Breakthrough Albums: Venom’s ‘Black Metal’

When it comes to Black Metal everything is edgy. One must choose wisely the words to avoid any unnecessary controversy. And I say one must choose wisely themes as well. However, the thing is, Metal is the controversy itself. There is no way of writing about Heavy Metal, or any of its subgenres, and not bringing up any controversy. Good Metal albums rise controversy in a song, or in some songs; great Metal albums are controversial due to their art cover, to the language, to the themes, to the music; extraordinary Metal albums are controversial only because they exist. That’s what happens to Venom’s “Black Metal.” Very few albums have the honor of being so controversial as Venom’s “Black Metal” and, of course, of being so cornerstone as it is. An album that is praised and hated equally. And the best of it is that it was recorded for the most iconic line-up ever which is the power trio. Not to mention that the musicians used demon names as monikers: Cronos (bass), Mantas (guitars), and Abaddon (drums). Let’s get to it.

The album

Venom’s “Black Metal” was released in November 1982 via Neat Records (the U.K.) and Combat Records (the U.S.A.) and its the band’s second effort following 1981’s “Welcome to Hell.” As a matter of fact, “Black Metal” is a follow-up of “Welcome to Hell” in terms of musical ideas. It follows an interesting strategy which is presenting on the first track the most edgy one, “Sons of Satan” in “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” in the self-titled album. The other songs go roughly that on what is called today NWOBHM, but in a twisted manner. In fact, Venom have never been usual. “Welcome to Hell” has that dirty sonance that would become the standard for Extreme Metal music for a long time with the buzzsaw guitar sound, maniac drumming and thundering bass. “Black Metal” goes deeper into this idea continuing with Crono’s weird and harsh voice, which was very near to what is called today gutural vocals. I dare to say he is the pioneer on this kind of vocals for it is rougher than Motörhead’s Lemmy’s who was the pattern back then. However, it would be nieve and unwise to say Venom didn’t drink profusely on Hardcore fountains. Hardcore bands as Black FlagGBH, and others had vocals like that as well and they were the ones which started using them.  But the difference is that in hardcore they were understood as angry vocals to express rebellion, Lemmy and Cronos‘ were presented as the devil’s voice.

Musicwise, “Black Metal” is a follow-up of “Welcome to Hell.” The same dirty sounding bordering the bad performance; some instrumentals passages seem to be out of key with tempo breaks or so. Well, one thing Venom are not to blame is to be musical virtuosi. However, Mantas had his moments in “Black Metal” as in the title track and in “Buried Alive,” specially the inspired guitar solo at the end of the song. Both, “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” follow the same path of having the first tracks as breakthrough songs and the others following Venom’s weird and uncontrolled version of NWOBHM. As their peers, “Black Metal” has mid and uptempo songs. But what calls the eyes in it are the rock’n’roll influences as the breaks in “Black Metal” and the riffing in “Teacher’s Pet.” Later, this kind of influence will be called thrash’n’roll or whatever.

The problem that many don’t agree on “Black Metal” being considered the first Black Metal album lies exactly on its NWOBHM sonance – weird, but indeed a sonance. Others say if Venom are to be considered Black Metal, so are Mercyful Fate. Fair point, but I respectfully do not agree. On the other hand, some defend existing three waves of Black Metal bands, and Venom are on the first. I couldn’t agree more because this idea gives a sense of continuation. It means that there is a sense of movement, a sense of evolution among the three waves. By the way, waves is such a wonderful word to express the idea of continuous movement. This idea fits better on what I believe to be right in analysing music because nothing comes out of the blue. No one wakes up saying: “Today is the day, I’ll create a new music style!” That simply doesn’t happen. I believe music to be a construction site where one puts the basis to hold an structure and on that the rest is built. That’s what Venom did. They set the basis to other bands. And most important, they came up with a name: Black Metal.

We are commonly used to think the past with our present references. It’s not really fair to the past to be compared with present references just because some of them weren’t there. Many historians agree on it. I can’t compare Venom’s sonance in 1982 with 2019’s Emperor’s or Behemoth’s. That’s what people do when defend Venom to be one more NWOBHM not the pioneers of Black Metal.

Just to think of it, be honest, which band was heavier and louder than Venom in 1982?

Motörhead? No, not a chance. Maybe alive, but not on studio.

Slayer? Metallica? Anthrax? Possessed? Bathory?

“Show No Mercy” is 1983, so is “Kill’em all.” “Fistful of Metal” is 1984, so is “Bathory.” “Seven Churches” is 1985.

You see, in a fair historical analysis, Venom deserve the title. All the bands you may think of came after Venom’s “Black Metal.” Of course, there is also Mercyful Fate, but they are more about the lyrics. Their music is an uptempo NWOBHM.

Listen to “Black Metal” here:

Black Metal Aesthetic

If the music is not really unanimous, the Black Metal aesthetic brought into light is. Remember that we’re talking about a 1982’s album and one can’t exactly say that a black album cover with Satan and a pentagram was the trend. Very far from it. Just as a reminder, 1984’s Bathory’s eponymous album has an art cover that is, to say the least, widely inspired on Venom’s “Black Metal.” Bottomline, if it weren’t for Venom, there would be no Bathory. So says Quorton, who was a big fan.

Metal’s aesthetic is more complex than only the music. As Deena Weinstein says, bands have a social production that involves shows, albums, T-shirts, videos, so, everything a band produces. That’s the reason why to analyse the Black Metal aesthetic Venom brough into the world of Heavy Metal with “Black Metal” album.

Venom’s imagery was in 1981 everything Black Metal bands are today. Black leather outfits, spikes, inverted crucifixes, satanic images and lyrics, anti-Christian speech, ode to paganism, and on. The only thing left is the corpse painting that would take two or three more years to appear.

That’s the thing, any style needs a kick off and Venom were the band which helped to give birth to what Black Metal is today. Of course, it wasn’t the perfect Black Metal band, but still, with many features of the real deal.

Fun fact

History goes that Venom tried to be hired by the mighty EMI in the early 1980s, but their efforts turned out to be the recipients of the world’s harshest rejection letter from EMI. It simply read ‘F*ck Off,’ in creatively typed lettering.

Track Listing:

Side A

  1. Black Metal
  2. To Hell and Back
  3. Buried Alive
  4. Raise the Dead
  5. Teacher’s Pet

Side B

  1. Leave Me in Hell
  2. Sacrifice
  3. Heaven’s on Fire
  4. Countess Bathory
  5. Don’t Burn the Witch
  6. At War with Satan (preview)