Monday, April 6, 2009

Venom - Black Metal (1982)

Black Metal is the second full-length album from Venom. After releasing the mind-shattering Welcome To Hell, along with a handful of singles and demos, the unholy trio from Newcastle returned with another slab of dark and primitive metal. While their debut L.P. was like a full-on assault, their sophomore effort utilizes more sadistic methods of torture. Black Metal is actually a bit more structured than the first album, though the band - bassist/vocalist Cronos, guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon - elected to maintain the same formula, overall. The sound is best described as rusty nail vocals crashing up against a tirade of riffs belted out at terrifying a speed.

Wasting no time, the band opens up with both barrels on "Black Metal", the ballistics cocked very much toward nuclear activity, as Venom spread their infection far and wide. In many ways this anthem is typical of Venom - frenetic, ferocious, yet behind it all there's an undeniable structure. This isn't noise for its own sake, but a full-on representation of why Venom captured the imagination. The album begins with this terrible racket. They wanted to get a chainsaw sound, but that wasn't wild enough for them, so they cut into a studio door that had a bolt through it to give it such teeth-grinding racket. They left no gap at the front of the record so that the needle went straight into this chaotic sound. And that was just the intro. The actual song has all of the power and energy of "Witching Hour" with a bit more focus. This is fast-paced all the way and features the same horridly great sound from Welcome To Hell. It is fitting that the vocal delivery of Cronos is filled with conviction as he screams the words "black metal" as the sub-genre that Venom created (and named with this release) took this very seriously.

The next song, "To Hell and Back", begins with a great riff that is reminiscent of the more relaxed feeling found on such songs as "Bloodlust". What it lacks in intensity it makes up for with an overall dark feeling, largely due to Cronos. Mantas unleashes a killer solo that isn't so technically impressive but adds a lot to the atmosphere of blasphemy. This is very much a celebration of Satanic decadence and it comes across very well.

"Buried Alive" is an atmospheric piece reminiscent of Hammer Horror or Edgar Allen Poe; a claustrophobic song that's moody, grim and grimy. It tells the tale of someone who is, literally, buried alive and you can almost feel the earth being shoveled on top of the coffin and the panic emanating from within. It is, possibly, the darkest song recorded by Venom. The feeling is absolutely morbid and this one song epitomizes Black Metal. The guitar riffs are eerie, the vocal performance is ghastly and the drums are minimal, but effective. The desperation in the vocals and the tension in the guitar melody work together to give the listener the feeling of being buried alive, even to the point where you begin to panic and seek to claw at the lid of your own coffin. The lyrics could not be more perfect in creating a vivid mental image of this:

"As they lower me down into that hole in the ground
I scream out for help but they hear not a sound
I tear at the lid, my fingers they bleed
Is this happening to me or is it just a dream"

This dark and somber song leads directly into "Raise the Dead". This was originally recorded as part of the band's initial three-track demo; the one that got them noticed. It lacks none of the energy or ferocity of the original, yet it is a little more focused. It is a fitting counterpoint to the previous song and picks up the tempo of the album without quite reaching the frantic pace found on the opening track.

"Teacher's Pet" is kind of a follow-up to "Red Light Fever", being about smut. Even an album obsessed with the darker side of life seems to have its light-hearted moments. After such a truly dark and epic piece as "Buried Alive" and then the release of "Raise the Dead", this is almost a necessary way to end Side BLACK. As for the song itself, it is pretty fast with an oddly slow section that seems bluesy, while ending with a fairly thrashy riff. The lyrics are total perverted nonsense, but they display the humour of the band well.

Side METAL begins with the classic song "Leave Me In Hell". This begins with a pretty fast-paced thrash riff and drags the listener back into the fiery depths while also featuring some great lyrics:

"I don't want to be born
I don't want it
Leave me in hell"

This unholy tune embodies everything that was great about Venom. As the song slows down, the atmosphere becomes far more hellish and morbid. The solo is filled with dark feeling and dances around your mind like the flames of Hell. This is the glorification of all that is demonic, evil and possessed. The last, desperate line from Cronos adds a nice effect.

"Sacrifice" follows and is another typical, fast-paced tune of pentagrams, goats and Satanic majesty. This song really shows how the band has improved regarding song structure. The same feeling is present but the delivery is a little more focused. Perhaps, some people are under the impression that Black Metal is so well-known because of the title and the sub-genre that they inspired, but it truly is a masterpiece of an album.

The next song is "Heaven's On Fire" and the title is pretty self-explanatory as the lyrics tell of a Satanic war upon the heavens, turning the skies into a blazing tomb. Just when you expect some filler, this song slices through your ears like a knife. These riffs are as lethal as any other on the album and probably inspired many in the soon-to-be-born thrash scene, such as Dave Mustaine and Kerry King. Venom may be musically limited but this album shows that they truly use what talents that they possess to the fullest.

"Countess Bathory" is a song inspired by a real-life medieval noble woman who perpetrated many atrocities, not the least being the laughter of virgins, in the misguided belief that bathing in their blood preserved her youth and beauty. The story inspired a Hammer Horror movie (Countess Dracula) and inevitably attracted the attentions of Venom. This was the beginning of a lengthy fascination between metal and this Eastern European woman. This song kind of bleeds from the final riff of the previous song, keeping a relaxed pace. In a strange sense, the guitar riffs seem to hover above the rest, like a dismal black cloud. As the son gprogresses, the melodies become more menacing and sinister as Cronos screams the name of the Hungarian counterpart to Vlad Tepes.

Some of the best riffs of the album herald the coming of "Don't Burn the Witch", which is the last full song of the album. These riffs are very dark and nocturnal in nature, leading into yet another classic Venom song. This track is faster than some, but not really fast. However, it's not really mid-paced either. Whatever it is, this unholy piece of blackened thrash delivers in every possible way, musically and vocally. The lyrics could not suit this any more. The solo near the end fits in perfectly and the song fades into a preview of "At War With Satan", the first twitch of a magnum opus that waits, patiently, in the darkened shadows to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting world in the future. The ending is absolutely epic and could not have been done better.

Black Metal is every bit the classic that it is regarded as and deserves all the credit given to it and more. This is required listening for anyone claming to listen to Black Metal and if you don't own this... you deserve to be buried alive in an unmarked grave with a dagger sticking out of your chest. Suffer for eternity as the war shall soon be at hand...