To today’s listener, Venom’s early work on 1981’s Welcome To Hell and 1982’s Black Metal may sound surprisingly benign, but on release this was trailblazing music that would go on to inform the direction extreme metal would take for the next ten years and beyond. The unholy racket which spewed forth from their records was anything but technically refined, but there was something thrillingly unique about a band who defied convention and embraced imagery and an attitude flawlessly designed to outrage the moral majority. Venom didn’t care if you hated them; in fact, they encouraged it. Via the most uncompromisingly nihilistic music the world had ever heard, their influence was cataclysmic. They christened a sub-genre (Black Metal), fathered another (Thrash Metal) and managed to inspire thousands of bands to give that ‘music’ thing a go - even if they lacked the talent generally perceived necessary to succeed.
In a rare interview to discuss their new album From The Very Depths, we spoke to Venom’s frontman Cronos via phone – and were completely unsurprised to learn that his phone number contains the digits ‘666’.
Can you tell me about the process of working on the new album, From The Very Depths?
It was the same shit, really. It’s cool working with Dante and Rage, they’re enthusiastic as fuck and want to get stuck in and write cool stuff. It’s good to have people in the band who are actually in the band for the fucking right reasons and want to create metal.
When and how did the decision come about to start working on a new album?
Well we don’t sort of sit down and say “It’s time to write now”, we just write constantly until we have an album. I’ve heard stories of bands back in the day who were like “Okay, it’s time to go into the studio to write an album”, then they would sit in there and scratch their fucking heads and not have a clue.
As a musician, I’ve always come up with ideas non-stop. I don’t know where the inspiration comes from. I suppose if you like welding pipes together, you become a fucking plumber. It all just comes from everyday life. I’m not one of these people who reads a book and says “Oh I’m gonna write a song about that book”.
Can you tell me about Venom’s decision to move away from The New Wave of British Heavy Metal early on? Was it a conscious move or just a natural evolution?
It was entertainment for the right reasons. We looked at all the bands that influenced us, but rather than trying to copy them we looked at what they weren’t doing. We weren’t trying to be the next Judas Priest or the next fucking Deep Purple; we wanted to be well away from that shit. Once you start becoming a replica of something else it becomes so fucking piss thin.
We looked at KISS and would hear all this stuff about their amazing pyro, but when I saw it I was well unimpressed by what I’d consider to be children’s party fire crackers. We’d go and see fucking Motorhead and think ‘Oh, I thought this was going to be louder’. We’d listen to Black Sabbath albums and think ‘I thought these guys were supposed to be scary?’. It was just a case of putting all the things we saw missing from their music into our music.
Our bombs literally blow the stage up, and we do turn it up to 11. Our music is pushing forward lyrically and making people uncomfortable. We sing about killing babies, because horror movies don’t hold back. They’re there to shock you and people take it for what it is. They don’t think those actors then go running around killing people in real life, because they’re fucking acting for entertainment. And that’s what we do in music - it’s just that for some reason people still think if you’re a musician you must really do it the things you sing about, which I’ve never understood.
Music at that time, especially rock music, was fucking lame - all these fucking lipstick bands coming out with fucking socks down their pants. It was just a disgusting era in music, so it was really time to give the whole thing a kick up the butt, you know? None of the other bands could follow us. They didn’t understand what we were doing or how we were doing it and it took a few good years before they started to get the idea. That’s when we started to see the likes of Metallica and Slayer coming out, and other bands that were on the money and got where we were coming from.
We showed people that you didn’t have to go to London and be in the cities to be in this industry, and you didn’t have to be technically brilliant or put a lot of hard work into it. A lot of our success was just being in the right place at the right time. Venom got a great deal of jealousy for that from guys who didn’t understand how, if they played like Deep Purple, they weren’t as big as Deep Purple. But it was blatantly obvious to us that they weren’t successful because nobody wanted to hear another second rate Deep Purple.
What did you think of the bands who spawned from the concept of Black Metal - especially the Scandinavian acts who took the genre to its most literal extent, burning churches and murdering one another?
I’m sure they regret all that big time now (laughs). Ah, they were just young kids and they did what they did. We always said ‘We’re entertainers and we’re here to put on a show’. If you come to a Venom show, it’s because you don’t want to think about your mortgage or your screaming kids. You want to be transported by the music and entertained… to get away from your depressing life, if that’s what it is. I just think with Venom being such a one off in 1979 in England, no one came anywhere near what we did and therefore we were totally unique. Whereas, with the Scandinavian thing, there were several bands all doing the same thing. There was competition to be the biggest and the baddest, so they started getting into fights with one another and it all went wrong. Such a shame.
I wanted to talk about some of Venom’s artwork over the years. How do you decide on the artwork that will accompany each release?
I have artwork sent to me constantly by fans. We get things coming in from all over the place - Greece, Italy, fucking everywhere you can imagine. Back in the day when we had the emblematic artwork on Welcome to Hell and Black Metal, the purpose was to go with the logo for the album. Once we knew we’d established that, we were able to have a bit more fun and aim for a little more depth with the artwork.
Album art can tell a story just as well as the album songs, and some of the guys out there are incredible storytellers. I designed those original covers, but that’s the extent of my skills. I’m not going to be fucking arrogant and say “Oh, I have to do all of the covers now”. I bow down to a superior because I want a great album cover. I don’t want my album cover, I want a great album cover - and when you’ve got artists stepping forward who have such incredible skills, it’s a win for everyone. I get a great cover, those guys get paid and they get to stick it in their resume. Then maybe somewhere down the line their other work will sell and they can pay their mortgage and put some food in their mouths. I’m all about that. Some of these young kids, the way they use the computer technology to create artwork… Fucking hell, it’s just so far beyond the art school I went to. We used paint brushes and canvases.
Do you still have those original drawings and designs for Welcome to Hell and Black Metal?
I’ve kept everything. I still do a lot of original artwork these days too. I created the back sleeve artwork for From The Very Depths with the skull and the hand, but to me it’s more than an album cover. I create artwork for recreational purposes now - I’m starting to get used to this computer artwork technology, but I haven’t completely mastered it yet.
Were there any other designs that you might have gone with for Welcome to Hell or Black Metal?
Oh, I had hundreds of different designs to choose from for the early albums. The cover of Welcome to Hell is based on the Sigil of Baphomet, which was designed by Aleister Crowley. I saw it in much the same way that the Church sees the crucifix - it’s a very standard shape, yet every church has their own design. I looked at it like ‘This design is associated with the dark arts, Satanism and black magic, so I want to create Venom’s Sigil of Baphomet’.
The actual Crowley design is used by The Church of Satan, so when the new wave of Norwegian Black Metal bands that came about in the nineties chose using the actual Sigil of Baphomet, I kind of thought was a little bit weird and unimaginative. They should have created their own.
If you put Sigil of Baphomet into Google images you’ll see that plenty of people have created their own versions of it – there are literally thousands of the fuckers! Some are absolutely amazing and some are really shit, which is fucking great. I think that some of the shit ones are more fun.
How do you feel about the bands who are creating metal these days? Are there any that you feel are taking it in a particularly interesting direction?
I think it’s very different these days, even compared to how it was 10 years ago. Rock, in general, always evolves. Whether it evolves in a good way or not is another issue. I’m not really bang into a lot of the new bands that are coming out. I don’t get this kind of commercial edge they have… you know, the pretty choruses and harmonies with a bit of “chonkchonk, chonkchonk” thrown in. Sorry, you’re not a metal band to me. A metal band is metal through and through.
I think it’s a shame there’s a lack of frontmen these days. I grew up listening to rock in the 70’s, with Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper and Rob fucking Halford. Most of the guys in bands today, you couldn’t tell the drummer from the bass player from the singer - they all look the fucking same. They all look like fucking college students. Where are the guys with the long hair, the black leather jackets and the fucking attitude? Where are the fucking frontmen? It doesn’t have to just be the fucking singer; take a band like Purple where Blackmore is definitely the frontman, or AC/DC where Angus is definitely the frontman. It doesn’t have to be the fucking singer, just some dude in the band who stands out and is a bad ass motherfucker. It’s lacking and it needs to come back.
Venom have played a lot of festivals over the past few years, as opposed to club shows. Is there a reason which you’re gravitating toward that kind of live setting these days?
Well It gives us an opportunity to put on a show, that’s the difference. The whole club thing is dying out - it’s kind of impossible to make ends meet. Everybody’s having financial problems, and I think the kids would rather save their money and see 10 or more bands for their dollar, rather than forking out to see four gigs in some dingy club while drinking watered down beer and watching shit bands sound shit.
It’s hard for the bands to make ends meet too, with fuel prices being so high. Clubs aren’t pulling in enough people get to the buses from A to B, and it’s just difficult to do those kinds of tours - so a lot of people are concentrating on festivals.
Venom has never been the kind of band that wants to play in your home town every fucking week. It should be a special event. I think it’s one of the things that American bands, especially in Europe, haven’t really understood. We don’t want to see the same bands every year playing the same songs on the same fucking stage.
Is there any chance we’ll see you in Australia for a tour someday?
We would love to come over; it’s just a case of meeting the right promoter. Our management has been speaking to different promoters in Australia for maybe 15 - 20 years now, but we’ve never found somebody we can work with. I mean, some of the last shows we were offered last year we just thought were hilarious because they wanted to pay us like 3 weeks after the show (laughs). Can you imagine us having to tell our road crew “Yeah, you’re not getting paid ‘til three weeks after you come home”. You’d never see that money, right?
I’ve been to Australia because I’ve got family there. I’ve travelled to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney several times in my life and I love Australia, it’s a fucking great place. To me, it’s like America in that it’s big and huge and you need a car to go everywhere - but you guys aren’t arrogant fucks like the Americans. You’re more English in that you speak your mind. I understand that, and I’d rather be told “Look, you’re an annoying twat, fuck off!” then have someone try to patronise me. That’s what I love about Australia... I was driving out to Melbourne, my uncle lives near Ballarat, and I saw a sign on the freeway that said “If you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot!”. That’s fucking perfect, it’s so Australian. How do you say it fairer then that?
I think that’s what the world needs, some more fucking honest talk. I can’t expect to be liked or fucking famous everywhere, you know. It just seems like Venom have never had a huge enough following in Australia for a promoter to want to put his hand in his pocket to bring us over there.
I definitely think the landscape is changing with the success of Australian festivals like Soundwave. People are genuinely excited to have metal bands finally coming over on a regular basis. I’m sure Venom would get a huge reception from Australian metal loyalists if you were to tour.
I was surprised and very happy to see we had interviews coming in from Australia. Maybe it’s time for Venom to come down under and kick some fucking ass, because we’d love to!
One last question, would you consider resurrecting your solo project?
Well I still have an album unreleased actually, the Triumphant album. It didn’t get released because the guitars were all broken on the recording and the sound was all fucked, but we didn’t realise until we came to mix. But yeah, I’ve still got an album waiting for the guitars to be rerecorded and we’ll release it. As far as resurrecting the band goes, I can’t say we’ve got the time because we’re so busy with Venom lately. These past 5 years have been crazy.
Thanks Cronos, I know you don’t do a lot of press so I really appreciate it.
It was great speaking to you my friend, hopefully we’ll see you all soon in Australia!