Wednesday 9 November 2022

Venom Inc. - There's Only Black (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Sep 2022
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This second Venom Inc. album prompts a brief history lesson; if you already know this, then skip on to the next paragraph. The pivotal line-up of extreme metal pioneers Venom was Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas, the line-up that recorded Welcome to Hell and Black Metal, among others. However, while Cronos leads the current incarnation of Venom, he actually left in 1988, leaving control with Abaddon who brought Mantas back into the fold in 1989, along with Tony Dolan of Atomkraft. That line-up recorded Prime Evil and others and, after Cronos returned and took control, they formed a new band, Venom, Inc., to continue the Prime Evil era. Abaddon has since left again and the drums here are played by Jeramie Kling, as War Machine. Dolan is Demolition Man. Mantas is, well, still Mantas.

What that means is that there are now two incarnations of Venom: one led by Cronos and this one by Mantas. Abaddon is off doing his own thing, with an EP released earlier this year. I've seen the Venom incarnation live—holy crap, was that sixteen years ago?— and they blistered then, though the (lack of) production hinders their studio releases, like 2018's Storm the Gates. This album has much better production—just listen to that crisp drum sound at the beginning of The Dance—and, though it's less extreme and more traditional heavy metal, there are plenty of moments to whisk you back to old school Venom.

Certainly early songs like Infinite and Come to Me do everything that old school Venom did. They storm out of the gate and barrel along at a rate of knots. Mantas's riffs include a lot of rhythmic chugging, while Dolan's voice is effectively in our faces, even if it can't match Cronos for iconically demonic. Every aspect is controlled well, aided by that crisp production, so that this seems like it's just easy for them and they could play all night. They're not the fastest songs in the world, but they do blister and I can imagine how they'd feel live with a serious sound system.

The title track slows the tempo a little, which serves to remind us as much of Motörhead as Venom, as if we hadn't noticed how much the latter had taken from the former anyway. It also reminds us that Venom were never the fastest or most extreme band out there, even in their most influential days, and were influential for other reasons, like punk/metal attitude and lyrical content. In 2022, they have to rely on that all the more and it's the attitude that sells the more emphatic songs like Don't Feed Me Your Lies or Burn Liar Burn.

I come to Venom Inc. from an unusual place. I adore the Black Metal album and I love the tracks on this album that feel closest to that sound, songs like Man as God and Nine. However, I encountered Venom first through At War with Satan and I still have a real fondness for that twenty minute title track, an attempt by the band to highlight how they could truly play, even if they preferred to dish out a succession of three minute blitzkriegs. There's a lot going on in that piece and I hear a lot of it on this album, even if it's mostly in intros and breakdowns. Burn Liar Burn and The Dance spring quickly to mind. In fact, Burn Liar Burn's intro extends to half the song and it's fascinating before it launches into a full on speed metal assault.

Inevitably, I find that I have to compare this to the most recent Venom album and it comes off as a step up. There was good material on Storm the Gates but there was a lot of filler too and the awful production made everything sound terrible. This easily wins out on production but it wins out from the standpoints of songwriting and consistency too. It's not Black Metal or even At War with Satan but it's a good, reliable album with some standout tracks to elevate it further. And it sounds damn good. Now I understand why a number of fans have been telling me that Venom Inc. are the better band right now. The ball's in your court, Cronos. Let's have a killer new Venom album!

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