For diehard fans of a veteran band, there are few things more demoralizing than when the classic lineup gets fractured, due to in-fighting or other circumstances, leading to two (or more) versions of the band on the touring circuit. It happened with Black Flag, Saxon, Sweet, LA Guns and Queensryche, and that’s exactly what’s going on with English black metal pioneers Venom.
With some of these bands, the matter goes to court, but in Venom's case, two versions are allowed to coexist. This can cause, at best, confusion, and at worst, fans feeling forced to pick a side. In Venom's case, in one corner you have a band called Venom led by classic-era singer Cronos. In the other, you have Venom Inc. (officially the rather overblown Venom Inc. Iron and Steel, but nobody uses that name). The latter features original guitarist Jeff "Mantas" Dunn and drummer and Anthony "Abaddon" Bray, with early 1990s-era singer The Demolition Man back on the mic. It’s an odd situation, of which Mantas is well aware.
“To be perfectly honest, we’re letting the fans decide,” Mantas says. “There are a few hardcore Cronos fans, but I think every little battle that we have, we’re winning. Everybody that we meet after the show say that we are the true Venom, this is what they’ve been waiting for. Everybody who I have spoken to who has seen the other version basically said that the heart, the soul and the spirit of Venom is with us.”
Perhaps Mantas is right, although Cronos has said similar things to the press recently. After all, there’s no love lost between the original members and, according to Mantas, there never really was.
“When the success of Venom hit, [Cronos] changed completely,” Mantas says. “There was a massive shift in personality. Both times that I’ve walked away from Venom, it hasn’t been because of musical differences or finances or anything like that—it was just because it’s too difficult. I can’t put up with that stuff, where you don’t know what his personality’s going to be from one day to the next. There’s never been a massive camaraderie between the three original members.”
Venom formed in Newcastle, England, in 1979 and, while the lineup took a short while to settle, the core trio of Cronos (real name Conrad Lant), Mantas and Abaddon forged ahead from 1981, embodying a shared love of Black Sabbath’s dark imagery, Kiss’s theatricality and the driving rock of bands like Queen, the Who and Deep Purple.
Known for their Satanic lyrics and image, the band has admitted on numerous occasions that they were playing the devil-worship card for laughs—although numerous black metal bands who have professed a love for Venom have taken it far more seriously. Albums like Welcome to Hell and Black Metal were raw and at times gloriously silly, but also extremely heavy and strangely melodic.
Venom Inc. will be performing much of that classic material on tour and they recently played a well-received first date in Atlanta.
“It’s a lot of the fucking classics,” Mantas says. “We have so much material that we want to do. We want to do a lot more from Demolition Man’s era. People have been asking for it. It’ll all get added in but the thing is, with this band, we’ve never actually rehearsed. I live in Portugal, and Abaddon and Demolition Man live at the opposite ends of England, so we never get the chance to rehearse. It’ll all come together.”
Despite the fact that Venom Inc. was originally supposed to be a one-off thing, there's a new album currently in the writing stage to be finished and released after the tour.
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“Looking at the new album, we’re going to go right back to basics,” Mantas says. “It’s going to be fucking rock and roll, and what Venom was all about. We’re not planning to look at the first few albums and say that we need a song like ‘Welcome to Hell’ or ‘Countess Bathory.’ We’re just going to do what we did in the early days, and that’s strip everything back and just write. There are couple of songs in the finishing stage, and I think everybody’s going to like it. I think they’re gonna get a fucking shock—let’s put it that way.”
So that’s where we’re at. Venom Inc. is touring and getting a great reception from crowds, and there’s an album on the way. Meanwhile, the other Venom is likely doing pretty much the same thing. While a reunion is never impossible (just look at Guns N’ Roses), it seems a long way off right now.
“Cronos is doing what he does,” Mantas says. “The last few interviews I’ve seen, all he does is attack us in the press and call us names, and he’s got his little minions, his guitarist, calling us a pale imitation, and it’s like, actually, you’re playing my parts and Abaddon’s parts. So who’s the fucking tribute band around here? But we don’t want to get into that. Like I say, we’re letting the fans decide. At the moment, the fans are deciding firmly in our favor. That’s great. It shows a hell of a lot of loyalty, and I have the utmost respect and thanks.”
Venom Inc. plays with Necrophagia, Call of the Void and Weaponizer at 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 14, at the Gothic Theatre; 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood; 303-789-9206; $18-$25.