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The First Is Still The Best! - 95%

metalguy69, December 19th, 2011

Venom's Welcome To Hell, what can I say about this album that hasn’t been said before. Upon listening to Welcome To Hell, you can’t help not believe that these guys must have deliberately set out to provoke a lot of raised eyebrows and dropped jaws, as if to set the metal world on its fucking ear, to create product engineered to shock, both musically, vocally, and lyrically, perhaps feeling that the current heavy music scene needed a serious shake-up. I imagine this to be sort of like sneaking into a dance club, overtaking the DJ booth, and throwing on something like (insert your favorite extreme metal track here) and watching and enjoying the reaction and resulting chaos from the dance floor. This album and of course the band were so loud, dirty, and raw, they were irresistible, yet at the same time you cannot help but pick up the feeling that Venom were having a great time unleashing their pent up musical and lyrical debauchery as no one had ever done before them (note Cronos’ scream of ‘Whoooooo hooo!!' near the end of the first track, implying a party atmosphere).

You either love this album or you’re disgusted by it and I’m sure Venom must have understood this, too. I myself love it because it is so disgusting. In my high school days I relished the disgusted look on the faces of those trendy ‘Duran-Duran’-adoring chicks after I would proudly proclaim the ‘coolness’ of Venom. There is no way these guys took any of this Satan stuff seriously. The photos from the artwork of this album make it clear that they loved to goof off (the prototypical version of their logo here even looks quite cartoon-ish). This is in stark contrast to later ‘black’ bands such as Mayhem, who apparently took their name from the track ‘Mayhem with Mercy’, yet ironically went on to take this devil worship stuff very seriously and literally. No sir, Venom were three lovable guys having fun watching the music scene’s reaction resulting from this exercise, all in good ‘evil’ fun of course.

I myself was originally raised on 70’s hard rock such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath etc. and when bands such as Venom appeared the very early 80’s, I really didn’t know what to make of them. In fact, it admittedly took time to digest and accept this new wave of extreme metal in general (including thrash, black, death etc.) to the point where it now feels just as natural to me as the 70’s classics did back then. Up to this day, I have never heard ‘extreme’ and over-the-top music this loud, this sharp, and this distorted and I couldn’t imagine it being any different. I still prefer the particular unique unrestrained hard-edged rasp bassist Cronos has on this one, the first ‘evil’ vocal style ever!. Welcome To Hell is in a league of its own, even compared to ‘Black Metal’ or especially later Venom recordings. Keep in mind that Cronos himself was only 18 or thereabouts when the album was made, which makes it even more intriguing.

The instrumentation in general is exactly as described in the back cover i.e. chainsaw guitar, bulldozer bass...well maybe 'nuclear warheads’ is a bit of an exaggeration. Listening to it reasonably loud, particularly through headphones can quite literally give the listener a splitting headache. Mantas’ buzzsaw guitar literally cuts through your skull, in which case it’s a good idea to have a couple of Tylenol (or equivalent pain killers) on hand after your listening session. Despite the razor-sharp sonic quality that sounds like it’s oozed out of the slimy depths of hell, the remarkable thing about this album is that the lyrics are surprisingly clear and decipherable throughout. I pretty much had the words memorized quite accurately well before I read an actual lyric sheet.

Overall, the bulk of the songs sound very dirty, thick, and intense as if the guitar fed through a chain of distortion boxes and were played to the amplifier’s breaking point, which I hazard to guess is something Mantas must have been the first to try. Not counting “Mayhem With Mercy’, almost all the tracks have that thick, concentrated, near-monophonic production except ‘Live Like An Angel…’ and ‘In League With Satan’, which actually sound more, shall we say, ‘stereophonic’. The drums sound quite up-front and ambient. Abaddon does not sound as bad as some may think, but then perhaps any mistakes he makes are probably often drowned out of Mantas’ razor- sharp guitar and Cronos’ bass. The interplay between the guitar and bass are highly notable for giving the album its ultra-heavy and murky feel, best described as sort of like hot lava slowly bubbling towards the surface. Cronos’ bass playing style is very unique and integral to the album’s sound and cannot be described in words. The guitar chords are hard to distinguish at first, but gradually emerge through with repeated listens. When finally obvious, the chord progressions are simple, yet very catchy. For lack of better words, I have to say the sound has a sort of bastardized ‘rock and roll-ish’ feel to it, as I personally consider the realm of ‘heavy metal’ as we know it today to be still ‘in development’ at that point. As dirty, loud, and lethal as it sounds, you cannot help but sing along to this stuff.

A quick run-down of the songs themselves:

‘Sons of Satan’ bursts out of your speakers and wastes no time setting the evil (party?) tone of the album with its lines of ‘Hell the deceiver, Satan's child, you're a believer, and we're going wild’. This is perhaps the hardest song to make out the chords on, rather initially resembling more the pure ‘noise’ that your mom and dad had always told you they thought rock music sounded like.

‘Welcome to Hell’ with its plodding riff including the chilling female recitation of Psalm 23 (?) interspersed with Cronos’ voice only adds to the ‘evil’ atmosphere. It is here where I would say that Cronos’ bass sounds very unique, best described as a menacing serpent crawling and weaving up and around Mantas’ guitar, setting the song’s amazingly wicked tone.

‘Schizo’ is probably my favorite, if only by a hair. The easily discernible lyrics of 'Schizo' are hilarious and paint an unforgettable cartoon-ish image of an apparently harmless little fellow who supposedly turns into a maniacal killer at night. The chord progression is more readily apparent and catchy on this awesome track.

‘Mayhem With Mercy’ sounds like a pretty little acoustic guitar solo sonically encircled by a swarm of winged demons and serves as a fittingly brief interlude before the sonic carnage continues.

This lyrics to ‘Poison’ are disgustingly brilliant. The blatantly raunchy sexual imagery is loads of fun to listen to ('Sitting close beside me, hand upon my zip, don't bother to take it down, honey, it's about to rip!'). This also has a simple and recognizable, yet unrelenting guitar riff that if played loud enough can leave you clutching your skull in agony. To be taken in moderation, of course.

‘Live Like an Angel’ is notable not only for its fast pace and cool reverb effects added to Cronos’ voice, but the shift in production quality (similar to ‘In League With Satan’), resulting in a wider and cleaner sound stage that can probably make you think it was laid down in an actual recording studio as opposed to a dungeon.

‘Witching Hour’ is more in the vein of faster tacks such as ‘Sons...’. Its significance has already been well-documented in past reviews. One can see clearly here the resemblance to the fast drumming and speedy, distorted, and scratchy guitar picking revealed on later landmark albums suchm as ‘Kill 'Em All’, which more or less perfected and introduced the thrash style.

The slowest number on here, ‘One Thousand Days In Sodom’, is pure heaviness and brilliance, most notably in the shift in tempo preceding the chorus as well as the brief bass solo before the guitar solo comes in. It is here where one can clearly hear and appreciate Cronos’ rough, twangy bass playing style that gives the album its character

‘Angel Dust’ is an unrestrained ultra-loud, out-of-control tribute to the drug itself, probably again done to elicit shock and disgust from first time listeners. Probably the most intense track on the album.

‘In League With Satan’ with its different production quality is what it is, an menacing anthem to Satan himself complete with a cool spiteful opening backwards message to boot.

‘Red Light Fever’ is hilarious with its priceless intro. The guitar is thick and insanely overdriven. Cronos sings about his adventures with a prostitute, including later what sounds like a short verbal exchange with the presumed girl followed by the unexpected sped-up finale.

The album as a whole is just as, if not more, extreme or intense than anything it inspired and influenced in decades to follow. I have never yet heard anything else like it in my life and probably never will. It is and will remain one of the loudest, dirtiest, rawest, yet enjoyable recordings in my own music collection (not to mention heavy metal history), and if you’re reading this right now, it should be in yours.