Venom - Black Metal [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Black Metal [reissue] (2003)


I was recently debating with my theologian friend about the nature of the end of the world, the so-called "apocalypse." He thinks that, when the fate of humanity is uncertain, and everything is at its darkest, Jesus will return to earth, and bring the righteous to heaven. Conversely, I think that at the end of the world, Cronos, Mantas, and Abbadon, the three members of the heavy metal band Venom, will ride around the planet on flaming motorcycles, exploding the heads of the righteous and handing out miniature liquor bottles and packs of cigarettes to sinners.

Since I know that intro paragraph is going to be edited out, I think I'll start here with the actual review. [Fuck no, that's the best and only relevant opening paragraph you've ever written.]

1980s thrash metal band Venom, for better or for worse, laid the foundation for the raspy-voiced, ultra-tremolo noise that we now call "black metal" with their second album, the obviously titled Black Metal. Of course, Venom's sound itself had very, very little to do with the stuff from "the Northern mountains of Norway," but this album created the fascination with the occult, the leather-and-corpse paint style, and the adoption of ridiculous pseudonyms that has been imitated by everyone from Celtic Frost to Xasthur.

So, yes the aesthetic of Black Metal was a big influence on black metal, but Venom's music is more of a punk-metal mix, along the lines of, say, an inept Motörhead. There is zero room for subtlety in the music -- it is loud, fast, hard, and heavy, although you should keep in mind that this is all by 1982 standards, so it's not really much scarier than your average Danzig album. The vocals are pretty much Lemmy-worship, ands it seems like vocalist Cronos is trying hard to make his vocals sound as "American biker" as he possibly can. Because of the sub-standard production, the bass is pretty much unnoticeable, if not inaudible, and the drum sound is weak, akin to beating the shit out of a bunch of cardboard boxes.

Black Metal begins with one of Venom's fastest, and best, tracks, "Black Metal." The lyrics are about how awesome metal is, and then there's all this bullshit about Satan, but it is so good that it doesn't really matter. "To Hell and Back" and closing track "Don't Burn the Witch" move along at a Maiden-esque gallop, while "Buried Alive" takes on a more Sabbath-y solo-heavy approach. The track "Countess Bathory" is ostensibly where Bathory, the band that created the black metal musical style, got their name. One song, "Teacher's Pet," is hilariously juvenile, essentially being a goof along the lines of "Hot for Teacher." Unfortunately, Venom thought it would be a good idea to end the album with a "preview" of their next album, At War With Satan, so the title track of that album begins, and then just sort of fades out the minute you get into it, making for a really weak ending.

This reissue of Black Metal comes with one of those shitty cardboard sleeves that goes over the jewel case, except this one has a relief of a smiling devil, which makes it pretty cool. It tacks on some bonus tracks of single versions and songs recorded for the BBC, and there's a nice little booklet that tries to remind you repeatedly that their Satanism is "just a gimmick" and that they are anti-church-burning.

I guess what differentiates Black Metal from the other New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands is how raw and primitive they are. At the time, Motörhead was considered simplistic, and these compositions are sub-Motörhead. It's really closer to the punk idea of just playing simple songs, fast and fun, than it is about any Satan-worship or classical guitar skills. And that, not the demons and pentagrams, is what makes Black Metal so damn entertaining.