Two weeks in a row for debut albums – this week it’s a first offering from a band that would cast a wide influence on what would come to be known as extreme metal. While much of early 1980’s England was in the midst of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, one band would take noise, speed and Satan to a different level.
Venom – Welcome To Hell
Released December 1981 via Neat and Combat Records
My Favorite Tracks – In League With Satan, Live Like An Angel, Welcome To Hell
Venom was formed when the three core members eventually came together out of the ashes of other bands. Conrad Lant would handle bass and vocals, Jeff Dunn tackled guitar and Tony Bray sat on the drum throne. The three would choose stage names – Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon, and be more known by those names in the pre-Internet era. Much of this first album was composed of tunes that Cronos and Mantas each had worked up in some stage and brought to their new band’s sessions.
There were two other members of Venom early on, but both Alan Winston and Clive Archer would leave the group before the recording of the album.
Venom would record their early demos at Impulse Studios in the Newcastle area, where Cronos had a job and traded work for Venom’s studio time. They would land a record deal with Neat, a British label who also happened to own Impulse Studio. Venom recorded the album proper in a few days, and Neat released the record after a few more days and not much in the way of mixing and mastering. This raw, unpolished sound was not entirely intentional on the band’s part but would wind up being a key point of influence on the later black metal movement.
Venom would use overt Satanic imagery and lyrical fare as an attention getter, but would also fully commit to the gag in a way that pushed beyond the “quasi-satanism” of Black Sabbath and earlier acts. The band’s interest in Satanism and the occult would play into the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and even later land the group a coveted spot on the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen list. (I’ve covered the list in the past here).
Today’s album holds 11 tracks with a running time near 40 minutes. There won’t be much in the way of technical proficiency to discuss, but a lot of ripping through songs about evil and lust and the influence many would bear later on the metal scene.
Sons Of Satan
It’s fair to call this a collision of musical parts being played together at once as opposed to a cohesive song. The lyrics implore the righteous youth to abandon their path and join the satanic Venom legions. And perhaps against the odds, Venom would succeed in their dark recruiting mission.
Welcome To Hell
The title track is a much more put-together affair than the opener, though still swamped in the lo-fi buzz that would come to be a defining point of the band. The lyrics are a crude pounding through the glorification of Hell and the end of the world, with a spoken word portion of Psalm 23 from the Bible thrown in because why not.
While the title implies a mental disorder of some kind, the song is about a serial killer. It’s a pretty good song though it’s hard to ignore the awful drum sound here, certainly a case of something that would have sounded better with more work in the studio.
Mayhem With Mercy
A brief instrumental that isn’t of note itself. The Norwegian black metal band Mayhem would name themselves from this track and then go on to live in infamy in the 1990’s.
A nice song about a girl who entices the song’s narrator, though the girl is of course evil and all that. The lo-fi production works pretty well here. It is worth mentioning that hair metal act Poison did NOT name themselves after this track.
Live Like An Angel
A very nice song here that would be an early influence on thrash metal. This song would be bundled with In League With Satan for release as a double A-side single. This did illustrate that Venom’s primitive sound was down more to studio limitations than musical effort.
All hell breaks loose on this, one of the most celebrated tracks from the album. So lo-fi it can almost hurt to listen to, but also a fantastic slab of sick heavy metal. It’s pretty easy to find a cover version of this song on any number of underground metal bands’ albums.
One Thousand Days In Sodom
Bit of a concept piece here, I guess, as Venom explores the sin and decay of the city of Sodom, as told in the Bible. It should be no shock that Venom’s recounting of the story does not align with Christian teachings. A very nice riff here and some pretty well-done songcraft. It is widely reported that the German thrash band Sodom named themselves from this song, though I can’t locate actual confirmation of that tidbit.
In keeping with the lyrical themes that piss off the “moral majority,” we now have a song about drug use. Angel dust is the common street name for PCP, which is honestly a pretty messed up drug. While the song is clearly glorifying drug use, I don’t recall that the members of Venom were particularly taken with drugs, this is just another character piece.
In League With Satan
We are now at what is largely considered the highlight of the record. In keeping with actually doing everything that other bands were incorrectly accused of, the beginning features a backwards-recorded Satanic message. And the main lyrics of the song have the similar Satanic messages said normally. This is a very nice and evil sounding song that hypnotically marches through its dark message and generates the kind of sound that other metal bands would strive for.
Red Light Fever
The album closes with a savage rip through a song that is not about running red lights in traffic, but rather the seedy red light districts of infamy. While Cronos finds himself a good time gal, he realizes that she’s just doing her job and his moment of glory is just a moment.
Welcome To Hell was the start of a sound and scene that would not light up mainstream sales charts but would spread a wide influence across what would become new strains of heavy metal – not only ignoring the criticisms of theme and imagery, but embracing those themes. Venom’s second album Black Metal would give a name to the most infamous of these subgenres of extreme metal, and Venom’s honestly unintentional lo-fi sound would shape the early recordings of that movement.
Venom would gain notoriety for their sound and antics, but were outpaced by the movements of other metal bands. By the end of the 1980’s thrash metal was king and several versions of extreme metal were entering their prime years. Venom themselves would go through a series of line-up changes and dramas, though they are still active with Cronos being the sole original member and have released 15 studio albums with a variety of line-ups over the years.
Venom and Welcome To Hell are viewed in a positive light in terms of influence and legacy, though in the realm of sound they aren’t particularly noteworthy among critics. Yes, the album does sound like shit. Listening closely today it’s a bit of a slog to get through, though for me personally there are worthy songs under the layers of badly done studio work. But I imagine this was a different thing to hear in the early 80’s when the average listener didn’t have the context to understand recording techniques – this sounded pure evil.
At the end of the day, even if it sounds like a bad attempt at recording, the influence of Welcome To Hell far exceeds any technical limitations. For all of the finger wagging at heavy metal and its supposed immorality, Venom were actually providing that unironically. In the family tree of extreme metal, this is the trunk.