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Meh. - 64%

lonerider, June 7th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1997, 3 12" vinyls, Steamhammer

You don’t have to be a Venom fanboy to honor and appreciate the band’s legendary status as trailblazers of black, thrash and speed metal and godfathers of the black/thrash ‘n’ roll sound. Their first couple of albums were undeniably fun to listen to: raw as hell, shoddily produced, technically inept and musically unrefined, but at the same time highly innovative, bursting with attitude, energy and youthful enthusiasm. Yet for all their historical importance, what have Venom really accomplished in the thirty years that have passed since “At War with Satan”, by most accounts the last of their “classic” albums? Sure, the band has continued on through numerous lineup changes and to the present day put out some more decent to pretty good records, but let’s be frank: would we really still be talking about the “Possessed”s, the “Prime Evil”s, the “Resurrection”s or the “Metal Black”s if they didn’t come from the same lunatics that rose to relative stardom with the seminal “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal”? Hardly.

“Cast in Stone”, released in 1997, was hailed as a comeback album at the time, given that the original lineup of Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon reunited to show the world once more that no one does dirty, occult, NWoBHM-influenced speed/thrash metal better than the venerable originals. Mission accomplished? Nah. The three-piece certainly tries hard to recapture the (black) magic of old, but “Cast in Stone” ultimately feels like a calculated effort that grows stale quickly, falling short in too many areas to really be considered a success. To a certain degree, what made Venom’s earliest albums enjoyable was their anarchistic, helter-skelter vibe: the band was basically all over the place, playing much faster than their instrumental skills really allowed and threatening to go off the rails at any moment. The end result was often on the brink of utter chaos and it sure didn’t sound pretty, but it also made for a hell of a lot of entertainment.

On “Cast in Stone”, however, we get to hear an older, more mature version of Venom. The guys are still far from being virtuosos and “tight” is still among the last adjectives you would use to describe the band’s performance, but the musical delivery is at least competent. In other words, everything sounds a lot more controlled than in their early days, and that might just be the problem: maybe it sounds a bit too controlled for its own good, if that makes any sense. To make matters worse, there just aren’t enough fast, thrashy songs on here. Whenever the album speeds up and leaves the realm of stomping mid-tempo dullness, it gains a sense of urgency that’s otherwise lacking; “Raised in Hell”, “Infectious” or “Flight of the Hydra” are good examples for this. Far too often, however, the album is stuck in mid gear and, save for a couple of tracks with great hooks and catchy choruses (“God’s Forsaken”, “Kings of Evil”), simply doesn’t do enough to keep the listener’s attention, especially not for its entire duration of 55 minutes. To make matters worse, at least two of the songs on offer are more or less complete duds: “Domus Mundi” and “Swarm” have a more experimental and almost industrial edge to them, making them sound disjointed and ultimately out of place.

In the end, “Cast in Stone” is not as bad as the above paragraphs might indicate, but it’s also not the original lineup’s glorious return to form that it’s sometimes made out to be. It passes as a decent record with nice production (clear yet sufficiently rough around the edges) and a couple of pretty enjoyable songs. Those simply looking for some dirty and mean thrashin’ ‘n’ rollin’ will find some good stuff here, but those hoping for a truly captivating album, one that sucks you right in and makes you want to come back for repeated listens, may want to turn elsewhere. “Cast in Stone” has its moments and can be fun for a while, but quickly loses what little luster it has.