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From the forest primeval they came...and laughed - 95%

Gutterscream, April 21st, 2011
Written based on this version: 1981, 12" vinyl, Neat Records

"…we're possessed by all that is evil, the death of you God we demand..."

“I’m not a good drummer. He’s not particularly a good singer, but as a whole, we are a brick…” are Abaddon’s words during the band’s jovial interview on the Ultimate Revenge concert video, visual evidence to one of the most fabled shows grown by the metal underground, a show many of us have seen at least a few times. One or two may even be in the crowd giving the cameraman the finger (I’m the black bum in the skullcap). As the drummer fights for a whisky bottle, his unsweetened confession paints a simple brass tacks picture of the band that wasn’t exactly a secret.

At that time in '85, it wasn’t odd that someone hadn’t heard (of) Venom even while three or four of the band’s slabs were scaring parents in the sparse places they could be found. The scene was still but a small landmass undiscovered by many, yet it was larger than the dinky island it was in ’81. Despite a fairly lengthy discography, the three were still fresh faces to the masses that read Hit Parader, and new listeners to Venom could do two things: welcome comparisons and contrasts to other bands or not even give a damn.

Now the album’s been out for 36 years, practically an eternity as far as metal releases go, and like the thing or not, it’s regarded as an ivy-covered landmark. Unless you’re just discovering metal, anyone who ever wanted to hear it has had plenty of time, yet for some reason I still hear a lot of the obvious when it’s brought up nowadays for review or in casual conversation.

Do we need Nancy Drew to tell us the musicianship on Welcome to Hell is a sweat-soaked nightmare of the Julliard School of Music? Do we need Scooby and the Mystery Machine to tell us metal has progressed into something much more ferocious than what’s on Venom’s debut? Maybe we should hire Magnum P.I. to uncover that the trio had been greatly impressed by countrymates Motorhead and a slew of punk bands, and even though the band’s din is ritually described as the nullius filius of that time’s most ill mannered music, people are still compelled to not only compare it to Maiden, Sabbath, Accept, Angel Witch, Saxon, Krokus, and Judas Priest, but boldly announce it sounds nothing like those bands. Old hat.

Let’s talk about Neat Records a bit. When Neat released the In League with Satan 7”, the company was hardly the long-lived bastion of music, but a small British indie label just trying to put out some tunes. As far as 7” records go, the first format the label used, the Venom 7” was its eighth. As far as full-lengthers go, Welcome to Hell would be its second, preceded only by Raven’s Rock Until You Drop. The chances the trio really wanted their debut to sound like it was recorded in ditch water is conceivable, but it’s even more fathomable Dave Wood had about two hundred pounds in his pocket to throw Keith Nichol for the production. On top of that, production equipment then to now is like the Ford Pinto to a 2005 Jaguar, so to complain about the mix is to proclaim something undisputed. If Venom were on EMI/Harvest like Maiden, or even a label like Attic, things probably would’ve been a little rosier in that department, but this is what they/we got, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“…all hell rejoices at the child that she will bear, and Satan’s only son shall be the world’s despair…”

But one can’t write a review without delving into some background banality. Welcome to Hell would see pitch of night in the winter of 1981 – low-budget devil-headed pentagram cover, eleven odes to evil, ‘ol horn head and other topics most unsavory, that nifty blasphemous quote on the back cover that was a warning for all parents to grab their kids and run, and the three of them standing in some sand with hatchets...unkempt, under produced, malevolent, frightening, but not yet timeless. It was a gateway to a sound…probably the first true gritty ‘underground’ sound…that would slowly storm the world and hold it enraptured to this day. Aside from being Neat’s biggest band ever, Venom would become one of the most influential bands metal would hear since Sabbath tolled during a rainstorm in ‘70, Judas Priest parodied Coca-cola in ’74, everyone’s lawn died around Motorhead in ’77, and Maiden released its most boring Eddie album cover in ’80. The fact that no Maiden/standard nwobhm influence whatsoever inches out of this lp makes it even more the marvel. Is it a likable album? Obviously. Is someone kinda nuts for considering it one of the best? Probably, and no. It’s got the finesse of a rusty backhoe, the professionalism of an early ‘70s pro wrestler named Crusher, and the depth of the 2003 Detroit Tigers pitching staff.

But it’s simultaneously terrifying and infectious. It has dark-eyed, Richard Ramirez charisma. It’s boiler room noisy. It has more attitude than twenty nwobhm here today-gone tomorrow dinks put together. In hindsight, what band as early as and besides Venom w(c)ould have plowed aside all the decorations, all the showmanship, and all the elaboration of the pretentious, traditional Euro sound? I'm waiting...just one other band....that's what I thought.

Welcome to Hell is the underground’s savior. Of course, most people would've laughed if that statement was made then.

In instantly blistering fashion, “Sons of Satan” disintegrates the crackling din of vinyl, a tumultuous number that is initially so much like a fiery cannonball in your face it takes you a second or two to recover. Only Helen Keller could miss the Satanic commitment that practically shoots fireworks from the sleeve and the lyrics are no different, but you’d have to wonder about a verse like:

“…put away all your virtues, stop your climbing the walls,
just sign your name on the paper, we'll have ourselves a ball…”


Are these guys for real? Sure sounds like they mean business, especially bassist/vocalist/centerpiece Cronos whose delivery is condemningly diabolical, yet largely intelligible with an apparent penchant for tongue-in-cheek humor. The title cut is more controlled in its deviltry, parched lungs evincing a rambling tale that goes on to underscore an obscured female-narrated passage… “and as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…” like a soul entering their fiery domain with a prayer on her lips. Tom and Martin of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost would glean inspiration from this particular avant-garde avenue. “Schizo” and “Poison” are two rotten peas in a pod, sharing a pace moderately brisk and a noisily catchy arch perched over a bubbling undercurrent of raw, primeval grimness. This unrelenting lava flow steams around the strange, wavering acoustics of “Mayhem With Mercy”, a shimmering ghost island only a few feet in diameter wedged between the two tracks , like hallowed ground on the verge of contagion. “Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)” momentarily leers at this island, curls a cracked lip in disgust, and dismisses it with an agile riff, a jagged, quickly spun chorus and maliciously upbeat determination.

Easily more unforgiving and bitter is side two. “Witching Hour”, perhaps one of their top tracks, breaks the seal of Solomon, tolling midnight as demons cry, breaking hell loose with a rapid, noxious rhythm, near breakaway chorus, and an ebon story that just rolls off Cronos’s diseased tongue. “One Thousand Days In Sodom” is as merciless as the title implies. A Mantas solo scribbles and squeals over a breaking bass line while the chorus is the song’s taskmaster, yelling its fate while whipping slaves with grumbling riffage. Quickening the stride again is “Angel Dust”, another barbarian at the gates that rips them from hinges with a bursting chorus. Then the fires turn black. With the unholy entrance of “In League With Satan” the draconian mood ascends to another level. Just when you think this album’s psalms to Hell have already been penned in their purest form, this innocent little ditty comes along to crush them and all other feats of darkness up until that point and some time after…the morose, back masked “…grind bones to dust…” intro, the distorted demon-twined vocals, the droning chorus, lyrics “…kill a newborn baby, tear infant’s flesh…” written with the tears of priests…an acquired taste that will have many gagging before it’s over. Finale “Red Light Fever” is more basic than most of the group’s tracks. Abaddon never deviates from the most basic of drumbeats even during the tune’s moments of pure outburst, a solo that’s foremost white noise while Cronos growls whatever seems to come to mind.

Our underground owes so much to Welcome to Hell. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, there’s no discarding its importance to metal’s heavy-handed development, and every fan of black, death, thrash, and speed metal should raise a goblet in its honor. Indeed it is the heaviest, dirtiest, and most unwholesome album of its day, and the unholy trinity couldn’t have started their reign with a worthier title.

Call me a fanboy if you wish.

“…a thousand days…a thousand years…you’ve lived your life in Hell…”