VENOM – Bootlegged Sons of Satan
Skriven av Daniel Löfquist   
Skapad 2011-12-16 23:53

VenomNobody can refute the fact that Newcastle-born black metal-pioneers VENOM are anything but one of the most important bands in extreme music history. Their first four albums are legendary and there are more bands hailing them for influencing their sound than there are bands who don't.

After over thirty years VENOM with their new album "Fallen angels" prove that there still is plenty of go left in the band, serving up their strongest efforts since "Possessed" and maybe even "At War With Satan". Because of this we just had to have a talk with the main man, and only remaining member of the classic original line-up, Cronos (born Conrad Lant).

You've said that this new album is the best VENOM has made since the eighties and I'm inclined to agree. Was there anything particular that you did differently this time to make it come out a head above the previous albums?
– Well, you know, you always try and do your best. For every band their newest album is always "the best they've ever made" because it's new and it's fresh. It's hard to put your new product into perspective but I've tried to learn from past mistakes with this one. Things that I may not have been so happy with on the previous albums that we've could've done differently, you know. We created the original sound of VENOM from a very innocent perspective. We had no masterplan, we had no great expensive producers and super-fantastic high-end studios or anything stupid like that, Cronos explains.

 – It was an indie label, [in a] small shitty studio and we just did our damnedest. But somewhere around "Cast In Stone" (1997) everybody started to get into this digital technology with the Pro Tools and the samples, and we embraced that like everybody else to improve the sound of the band and the end product. But you know, now today when I'm listening to all of the recent stuff out there and I think that everything sounds the fucking same. I'm getting really bored with it! And I also kind of think it's lazy, you know. They might as well be kicking around cardboard boxes but once the producers put their magic tricks on it, all their samples and triggers and all that, it's like "wow, listen to that drumkit". Why not put real microphones on it and actually fuck with it a bit? You know, put gaffa tape on it, tape coins to the skin and all that. It can take days to perfect the drum sound and it's a fuck-on, but at the end of the day, it's real, it's in your face. During the shows that we were doing last year, Danté had this new drumkit with the really great cymbals and it sounded great. So I told the guys, when we go in to record this new album let's approach it like we did in the old days. Let's put microphones on it, be like cavemen here and get the drumkit sounding like a real fucking drumkit! Not like somebody's sample, not like somebody's trigger, not like some invented sound on a computer, let's get real drums, real microphones and let's fucking do the hard work! And I didn't wanna stop there. I wanted the Marshall-stack with a microphone on it, I wanted the guitar plugged in with a damn cable, I wanted to go back to basics. You know, there is a saying in music that goes "it's not what you play, it's what you don't play" and there's some truth to that. Instead of for example playing a really buzzy lead break, Cronos says and does a sound mimicking an Yngwie Malmsteen-type guitarsolo, it can sometimes be just as effective to just hold one note and sustaining it.

– I was kind of going [for] that type of mentality. Stop looking for quick fixes and easy approaches. Let's do it for real and do the hard work like a live band. Except for the fact that it's a hard drive doing the recording and not a tape machine there wasn't much difference from back in the old days, you know. It was cables, microphones, three musicians standing in a room and pressing "record" and I think it has to be the best way to record album; the way you'd play the songs live. I don't have fucking triggers live, I have microphones and cables. I was like, hey, we've played a bunch of gigs, it's tight as fuck, we've never sounded heavier so let's approach the album the same way. The result speaks for itself and I couldn't be happier. I'm so fucking proud of this album. It's got all the things you'd expect from a VENOM-album, the fast songs, the slower heavy stuff, all the bits and bobs you know, Cronos proclaims and lets out a little chuckle. We're riding high on this fucker!

Venom - Fallen AngelsApart from what you've just said, does the approach to doing a new album today differ significantly from how you went about it in the eighties? I'm thinking about the whole process, from writing the songs to recording them to choosing a cover and putting the album out there finally.
– I always write music. I don't go "oh, we're doing a new album, let's write some songs!" I'm always recording riffs, writing lyrics and bits and pieces like that so when it comes to doing a new album, yes, of course you do still come up with spontaneous stuff and structure songs together, but many of the ideas may have been originally created years ago. Even since recording "Fallen Angels" I think we've got five or six complete new songs. When we put this line-up together in 2009 I said "we're gonna be playing songs of every VENOM album plus some singles in there" so these guys are really tuned in to VENOM, you know. They've got the whole thirty plus year history of the band down, all of the songs and that, Cronos explains.

– But I told them "I don't just wanna write fifteen songs and tell you to learn them. If you're just playing my songs, then you're just playing my songs. But if you're playing your songs as well, you'll be playing with a lot more conviction. So I would love for you guys to contribute to the new album and we'll take it from there". Naturally they were very excited but at the same time a bit nervous, wondering if they could actually produce something VENOMous. But I just told them to let me be the judge of that initially and ultimately let the fans be the judge of that, and I think they did a hell of a job. They soon started to come up with stuff even without me even being there and breathing down their necks, Cronos chuckles.

– That's just great because that's what it was like back in the day. We had the confidence to just create something and judge it later. If it feels good, let's do it you know? So I'd say that we really have approached this album more like we did back in the day. I mean sure, there were songs that I came to the guys with back then that were all done already, like "Sons Of Satan", "Bloodlust" and "In Nomine Sathanas", but a lot of the old VENOM songs were actually written by me and Mantas (gitarr, 1979–1985, 1989-1992, 1995-2004) together. I think I've just tried to simplify things and let things grow by themselves you know, not over think stuff and try to make it too perfect, and I think that some really good things can come out of that approach. I was watching a documentary on the FOO FIGHTERS the other day and apparently I'm not the only one thinking like this. Dave Grohl had a whole load old tape-recorders set up in his garage and they recorded their album there. Not only musicians are thinking like this, a lot of people are getting bored with all the samples and the triggers, it's making everybody sound the same! With the real microphones we're getting the individuality back and I'm sure this is a trend that a lot more bands are going to pick up on.

In the past you've repeatedly said that VENOM would never do a show where you couldn't do the full show with the pyrotechnics, the big lights and all that. Nowadays though you're playing plenty of smaller venues as well. What made you change your mind and how are you liking playing the smaller shows?
– Well, I'll tell you what it was. Five or six years ago I got a call from Kerry (King, editor's note) because SLAYER was playing up in Scotland on the Unholy Alliance tour. It's only an hour and a half from where I live so I drove up there to see the show. I was expecting SLAYER to have the blood in the lighting rig and for SLIPKNOT to have their pyro you know but there was nothing like that. So I told them "fuck, where’s the show," you know? And they said "well, we can't do it in this venue". So I asked them "but you do it on this tour?" and they said "yes, in the venues where we can do it". They told me that the fans were okay with that because they knew it was because they couldn't do it in that venue. I always thought that we should only do the full show because that was they way that the fans wanted it, they didn't want VENOM without the big pyro and all that. Then I started to get feedback from fans who were saying "bullshit, we'd love to have you play our small club here in Poland" and things like that. That's when we decided to give it a try and it's been amazing. We just came back from a show in a medium size venue in Bukarest, no pyro, just a great light-show, nice backdrop, drum riser and some Marshalls you know, and it was amazing. So I'm taking a leaf out of SLAYER’s book really. We can do that kind of show, we are and we will. We'll do the big production when we can and if people wanna come see VENOM even when we can't, now they can. It's made it so that we've been able to play in lots of places that we've never even been before so it's just great.

Can we expect a lot of touring and maybe some festival gigs for "Fallen Angels" then?
– Oh yeah, that's what we're hoping for. We've been touring for almost two years before recording the album so we're really itching to get back out there. We're hoping to play everywhere next year so we're busy talking to Australia for example and trying to get some shows in Japan also. But we're definitely playing Europe and there are several festivals in Sweden that are of interest. I know our management has been talking to two of them so you can pretty much guarantee a show in Sweden next year.

VenomThere's no question that VENOM is one of the most important bands in heavy metal-history. The amount of bands you've influenced and keep influencing is substantial to say the least, and so is your legacy. Is this something you think about when preparing for a new album or an upcoming tour? Is it a bit daunting to think about the impact you've had on the metal music genre as a whole?
– It would be too daunting now wouldn't it? No, it's not something I think of at all. Look, I'm very humbled by [the fact] that people are influenced by our music and I feel very privileged to be in the position where I can create the music I love to create and to have the kind of job I've got, which to me is the greatest job in the world, but really I'm just glad that VENOM were a catalyst to give people the confidence to go out and create for themselves. Like I've said to bands for years, don't just copy VENOM, you can create what you want also, you know. I started playing this music when people were saying rock'n'roll was dead, back when even bands like DEEP PURPLE were getting bored with it and everybody was saying it was over. I was having none of that. I said "fuck that!" because there was so much still to be said and so much to be done. People ask me how we created VENOM. Well, I just wanted to take all the best bits from all the great bands that I loved. A bigger stage show than KISS, more leather and studs than JUDAS PRIEST, I wanted it to be more satanic than Ozzy and heavier than MOTÖRHEAD, to combine all these things in one super heavy mega metal band, Cronos almost yells and then chuckles a bit.

– I'm good friends with people like Phil Anselmo from PANTERA, Dave Grohl from the FOO FIGHTERS, the guys from SLAYER, METALLICA and so on and when those guys say that they heard VENOM when they were still in school and how that made them want to start bands, it makes me think. You know, you can have a heavy metal festival with bands like SLIPKNOT and PANTERA, who both sound nothing like VENOM, and also bands like MOTÖRHEAD, JUDAS PRIEST or IMMORTAL. None of these bands sound anything like each other or like VENOM, we all sound so fucking incredibly different, but we still attract basically the same audience. It's just become so vast and so massive and I'm the happiest guy in the world for that because I'd rather be listening to the shittiest metal band there was than some crappy pop band! I just love hard, fast and aggressive music! And that's why we created VENOM. I didn't wanna hear some "falling in and out of love"-bullshit. I wanted something a bit more adult, more in your face. I'm a punk really, you know. I'm from the seventies and I grew up loving SEX PISTOLS, SHAM 69, CLASH, THE DAMNED and all that. I love music that's got an edge. But really, it's not something you wan to think about too much. As I said I'm humbled by all of it because I've seen so many musicians, that I consider to be fantastic, that never made it. It makes me wonder how I'm still here when those guys aren't? So it's not really tangible. You can't just put all the ingredients together and say "there you go, there's your supergroup". It's the right place at the right time, a lot of luck and I'm just happy to be here still creating music after over thirty years, says the master of the bulldozer bass.

There's no doubt that you were the first ones to call yourselves "black metal" but something that I find interesting is that most bands today belonging to the black metal genre sound nothing like VENOM. They sound more like BATHORY or maybe CELTIC FROST.
– You know I've been saying this for years. Those bands should really take credit for what they've created and call their music something else like norse metal or corpse metal or whatever. People say to me "oh, you created black metal" but I didn't.

Cronos didn't create those bands, he argues with noticable excitement in his voice.

– We were a catalyst but they should take credit for what they themselves, what did and what they continue to do, you know? The way the whole Scandinavian black metal-scene has evolved… I was just watching the new DIMMU BORGIR video and that shit's fantastic! The imagery, the corpse-paint, the milk in the bath, the blood, and all that, it's fantastic! Very professional and great to watch, and I also think they sound really cool as well. They and others like them have evolved that kind of music and that's why I think they should really give it a new name. It's not black metal, speed metal, power metal or thrash metal; it's a new form of metal that they've created.

There are a couple of bands that are considered to be the formative bands of the genre. I'm referring to bands like BATHORY, CELTIC FROST, SODOM and MERCYFUL FATE. Do you have in relation to these bands today?
– No, not really. We kind of made a divide of sorts some years ago. The reason that I called the album "Metal Black" was to draw a line and say that was the last millennium and this is the new one, you know. Black metal has always been in my bones and something that I've always had the urge to create and finding like-minded musicians can be hard. That's why I've had so much trouble with previous line-ups, sometimes people have joined VENOM and thought that they could just put their feet up and become millionaires and don't have to do any hard work. But it is hard work being in a band, you have to work at it but the more hard work you put in, the better it gets! I genuinely think I've found two guys now who are in it for the right reasons and who are fully motivated. When you talk about the whole original line-up thing the thing is that the last concert with the whole original line-up of VENOM, which was at Full Force Festival in 1997, was a complete mess. I'm ashamed to say it but it was embarrassing. I think the other two guys, they really didn't even wanna be there. Since then it's been my mission to do that festival again and put the record straight and that's what we did last year, Cronos says with satisfaction in his voice.

– I talked to one of the fans afterwards and he summed it up perfectly for me, the exact words that I had in my own head. He saw us in 1997 and he said he'd rather see a great VENOM on stage that's tight and fast and loud than see the original guys playing sloppy and being shit. I totally agree because VENOM is bigger than any one member. VENOM is bigger than Cronos. VENOM is bigger than Danté. VENOM is bigger than Mantas, and so on. VENOM is an entity, a force that we've created. It's not about the members of the band, it's about the band. It's not a Cronos-album, it's a VENOM-album. Cronos contributed to that album and he's on that album but he's not VENOM. VENOM is the entity and we have respect and protect that. So personally, as a fan of this music, given the choice to see a band with the original guys who suck or the band with the new guys that are passionate and can kick some shit, I'll go for the new guys.

VenomSpeaking of the old guys, what is your relationship Mantas and Abaddon like these days?
– None really, Cronos answers quickly. The only contact is through the business-side of it all, because I'm working with Universal and all the back catalogue and obviously we have to pay those guys that are on the albums. That's the only contact there is. Nothing to do with the music today. Ten years ago some people would be saying crap like "the only real VENOM is the original line-up" but nowadays the audience consists of more young people who might have started buying the albums from "Resurrection" and onwards. A lot of the kids in the front row, and those who make up the majority of the crowd, are singing along to the songs from "Resurrection", "Metal Black" and "Hell". It's the older guys that are closer to my age who are the minority, standing at the back with their arms folded and waiting for the rendition of "Bloodlust" and "Witching Hour". Sure, the young guys know the history of the band and they know those songs too but I think they can be more passionate about the newer material because those albums came in their time you know, he says sensibly.

– Some of them weren't even born when "Welcome To Hell" came out! But they're now the majority of the audience, so it's been ten years since I heard anybody whining to me about "VENOM is not VENOM without Mantas and Abaddon". That's history now. People don't give a shit about the old guys anymore.

Since we're already on the subject of the older albums and previous members I just have to ask, what is your opinion on the VENOM-albums that were released without you?
– Well, I always say, and this is not really my opinion, I'll tell you my opinion in a minute, when you look at the music business as a business, which you have to do from time to time unfortunately, and this is what I always tell bands today when I give them advice and shit, in this game you have two exams. The first one is can you sell your product? Can you sell your album? And the second one is can you put bums on seats? Can you make people walk through the door into the venue? Can you draw a crowd? If you can't sell your albums and can't get people to come to your concert you're fucked. You cannot survive. Unless you’re Lars Ulrich and you have a rich dad. Oops! Who said that?, Cronos chuckles.

– Now to answer your question, when I worked at Impulse Studios, which was basically Neat Records, there was a band that came in that had VENOM’s manager's brother on drums. They were called ATOMKRAFT and I produced their record so I was very aware of what they sounded like. So when I first heard the "Prime Evil" album (which featured Tony Dolan from ATOMKRAFT on vocals, editor's note) it sounded like ATOMKRAFT to me. I didn't think it sounded like VENOM and the fans obviously didn't think so either because it didn't sell shit. Now don't get me wrong, I gave that line-up my blessing because I joined the CRONOS band and we went to the US and did our thing. I was quite content to be doing the CRONOS-stuff. Abaddon actually called me up and asked me if I was going out as VENOM but I said "no no, I want a break from VENOM and do something else". Because they were actually called THE SONS OF SATAN at first but I told them that I'm touring as CRONOS so if you wanna call yourselves VENOM just go for it. So I've actually got no bad feelings about that shit really. That singer, Tony Dolan, actually said that he was very disappointed because he thought they would be going out and doing big concerts with the great spectacular show and all that. But they had trouble getting booked because nobody was really interested. So you can't just join a band and expect to be famous and shit. You have to work at it and then there's also that whole "right place at the right time" thing. It's not that easy you know.
– It's funny, I was having this discussion with a friend the other day. We were talking about music and fans and I said that a fan doesn't have to be an expert in any way. All he has to know is whether he likes it or not. That's it! It doesn't matter if you think there are five strings on a guitar, knowing if you like something or not is enough. That's all you can ever expect. It doesn't matter how clever your band is or how smart your playing is. Remember that stuff that came out of LA, all of that Tony McAlpine, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani shit? It was all very clever and they were all super super musicians, Cronos says with scathing irony in his voice, and it lasted five minutes! The only people who liked it was musicians! Ridiculous.

Talking a bit about the business side of it all leads me into my next question. When you reunited the original line-up back in 1995 there was a massive insurgence in VENOM collecting and the prices on your old vinyl releases doubled and tripled in price. There are VENOM releases today that routinely are priced at hundreds of pounds if you can find them and collecting VENOM has almost become like collecting a band like KISS since there are so many different and odd releases. Clearly you never see a dime of the money that is shifted around for the rare collectibles, especially since many of the most sought after items are bootlegs as well. How do you feel about there being such a lucrative aftermarket for your old stuff and bootlegs in particular?
– There are different ways to look at it. At the end of the day the fans are being ripped off and I really hate that, but the people who are making this stuff are not getting rich. There's really not much we can do about since it's not like they're producing thousands of copies and making millions of bucks. They're making a few copies, maybe five or six, they sell them for a couple of hundred pounds and then they disappear. You can't even find a lawyer to go after these people because they pop up and then they vanish. With such small volumes they're never going to be millionaires, but it's unfortunate that we have such passionate fans who will spend that kind of money. Hey, I'm a fan of music but even I draw the line somewhere saying "fuck it, I'm not paying that", he laughs.
– When we did the boxed set ("MMV" in 2005, editor's note) one of the songs was off a compilation we did many years ago, a song called "Senile Decay" that we at the time didn't want to put on one of our own albums so we decided to put it on this compilation, and I'd been seeing bootlegs with that song on eBay. I thought I'd put a stop to our fans being ripped off so I went into my cellar and took the original master tape, digitized it and put the song in the boxed set. So now the fans don't have to get ripped off on eBay, they can just go and buy this song in the shops, you know.

Still you did do many official, but odd, releases back in the eighties, in colored vinyl and things like that. Do you even own most of your old releases yourself?
– There wasn't that much really. There are only a few of those odd ones that are actually legitimate. There was a purple "Bloodlust", I remember that, and when we did "Die Hard", we did a shaped picture disc and there was also a "Manitou" shaped picture disc. Then we didn't do anything weird until we did the picture disc for "Hell At Hammersmith" but all that other stuff was bootlegs.

So all the colored versions of "Black Metal" were bootlegs?
– Yes, they were not official at all. You see, I did all the artwork for VENOM. I actually drew the covers for "Welcome To Hell" and "Black metal". I was always heavily involved in all the products and I can remember all the things I was involved in and all the mad colored vinyls were bootlegs. We did re-pressings of the old stuff from 2002 and onwards and some of those were on colored vinyl but you're talking about the Neat stuff from the eighties aren't you?

Yes, I am. For example there's a brown vinyl edition of "Black Metal" that is pretty sought after and very pricey if you can find it.
– Yeah, that's a bootleg. I saw "In League With Satan" as a picture-disc a couple of years back. That's totally a bootleg as well. We did not even have the technology to make a picture disc in 1980, Cronos laughs.

The new album "Fallen Angels" has been out for a couple of weeks now, and it's available on both vinyl and that other smaller format, so go pick up your own copy and start preparing for when the mighty VENOM touch down on Swedish soil again next year. Lay down your soul to the gods rock'n'roll! Black metal!

VENOMs Official Web Site

 

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