While the actual Venom continue under the leadership of infamous bassist/vocalist Conrad ‘Cronos’ Lant, the return of the band’s classic guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Tony ‘Abaddon’ Bray as Venom Inc. has caused quite a stir. Surely two thirds of the band’s massively influential and legendary formation is better than one? And to cap it all off, the band has been rounded out appropriately and authentically with Prime Evil-era bassist/vocalist Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan. It’s an exciting unit and the band has been going down a storm touring a classic Venom set. But playing live oldies is a no-brainer. Now the real test comes as the band offer up their first new material with their debut album Avé.
Venom Inc. perform like heroic metal veterans throughout. Mantas in particularly impressive form, peeling out genuinely thrilling guitar solos like it’s a piece of piss. They’re too seasoned to play with the filthy, bulldozer energy of old but as gutsy, trad metal goes much of this is hard to beat. It’s also hard to stick with. Songs like Avé Satanas and Preacher Man are average songs stretched way beyond their breaking point and, while it works better as an album track than as a single, Dein Fleisch causes a hefty lull at a crucial point.
With those three totally removed Avé could have been easily and massively improved, while coming in at the golden running time of 40min too. Ace biker metal tracks like Forged In Hell and The Evil Dead would get old heads banging again and raging thrashers like Metal We Bleed and Time To Die would give young Venom-worshipping upstarts like Midnight a run for their money too. But, as a complete listening experience, Avé is overlong, uneven and frustrating: the two thirds of Venom Inc. proving that it is possible to ‘ave too much of a good thing.
The last time I encountered the UK’s Formicarius was back in December when they contributed a track Lake of the Dead to the excellent compilation Speed Kills VII. Back then I called them “very promising” and I’m glad to report that, with Black Mass Ritual, they have delivered on that promise and then some.
Formicarius go medievil on your ass with their debut album, dishing out Cradle of Filth-style symphonic metal with power metal exuberance. The whirling atmosphere, rib-cracking riffs and exotic solos sound like Mustaine and Friedman jamming with Emperor, the potent speed metal velocity, galloping bass and catchy choruses bring to mind early Helloween and there’s a folky bent to the riffs and instrumentation that reminds me of the classic Skyclad albums.
All the performances are outstanding, from Lord Saunders’ articulate Abbath-esque croak to Morath’s grand and eloquent keyboard embellishments and solos (check out the excellent outro piano on Overlord, a standout moment). The songwriting is also uniformly excellent. An overly jaunty riff in Abhorrent Feast of Minds is the only thing close to a mis-step and it’s soon forgiven as Master of Past and Present closes the album on a dark, dramatic high.
It’s a fantastic debut: rampaging, grand black metal with a healthy dose of epic tradition and fearless creativity. In a year where I’ve been mainly knocked out by death metal albums, Formicarius have struck a decisive blow for black metal. And they’ve done it with an album that is all kinds of metal fun for all kinds of metal fans. The Black Mass Ritual begins on July 21st, don’t miss out.
Venom Inc. have announced that they will release their debut album Avé on August 11th 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. In case you need a catch-up, Venom Inc. features two original members of Venom (guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Anthony ‘Abaddon’ Bray) along with vocalist/bassist Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan. The trio released three albums together as Venom in the late 80s/early 90s, most notably the fantastic and overlooked Prime Evil.
Although original bassist/vocalist Cronos currently performs and records under the Venom name, these three ex-members have been touring a classic Venom set under the name Venom Inc. since 2015. Now they have announced this album of new material and released a NSFW video for their new song Dein Fleisch.
It’s not the kind of old-school metal I was hoping for from them. Its down-tuned chugging and theatrical vocals are more Rammstein than Motörhead. It’s also a bit too slick and tight for my liking. I prefer my Venom out-of-control and filthy! If the rest of the album is more reminiscent of classic Venom then this might make for an interesting odd-one-out song. But if the rest of the album is like this then I’ll probably ‘ave to pass. What do you reckon?
I don’t normally get all that excited about covers EPs (Danzig excepted) but Thus Defiled’s A Return To The Shadows is a total riot. The release marks the UK black metallers’ 25th year in action and sadly, also their last. The quality-over-quantity band hasn’t exactly been prolific during that quarter century so the chance to hear some new recordings is hugely welcome.
The main attraction is the new track Armagedda In Rapture and it’s a scorcher. The impressive production is simultaneously clinical and savage. It’s pure riff destruction with fantastic demonic vocals and it’s easily the best black metal track I’ve heard this year so far. The kind of song that’s so awesome it just makes you laugh the first time you hear it.
The rest of A Return To The Shadows is taken up by cover versions and, interestingly, the band opted to only cover non-black metal material. It turns out to be a great call as the band are able to put their own spin on a batch of songs that less daring souls would consider unfuckwithable.
They scythe and scream their way through Death’s Evil Dead and Metallica’s Creeping Death. Impossible to top such classic tracks but they inject so much energy and spark into them that the effect is like hearing the songs for the first time. You can’t ask for more than that.
Next up is a bewitching version of Morbid Angel’s Demon Seed and as an extra bonus they’ve got Morbid Angel/Nocturnus legend Mike Browning adding superb ominous and cultish vocals to another belter of a track. The cover of W.A.S.P’s Hellion that closes is the weakest here, a shade lost under the windy howls of vocalist Paul C, but with repeat listens it starts to make more and more sense. The riffs are undeniable and a black metal band that covers W.A.S.P. deserves instant HMO bonus points.
It’s a brilliant EP. Tons of fun and if it wasn’t digital I’d have probably worn it out by now. Fans of extreme metal should not miss out on this download-only release (available here). All the band ask is that you donate anything you can spare to the Chuck Schuldiner-approved musician’s charity Sweet Relief. It’s a great gesture and, with the band deciding to call it day and slink off into the shadows, a great way for them to close out an impressive career of evil.
With its stunning artwork and a concept covering themes of power, avarice and corruption, Craven Idol’s The Shackles Of Mammon promises to be a scathing, angry and cohesive statement. And for the first four tracks Craven Idol certainly sound spitting mad. Pyromancer and A Ripping Strike are absolutely raging black thrash of the old Kreator/Destruction variety, Black Flame Divination is awesome Venom-style hooliganism and The Trudge is epic Bathory-worship. But cohesion proves to be a problem as the rumbling Dashed To Death and Mammon Est prove largely forgettable and, although they are decent enough tracks, Hunger and the doomy album-closer Tottering Cities Of Men struggle to regain the listeners attention. Fans of crusty venomous metal will find lots to like here but the album frustratingly fails to capitalise on the in-your-face intensity of its first half. Overall, The Shackles Of Mammon scrapes above average but there’s a shitload of promise here if the band can deliver with more consistency.
This has become a surprise favourite in recent weeks. I had suspected it would be a middling retro genre effort but Vampire have totally surpassed my expectations with their second album With Primeval Force. It’s not original and doesn’t linger in the mind after listening so it doesn’t quite have the makings of a classic… but it’s still one of most enjoyable albums I’ve heard so far this year. And if the band continues in this promising vein, hellish greatness awaits. The ghoulish vocals and melodic riffs bring to mind Tribulation’s album from last year, the myth and magic vibe recalls Dissection and the savage thrash and bash reminds me of Teutonic terrors like Kreator. In fact, if you thought Kreator’s Gods Of Violence album from earlier in the year was a shade too polished then this will be right up your street.
I’d like to calm the jets on the spending after my Record Store Day extravaganza but let’s take a look at today’s new releases and see if that’s likely to happen. The answer is: probably not.
Voivod – Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross (Reissues)
Wouldn’t normally kick off with reissues but I’m pretty excited about these. And no need to worry about splashing the cash here because I’ve paid for them already via the Pledge campaign (now closed). Don’t worry if you missed out though, because these are now on general sale. Vinyl versions or hugely-expanded deluxe 2CD/DVD sets with bonus tracks and live footage aplenty. Prices look very reasonable for the deluxe versions and all of these have been out-of-print for donkeys so reissues are overdue and welcome.
(And Noise Records have just announced another pledge campaign too. This time for Kreator with reissues of their first four albums Endless Pain, Pleasure To Kill, Extreme Aggression and Terrible Certainty. They aren’t as extras-laden as the Voivod reissues and none of the albums are especially hard to find either but Extreme Aggression and Terrible Certainty come with bonus discs and there’s the obligatory liner notes, vinyl editions and signed copies etc…)
Skyclad – Forward Into The Past
These innovative folk metallers have been a huge, essential part of my musical upbringing but since the split with frontman Martin Walkyier I’ve not really paid much attention to their movements. I did check out their last album In The… All Together and found it was a bit mixed so I’m not hugely excited about this. But they’re still enough of a name for me to at least check it out online. And the return of classic-era guitarist Dave Pugh is appealing too.
Witchfynde – Divine Victims (Box Set)
The reissues keep on coming… There’s been a lot of welcome NWOBHM reissues lately (Samson, Holocaust, Savage all spring to mind) and here’s another. This time Witchfynde get the same box set treatment that Samson enjoyed from Hear No Evil Recordings. I don’t think any of these albums are as difficult to find as the Samson ones were but it’s still a great value set: three albums with bonus tracks and a booklet from NWOBHM expert John Tucker. I’ll be buying this at some point.
Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)
The guys at Metal Blade follow up last year’s tasty reissue of Paradise Lost with another Cirith Ungol deluxe. This time it’s the band’s second album King Of The Dead, here expanded with live tracks and a live DVD or you can get a vinyl edition if you prefer (although it was reissued on vinyl a while back already). The CD/DVD edition looks like a very cool set though. I approve.
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian Live
Prog-metallers Fates Warning release this weeks obligatory live set. Their performances celebrating the 30th anniversary of the classic album getting a release in various formats. The jewel in the crown being the 4CD/DVD/BR set that has their two festival appearances included.
Elsewhere, the River Runs Red line-up of Life Of Agony return with A Place Where There’s No More Pain. Sounds like decent, heavy alternative rock for people that like that kind of thing. There’s more NWOBHM from Cloven Hoof with Who Mourns For The Morning Star. They’re a band I don’t know anything about but the new songs I heard sounded fun! And last, but not least, we have American hardcore terrors Terror with their intriguing new EP The Walls Will Fall.
And that’s about the lot for me. This week is more about the reissues for me but there’s definitely some intrigue among the new albums too. Nothing I’d run out and buy but definitely stuff that I’ll check out online. Let me know what you think about this week’s offerings. Anything you’re excited about that isn’t here? Any startling omissions? Let me know and, until next time… happy hunting.