presented “Possessed,” a release that, while essentially maintaining the basic elements of the band, openly flirted with the commercial boundaries of the genre, proposing a more refined vision of the group’s sound and moving away from classic Satanism to approach the occult as a theme. The band immediately received rejection for the album and quickly recorded a new album called Deadline, but it would never see the light because Mantas would leave Venom to try a solo career.
In 1986 The Singles 1980-1986 came out, containing, as the name implies, the singles released in 1980 and 1986. Among the songs included, ten of them had not appeared on any album, but became famous among fans, such as “Bloodlust”, “In Nomine Satanas”, “Die Hard” and “Seven Gates of Hell”. At the end of the same year, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was released, a live double album that marked the end of the British trio’s classic line-up.
Lineup changes and end of the band (1987 – 1993)
To replace Mantas, two guitarists were recruited: Mike Hickey and Jim Clare. Their 1987 album “Calm Before the Storm” presented a more polished sound, leaving the satanic themes aside to approach the literature of J.R.R. Tolkien. They toured South America that year, including Brazil, along with the Canadian band Exciter. Sales of the album were well below its predecessor, “Possessed”. Lant, Clare and Hickey left Venom after the promotional tour and formed a new group under the name Cronos.
Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan during a concert in 2013
Abaddon resumed contact with Mantas and convinced him to work with him on a new project called Sons of Satan. In a phone conversation with Cronos, Abaddon asked if he would have any problem continuing to use the name Venom instead of Sons of Satan. The bassist said that he had no objection, because they were original members of Venom and had every right to continue with that name.
Abaddon and Mantas hired guitarist Al Barnes and Cronos’ replacement, Tony Dolan, known for being the bassist for the British group Atomkraft. The band began work on their next album, Prime Evil. Dolan had a similar voice to Cronos and was a talented bassist; the band set the nickname “Demolition Man” for him. Still, Dolan did not see himself as a replacement for Cronos: “I’m not trying to replace Cronos, it would be crazy to think I could do that. What he did in this band was something sensational and unique. But I can be myself, and I feel I should bring something new to Venom. It’s a new beginning and it’s the way we want to go with our music.
The band recorded Prime Evil in 1989, which was very well received by the critics, but not by some fans who claimed to be missing Cronos. The band’s sound seemed to be going back to its roots and re-experiencing lyrics about Satanism. But Venom was still not regaining its reputation and popularity, which continued to fall. The thrash metal wave, started in Europe by Venom was not having a good time, and the trend of the 1990s is actually more towards death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide.
Tony Dolan, despite his qualities as a leader, was not well accepted among the group’s fans and suffered the consequences: “There are people screaming for Cronos to come back at our concerts. That I would like to see happen. But for now all I ask is that people give me the chance to show what I can do.”
The band changed their guitarist (Al Barnes was replaced by Steve White), continued touring, and ended up being a shadow of what they had been. Two new albums were released: Temples of Ice and The Waste Lands, in 1991 and 1992, respectively; which were completely ignored by critics and fans alike. On these albums, the group experimented with new sounds, including synthesizers, but still failed to attract attention.
In 1993 Venom announces their split.
Return with the classic line-up (1995 – 2002)
In 1995, Cronos resumed contact with Mantas and Abaddon with the intention of reuniting the classic line-up of Venom. The news of the band’s reformation was big news in the press and gave hope to their fans. Venom was the main attraction at the 1996 Dutch Dynamo Open Air festival playing to about 90,000 people.
In 1997 the long awaited reunion album, Cast in Stone, was released. It was very well received by critics and fans alike, and was a surprise to many who expected a return to the black metal sound. The lyrics, written by Cronos, however, follow the line of those from the 1980s. The album was also released with a bonus CD including new versions of their classic songs. After a world tour, Venom released the double album “New, Live & Rare” in mid-1998.
However, despite the stage and commercial success of this line-up, the situation behind the scenes was far from idyllic. Abaddon and Cronos could not