Review Summary: Quite simply one of the most important and influential albums in the history of metal.
Cronos: Vocals, bass
King Diamond once dismissed Venom’s entire career as a publicity stunt, “Black Metal” was considered a gimmick(and it kind of was) but it’s importance in metal cannot be underestimated. The relevance of this album is on par with “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols” as far as the impact and the influence that they had, also similar to the Sex Pistols in talent which is to say not very much, but this is a triumph of substance over style; it was more about WHAT was said as opposed to how it was done.
The opening sounds of a chainsaw cutting through a door let you know that this is no ordinary album. Venom’s goal was the create the most shocking music imaginable and they succeeded in spectacular fashion, nobody had pushed the envelope this far. Venom took the satanic lyrics that Black Sabbath only hinted at and built their whole image around them. Much like KISS had done, Venom created a larger than life image that caught people’s attention, the pentagrams on the album covers, the “evil” pseudonyms, sure it got them lots and lots of negative attention but any publicity is good publicity right?
With better production than the debut; which isn’t saying much, “Black Metal” is still very raw, a quality that would be imitated many years later by other black metal bands. It sounds like theses guys just go together in a basement and started jamming. Although this album gave the subgenre it’s name, it’s not really black metal per se, it’s more of a thrash metal album with satanic lyrics. Album opener “Black Metal” is fast and heavy with some good riffing and extremely simple drumming, but that was part of the image, Venom weren’t interested in musical proficiency, they were just making a loud racket and singing(barking?) insane blasphemies. Guitarist Mantas is clearly the most talented musician here and he unleashes some very memorable riffs on “Black Metal” on tracks such as “Heaven’s on Fire” and “Countess Bathory” as well as a solos on “Buried Alive” and “Sacrifice.” “Teacher’s Pet” is a precursor to Van Halen’s “Hot for the Teacher” albeit much bolder and explicit: “Played hide and seek with teachers mouth, her lips were warm and wet.” The track “Countess Bathory” began metal’s infatuation with the infamous countess and later Cradle of Filth would dedicate an entire album to her. Cronos’ gravelly vocals were extreme for the time but not over the top and still decipherable. A far cry from what the genre’s vocal style would become.
Overall, the musicianship is very simple which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Abbadon isn’t exactly Neil Peart behind the kit. The lyrics are incredibly juvenile but maybe after the topics that have touched on by bands like Cannibal Corpse we have become jaded and the lyrics in “Black Metal” must have been much more powerful in 1982. The album ends with a preview of the title track for their next album “At War With Satan.”
Bands such as Slayer and Bathory, considered highly influential today for thrash and black metal respectively, got many ideas from Venom and “Black Metal” is the foundation for every form of what can be classified as “extreme metal.” It also inspired some young and impressionable Norwegians, apparently unaware that this was not meant to be taken seriously, to commit numerous atrocities like church burnings and murders, horrific crimes that would scare Cronos right out of his spiked armbands! It also unfortunately inspired bands like Darkthrone to imitate their ultra lo-fi recording techniques, how is it possible that nearly thirty years later, Darkthrone’s production is actually WORSE than Venom’s? Even though their debut “Welcome to Hell” was also highly influential, “Black Metal” is the most known for spawning a subgenre that took it’s name but it also was the cornerstone of thrash and death metal, many metal bands that are considered great today were highly influenced Venom and their influence continues to be felt, much more so than many of their contemporaries who shunned Venom at the time. Not bad for a publicity stunt.
Heaven’s On Fire