For a while there, Venom really was the most dangerous band in the world. Not simply because they had the balls to print statements like “we’re possessed by all that is evil. The death of you, God, we demand…” on the back of a debut LP that landed during a time when most people were genuinely concerned about what was in Phil Collins’ air at night, but also because they were very visible, both in terms of spectacle and availability. If you had cash and a ride to a record store in the early 80s, you could conveniently find Welcome to Hell and that grisly Baphomet staring up at you as you flipped in-and-around all those Van Halen records. Suddenly, young heavy metal fans had a very workable angle into something that flagrantly celebrated evil with all the curtains pulled back.
Of course, this sort of thing probably appears rather tame during an age where seemingly nothing is taboo, but the fact that most kids had to use slippery means to smuggle hideous Venom records into their bedroom should be proof enough that these Newcastler’s played a critical role in pushing metal into new dimensions of extremity. Would someone have eventually done it in their stead? Of course. But Venom did it with such a gnarly, snotty predilection, one couldn’t help but follow their fantastic, often puerile antics.
Thirty-five years later, Venom is still kicking around, but scattered amongst three classics (yes, this includes At War with Satan) are a number of records many metal fans, even diehards, are mostly unfamaliar with. Does 1992’s The Waste Lands stack up against its predecessor, Temples of Ice? Beats the shit out of me. I really dig Prime Evil, though. Fascinating that those three albums sans Cronos featured a singer/bassist who later went on to act in films such as Judge Dredd and Master and Commander. What a strange, strange world.
Point being – and you’ve heard this argument with regard to many of metal’s long-toothed old salts – how much Venom does any one headbanger need? Unless what you’re delivering leans heavier on the complexity or eccentricities, like, say, Iron Maiden or Voivod, a landslide’s worth of albums is mostly redundant, except for those cursed with the collector’s genetic code.
In the case of Venom, or to a lesser extent, even a band like Motörhead, routine new releases essentially serve the greater purpose of giving cast & crew a solid excuse for hitting the road again. This is where Venom still secures a powerful foothold. And serving that goal, a little more than half the material found on From the Very Depths is infectious and sounds as if it would have ample impact when fired from an explosive stage. Surprisingly clean, mind you, but still punky, speedy, angry and with applicable vinegar. The title-track, “The Death of Rock N Roll,” “Long Haired Punks,” “Stigmata Satanas,” “Grinding Teeth,” “Wings of Valkyrie” and closer “Rise” all flash enough power and bite to get a hammered crowd properly fired-up. Cronos still sounds suitably surly and cussed, and his bass-play is downright burly from start to finish, while guitarist Rage gets extensive opportunity to fill the record’s corners with an impressive amount of melodic leads.
What doesn’t work, however, is probably well enough to put From the Very Depths on a number of back-burners. First and foremost, the band still manages to cram nearly an album’s worth of filler onto the plate. The songs mentioned above deliver around 26+ minutes of rippin’ heavy metal, while the remainder, including two rather barren intros, drop 20-minutes of excessive (often plodding) stuffing, plus an additional 5-minutes of contemptible ear-abuse via the laughable “Smoke.”
Additionally, the entire shooting match is starting to travel a little too close to cargo-pant metal: Too crunchy-clean-Metallica-big-arena bullshit, not enough emphasis on kicking up the old fires slaughtered with rawness. Hey, it’s still Venom, ain’t it? Let’s keep things undercooked.
Also – and this goes for all the heavy metal bands out there – can we please avoid these aggressively shiny Xbox album covers? I’ve seen a band like Suffocation work the angle competently, but more often than not, I’d take an 8th grader’s colored pencil rendition over the feeling that I’m about to encounter an end of level boss.
Regardless of where you stand with regard to Venom’s brand of one-time trailblazing, always hellblazing NWOBHM/thrash/speed, I hope we can all agree that thanks to records like Welcome to Hell and Black Metal, they rightfully stand tall as an early dignitary for expanding metal’s boundaries. Comparitively speaking, From the Very Depths probably won’t outright flatten those who’ve lived comfortably only within Venom’s heyday, but it’s actually a pretty damn solid record for those curious about Venom’s current state, or if you’re simply looking to prep for an upcoming show. Truth is, I’d take about thirty minutes of sturdy Venom over a lot of the facocta horseshit some people flip out over these days.