Saturday, April 18, 2009

Venom - Possessed (1985)

After touring, extensively, and releasing a ton of singles and mini-albums, Venom finally returned to the studio. Possessed was released in April 1985. The album was planned before the At War With Satan L.P., in fact a lot of it was written at the time of Black Metal. It was always planned to have a collection of shorter, punchier songs, and so it was made. The guitars were, again, laid down at Impulse Studios but Abaddon took some time finding a place with the desired sound for his drums. In the end he went to Sussex, to a place called Moor Hall. The album cover features two infernal children, standing in Venom Welcome To Hell shirts, smiling diabolically. This image is displayed in negative form but didn't turn out the way the band wanted it to. It was going to be another gatefold sleeve with these kids on the front, then when you opened it up there would be toys covered in blood and guts. The way it turned out it did not tell the story the way it should and basically the reason for that was because the L.P. was rushed into the shops. The album entered at number 7 in the HM-charts and stayed in the top 30 for three months. In other countries, like Sweden, they did even better. Possessed entered the Swedish chart (for hard rock albums) at number two. Simultaneously, the import album Canadian Assault was at number four. The crusade to get Possessed alongside the first trilogy of Venom albums in terms of recognition is futile and really not necessary; it's the lack of groundbreaking factors, not the lack of quality songs, that keeps it as one of Venom's most underrated efforts. Welcome To Hell will always remain the seminal foundation for extreme metal, and is one of the most influential heavy metal releases of all time. Black Metal is still unparalleled when it comes to simplistic quality in metal, and of course the epic title track of At War With Satan was innovative at the time. But Possessed was released when the floodgates of extreme metal had already been opened by Venom themselves.

This was one of the last Venom albums that I got, as the negative reviews kept me from giving it a chance. I should have known better than to listen to other people's opinions of music. A lot of the criticism may come from the fact that the aesthetics of the album weren't up to the same levels as the first three, for reasons already explained. In all honesty, even if the original concept had been realized, it wouldn't have been so great. Along with the weak visual impact, several of the song titles seem to lack the evil message that was present in the past. There was also the matter of the vast number of singles that were released between this album and the one that preceded it. Some were among Venom's best songs and even the inclusion of a few would have made this an instant classic. But, actually, for such a straight-forward album, the song structures seem a bit more complex and intricate. There are small touches that aren't so perceptible, yet add another dimension to the songs. Another thing that might have caused the negative backlash is that Venom didn't bother trying to 'keep up' with those bands that they had influenced. They continued to do their thing, releasing music that still had the same spirit as their first release, more or less.

"Powerdrive" begins in sort of an unexpected way, not really feeling like the first song of an album. It feels more like a B-Side from one of the singles. This song features the trademark Venom sound, traveling on demon wings with a mighty roar, incinerating all in its path. Mantas really shines as his lead solos are much more complex and melodic, adding something to the sound.

The next song shows Abaddon using a bit of double-bass in the beginning. "Flytrap" scorches incessantly, featuring a killer riff that makes it easy believe that this was written a few years earlier. Once again, the guitar solo is a step up from the past, in a sense, though the lyrics are kind of a step down. The song title isn't really as diabolical as what one would expect. Aside from that, the music is pure Venom.

"Satanarchist" was the B-Side to the Nightmare single. It has a fairly creepy intro, before bursting at full force with a quite memorable riff. Cronos sounds in top form, here, and the raw production suits the feeling created by the music. This song is energetic and packs a punch.

Next up is "Burn This Place (to the Ground)". This one blasts forth at light speed igniting hellfire with burning sulphuric rage. This fast-paced song utilizes much the same approach that is found on Welcome To Hell, simply with a little more power and force. There are certain points that hint at a brilliant riff soon to emerge, but it never quite happens.

"Harmony Dies" has more of a subdued tempo than the previous songs, while keeping with the same feeling. This is simply raw, under-produced, primitive Black Metal. There are really great guitar harmonies on this one, as well as a wicked solo. This is like a purifying plume of destruction to bring forth renewal. The ending is sudden and kind of creepy, with the strange effect.

The last song on Side A is the title track, "Possessed". This is probably the prime offering of this opus and still remains one of the foremost and memorable blasphemous pieces in Black Metal history. The song begins with an ominous intro with Cronos sounding particularly evil for the first couple verses.

"Look at me Satan's child
Born of evil thus defiled
Brought to life through Satanic birth
Raised in Hell to live on Earth"

This song is one of Venom's best and a real highlight of the album. This is pretty much mid-paced, throughout, though the thrash feeling picks up later on. This is accompanied by more drum beats that were standard in the early 80s. The song ends with a return to the eerie sounds of the intro, as it fades into the abyss.

"Hellchild" starts Side B, wasting little time to get right into the fire. This energetic song has some very memorable guitar riffs. Mantas does a great job with the solos, matching the fury of Cronos. With killer songs like this, it is odd how this album doesn't get more praise.

The next song is "Moonshine", which is a bit faster than the previous one. The rhythm is a little reminiscent of "Angel Dust", except for the execution. This is a bit more intense and the great backing section to the vocals adds a dramatic effect. It cannot be said enough how the lead solos have improved, adding greatly to the record. And, for anyone wondering, the lyrics are about a morbid obsession with the light of the moon.

"Wing and a Prayer" is a furious instrumental that is very well-composed. The bass melodies, in particular, are surprising. The intensity builds throughout the song, sending the listener into a frenzy. In a strange sense, the bass lines add an epic feeling of doom to the song.

The next song is "Suffer Not The Children", which fades in and then blasts forth at a healthy speed. It contains a whispering chorus amidst the metal mayhem, and the dichotomy works pretty well. Half-way through, there is some interesting guitar-work that adds to the feeling of Hell, accompanied by more whispers from the unknown.

"Voyeur" is the obligatory smut track, having less of a serious feeling but thrashing along just the same. This one is fairly straight-forward, being a full speed aural assault. The improvements in the guitar playing make this even more enjoyable than the previous tracks of this lyrical nature.

This is followed by "Mystique", which begins with the bass creating a sense of doom. As the drums join, the guitar can be heard in the background under a choir is hissing, moaning ghouls. Cronos sounds especially vicious on this song, which is the longest on the record. It keeps a subdued pace throughout, going for a darker atmosphere. The final solo of the song is utterly amazing, with regard to the feeling that it creates. This is very impressive.

The album ends with "Too Loud For the Crowd", which seems to be in the same vein as "Stand Up (and Be Counted)" in the sense that it feels like an attempt at creating some sort of Metal anthem. It is kind of catchy, but it doesn't quite reach the levels of the previous song, which would have been a brilliant way to end the record.

If you haven't heard Possessed, you need to. Forget what you might have heard about the album. This is pure Venom, nothing more and nothing less. Maybe, the album could have had a little more impact if it had started with a song like "The Seven Gates of Hell" and ended with "Mystique", skipping out on the final song. The lackluster cover art didn't help, either. Regardless, don't let the negative opinions of other people lead you to believe that this is a sub-par album. To Hell with them. Your Venom collection is not complete without this album.