“Life Without Mantas”
Interview: Steve Fulton
Preface + Update: Curt King
It was a dark and rainy day one Friday afternoon in 1988. I was rather hastily going through my Demolish workload when I received an unexpected phone call. I did not recognize the voice on the other end but they immediately identified themselves as the National Publicity Coordinator for K-Tel Marketing. As soon as I heard the name K-Tel, my mind immediately thought of the wacky records that K-Tel used to sell on TV. I am not exactly sure what it was called but I think it was some Loony Tunes kids record or something very close. So I am thinking to myself, they must have the wrong number and or why in the world would they be calling an (unknown) underground Metal Fanzine way out in the Midwest?!
So when the voice told me the reason for calling I almost crapped my pants. You want to see if we are interested in interviewing WHO? VENOM, after a long pause -was that like a trick question or something? Hell yes we would be interesting in speaking with the UK “Black Metal Gods“! So, as this obviously came out of nowhere and at a time when I was already getting in way over my head with the zine’ (and for the fact that we were already trying to slim-down Issue #1), I was certainly not going to turn them down and miss a once in a lifetime chance to interview these legends.
So I set it up and proceeded to notify some of our staff writers to see who wanted to take on this assignment. The first to enthusiastically respond was fellow Metal fan (and up n’ coming writer) Steve Fulton, who was eager to test the “new” VENOM waters. I will be the first to admit that I am certainly no VENOM aficionado nor am I into the “Black Metal” scene but I do like a few of their songs. I like “Warhead” with its slow, evil heaviness the best.
Due to my age I kinda’ missed most of the beginning of the NWOBHM and it seems that VENOM started to get noticed towards the end of the whole NWOBHV scene as well. I am not entirely sure if most Metal fans even include VENOM in this “genre tag”, as they are a bit more “black/speed metal”, but I suppose when they were formed by Mantas in 1979 in Newcastle, England that they were already preparing for their Black Metal domination!
Fast-forward to 1987 and we have VENOM preparing to release “A Calm Before the Storm” (Filmtrax) and without original founding member/guitar Mantas as well. Reputed to be the originator of Thrash Metal, they remain one of the meanest, dirtiest and loudest Metal bands around. Following the departure of Mantas, VENOM have regrouped by adding two new dynamic and talented guitarists -one from London and one from Los Angeles.
VENOM: Cronos – Vocals & Bass, Mike Hickey – Guitars/Backing Vocals, Jimi Clare – Guitars, Keyboards/Backing Vocals and Abaddon – Evil Drums and Backing Vocals.
With VENOM it seems that you either love em’ or hate em’ with no in-between ground. I must say that these two new members have added some much-needed life and energy to the band. Gone are the older arrangements and somewhat sloppy playing of the past and in their place we find a much more focused direction and a fiery double-guitar attack. Cronos is still contributing his signature growl and powerful vox while Abaddon’s drums are as powerful as ever!
In October 1987, VENOM embarked on a sell-out tour of Japan and a major world tour is planned for 88′ taking in the U.S.A., Canada, United Kingdom and various Eastern Bloc countries.
“Calm Before the Storm” was produced by Nick Tauber (Toyah, Marillion, Deep Purple & Spear of Destiny) and features eleven tracks, all of which were written and arranged by VENOM themselves. Recently released in the UK by Filmtrax, the album seems to be rather well-received and is garnering much enthusiasm and excitement from their fans and critics alike. KERRANG Magazine gave it a KKKK1/2 and Mike Exley over at Metal Forces a glowing 95 rating (“an essential buy” - ed).
*click above to play “Gypsy”
With faster double bass drumming on tracks such as “Gypsy” and “Under a Spell” and the more melodic + catchy tracks such as “Beauty and the Beast” and the solid title track “Calm Before the Storm”, the boys should be able to shrug off a few more of the naysayers on this fine release!
It doesn’t seem like the themes and or song topics have changed much —especially in the song “Black X-Mas”,with lyrics such as:
“Black Xmas – Devils Eve
The whispers in the breeze
Black Xmas – Devil’s wine
The river bleeds in time”
click above to play “Black X-Mas”
*I especially love this song’s funny/drunken ending —complete with bottles breaking and silly banter from Cronos.
Or in the hilarious lyrics of “Muscle” with the “All I wanna’ do is open you up wide and put some great white muscle in between your thighs”! On the break we even get Cronos doing some jazz “scatting” and this number has another funny ending with a funny voice laughing and saying “she love’s me”. -CK
Steve Fulton - So, you have acquired two members, how did you go about selecting them?
CRONOS – “Well, basically what we did was, we set up some rehearsals and auditions for a lot of guitarists to see if they could sort of blow us away! We had a lot of auditions obviously and a lot of kids came down. They were all like Mantas clones though! They could play about three riffs or something and that’s all they could hit out. Jimi met Abaddon in a bar in Newcastle and over a drunken conversation Abaddon invited him to come down and have a jam if he felt like it. Jim’s a jazz man, he plays a lot of jazz riffs. Basically he can play any kind of music you can think of. So we brought him down to the studio, he set up his guitar, plugged in, and away he went! I tell you, this guy can wail.”
“All these kids come walking in who are all like James Hetfield rip-offs.” - Cronos
“Immediately me and Abaddon went whew-weeee -what is this?! This just blew Mantas away completely. We brought the American guy (Mike) over from Hollywood. You can tell by his big mouth (laughing). He came down to the rehearsals and worked straight away. I mean he had the attitude. We gave him a bottle of our local brew and got him a bit drunk and away he went. It was obvious from the start, as soon as these guys walked in that they were gonna’ get the job. We didn’t want a Mantas clone as he was influenced by the likes of Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy and bands like that. He was never influenced by bands like Metallica and all these kids come walking in who are all like James Hetfield rip-offs. We had to choose someone like Jimi (and Mike), somebody who was influenced by the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, you know – somebody who had a bit of style and class about them. So once these guys started playing, it was without a doubt, we had to keep them because of their attitude and style. The sound of these guys guitars is immense“!
SF: In what ways do you think this new album has changed from your previous efforts?
CRONOS – “Well, I think the biggest difference between this album and all the rest of the VENOM albums is the fact that what we’ve done is taken a big pile of mud and we’ve cleaned it up. We’ve got something that’s sharp, distinctive and really tightened into a serious direction. The old VENOM sound was very thick and “doomy”. You could never make out some of the things that Mantas was playing. There were some great riffs going on but you could never hear what it was all about. It was a really thick, “tech-type” of mushy sound. We were under the influence that a big, thick mushy guitar sound was a loud guitar sound. I mean, you always learn from your mistakes ya’ know. When Jimi C. and Mike H. came walking in with a real crisp sound without any distortion on it, it made VENOM louder and it even made it heavier! The whole thing is very distinctive and with a bite to it. So I would say the biggest difference between “Calm Before the Storm” and all the rest of our albums is that this album has a serious direction and it bites”!
SF: What inspired you to call the album the “Calm Before the Storm”?
CRONOS: “There were a few different reasons. It was basically down to Jimi and Mike when we recorded our rehearsals. We started playing some of the new songs and getting them worked into bits and pieces. Then we decided to learn some of the old songs and we got them to learn songs like “Seven Gates of Hell”, “Black Metal”, “Warhead” and songs like that. When we started playing some of these songs it was like, wow, this is so heavy. It actually made the old VENOM, sound calm! It made it sound weak. When you listen to the new stuff and then you put on an old album, the older material doesn’t seem to have the intensity like now. So we called the “old” sound calm and that was the basic joke within the band. We decided this new stuff has to be “the storm”. When we go into a song, you hear 1,2,3,4 and then everybody starts and it is storming! The old VENOM is the calm and this is the storm, so that’s how we came up with that.”
SF: So Jimi, how has the band and the new experiences with VENOM met your expectations?
JIMI: “Oh, it’s wilder than my greatest expectations you know! It’s like I walked in there with a piece of sh** copy guitar and now I’ve got more guitars than I can play. Everybody wants to give us guitars and stuff like that. I couldn’t really foresee what I was going into with VENOM. I didn’t know if I would be hanging out with the guys in a bar or running around in cemeteries looking for virgins to rape! And let me tell you -I’ve done both, and a lot more. There’s all kinds of stories, it’s like the big VENOM initiation, like being held from the 26th floor of a Brazilian hotel by your ankles over the balcony! And let me tell you that Brazil looks like a different country when your hanging upside down!”
“They found out I had a fear of heights and they said screw it, we’ll cure you.” – Jimi Clare
SF: I guess it kind of gives you a whole different perspective (laughing)…
JIMI: “It’s kind of like the whole rock n’ roll thing, I mean, over here (in the UK – ed), it is larger-than-life. I mean, we DO the things that people say they don’t, but they do!”
SF: Tell me about some of your touring plans to promote the new LP.
CRONOS: “As soon as we get back off of this promotional tour, we’re gonna’ go straight back into rehearsals, which we’ve already started. Then it looks like were gonna’ be starting off in Russia. We’re gonna’ be taking some warheads in Russia!! Then we will be going up into Poland and Spain. As far as America is concerned, we’re gonna’ be there at the end of June. Hopefully we’ll be down in Indiana! We wanna’ do every state that we can. We’ve talked to our agency and we just want to go everywhere to play!”
SF: I hope so too, and lastly, since you are considered the “The Black Metal” gods by some, can you please tell the Demolish readers what do you think makes VENOM different from any other Thrash or Black Metal bands?
CRONOS: “I think the big difference between VENOM and every other Thrash Metal act or Black Metal, Death and or Speed Metal is the fact that VENOM are influenced by completely different things. You take the standard Thrash Metal acts today and they all seem to be influenced by other Thrash Metal acts. I mean, it’s being said that everybody started off after VENOM started. So everybody is obviously influenced by what we are doing. We are totally influenced by the most bizarre things. Now it’s getting even more bizarre! These two new guitarists are listening to the most obscure sounds you have ever heard. Me and Abaddon have always listened to some old types of music and then last week I went out and bought the new CHER album! We get our influences from the most obscure bands and sources. We listen to absolutely everything. But when we get down to rehearsals with the new songs, it’s got to be VENOM at the end of the day. We wouldn’t try to do a cover version of “This Must be Paradise” or something and I am sure that DAVID LEE ROTH couldn’t sing BLACK Metal either!!!!”
“Last week I went out and bought the new CHER album!” - Cronos (1988)
*in order to transport you directly back to the 80′s we will continue to keep the language in the posts “present tense” even though this is 2010.
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*There has been a revolving door of members and it gets kinda’ confusing since the above post…
Basically, their fifth LP Calm Before the Storm was not very successful [career-wise] and after they completed their tours, they broke up. Cronos and the two “new” guitar players decided to move on and formed a new band called CRONOS. Now being “drummer-less”, they recruited Chris Patterson to complete their lineup and released Dancing in the Fire in 90′ and also Rock n’ Roll Disease in 91′.
Reportedly a 3rd album was recorded but was never released.
Meanwhile, drummer Abaddon (Anthony Bray) was left all by his lonesome and was somehow able talk Music For Nations into a deal to put out a another new VENOM album via Under One Flag. Abaddon hooked up with various Atomkraft members and recorded Prime Evil in 89′, Tear Your Soul Apart in 90′, Temples of Ice in 91′ and The Waste Lands in 92′. As far as I know, unfortunately none of these were commercial successful and basically their label vowed to never release anymore VENOM albums!
Of course Abaddon didn’t have any problem releasing various compilations and live albums through 1996.
In 95′ the classic VENOM lineup was reunited and they played the headlining spot at the Waldrock Fest. and put out an (EP) and then another LP in 97′ and one in 2000 through SPV Records. And then finally Hell was released in 2008 with a different lineup.
For all rabid VENOM fans check out their 4-disc box set, which includes all of their best songs with a bunch of live stuff, demos etc.
For all the really anal Black, Death, Thrash, Power, Speed Metal fans check out their complete biography and history.
*Venom Update art and black faces from KERRANG! & Update info partially compiled from VENOM Wiki