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A seminal influence on the evolution of extreme metal, Venom were at the vanguard of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Influenced by the raw intensity of Motörhead and the visual flash of Kiss, they developed a dark, blistering sound that paved the way for the subsequent rise of thrash music; similarly, their macabre, proudly satanic image -- their landmark debut was titled Welcome to Hell -- proved a major inspiration for the legions of death and black metal bands to appear in their wake, even lending the genre its name with the release of their influential 1982 sophomore LP Black Metal. Despite enduring countless personnel changes over the years, and more than a little internal acrimony, Venom continued to tour and release new music, issuing their 15th studio long player, Storm the Gates, in 2018.
Formed in 1978 in Newcastle, England, Venom went through some structural changes before settling on a core trio comprising singer/bassist Conrad "Cronos" Lant, guitarist Jeff "Mantas" Dunn, and drummer Tony "Abaddon" Bray. Drawing inspiration from a versatile array of artists including Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Sex Pistols, the Who, the Tubes, and Elvis Presley, the band eschewed technical prowess for kinetic power, employing a savagely fast style of sonic deviltry that had as much in common with hardcore punk as it did heavy metal -- despite their lyrical and visual obsession with the devil, the group has consistently stated that they prefer shock value over actual Satanism. Venom issued their debut album, Welcome to Hell, in 1981 via Neat Records. Rough, noisy, and spilling over with evil intent, the LP, and its like-minded follow-up Black Metal (1982), helped pave the way for death metal and thrash -- neither album was a commercial juggernaut, but they have since been deemed canonical by the heavy metal community. At War with Satan, a concept album about a war between heaven and hell (guess who wins), arrived in 1983, followed in 1985 by the more streamlined Possessed -- the title track managed to make its way onto the Parent Music Resource Center's "Filthy Fifteen" list. Both albums flirted with mainstream success, but Venom's frenetic take on the genre was being perfected by then up and coming acts like Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica, the latter of whom were opening for Venom just a few years earlier.
Mantas left the group in the wake of 1985's live Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, making way for guitarists Matt Hickey and Jimmy Clare, both of whom made their studio debut on 1987's Calm Before the Storm. Lineup changes would continue to plague the band into the next decade, with Cronos opting out ahead of the release of 1989's Prime Evil, and taking Hickey and Clare with him to mount a solo career. The album featured a crew consisting of Abaddon, ex-Atomkraft vocalist/bassist Tony "The Demolition Risk" Dolan, guitarist Al Barnes, and a returning Mantas. This new version of Venom -- minus Barnes, who was replaced by guitarist Steve "War Maniac" White -- cranked out two more albums, Temples of Ice (1991) and The Waste Lands (1992), both of which disappeared below the radar, due in large part to the burgeoning grunge and alternative rock scenes. The trio of Mantas, Abaddon, and Dolan continued touring throughout the middle years of the decade, although no more new studio recordings were forthcoming.
The return of Cronos in 1996 caused fans to rejoice and Dolan to bolt, and yielded 1997's Cast in Stone, the first Venom album in 12 years to feature the original lineup -- the group's full-length return to action was heralded by the release of the EP Venom '96. The reunion was short-lived, however, as after a world tour in support of the LP, Abaddon left the group. Cronos enlisted his brother Antony "Antton" Lant to get behind the kit on album number ten, 2000's Resurrection. Antton would stay on for 2006's Metal Black and 2008's Hell, but the departure of Abbadon, along with a rotating cast of guitarists, left Cronos the sole remaining founding member of the group. To make things even more complicated, in 2014 Jeff "Mantas" Dunn, Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan, and Tony "Abaddon" Bray began their own project called Venom Inc., and released their debut album, Avé, in 2017 via Nuclear Blast. Cronos' Venom, which now included guitarist La Rage and drummer Dante, inked a deal with Spinefarm and released 2011's Fallen Angels. Venom's 14th full-length, From the Very Depths, was issued in 2015, with Storm the Gates arriving three years later. ~ James Christopher Monger
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and War
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