Venom are an English extreme metal band that formed in 1979 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Coming to prominence towards the end of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Venom’s first two albums — Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982) — are considered a major influence on thrash metal and extreme metal in general. Venom’s second album proved influential enough that its title was used as the name of an extreme metal sub-genre : Black Metal.
Venom’s original members came from three different bands : Guillotine, Oberon and Dwarf Star. Clive Archer, Eric Cooke, Tony Bray and Ian Kell formed a band called Venom while working at Reyrolles. Ian Kell was replaced in summer of 1978 and went on to play in folk band “Kropotkin Lied”. In the late autumn of 1979 Conrad Lant, from the bands Dwarf Star and Album Graecum, replaced Dave Rutherford. Lant later switched to bass after the departure of Winston. The band members took on new stage names. Archer became “Jesus Christ”, Lant “Mr. Cronos”, Tony Bray “Abaddon”, and Jeff Dunn “Mantas”.
Prime influences of the formative band were Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motörhead and KISS. Other bands cited by Venom as an inspiration are Queen, The Who, Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, Van Halen, The Tubes and The Rolling Stones. Since the beginning of their career, Venom have often used ‘Satanic’ lyrics and imagery. However, the band were not Satanists, and such references were mostly for shock value.
In April 1980, the band recorded a three-song disc, featuring “Angel Dust”, “Raise the Dead”, and “Red Light Fever”. Soon afterward, six more tracks were recorded for just £50, with Lant taking vocal duties on the song “Live Like an Angel”. Archer soon left the band, and Venom’s line-up became a trio. Venom’s recording debut was the 1981 single “In League with Satan” / “Live Like an Angel” which was released by Neat Records. Later that year they released their full-length debut, Welcome to Hell. Though crudely recorded with sometimes dubious musicianship, Welcome to Hell was still a big influence on future thrash bands. Venom’s music was faster and harsher than most heavy metal contemporaries and while Satanism and other dark topics had been featured in metal before, the subject had rarely been more prominent.
Their second album, 1982’s Black Metal is cited as perhaps the most important influence in the development of black metal, thrash metal, death metal and other related styles that are often grouped under the extreme metal umbrella. Many defining elements of these genres are first found in the lyrics and song titles created by Lant and his unique singing style as well as the guitar work and solos performed by Dunn. Though they would later be cited as important, neither of Venom’s first two albums sold well upon their original release. And while many of their British metal peers had found measures of popular success or critical acclaim (or, like Def Leppard, were moving away from metal towards hard rock), Venom were still regarded by critics as “a trio of buffoons”.
In an attempt to prove their status as serious musicians, Venom recorded At War with Satan in 1984. The epic 20-minute title track, with substantial progressive rock influences, took up the first side of the LP. The B-side was focused on the rapid-fire, three-minute “scorchers” Venom were known for, including “Stand Up And Be Counted”. A live video, The Seventh Date Of Hell: Live At Hammersmith Odeon, was also released that year. In 1985, Venom released their fourth studio album, Possessed, which was not as successful as their previous albums. By this time Venom had released several singles (Warhead, Die Hard and Manitou to name a few) and live EPs.
Two guitarists, Mike Hickey and Jim Clare, were hired to replace Dunn. Their fifth album, 1987’s Calm Before the Storm, moved away from Satanic themes in favor of “sword and sorcery” material. This was even less successful than Possessed, and Lant, Clare and Hickey all left Venom after subsequent touring to form Lant’s eponymous solo band Cronos. In 1988, Bray offered a vocals/bass role to Tony Dolan (The Demolition Man) from Atomkraft. Bray and Dolan wrote new material prior to Dunn’s rejoining the band along with rhythm guitarist Al Barnes. Together they recorded Prime Evil (1989), Tear Your Soul Apart (1990) and Temples of Ice (1991).
Barnes then left the band, and Steve White from Atomkraft was hired as his replacement. They released The Waste Lands in 1992, also without success. Music for Nations refused to release any more Venom albums, so Dolan and Dunn quit, effectively disbanding Venom. Bray continued to release compilation and live albums up to 1995.
In 1995, Lant, Dunn and Bray reunited the “classic” line-up, beginning by headlining the Waldrock Festival on 24 June 1995. They recorded and self-released the Venom ’96 EP with four re-recorded and one new song, resulting in a record deal with the SPV label. An album, Cast in Stone, was next released in 1997, split between new material and re-recordings of popular early-’80s songs. Bray left Venom in 1999 and was replaced by Lant’s brother Antony “Antton” Lant. This lineup released Resurrection in 2000 on SPV. However, in 2002 Dunn again left the group and was replaced by a returning Hickey. This lineup of the band released the Metal Black album.
Hickey was replaced by guitarist La Rage in 2007. This lineup released the record Hell the following year. Antton Lant left the group thereafter and was replaced by drummer Danny “Dante” Needham. They released the Fallen Angels album on 28 November 2011. Venom released their fourteenth studio album From the Very Depths on January 27, 2015.
As Venom were one of the first incarnations of extreme metal, influencing many thrash metal, black metal, death metal and other extreme metal bands, their exact genre has been a topic of debate. Venom have been labeled various genres by members of the press. Most prominent genres are black metal, thrash metal and speed metal.
Cronos insists on calling it black metal, without passing judgment on the genre that later on flourished in Norway :
…It’s one of the things when I first saw when I saw the Norwegian scene beginning in the early nineties. I thought: ok, I know they said Venom are an influence, etcetera, etcetera; let’s see where these guys are coming from. And then when I started to read the lyrics, read the interviews and see they were kind of saying the same thing, but about their country, they had their religion, with all the Norse gods like Wodan and Thor. And then all of the sudden the Christians came in and they tried to destroy their religion. It’s great that they stayed within in their country’s beliefs for their lyrics as well. So, they’re not the exactly the same things as Venom, they invented something of their own, which I think is fucking great…
Legacy and Influence
Welcome to Hell influenced several later bands. Venom’s music helped shape the development of many thrash metal bands, specifically the “Big Four of Thrash” (who in turn were highly influential): Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. Venom would also be of extreme importance to the black metal and even the early death metal scene, with numerous bands copying styles, themes and imagery from the band, such as the Swiss band Hellhammer which also helped pioneer the genres. Music critic Bradley Torreano wrote that Venom “[caught] the attention of both metalheads and punks, the band was emulated by the former and turned into camp icons by the latter.” Although they did not make it to MTV’s top 10 heavy metal bands list, they were given an “honorable mention”.
While many fans and musicians see Venom as an important band, their music has nonetheless been the subject of debate and criticism. Critic Eduardo Rivadavia of AllMusic writes that though Welcome to Hell influenced “literally thousands” of bands, Venom were “critically reviled”. However, critic James Christopher Monger declares that the members of Venom ‘grew as musicians’ as their careers progressed. Ethnographer Keith Kahn-Harris argues that Venom’s limited technical skill, particularly early in their career, was a profound, though inadvertent factor in Venom’s influence: being unable to mimic more technically proficient metal of their predecessors or peers, Venom instead opted to focus on sheer speed, creating music that was inspired by earlier metal, yet simultaneously blazed new trails.