Friday, April 24, 2009

Venom - Calm Before the Storm (1987)

Following the less-than-exceptional release of Possessed, the unholy trio was torn asunder as Mantas left the group to pursue a solo career. To fill the void left behind, Cronos and Abaddon recruited two new guitar players, Mike "Mykus" Hickey and James Clare. One would never have known much was going on, as the mini-albums, compilations and live records continued to be released, such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. By 1987, the time had come to enter New Marquee Studios, in London, to record a new L.P. Of course, with a different studio came a new producer. Keith Nichol, who had been producing their albums from the beginning, was replaced by Nick Tauber. The result was Calm Before the Storm, released in November 1987.

While the previous record was a bit of a step down, compared the the earlier material, Calm Before the Storm represented a complete departure from the Satanic-themed Black Metal that Venom was known for. The music took on more of a melodic thrash approach while the lyrical content shifted to more typical Heavy Metal themes. Coming from the originators of Black Metal, this was quite a shock.

The record begins with "Black Xmas". This one wastes no time in getting right into the thrash riffs. The first thing that one may notice is the fact that the vocals are less harsh and evil. Actually, Cronos seems to have injected a lot of melody in his voice, utilizing a cleaner approach. The production doesn't sound bad, at all, and the guitar solos are pretty enjoyable. The riffs are okay, but nothing exceptional. This sure as Hell isn't "Sons of Satan", "Black Metal" or "At War With Satan", but as an opener it does well to acquaint the listener with the change in sound. Some bands, that experiment with their sound, try to hide this by beginning the album with a song that is more in tune with their previous efforts, and then sneaking the new style in there. As always, Venom is very up-front.

The next song is "The Chanting of the Priests". This one is similar to the first one, being a shocking display of mediocrity, especially the hilarious vocals. Cronos actually does this rather well, but it's just so unexpected that one can't help but laugh. The "woah-oh-oh" part, with the back-up vocals, is the most despicable thing I've heard yet. It's difficult to belive that any of the band members really thought that this was a good idea. There is a section with deeper, more evil-sounding vocals but the lyrics certainly don't warrant such effects being used. The riffs and lead solos aren't bad, really. This just isn't what one wants to hear when tossing a Venom record on.

"Metal Punk" sounds a lot more like the real Venom. This one is fast, filled with energy and showcases the vocal delivery expected of Cronos, though the chorus is annoying. During the last minute of the song, things slow down and the feeling is kind of killed. All in all, this is merely a substandard representation of the band.

This is followed by "Under A Spell". Like the previous track, this one shows that the band could make music more suitable of the Venom name, though uninspired. Of course, the melodic vocals used for the bridge and the chorus are... suddenly, Helloween. This is utterly sickening. Clean, harmonized vocals have no place in Venom! Never! The solos are adequate, but this tune has done too much to offend the band's fans for anything to salvage it. I feel like I've just been aurally raped.

"Calm Before the Storm" has the unenviable task of following this atrocity. It begins with a dark intro, creating a decent atmosphere. The riff isn't half bad, though not worthy of a Venom record. The first time that I heard this song, it was quite late at night and I wondered, "Why does this album get so much Hell?" I must have been bloody delirious. This is absolutely unacceptable. I once read that this album sounded as if Bon-Jovi had recorded an album under the Venom name. Right now, this doesn't seem like a bad description.

Next is "Fire", which possesses a sound much closer to what one would expect. It is the only song with even the slightest mention of Hell. While it sounds passable, by comparison to the last few tracks, this song is mediocre at best. It earns points for lacking clean vocals, but then the unimaginative songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. At least it was fairly short.

"Krackin' Up", as one might infer from the title, is plagued by ridiculous lyrics. The song has a little of the old Venom feeling, but not really in a good way. For anyone that says lyrics don't matter, I defy you to listen to this song and take it seriously. The title sure as Hell is appropriate, as it had me 'cracking up' for the whole two minutes or so that it was playing.

This abomination is succeeded by "Beauty and the Beast". Indeed, it seems that Dio was writing lyrics for Venom, as it is difficult to accept that this was the doing of Cronos. As anticipated, the chorus is contaminated with more melodic absurdity. This is bloody awful. Even a few decent riffs can't possibly save this. Unfortunately, this song is a bit longer than the previous two. It's strange how most think that Cronos left the band after this album, because it was so terrible, when he's the one that made it such an unbearable and distressing experience. Further condemning him is the fact that his solo project continued with this contemptible sound.

"Deadline" continues the punishment. It begins with a mildly tolerable thrash riff, but the song features more utilization of clean vocals for the chorus. It isn't as horrid as on some of the other songs, but it's not very pleasant. The solo is alright, but nothing special. By this point, the album has become extremely tedious.

The next song is "Gypsy", which uses more trademark Venom riffs, along with some double-bass. Of course, the whole sound is ruined with the horrendous vocal delivery. This track certainly doesn't hold a candle to Mercyful Fate's song of the same title. Forget Thrash Metal; this should be classified as the first suicidal Black Metal album. It was written and recorded by a (former) Black Metal band and it makes me want to kill myself, rather than listen to any more.

The final song is titled "Muscle". Indeed, this idiotic title is making a certain sexual reference. Venom lost their Satanic approach, but they kept this kind of nonsense? Utterly appalling. I can't imagine anyone could really be so interested in songs about sex, except for those who have never gotten any. This song is as fucking awful as it gets. This makes Motley Crue sound dangerous. It sure is a Hell of a way to end an atrocious album.

Calm Before the Storm is an abomination. This is an undeniable fact. This terrible piece of excrement gets worse as it progresses. If you ever have the misfortune of hearing this, run for cover. Don't get fooled into believing that it may be passable because the first song isn't so overly wretched. The album is completely worthless, with exception to its ability to provide a load of laughs. Unless you need a dose of humour or simply possess a morbid curiosity that compels you to witness the grim demise of Venom, avoid this at all costs.