Nov 012012

I learned through a post this morning by Full Metal Attorney that today — November 1 — is the 30th anniversary of the release of Black Metal by Venom. Here’s my own story about discovering the album.

I came to Black Metal very late in my education as a metalhead — as in about four years ago. I had only recently started listening seriously to black metal (the music genre, not the album), after having failed to appreciate the music when I first dabbled in it. At some point during my black metal explorations, I learned that the roots of the genre name could be traced back to Venom’s 1982 album.

So I listened to the album, and became confused — because it didn’t sound much like the black metal bands whose music I was exploring at the time — bands such as Immortal, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Darkthrone, Satyricon, and Rotting Christ. It was rough and raw and filthy enough, but much of it sounded like a mix of speed metal and punk with sneering growly vocals, the kind of music that seemed more connected to the development of thrash and more in line with Motörhead-style heavy metal, or even Morbid Angel-style death metal, than what I thought of at the time as “black metal”. I was missing the connection.

I also didn’t love the album. I tend to agree with Full Metal Attorney’s assessment — that it’s a real hit-and-miss affair. I’m sure my reaction was influenced by the fact that I was hearing the album so long after it made its early mark, but a lot of it sounded cheesy as hell, even annoying. As Full Metal Attorney writes in his post, “It is absolutely essential, but listening to the whole thing is not”:

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.”

So how did this album come to lend its name to, and perhaps inspire, an entire genre of music most of which sounds nothing like it? You could point to the occult-themed lyrics and the band’s general attitude and style, though it seems even Venom hardly took any of that seriously. Beyond that, to get the answer I think I would need to do some actual . . . research. Or maybe one of you readers could just tell me?

I also encourage you guys to leave some comments about how and when (or if) you discovered this album and what you think of it.

Check out FMA’s entire post about Black Metal here. And this is a stream of the whole album, which I listened to again while writing this post, along with an index to the songs below the player:


Side A (“Black”)
1. “Black Metal” 00:00
2. “To Hell and Back” 03:45
3. “Buried Alive” 06:46
4. “Raise the Dead” 11:04
5. “Teachers’ Pet” 13:45

Side B (“Metal”)
6. “Leave Me in Hell” 18:31
7. “Sacrifice” 22:07
8. “Heaven’s on Fire” 26:38
9. “Countess Bathory” 30:21
10. “Don’t Burn the Witch” 34:09
11. “At War with Satan (preview)” 37:18

  5 Responses to “VENOM: “BLACK METAL” TURNS 30”

  1. Well, there’s a lot in Black Metal that precipitated BM. You’re right, the style and lyrics are a HUGE part of it. But they’re not all.

    The most important thing is the DIY aspect–Venom were NOT good musicians. Even their closest comparisons in terms of composition–motorhead–were spectacular rhythm players. In an era where metal was synonymous with excellent musicianship, they were the first metal band made of bad musicians that wrote good songs (that sentiment describes 90% of the norwegian attack). They gave kids in the middle of nwoehre the hope to say ‘if they can do it, so can i.’ thirty years later, bedroom black metal is a HUGE subgenre.

    The other aspect to remember, is that all the venom songs that matter–thegood ones–were about raw aggression and forward momentum. You cut out Teacher’s Pet and the bad songs, and Black Metal is jsut 20 minutes of ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK. And that take-no-prisoners attitude is what spurred black metal on. Blast beats, condensed chords, no hooks, no choruses, jsut songs in a straight fucking line. That’s Mayhem. that’s Darkthrone.

  2. It’s a situation of your “favorite band’s favorite band.” Venom was very inspirational to the really early black metal bands like Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Bathory. The Norwegian explosion is usually called 2nd-wave black metal for that reason. What’s also interesting is if you listen to certain early Marduk and Darkthrone albums, they were playing a more death-metal (ish) style!

    • Even Ihsahn from Emperor started off playing death metal in the early Thou Shalt Suffer years (Ihsahn later used that name to release neo-classical/ambient music).

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