So this happened.
Death is swift as Satan’s sword
All the same young and old
Life means nothing to my lord
Drink from chalice warm and sweet
Virgin’s heart final beat
Lightning strikes the virgin dies
— Venom “Sacrifice” (1982)
Still with me? Niiice.
I like the shit that’s going to fuck me up and make me think about the confines of our existence, and how the POSSIBILITIES of liberation from oppression inspire the greatest, darkest reaches of the imagination. Pick out the most embarrassing detail about yourself, and enthrone it.
That’s what heavy metal does for many people, but for some transwomen, it is a total revelation. Because when the smoke clears and the rest of you see through the bullshit, you might see that many of us who once stood in your place of “what the fuck are those doing here?” are actually the most devoted fans, and in many cases, quite a few of us are pretty fuckin’ extreme.
EXTREME is a term that used to not have five zillion subgenres.
Okay and back to =
VENOM were the “FUCK YOU BACK“ of the 1980s.
There is only one Venom. When they burst on the scene during the early 1980s, their grand infusion of punk with metal turned some heads, and better yet, united formerly divided audiences. The argument could certainly be made that Motörhead preceded this effort. But Venom had infused a darkness, an extreme attitude, a fabulous sense of occult danger that managed to fist the anus of conservatism with such panache, they made Tipper Gore’s list of Filthy Fifteen (which, in metal terms, is almost as great as hitting Number One on the mainstream ‘respectable’ charts). At that time, they weren’t even on a major label like Ozzy, W.A.S.P., or Prince. Through their own strength and power, Venom managed to become a blip on the radar of the 1980s American Satanic Panic culture wars. Extremity became a draw, and the lure of contraband rescued countless teenagers by finally extolling a life-saving virtue: “YOU CAN DO THIS, AS WELL.”
Pick up the instrument. Write the words. Make your own trouble. And most importantly, stick with it. Do it well. They are going to tell you that you are not allowed. Tell them to go fuck themselves.
This nudge to empowerment by Venom happened on a global scale, I might add. Metallica. Mayhem. Sepultura. Sarcofago.
I like what Dave Grohl once said about Venom, that “they were like these party albums, but you were partying for the wrong reasons.”
I was too young to see Venom play live when I first got into them completely by accident in 1985. Newbury Comics in Boston (before it became a huge chain) was the place to find import heavy metal releases, and to be honest, during my inaugural visit to the store I just shotgunned it according to whatever album had the most blasphemous cover art. No one in my school liked Motörhead, so I just remember when I began scoping the racks it was candy time. I distinctly remember my selections (and this is why the memory of first exposure matters so much to me)
- Celtic Frost ‘Emperor’s Return’
- Mercyful Fate ‘Melissa’
- Venom ‘Canadian Assault’ and ‘Manitou’ [devil’s head picture disc–The Arkenstone of my vinyl horde]
I can only tell you that when it came to Venom, you were either with us or against us. The British press, Kerrang! and Metal Forces especially, were really slagging the band off at this point. By 1986 or so, I read a Creem magazine interview that featured the band and their impending follow-up to the ‘Possessed’ album, tentatively called ‘Deadline.’ And then–
I’m not exactly sure what happened. So much of the negative press about Venom’s allegedly tone-deaf business decisions seemed to be taking effect on a reality that I did not want to allow for.
Okay, enough history for now, then. Long story short–guitarist Mantas left, various schisms with divergent lineups continued along during the ensuing decades. But my strongest impression is of how unfair the metal press were to Venom during these intervals. I remember seeking anything I could find about Venom in any zine (along with trans-related medical information in other sources)–I mean, shit–if Venom were listed on the cover of the zine I’d buy it. Unfortunately, I’d usually read a slagfest. Those Brits, I swear.
While most of the initial appeal of Venom stemmed from the extreme, harsh and yet also sonorous voicings of Cronos, the combination of guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon were also a huge draw. Not unlike KISS and Motörhead or even MOUNTAIN, each member was their own force of nature, complete with unique stage presence, almost like distinct cartoon characters who rage on their own individual strengths and intentionally fuck up the narrative as if they were principal players in Henry IV or Top Cat. But they gel together in a chaotic sort of manner. Oftentimes, you’ll think they’re falling apart but there’s part of the appeal!
I mean, check this shit out:
LOL, I know, right?
Flash forward to 2016 and I finally had my chance to see Venom.
But I have a little bit of explaining to do. Last bit, I promise.
Venom are a split entity. I don’t know the whole inside story nor the legal situation, but after the breaking of the original lineup circa 1986 (Deadline era), the band has run fluctuating and parallel lineups over the years. Venom have had profound cultural impact on extreme metal, so it stands to reason that well, disagreements have occurred between personnel over time.
So there is Venom with original bassist/vocalist Cronos that plays 70,000 Tons of Metal (cruise ship) and Maryland Death Fest. This version is formidable, and I actually do enjoy guitarist Rage‘s playing (his guitar tone also), but the original power-trio lineup cannot be replaced nor imitated. I saw Cronos-Venom play about ten years ago in New York City and I don’t remember much. I got way too drunk on whiskey, and I’m actually surprised I made it home alive (I got myself into a very dangerous situation that night). Even the NYC barmaid called me a lush to my face! That’s telling.
Long story short, it is really not my place to gauge one lineup against another. I can only speak from personal experience–living with the fluctuating output and drama of Venom over the years is like watching your own blood family fight over small things. But mind you, this is a perspective from outside. A devoted fan, but outside nonetheless.
Still, I am happy to see things like this happen =
Then there is also Venom Inc. with original members Mantas and Abaddon, along with Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on vokills/bass. This is an eminently legitimate lineup, because Dolan had replaced Cronos for at least three full-length albums. (Cronos had formed his self-titled solo project, much of it great material but more in keeping with his melodic tendencies unearthed with Calm Before the Storm.) Venom Inc. was the version I saw this past summer and I was a scoatch more sober because I wanted to, well, be there for it. Consumer tip: gin and tonics in Boston will keep you alive better than twenty straight whiskeys in NYC.
Dolan has always been eminently qualified to play in Venom. Not only does he hail from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Venom’s home turf, he also formed the NWOBHM stormfest Atomkraft at about the same time Venom had formed in 1979. He could also be called the world’s biggest Venom fan to begin with, and there’s a fucking top-tier qualification, if you ask me.
So I finally got to see two sides of Venom, and honestly dude, I’m just fuckin’ happy to see the two incarnations rolling along and keeping these memories alive for me.
But I will stipulate what I shouted from the front row and on social media that despite not being the original Venom lineup (which I have a feeling I will never see, alas), Venom Inc. were a true, fan-obsessed, breakthrough experience for someone who not able to experience the total fuckin’ mayhem during the first rounds (born too early, born too late, etc.), but at least I got to catch a glimpse of the carnage.
PS–Self esteem, for me, was a path begun through Slayer. Literature and the arts give us soul, a map to unraveling the mystery. I don’t know how exactly I got to where I am now (I got lost many, many times), but I know I still have a ways to go, and that’s okay.