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Venom is one of those groups whose existence has been one with major ups and downs. After At War With Satan and the Warhead single, Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon were poised and ready to take on a larger audience. Then came Possessed, which suffered horribly due to its muddy and distant production. At the time it was a grave misstep, almost undoing all of what the group had worked for since forming in 1979. The band started work on a fifth record, tentatively titled "Deadline", but Mantas was quick to realize that things were not working out with the rest of the band and departed Venom to start a solo career.
Calm Before the Storm is unlike any Venom album before or since. Cronos and Abaddon decided to replace Mantas with not one but two guitarists in Mike Hickey and Jimmy Clare (or Mike H. and Jim C., as credited on the album) and also decided to shake up the Venom sound a bit. Instead of the usual women, leather, and hell of the first four albums and their related singles, the band (or maybe Cronos) decided to play a mix traditional and power metal, with emphasis on sword and sorcery lyrics as well as a few rock 'n rollish themes. Jimmy Clare doubled on keyboards, Cronos toned down his vocals, and Abaddon and the two guitarists added vocal harmonies to many of the choruses. The band was also afforded the luxury of a much higher quality production, which is a big step above Possessed. Sonically, it might be one of the best sounding Venom records as far as production is concerned.
And then there are the songs. Admittedly, there aren't any real classics to be found, except maybe The Chanting of the Priests, which is about as close to the "old" Venom sound from before (and the only one the old school fans will know). But the rest of the material is all over the place. There are the typical Venom thrashers in Under a Spell (which ends up being the best of the "sword and sorcery" songs) and Fire, the slower, more powerful tracks like the title track and Beauty and the Beast, the "rock 'n roll" tunes in Metal Punk and Deadline, and, as with most Venom albums, the obligatory chauvinist offering in Muscle. The title track is a great atmospheric tune, with very tasteful keyboards. Fire is some brutal fucking speed metal; Abaddon's drumming is about as manic as he's ever been (and that's saying something). Under a Spell in particular is an excellent song and probably my favorite on the record; the solo in the middle is a thing of beauty. (Collector's note - the version of Under a Spell on the In Memorium compilation features a different mix with keyboards at the end and different vocals. The same compilation also has two outtakes from the album in Nothing Sacred and Dead Love.)
Venom fans are rough on this album, and not all of the criticism is unwarranted. Krackin' Up, Gypsy, and Muscle suffer from some of the most banal and horrible lyrics ever to grace a Venom record. All of the songs sound the same for the most part. To make matters worse, after Beauty and the Beast the band never gains back any momentum; Calm Before the Storm might have one of the worst second sides on any LP. The two guitarists are competent when trading off on solos, but the riffs lack the manic excitement of earlier material. Mantas is clearly missed. Cronos' bass sticks out in the mix, and there are some fun basslines in many of the songs. Abaddon is...well...Abaddon. For those who know Venom in and out, this should not come as a surprise. Some of the songs that the band worked on in 1986 during the Deadline sessions, like A Bite Before Evil and Love Amongst the Dead, could have found a home on this record, but still remain unreleased.
The big thing that hurts the album (or at least lets you laugh at it a bit) is that in almost every song Cronos yells "WATCH OUT!", "COME ON!", or "LOOK OUT!" at one point or another. It's like the band had about three-quarters of the song and Cronos decided to improvise around the rest of the material. It's amusing on The Chanting of the Priests, but when it starts popping up more and more as the album goes on, it becomes tiresome. Hearing Cronos sing "put some great white muscle in between your thighs" on Muscle (in full-on lecherous mode, no less) might scar a few folks for life.
The band as a whole hit the brick wall with this one. It's not a bad album (I personally find it underrated) but it might have had more respect if it was either tightened up a bit with a few more songs or released as a Cronos album, since Cronos basically took the sound (and the guitarists) from this album and perfected the approach on Dancing in the Fire. The album is ultimately forgotten once it's over, and most times I can't be bothered to listen after Fire. Venom fans should at least give it a try, but it's by no means a required purchase.
Following the less-than-exceptional release of Possessed, the unholy trio was torn asunder as Mantas left the group to pursue a solo career. To fill the void left behind, Cronos and Abaddon recruited two new guitar players, Mike "Mykus" Hickey and James Clare. One would never have known much was going on, as the mini-albums, compilations and live records continued to be released, such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. By 1987, the time had come to enter New Marquee Studios, in London, to record a new L.P. Of course, with a different studio came a new producer. Keith Nichol, who had been producing their albums from the beginning, was replaced by Nick Tauber. The result was Calm Before the Storm, released in November 1987.
While the previous record was a bit of a step down, compared the the earlier material, Calm Before the Storm represented a departure from the Satanic-themed Black Metal that Venom was known for. The music took on more of a melodic thrash approach while the lyrical content shifted to more typical Heavy Metal themes. Coming from the originators of Black Metal, this was quite a shock.
The record begins with "Black Xmas". This one wastes no time in getting right into the thrash riffs. The first thing that one may notice is the fact that the vocals are less harsh and evil. Actually, Cronos seems to have injected a lot of melody in his voice, utilizing a cleaner approach. The production doesn't sound bad, at all, and the guitar solos are pretty enjoyable. There are some memorable riffs to be found here, as well. This sure as Hell isn't "Sons of Satan", "Black Metal" or "At War With Satan", but it is an opener and it does well to acquaint the listener with the change in sound. Some bands, that experiment with their sound, try to hide this by beginning the album with a song that is more in tune with their previous efforts, and then sneaking the new style in there. As always, Venom is very up-front.
The next song is "The Chanting of the Priests". This one is similar to the first one, being a shocking display of traditional metal, especially the hilarious vocals. Cronos actually does this rather well, but it's just so unexpected that one can't help but laugh. The "woah-oh-oh" part, with the back-up vocals, is the most ridiculous thing I've heard yet. There is a section with deeper, more evil-sounding vocals but the lyrics certainly don't warrant such effects being used. The riffs and lead solos aren't bad, really. This just isn't what one wants to hear when tossing a Venom record on.
"Metal Punk" sounds a lot more like the real Venom. This one is fast, filled with energy and showcases the vocal delivery expected of Cronos, though the chorus is annoying. During the last minute of the song, things slow down and the feeling is kind of killed.
This is followed by "Under A Spell". Like the previous track, this one shows that the band could make music more suitable of the Venom name. Of course, the melodic vocals used for the bridge and the chorus are... suddenly, Helloween. This is eerie, but not in a good way. Clean, harmonized vocals have no place in Venom! Never! The solos are okay, but this tune has done too much to offend the band's fans for anything to salvage it. I feel like I've just been aurally raped.
"Calm Before the Storm" has the unenviable task of following this atrocity. It begins with a dark intro, creating a decent atmosphere. The riff is actually pretty decent, though not worthy of a Venom record. The first time that I heard this song, it was quite late at night and I wondered, "Why does this album get so much Hell?" I must have been bloody delirious. I once read that this album sounded as if Bon-Jovi had recorded an album under the Venom name. Right now, this doesn't seem like a bad description.
Next is "Fire", which possesses a sound much closer to what one would expect. This song may be the only one with even the slightest mention of Hell. While it sounds passable, by comparison to the last few tracks, this song is mediocre at best. It earns points for lacking clean vocals, but then the unimaginitive songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. At least it was fairly short.
"Krackin' Up", as one might infer from the title, is plagued by ridiculous lyrics. The song has a little of the old Venom feeling, but not really in a good way. For anyone that says lyrics don't matter, I defy you to listen to this song and take it seriously. The title sure as Hell is appropriate, as it had me 'cracking up' for the whole two minutes or so that it was playing.
This abomination is succeeded by "Beauty and the Beast". Indeed, it seems that Dio was writing lyrics for Venom, as this just can't be the doing of Cronos. This is bloody awful. A few decent riffs can't possibly save this. It's strange how most think that Cronos left the band after this album, because it was so terrible, when he's the one that made it such an unbearable and distressing experience. Unfortunately, this song is a bit longer than the previous two.
"Deadline" continues the punishment. It begins with a decent thrash riff, but the song features more utilization of clean vocals for the chorus. It isn't as bad as on some of the other songs, but it's not very pleasant. The solo is alright, but nothing special. By this point, the album has become extremely tedious.
The next song is "Gypsy", which uses more trademark Venom riffs, along with some double-bass. Of course, the whole sound is ruined with the horrendous vocal delivery. This track certainly doesn't hold a candle to Mercyful Fate's song of the same title. Forget Thrash Metal; this should be classified as the first suicidal Black Metal album. It was written and recorded by a Black Metal band and it makes me want to kill myself, rather than listen to any more.
The final song is titled "Muscle". Indeed, this idiotic title is making a certain sexual reference. Venom lost their Satanic approach, but they kept this kind of nonsense? Utterly appalling. I can't imagine anyone could really be so interested in songs about sex, except for those who have never gotten any. This song is as fucking awful as it gets. This makes Motley Crue sound dangerous. It sure is a Hell of a way to end an atrocious album.
Calm Before the Storm is an abomination. This is an undeniable fact. This terrible piece of excrement gets worse as it progresses. If you ever have the misfortune of hearing this, run for cover. Don't get fooled into believing that it may be passable because the first song isn't so overly wretched. The album is completely worthless, with exception to its ability to provide a load of laughs. Unless you need a dose of humour or simply possess a morbid curiosiy that compels you to witness the grim end of Venom, avoid this at all costs.
Venom is a lot of things to a lot of people. Some consider only their first four albums to be cannon and the rest shit where as others view their latter works as gold and their humble beginnings as garbage. Both have merit for what its worth as both eras have good and bad. Their mid-period however is perhaps the most overlooked and underrated in the bands history. Depending on who's side your on in the various breakups that the band is famous for you'll either agree or stop reading this now.
On Calm Before the Storm we see considerably better production and musicianship than in the past. Its easy to distinguish the individual instruments and music over all, as opposed to the bands early work. The guitars are very melodic and thrashy. There is a lot of dueling between the two guitarists, both of which are the best the band has ever had. The shredding is near ceaseless but melodic and fitting, not random fits of masturbatory flashiness. They add a tough and evil sense to the music, essentially adding where the less satanic lyrics leave off.
The bass is easily mistakable for Cronos' own, as Tony playing is very similar. The bass is its own entity and contains a vicious amount of attitude not always playing what the guitars are.
The drums are standard Abaddon and as such are both good and horrible. For the most part, the prior is thankfully the case. There are a few parts where he sounds bad but over all he's with it.
As stated above the vocals are eerily close to Cronos', to the point of cloning. This works in his favor as detractors of this incarnation of Venom will find it hard to differentiate between the two. The lyrics are more about life and myths than anything else, this is somewhat a breath of fresh air as the satanic thing had run its course and gotten stale.
The music easily slots in the melodic Thrash category with perhaps a few Power Metal nods here and there. The music is tight but loose. Its tough but enchanting, dark but catchy and fun. This is just what a good Thrash album should be a mixture of darkness, evil and fun. If there are any complaints it would be that this is painfully short and that some of the songs don't really go anywhere, but over all this is an electrifying album that should appeal to fans of the aforementioned.
The bane of age: a curse from decades reveled, or perhaps signals that exploit weakness not visible at hindsight. Ah Venom, you philosophical legends; always mincing each opportunity once black/speed metal followers crave more sliced items their forefathers impregnated. Welcome to the downfall. Yes, England’s trophy-shiners had much to explain after pathetically clinching “Possessed” into the arms of metal fans, so what’s there to do, huh? Cronos took Abaddon and whoever else was in Venom aside, emphasizing shit needed a makeover, and thus, “Calm before the Storm” popped out, but an issue cancelled its dormancy shortly thereafter: change couldn’t process a hot agenda. A comfortable approach was promised; instead we received irritation. A sign of a once-good band faded away, or some avoidable mistake? That, my friends, is the question.
As inclement weather changes environments, “Calm before the Storm” looks upon Venom for needy alterations; this new frontier, however, acts positive like Hurricane Katrina meeting New Orleans. Newbie Syndrome confines Mykus (Mantas’ sub-par replacement) into generic use of speed riffs done a million times before, with usually just one per song; not to mention his solos are lackluster when stacked against the former guitarist in Venom. Also, who wants mainstream verse-chorus-repeat foundations? Even if you don’t, tough shit. This CD has a golden way of planting bothersome, poppy choruses that consume several anthems entirely, which grows like a weed until you’re flooded by unneeded crap. We’ve got eleven tunes all preaching copied factors, with a dangerous amount lasting under three minutes; of course, practically spelling out how repetitive/bland everything appears. Where’s the progression, intelligence, envelope-pushing, or perhaps, testicles? Another thinker, I guess.
Cronos, too, has taken quite a nasty pinch within these lakes of vocal domination. Aggressive, menacing yelps are out of the picture, and this ironic figure now shouts in cleaner tone that really doesn’t add productivity onto what’s placed atop. Still, his bass looks pretty alright…goddamn it, who made love to the guitar tone? Suddenly, Mykus seems quite feather-like upon viewing the puffier approach this album takes, meaning heavy stuff isn’t really that crushing. I’m wondering if Bon Jovi stole Venom’s identity and produced “Calm before the Storm” for personal chuckles. Any highlights? Read the lyrics to “Muscle,” then come see me.
But seriously, Venom did score a few points throughout this unacceptable effort that are essentially passable towards their glory days. “Calm before the Storm” excels to its highest point on “The Chanting of the Priests;” capturing modernized energy perfectly with those intense riffs equates a total sensation of speed metal chaos. More so, “Black Xmas” and “Metal Punk” flag dying fame as both numbers scorch in the moniker of “Welcome to Hell” rather elegantly, once again toasting your scrotum into yesterday. However, the irony of the first three cuts producing more energy than all others isn’t quite relevant. Ideas ran dry shortly thereafter, so Cronos’ only option was eight charges of filler nobody would dare recall. No wonder time forced Venom’s settle devolution within unmemorable flop after unmemorable flop, eh?
You know, an experiment gone wrong is risky business, because adding that occasional twist will sometimes yield absolute mastery, yet Venom just got confused throughout their ventures: different guitar tones, simplified structures, lighter vocals, and the mainstreamed ideology…just not my Venom. Hell, you won’t ever hear a single note from this thud since the group squared away those needless tampers, so why compute an album of such redundancy anyway? In conclusion, it’s very hard to find, looked down upon, and certainly forgettable, which is constituted throughout “Calm before the Storm” when puncturing each entity it offers. Not something I’m suggesting, unless you REALLY enjoy risking your money for a hit-or-miss effort.
This review was written for: www.leviatan-magazine.com
I loved Venom's first two albums, haven't yet gotten my hands on At War With Satan, but found that Possessed was a bit sloppy and drawn out. I wondered what Venom would sound like with two guitar players, replacing the mighty Mantas.
I can't say that this sounds like Disney. This is not so out there that it could be labeled as a different band, because we've still got the necessary Venom ingredients all in the mix. Possibly a bit experimental, but not bad in that way. The songs seem a bit more concise, but sadly, also more geared towards commercialism: they're shorter, with obvious hooks. Just listen to "Chanting of the Priests," with its cleaner vocals...not really Venom, is it? "Under A Spell" is similar, with a sing along chorus. Quite goofy. Sometimes those clean vocals sound really irritating and obnoxious, but overall, don't destroy the album.
So what does really put it under the table? The songs are pretty short and predictable. Even worse, there's not a lot that really jumps out and grabs you. I would have actually enjoyed more experimentation, but a lot of the ideas just feel bland and tired. The second half of the album can sometimes just pass me by.
But there are some great moments. The title track, though a bit unorthodox with its epic and often melodic sound, is fucking great. Seriously, one can imagine a storm brewing at the horizon while listening to that. "Black Xmas" is heavy, total Venom, and "Metal Punk" actually feels heavier than you'd think.
The production is rough, and as I've said, there are fuck ups here and there. But this is Venom. The two new guitarists provide some very nice, over the top soloing, that gives it a slicker sound, but not without the nastiness brewing beneath the surface. Worth getting if you're a big fan, but a casual listener best pick up Welcome To Hell or Black Metal.
After the disappointing album Possessed and Mantas hightailing it to pursue a solo career, remaining members Cronos and Abaddon recruit two guitarists to take his place. With a new line-up in place, Venom would march into the studio and record their fifth studio album Calm Before the Storm.
With this release, Venom (or what I've read from interviews, Cronos) decided to do some experimenting. Unlike Possessed where the music sounded worn-out, redundant and de-evolved, Storm does the total opposite and goes too far into left field and in the process Venom alienated a lot of their fans. Cronos and crew threw most of their "black metal" sound out the window for a more upbeat traditional simplistic thrash sound.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind when bands experiment (unless its Metallica). Without bands changing their sound or experimenting, we wouldn't have stellar albums like Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Judas Priest's Painkiller. But Venom's experiment...well...I guess it might have been better if the songs overall were better.
What really hurts album is the songs aren't that great. The new "sound" might have been more stomach-able if it produced some killer tracks. The only real standouts are Black X-Mas, Chanting of the Priests, and the title track, but that's about it. These songs are only memorable because of some catchy courses and some good rhythms. Black X-Mas, probably the albums best track, is far too short clocking in at just under the 3 minute mark. This only adds salt to an already open wound.
The rest of the songs are just simple and unmemorable. Metal Punk is an attempt at a "punk" metal song, and it fails. Under a Spell, Krakin' Up, Beauty and the Beast, Deadline, Gypsy, and Muscle all suffer from mediocrity with poor to silly lyrics and a considerable lack of good guitar solo's. It's sad to say but after listening to this album, I can see where Venom sorely misses Mantas's guitar talent and song writing abilities. Many people might be unaware but Mantas was responsible for most of Venom's more memorable and kick-ass songs from their earlier releases and without him, the band seems lost.
The one really good thing is that Venom finally got decent production as there is no comparing the production of Storm and Possessed when it comes to production quality. Sadly, just because an album has decent production doesn't necessarily make it good, as with the case here.
Fans retaliated against the album and Cronos knew it, so he took Mantas's replacements and jumped ship to record some solo albums where he would continue to refine this new "sound", and I have to admit, he did crafted the sound better in his solo efforts (He would even re-record the song "Fire" for his solo compilation creatively titled "Venom")
Will die hard fans like this CD? Most probably won't but there are a few fans like me that will find at least a few songs too like here.
Calm Before the Storm...another entry into Venom's interesting and complex history as a heavy metal band. More interesting entries would come later....
It should also be mentioned that Storm has been re-released numerous times sometimes under different tiles and covers. Make sure to steer clear of the versions released under the names Metal Punk and Beauty and the Beast as they are cheap issues with silly cover art and considerably lower sound quality. Either get the original Neat Records release with the original lightning bolt cover or the Deadline re-issue with some sort of weird man/cat creature on the cover.