All of us — even we manly men — have at some point, stumbled unnervingly into love. And we’ve all felt that multiverse-reverberating kidney punch when it inevitably goes to hell. To be so hopelessly enamored until destiny deigns to dissolve said bond and leave us only with a collection of increasingly pallid memories that cast a pall over once cherished years. Thus was my young love affair with Venom. It’s a conflicting thing to look back on a past partner, if you’re so inclined, and see the changes the years have wrought; a line here, a wrinkle there, a divorcing of two-thirds of their classic lineup that have since gone on to form an arguably superior incarnation… Boasting the original talents of guitarist, Jeff “Mantas” Dunn, drummer, Anthony “Abaddon” Bray and once Venom vocalist, Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan, Venom Inc. are on the cusp of releasing their debut, Avé, and surely in a bid to prove in whose veins the real poison courses. Full of speed metal mileage and vesperal satanic stylings, do these boys still have the stuff? The black stuff.
Despite featuring the same lineup as Venom‘s unremarkable early 90’s material, Venom Inc. enjoy increased memorability. Although we should all know the abrasive classic black metal roots of Venom‘s legacy, this new chapter has distanced themselves from Cronos and his cohorts by injecting a palpable traditional metal flavor into the mix. Opener, “Avé Satanas,” has more scope than I was initially expecting. Bastardising Avé Maria in its intro, the song soon delves into Mantas’s bone-dry riff work for a protracted tempo and more legitimate menace than their alma mater have mustered this millennium. Demolition Man’s vocals are still analogous of Cronos, particularly on the phrasing, but he manages a more robust timbre, which lends the front man an increased animal quality.
“Forged in Hell” recalls the members’ brash beginnings with typical speed metal riffs and a gang-shouted chorus; it’s enjoyable fare, but Avé‘s true strengths lie in its more nuanced song writing. It’s that devil in the detail that provides numbers like “Dein Fleisch” with the restraint required to be truly effective, offering up a seductive malcontent that keeps me coming back for more. Although tracks like “Time to Die,” channeling Sodom in its thrash verses and rabid resolve, are more than welcome, the album’s more focused and darker moments are those that serve to elevate it. On the other hand, I have a personal beef with songs that exist to instruct me as to metal’s glory. Unless it’s anything from Bonded By Blood or Priest‘s “Metal Meltdown,” I don’t need to hear self-referential torch-bearing tunes. Unfortunately, Avé harbors not one, but two. “Metal We Bleed” and particularly closer, “Black n’ Roll” are odes to the iron gods, and while the former at least hosts some catchy rhythms, the latter is just cheap. Bizarrely, the album also ends with a strange Jimmy Saville impression;1as far as non-sequiturs go, it’s poor taste, to say the least, but then metal never championed the socially acceptable.
Satisfyingly, the album showcases notably improved instrumentation across the board, but especially from Mantas. His soloing is by far the best of his career and his bulky riffs remain the catalyst for much of the record’s propulsion. And bulk is really Avé‘s main issue — there’s just too much of it. A distinctly modern album in every way, some scrupulous self-editing would have gone a long way here. As it is, the songs often overrun, and at just over an hour, a handful could have been excised completely to further hone the record, instead of subverting the album’s potential for depth on moody cuts like “Preacher Man,” with throwaway atypical padding.
Just like bumping into a previous paramour, Avé had me both trepidatious yet smiling at first listen, but the bitterness was never far behind as diminishing returns, whore that she is, soon took her price. Venom Inc. is by far the best its modern namesake has to offer and the most relevant toxic tithe I’ve heard in a long while. While substantially flawed, for a time, it extended me a suitably warm welcome before my interests began to wane. Equipped with a foundation of some deceptively well-developed material, may their next foray past the gates serve to abandon all hope with added damnation. Until then, my blackened heart remains solemn and sober.