Venom Relish Their Lack of Depth on From the Very Depths

  • Sammy O'Hagar

You’d be in deeper denial than Marcus Bachmann to say that a large part of metal’s appeal is its embrace of arrested development. You can grasp for as many excuses as you like—its loose relation to noise music, its Wagnerian dynamics, or enjoying it condescendingly as outsider art—but if you really like metal, it pulls you back to being an insecure teenager looking for something to make you feel powerful (not that I’m projecting or anything…) When metal matures, it gets darker, not more respectable. It gave up on respectability soon after its inception and Lester Bangs’ diarrheal dismissal of it. Its appeal is simple but incredibly profound: a longing for strength, revenge, and/or dominance, all as a means of catharsis. I’m not saying that metal can’t be as well-constructed and secretly respectable as any Radiohead or TV on the Radio record, but that metal’s primary purpose is tickling a very primal fancy. And few bands capture that as fully as Venom.

Embracing a literal caveman aesthetic while Manowar were pumping gas in New Jersey and fusing punk and metal while Lars Ulrich was failing at tennis, you can draw a pretty straight line from Welcome to Hell and Black Metal to modern metal’s most barbaric and simplistic excellence. That being said, it’s hard to get lightning to strike more than twice, and Venom didn’t go on to be as necessary as Celtic Frost or (obviously) Motörhead.  So you could excuse my lack of enthusiasm before hearing From the Very Depths, their latest. And you could blame my low expectations for some latter-day Neanderthal metallers possibly cashing in on a storied legacy, but, holy shit, Venom can still kick a fuckton of ass.

Of course, guys who’ve been following Venom for years will be quick to point out that Venom never stopped kicking a fuckton of ass. And while that might be true, From the Very Depths is cut above their recent output. The riffs and the snarl are there, sure, but there’s a confidence and urgency behind it that the countless bands who’ve ripped off Venom since before I was born would have to work pretty fucking hard to conjure. The title track and first proper song is simple-enough punky metal, but what elevates it above a bloodless rehash is the heft behind it: the chunky chords hit hard as fuck, the drums perfectly frame everything while still providing a tangible groove, and Cronos… oh, Cronos. Grizzled old Cronos has the same amount of charm as ridiculous young Cronos, just broadcast from a different place. It’s one thing for a band like Venom to still sound good at this point in their career, but it’s another to have them be, well, so thoroughly Venom.

The rest of Depths predictably follows suit: from the glorious d-beats that propel “The Death of Rock & Roll,” to the doomy stomp of “Smoke” and “Evil Law” and mid-paced asskickers like “Stigmata Satanas” or “Wings of Valkyrie,” the band sound simultaneously fresh and seasoned. Cronos is still writing the same sort of metal clichés that gave him his start, but frankly, anything else would be out of place. Nothing on From the Very Depths sounds forced or pretentious. We can snicker all we want at Cronos’ status as metal’s Tommy Wiseau, but unlike that unflattering point of comparison, he’s capable of putting out something great. Even now. From the Very Depths won’t change the way you look at metal, but it will remind you why it’s so great to begin with. If Venom can’t put an unironic smile on your face, I don’t know what to tell you. Well, aside from, “Music didn’t start with Upon a Burning Body.”

Venom’s From the Very Depths comes out January 27 on Spinefarm. You can listen to the track “Long Haired Punks” here and pre-order the album here.

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