February 16, 2006

CD Review: Venom - Metal Black

Legendary metal act, Venom, are back with their first album, Metal Black, since 2000's Resurrection. This long running act has influenced many of the metal acts that you know and love, such as Metallica and Slayer. In addition to the new album, 2006 also marks the 25th anniversary of their first album, 1981's Welcome to Hell.

Before going any further, I must claim vast amounts of ignorance when it comes to Venom's back catalog. Sure, I have heard of them, but I had never heard them before this album. I guess that could be taken one of two ways. One way being to dismiss my opinion out of hand for not being intimately familiar with a band that had influenced so many. Another way is to say, perhaps we will have a new fan to welcome into the fold, or someone with an opinion that is unbiased, not to be influenced by any status the band has attained or previous successes. After that little exposition, do you still want to know what I think about the album? If so, please continue to read. If not, I will bid you adieu, perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.

When I first received this pre-release copy, packaged in a plain jewel case with no liner notes, labeled with a basic white sticker bearing the name Venom Metal Black and a simple song listing on the back, I thought that this couldn't be the same Venom I had read bout in Metallica interviews so many years ago. Or could it? I initially worked on the assumption that it wasn't, until I did a little looking and found that yes, indeed, this was new music from that Venom.

I have listened to the album a few times through, and after the first couple I must say that I was not terribly impressed. There did not seem to be much substance to the music. Frankly, it felt like a generic metal band that had not yet found their voice. The recording is rough, at times it sounded like the guitars and drums were out of synch, almost like a live album. The lyrical content seemed to be squarely in the midst of the old death metal standbys of Satan and death, witnessed by such song titles as "Antechrist," "Burn in Hell," "Death & Dying," and "Lucifer Rising." The riffs were heavy and the double bass relentless, but they didn't really standout as anything all that special. Needless to say, I wasn't sure what to think of this alleged legend.

So, I started listening to it a few more times, hoping that I would find something to latch onto, a sign as to why they were so influential in the early years. Then, while listening, something dawned on me, this is what the heart of those early years of death metal were like. It was a new world of heavy music that was unfolding, a world which they were helping to usher in. The music was raw, primal, and full of energy. Metal Black is a throwback to those early days, a recording that is under produced, that allows the energy to flow through their instruments into the mix board, minimal intervention used to compile the tracks. The guitars come through with those crushing riffs, the drums and bass folded in around them as the vocals come in on top.

Was that change in viewpoint the signal of a new dawn for my appreciation of the music? Yes and no. Listening through that newly realized filter allowed me to gain respect for them and what they appear to be attempting. It allowed me to let my guard down and just get swept up in the destructive riffs emanating from my speakers. And let me tell you, the music on this album is heavy. These were some of the heaviest music I have heard in some time that didn't fall under some other new wave metal label. The drum work is also fast and thunderous, keeping time with the banging of your head.

At the same time, I did not feel the music. It was heavy and fast, to be sure, but the words did not sink in, and the technical merits of the performance seemed to be lacking. I like the occasional riff based music, but I also like musical gymnastics of acts like Iron Maiden or Dream Theater. I know, I know, this is a different style, but other bands have fused some of the technical aspects with the heavy riffing. So, I do not believe that I am sold on them based on this one album alone, even though my opinion has changed since the initial disastrous run through.

I have read this release being compared to Metallica's St.Anger, not in execution, but in intent. Where the Metallica album was meant to hearken back to their early rawer edged days, and not really succeeding, Metal Black goes a long way to evoking the early days of death metal. I think that this trio of founder Cronos, Antton, and Mykvs has done a good job at bringing this metal fan a taste of what it must have been like in those early days. Put into the context of an early metal release, I could this as a breakthrough album. Sadly, in this day and age, it is little more than a nostalgic time capsule. Head banging heavy, and easy to get into, but nothing terribly special.

Bottomline. They may not have made an instant fan in this guy, but they have given an interesting argument for the return of old school death metal at its most raw. The guitar riffs are the best part of the album, they are unapologetically heavy. This is recommended for fans, or those curious about them, but it may not be the best place to start with them.

Mildly Recommended. **.5 / *****

Track Listing:
01. Antechrist: Click HERE to listen to a streaming demo.
02. Burn In Hell
03. House of Pain
04. Death & Dying
05. Rege Satanas
06. Darkest Realm
07. A Good Day to Die
08. Assassin
09. Lucifer Rising
10. Blessed Dead
11. Hours of Darkness
12. Sleep When I'm Dead
13. Maleficarvm
14. Metal Black

The album will be released by Sanctuary Records:
Germany: 3/24/06
Europe: 3/27/06


Anonymous said...

Muy corta se me queda a mi la valoracion de "5". ¿¿Por que??
Muy sencillo.Este disco es impresionante. Muy superior a "Cast In Stone" y a "Resurrection". Se acerca mas a aquellos Venom de los años 80. El sonido del bajo es tremendo. La "vuelta" de Mykus (grabó aquel "Calm before the storm" del año 86) todo un acierto. Quiza esto haya contribuido al gran resultado del disco. No hay mas que escuchar el ultimo disco en solitario del Mantas, el guitarrista de la epoca mas clasica del grupo, para darse cuenta de que poco podria haber aportado a Venom tal y como se le debe de conocer al grupo. No tiene mucho que ver el nü metal con Venom. Y viendo lo que ha hecho Abaddon (el bateria que mas tiempo estuvo en la banda)en su disco en solitario....en fin.....
Cronos, Mykus y Antton se han marcado un disco que va a satisfacer con mucho las expectativas de muchos (entre los que me incluyo) que echabamos en falta esos toques mas clasicos. Quiza se hayan pasado con el tema de la portada y del titulo, demasiado relacionado todo con aquel "black metal" del 82. Pero basta una primera escucha del album para ver que la cosa promete.
Obviamente es otra banda, solo queda Cronos de la epoca dorada del grupo, y no van a volver a hacer lo de hace 20 años. Pero os recomiendo una escucha para daros cuenta de que el disco es muy bueno. Aunque hay algo que a mi personalmente no me acaba de gustar. Meter 14 canciones se hace demasiado. Si hubiesen quitado tres canciones, las mas flojas, pero claro, aqui ya cada uno tendra sus preferencias. El sonido es excelente, menos cargado que sus dos anterioes trabajos. El bajo, como ya hemos comentado suena como lo hacia en aquel "possessed", muy bruto y seco. Genial. La bateria sobresaliente (escuchad el comienzo de antechrist). La voz de Cronos ,como siempre, impecable. Y a destacar las guitarras de Mykus. No es que solo sea un sustituto digno de Mantas, es que aporta a Venom lo que ya no aportaba Mantas. Ese toque clasico.
Un general una muy agradable sorpresa. Mi puntuacion. Un 9.

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