Welcome back to Mid-Month Metal Masterpiece, where I discuss a different classic Thrash, Death, Black or just plain “Heavy” metal album on the 15th of each month. Of course, I’m an old school fellow, so don’t expect to see a lot of stuff post-1996 or so. Each installment will be accompanied by several short sound clips illustrating important sections of the album. Anyway, it was either this or a new Daily Metal Reviews section. Consider yourselves lucky I chose the path of moderation.
This month I’ll discuss Venom’s 1982 album Black Metal. It’s not black metal, it’s not thrash, it’s just a pure metal classic.
Now I’m sure a lot of people would object to me saying Venom isn’t black metal. After all, the album we’re looking at today named the genre and they are always referred to in hushed tones (along with Mercyful Fate and Bathory) as the “ancient ones” of the “first wave” of black metal. And while I still don’t think that they are really black metal, I will admit that writing this post may have changed my mind a bit on the issue.
But we’ll get to that in a bit, for now let’s go to the clips. For 1982, this, the opening title track, was about as extreme as things got:
The shite production, simplistic songwriting, drummer that can barely keep up and the ridiculous lyrics like “lay down your soul to the gods rock n roll” don’t change the fact that 30 years later “Black Metal” is still pretty frickin sweet. While everyone jokes about Venom’s limited musical abilities they had the ability to take a few chords and turn them in a headbanging good time that was surprisingly catchy.
Of course, if all they were was “catchy” I wouldn’t be covering them here. One of the things that really made Venom stick out from their contemporaries was how evil they sounded. Just listen to this opening riff from “To Hell and Back”:
That is one insidiously squirrelly guitar riff, something that was pretty rare, even in the other more extreme sounding metal bands of the early 80s.
There is a fair amount of variation on the album, at least for Venom. For instance, the two part epic of “Buried Alive”/”Raise the Dead” starts in a Soundgarden sounding ballad mode:
before exploding into the fast and furious (though a titch too upbeat) second half:
Adorable lyrics like “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if God can’t help me, then the Devil must!” really are a big part of Venom’s appeal. It seems like every month I say something about how meaningless lyrics are and then turn around to talk about all my favorite lyrics. Venom, by infusing their music with a previously unheard of level of Satanic and occult worship really stumbled on something important. Metal is an angry, dark sounding music, and even ridiculously over the top lyrics seem to fit it quite well.
I’ve always gone by the rule that Venom’s best sounding songs were the ones that had the most Satanic and evil sounding song titles, which of course meant that “Teacher’s Pet” was my least favorite song on Black Metal. But, aside from that unfortunate intro and a straight blues middle segment, it’s actually a fairly dark sounding song:
Thus I am led to the unfortunate conclusion that had the lyrics been “Satan’s net…Satan’s threat!” instead of “Teacher’s pet…teacher ‘s wet!” I might have liked the song a lot better! It’s at least something to think about as it is a darker song than the previous Raise the Dead…which I have always liked.
Regardless of the lyrical impact, the catchy songs keep on coming, including the Nirvana-sounding anthem “Countess Bathory”:
Any song that makes you simultaneously want to sing along and bang your head is alright in my book.
“Don’t Burn the Witch”, the final track (not counting the preview of the next album’s “At War With Satan”…which was much more compelling than the 20+ minute mess that the actually song turned out to be) is (along with the opener) one of my favorites. A cool intro:
leads into the main song with its incredibly catchy chorus:
If you want to see just how “influential” Venom was to extreme metal, check out the main riff to Bathory’s “Born for Burning” three years later:
I know calculus was invented independently, so these things happen, but I find it hard to believe that Bathory’s Quorthon had never heard the Venom song before he wrote his own witch-burning hymn.
Revisiting Black Metal I was reminded of a few things:
- Lyrical content and delivery probably has a much greater impact on my enjoyment of a song than I am willing to admit
- Though rooted in traditional “heavy metal”, Venom was much darker sounding than their peers (Diamondhead, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to name a few).
- I can listen all the way through this album countless times and despite its numerous flaws I still always finish thinking “damn, that is a good album”.
So, the music was very dark sounding, and lyrically it was very similar to the “second wave” of Norwegian Black Metal in the early 90s…maybe that is all it takes for an album to be “black metal”? Nah, it still doesn’t have tremelo picked guitars and Donald Duck vocals…but from now on I’ll be willing to admit that for a “Heavy Metal” band they were at least pretty close!