VENOM - Giving The Middle Finger To The Church
April 7, 2015, 5 years ago
When Venom reared their beautifully ugly head in the late ‘70s, the metal world was smitten by the fusion of dark musical forces from the underground along with a healthy splattering of punk’s spit-in-your-face angst. While the message and imagery no doubt pushed the band further into faces like yours truly, who embraced “giving the middle finger to the church,” as legendary frontman Conrad "Cronos" Lant so eloquently states during our chat on the recent 70000 Tons Of Metal. Venom turned the world upside-down like the crosses they would bear. Indeed, we had the many so-called originators of the heavy riff, but nobody shoved metal up our ass like the Newcastle Upon Tyne trio rounded off by Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn and Anthony “Abaddon” Bray. So you can point the finger (blame!) at Welcome To Hell (1981), Black Metal (1982) and At War With Satan (1984) for pushing the music to the extreme and playing a key role in the invention of thrash, death and black metal. Every band in the ‘80s were watching and taking notes. We’re they the greatest players on the planet? Hell no. But they were artists with a vision and a helluva sense of humour that you will see. And looking back at the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), they turned heads like none other. Venom milked it for everything that it was worth. But amidst the glory, there was inner turmoil and plenty of music industry bullshit that eventually tore the original band apart. There have been many incarnations of Venom, a Cronos solo career and enough reissues, compilations and live albums to make Satan spew on his throne. But there’s much to talk about aside from their treasured history, as 2015 saw the band come roaring back with a pleasing From The Very Depths (see David Perri’s review here), Cronos aligning once again with guitarist Stuart "La Rage" Dixon and Danny "Dante" Needham (the same line-up as 2011’s Fallen Angels). And whatever lingering feelings people have about Venom’s musicianship and lackthereof may want to rethink the sentiment. On 70000 Tons Of Metal 2015, the band stormed through a greatest hits set on the Pool Deck stage and then ran through the entire new album during their in-door ritual. BraveWords caught up with the trio and survived the experience!
BraveWords: Venom on a cruise ship? Crucify me now! I loved it... loved it do to death! Although, we were expecting the new record as the first set, not the greatest hits.
Cronos: “We would have preferred to do the new set on the pool deck, but with the equipment issue and everything else we just wanted to do a set that we were comfortable with - to iron out any problems before we hit the new album, because that album is a big deal for us. I mean, obviously, we are more confident with the old stuff than the new stuff - the old stuff we can do in our fucking sleep, ya know?”
BraveWords: You were using Arch Enemy's stuff - pretty impressive considering you were on borrowed equipment.
Cronos: “Yes. But we've all been playing together since 2009 and we feel that we are getting stronger, especially considering we have our own studio, and we're always rehearsing. In fact, we don't just rehearse because we've got new songs to write or gigs to prepare for. I mean, we are doing things we've never done before in Venom, and we just enjoy jamming; we just play. Some of these jam sessions go on for forty-five minutes, and nobody says 'we're doing this here' or 'doing this there'... we just play. As a band, that other stuff is good because it gives you communication about how things are going.”
La Rage: “We play together so much that, especially like Cronos says, when we jam we can go through different styles of music - a riff here, a riff there, and next thing you know it could be a reggae song (laughs). A lot of the writing process is done that way as well. We'll sit back and listen to it and be like 'what the hell were we doing there?' Sometimes, something will jump out and we'll agree that its something we can move forward with. Most of the time we write a killer song by accident.”
Dante: “A lot of the time it's about vibe. You can be the three best musicians in the world, but without vibe…”
BraveWords: Both of you have big shoes to feel. As I said, Venom, one of the biggest inspirations in metal, how do you go onstage and deal with that?
Cronos: “With these guys I didn't want it to be about X or about Y; he just has to be the drummer in Venom. I don't want him copying anyone else, and I don't want him living up to anyone's expectations. He just has to be that guy that, when the crowd comes to see the show, they go 'that's the guitarist in Venom!' I can't help them with that - it's entirely up to them and the audience. If the audience doesn't like them, I'm fucked, I can't help them. The good thing about these guys is they do have a very healthy respect for the band's past. I think that has been the problem with some of the musicians that have joined this band. I don't know why they even joined the band. This band is about the music, and it's always been about the music. We created something back in the day that I thought was the best of all the bands that I love. It was all the cliches - heavier than Kiss, heavier than Motörhead , more satanic than Black Sabbath - all these bands that I loved and grew up with, and they just weren't quite extreme enough. Our intention wasn't to make this band special and different than anything else; it was more about creating something that would last, with quality, not just something throw-away. It has to be quality. These guys come in and dig deep... big shoes to feel.”
Dante: “We just want the legions to be proud of the music, proud of Venom. We want the fans to hear the music and walk away saying that was a great gig. We care about the fans. It really doesn't matter who was in the band before. It's about giving the fans the quality they deserve. That's really the only pressure we have.”
La Rage: “The past five years we've been together we've been doing some amazing shows. Reviews for the new album have been nothing but positive.”
Dante: “We are doing things for the right reasons. We are doing it to keep Venom around for the next ten, twenty, or thirty years. What we want to do is take it to the next chapter. That's the same ethos we had when we first started, but now it's just different guys. That said, it's the same wants and needs and stuff like that. This is what we've been doing the past couple of albums - this is where Venom is going, and this is where Venom is.”
Cronos: “I don't want this band to be a parody of what it was. We always strive to be as heavy as we can, but I also want to make people think and not give them the obvious. We are not fucking obvious ourselves, ya know? There are some songs that are distinctly Venom - it's like Motörhead, it's got that stamp. But I always want those other songs on the album that make people say 'whoa! That's Venom?'. I think we've always done that. I mean, when we first changed from the original lineup, and we did the Calm Before The Storm album, we had keyboards, twin guitars, back-up singers, and people were like 'wtf?'. I always want that reaction. People can say we are making mistakes, but I don't see it as making mistakes - I see it as a journey. We can move in and out of musical styles: black metal, death metal, speed metal... it's all just rock and roll.”
BraveWords: I'm standing there watching you and my quote was: 'there's been no bigger icon on this cruise ship, ever!' That is the power that you possess.
Cronos: “I just formed the band when everybody told me this music was done. I was a teenager. Everyone told me that rock music was done. I was listening to Deep Purple, Sabbath, Bad Company, Zeppelin - I was in the prime of my life, and I had just left school. I was also a big punk fan as well, and I just wanted to create the music that I love. It wasn't unusual for that time that the bands that were out at that time seemed to be the ones that succeeded because they were playing a style that was already tried and tested. It was tough relating back in the day because people used to say that they couldn't understand what we were playing and singing, and that they were scared because it was so fucking satanic. It was hard. The record companies didn't understand it. It could have quite easily ended very quickly. Luckily, the studio that I worked provided an opportunity to explain that we wanted to put some discs out - that we were serious. If it wasn't for that, I don't think any label would have signed us.”
BraveWords: You know what did it for me, being based in Canada? It was the videos. That's what spread the word of Venom. There was a block of one hour dedicated to heavy metal videos. It's really what made you famous in Canada.
Cronos: “’Bloodlust' and 'Witching Hour' were the two first videos that we did. The reason we did those was to show promoters what they were going to get for their buck. I mean, why would they take a chance on us when all they had was the album to go off of? So, we decided to stage a show and record two songs to show everyone what Venom is. That was money well spent, and it was all the money we had at that time. Really, it was either make or break. We either pay for this video to get done and maybe make a career out of it, or we'll pack up and get a job as a plumber (laughs). I'm blown away by how inspiring it was to so many bands. In fact, back in the day, I used to say that I wanted a satanic song in every book of hymns in every church - I wanted ten thousand metal songs for every one hymn. Funny thing is, I think my wish came true because there are so many bands now (laughs).”
BraveWords: Very powerful! (laughs). So, how has the cruise life been treating you? Are you guys handling the situation?
Dante: “Yeah, we've done it before, so we kind of knew what to expect. It's absolutely amazing as it solidifies everything about heavy metal. Everybody is friendly, everyone is up for it, all the bands are great - everyone is together. It's really a great example of what heavy metal is.
Cronos: “You know, people look at you when you come in on a taxi like 'what are all these people dressed in black?', but you wouldn't meet a nicer group of people.”
BraveWords: Yesterday was a special day when you performed in Jamaica. In a different time-zone it was my birthday. So, getting to watch you guys perform on a cruise ship was very surreal - like where's my lottery ticket? Now, this is the worse cliched question ever, but we are about the same age and at BraveWords we love our black and death metal, but we also pray at the altar of classic rock. When I watch you prance around with your bass, I had to find out what kind of inspiration you got from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I could see that in the music.
Cronos: “Actually, I was a guitarist. I grew up playing guitar. The bass for me was an accident. I joined Venom - which was called Guillotine at the time - and we were a five piece. We had one gig, and it was literally a week before the gig that the bass player fucked up. I asked one of the session players from the studio I was working at if he would lend me his bass. So, I got the bass and told the other guys in the band that I didn't know how to play the damn thing, but I'd learn the root notes. I plugged it into my Marshall stack and unleashed mayhem... I fell in love with it. After that I really started to look into other bass players and their various styles. I mean, the way I stand now, people are usually reminded of Gene Simmons, but they are all wrong. I've never been a fan of KISS and never really gave a shit about them. The way I stand is from Status Quo (Alan Lancaster).”
BraveWords: I would have said Jack Bruce, but the Status Quo connection makes complete sense. Do they know that? Have you met them?
Cronos: “I almost met them once at a BBC documentary on rock. They were getting in before me but I went to the toilet and when I came back they were gone. I was devastated (laughs).”
BraveWords: Funny thing is, that band means nothing in North America. I'm not saying that's right, but it's the sad reality.
Cronos: “For me, Quo were inspiring not only as musicians, but in their ability to handle the ups and the downs. That, to me, is something I've always wondered - how do you get to such highs from such lows? We can all ride the high, but when your career goes down the toilet how do you keep the drive going? Quo are the literal master of it.”
BraveWords: That's a question for you, then. How do you keep it going? How do you maintain the longevity?
Cronos: “I feel like I would just let everybody down. There are so many people who sing praises. When you meet people like the Dave Grohl's and the Phil Anselmo's who say they bought Venom albums in high school, how the fuck can I let all these people down?”
BraveWords: You couldn't live with that disappointment?
Cronos: “No. Not after hearing so many people tell me they wouldn't be in a band if it wasn't for Venom. That's just great. For me, the satisfaction is the music, but to hear stuff like this keeps you humble - keeps you from getting a big head. You really keep your perspective, and you realize that you do have a responsibility.”
I’m not gonna lie to you. Given the opportunity to see Venom on a cruise ship and meet the mighty Cronos on my birthday, I felt the ultimate gift to myself was to run through some of the band’s classic catalog that still touches me deeply to this day and Cronos said “that would be fun.” So here we go, my ‘80s youth relived by one of the key musicians who shaped it!
'Black Metal”: “’Black Metal' is about the Venom live show. That was the original idea behind it. It was describing 'black', being the night, and 'metal' was the power set to explode. That was us onstage. It's kind of what goes on in our minds - creating that mayhem. You know, you have all your other rock bands - your Deep Purple's, etc - and you sit back and tap your feet, and it's great, but we wanted to have people freaking out; people moshing, diving, jumping around and going crazy.”
'Witching Hour”: “I used to read a lot of horror comics as a kid, which was sort of where the inspiration started. But, really, it's about how the church depicts satanism. I wanted to do something based off exactly that ideal the church has of it. It's exactly as the title says - all the witches flying around on their broomsticks and dancing with the devil.”“Die Hard”: “That's about the legions... the fans. It's about their dedication to the music.”
“Manitou”: “I’m fifth generation Cherokee Indian, so I wanted to write a song about the spirit of the Indians. I wanted to create a song that was a little more about me than just the devil.”
“At War With Satan”: “That song is about a book I've written. I just took the lyrics from the story. It starts kind of where the bible ends, and depicts the war against heaven and hell. I'd really love to finish the book one day. And we were going to set up a show which would have bits of it incorporated and run about two hours long. I'm a big Rush fan, especially 2112... The other thing, from a musicians point of view, I've got thousands of riffs, bass lines, drum beats, and lyrics I've never used, and it was a chance to use up some of this riffage. I thought it would be great to have a song where you have the themes - using a riff there, there, and there - and all these riffs here and here, but they never get repeated. So, as each section leaves, and it moves into another part of the song, you never hear those riffs repeated. So, it just creates something different. For someone hearing that album for the first time, it must be hard to absorb it because there is nothing really to hook onto - as opposed to a commercial song.”
“Possessed”: “It was written at the same time as the Welcome To Hell tracks. It's funny you mentioned 'Manitou' and 'Possessed' as they used to be each other's riffs and lyrics.”
“Live Like An Angel”: “Wow! I co-wrote this with the guitarist. He had a lot of rock songs, like Motörhead and other bands, who kind of write songs about just getting out there and partying. So, 'Angel' is kind of like that, a bit more carefree - going out and getting laid, getting drunk. A party song. Not being so scared to live.”
“In League With Satan”: “I wanted those songs to be controversial - a massive middle-finger at the church. I knew they would fucking hate it and it would scare the living shit out of them. Being a big Sabbath fan, I used to always get frustrated at Ozzy stopping before he had something big to say - so I wanted to take that much further.”
We end off with one (church) burning question.
What did your family and others think about your stance on religion?
Cronos: “They didn't really pay that much attention. They had their own lives to get on with.”