Thursday, November 01, 2012

Venom: Black Metal (1982)

30th Anniversary
Motion for Reconsideration

Venom is one of the most influential metal bands in the genre’s history, only slightly less important than Black Sabbath and Motörhead. I don’t believe that’s a controversial statement. Venom took the simplicity of both of their forebears to its logical extreme, playing music and putting out albums while barely knowing how to play their instruments. They combined Sabbath’s preoccupation with the occult and Motörhead’s speed and attitude, taking on an evil persona themselves.

The legendary Black Metal came out 30 years ago today. All of their first three records are equally important, but only Black Metal had a new genre named for it. That’s not to say it’s actually a black metal record, because it’s not. I believe that is a controversial statement, but about half of you would likely agree. The other controversial statement I’m going to make is, overall, the record isn’t that great.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing compares to the pure black magick that happened when the classic Venom lineup was at their best. Riffs like “Don’t Burn the Witch” and hooks like “To Hell and Back” are proof enough. “Countess Bathory” is so incredible it should be in any legitimate list of the 10 best metal songs of all time. But like any trailblazers, they made some serious missteps, only some of them endearing.

The worst of these missteps is "Teacher's Pet." Everything about the band and the record takes on this completely evil Halloween kind of mentality, except this one song that goes in a Van Halen direction. "Sacrifice" is nearly as bad. I'm the 1996 Pierce County Spelling Bee champion, and even I think spelling out a word in a song is a terrible idea. It's only worked twice, but I can't figure out what set the Queen of Soul and King Diamond apart. Less distracting is the pointless stereo meandering of the solos in the doomy "Buried Alive." But like I've said before, sometimes quirks and imperfections can make a record better, and for just one example of that you can check the unstable tempos on . . . well, just about every song.

Back to genre. Nothing about Venom sounds anything like black metal. The high-speed NWOBHM riffs don't have anything in common with A Blaze in the Northern Sky. There's no tremolo picking, no blast beats, and the vocals are growled, not shrieked or rasped. This isn't to say they didn't inspire the bands who started black metal. The guys in Sweden and Norway in the late 80's and early 90's saw something there. You didn't have to have great sound or know how to play your instruments. You just had to have the right drive and attitude, and do something extreme.

In the end, being influential doesn't make it a great album. Black Metal is very hit-and-miss. It is absolutely essential, but listening to the whole thing is not.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Buy Black Metal


  1. I've honestly always disliked this record. I understand its importance and I'm glad it was made, but I can't bring myself to sit through it.

  2. I prefer Welcome to Hell personally.

  3. Arriving a bit late to the party here but I agree 100% with your review. 'Teacher's Pet' has always annoyed me and as a youngster listening to Venom it destroyed the "mystique" of the band.

    'Welcome To Hell' all the way.

    I would also put forward a case for W.A.S.P.'s 'L.O.V.E. Machine' as a song where spelling out a word worked well.