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Venom > Welcome to Hell > Reviews > heavymetalbackwards
Venom - Welcome to Hell

Welcome to Heaven...on Fire - 100%

heavymetalbackwards, June 1st, 2010

In early 80’s Newcastle, three Geordies were getting sick of the tame rock and metal music that was flooding England. So many bands came close to evil perfection: Black Sabbath had the satanic subject matter but lacked endorsement of devil worship, Judas Priest and KISS had the outfits and stage shows but lacked the sonic assault, and Motorhead had the bulldozering aggression but were missing the over-the-top psycho-drama in concert. Venom couldn’t name one of their heroes that they really could call a “hero.”

Being a music studio employee, vocalist/bassist Conrad “Cronos” Lant was also fed up with the NWOBHM movement. He continually saw bands coming into the studio looking to sound like the next Saxon, instead of attempting something original. It was frustrating to see Raven, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Samson hailed as the next big thing while Venom was ignored. He began to conclude that “heavy metal is for the chicks” by the time the press was labeling Foreigner a metal band.

The concept of Venom was the ultimate rebellion within metal: Black Metal. Although the eponymous anthem to the genre was still unwritten, that’s what “Welcome to Hell” was in sound and spirit. It was a style of music with minimal resemblance to the Scandinavian black metal scene yet to come, but it was definitely a prototype and hugely influential. What it sounded like was a fusion of heavy metal and punk rock, a similar sound to Motorhead but with much rougher production and an evil atmosphere. Despite popular belief, the raw sound was intentional; earlier for the singles, Cronos almost lost his job switching the tapes that were going to be distributed for ones with worse quality. Venom were the first metal band to embrace poor recording for the sake of heaviness and inaccessibility.

Here’s the album: a compilation of demos, gritty recordings of songs about sex, drugs and the devil….most importantly, the devil. Cronos once said that Ozzy Osbourne got it all wrong when he cried out to God for help in Black Sabbath’s eponymous opener; why tell the story through the eyes of the righteous man, when you could tell it through the eyes of a demon? It’s much more fun to play the bad guy. And when this album opens up with “Sons of Satan,” you know that the Legions are the bad guys.

Track after track, anyone not familiar with this music will struggle to make out the sloppy riffs. Guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn screws up a lot, and he doesn’t make much of an effort to hide it. Tony “Abaddon” Bray’s drumming is simple, but the timing is far from the machine-gun perfection most modern metal drummers embrace. The focus is on energy, excitement, and catchy licks. Atmosphere is pivotal as well, with evil effects placed over Cronos’s voice on tracks like “In League With Satan.” Speaking of which, bassist/singer Cronos makes no attempt to sing notes, but instead snarls with a raspy voice, the most distinct and original voice in metal since Ozzy and Lemmy. The texture is perfect, and if you can acquire a taste for the strong stuff, it is quite palatable. We hear it throughout classics like “Poison” and “Witching Hour,” and it’s what keeps Venom feeling vivaciously sinister.

Speed plays a pivotal role in “Welcome to Hell,” and a lot of the perceived fastness comes down to the audible exhaustion as the band sweats everything they got into their instruments, trying to keep pace. “Angel Dust” is the fastest song on here, and it’s written to be catchy and fun in addition to evil. That’s one quality of the music that is centrally important; Venom are not trying to be a walking horror show, but more like a horror/comedy at times. Even when things get slow and dark, like on “In League With Satan,” the groove compels any metalhead to feel like marching along to the beat as he drinks the juice of women, and kills the newborn baby. It’s a role-playing fantasy, with the goal to tell intriguing narratives rather than propagate any sort of philosophy.

The closing song is the epitome of everything this album, and this band, stand for: Red Light Fever. It mixes humor with sinful lust, all in a package of rusty nails. It also has one of my favorite…guitar solos…of all time. For one minute and forty two seconds, we hear the sound of Mantas plugging his guitar into a bass amplifier and making a racket while Cronos screams indecipherable, misogynistic remarks at a whore. I can hear something about “ten inches,” but the rest is mostly a long-lost mystery. And that’s what I love about old Venom albums; they’re loaded with lost gems. You listen to a record like this and you can’t tell what’s actually there and what is just your imagination filling in the blanks. A lot of the riffs are so muffled and obscure, I know I’m throwing in and omitting notes when I try to replicate them…but isn’t it interesting that it means everybody will hear something different when they listen to “Welcome to Hell?”

Well, if you hear it and rate it and don’t care for it, perhaps that’s what happened. Listen again and fill in the blanks better.