Though few are foolish enough to deny their enormous influence on the genre, many in the current Black metal scene are often skeptical about calling Venom “Black metal,” regardless of the fact they coined the term. And it’s easy to understand why, seeing as the tag would eventually become associated with a style more influenced by Celtic Frost’s occult meanderings and particularly by Bathory’s vaguely atmospheric mysticism than by anything Venom ever did. However, this by no means justifies the fact that the band is so often maligned amongst both kvlt kids and pseudo-metal hipsters.
Black metal, as originally conceived by Venom, was most certainly not about night-spirits, or mountains, and it was most certainly not about ***ing elves. Venom’s self-titled debut is unhinged, savage and rabble-rousing, contemplation and transcendence be damned. The rampage begins with the pounding “Sons of Satan,” introducing the infamous satanic imagery right from the get-go. In time this would be perhaps the record’s most important contribution to what eventually became black metal, but the meaning the Satan shtick takes on here is completely different than that which the Norwegians would eventually interpret it as being. The “Satanism” here is partially shock value, sure, but it is also a symbol of debauchery, amorality and violent nihilistic resignation, a description that could have fit Little Richard like a glove back in the day. The sound is primitive, the songwriting and performances even more so, yet something particularly vital is alive in this album.
The title track hits second and all is finally in full force. The simple, driving riffs, the gruff, tuneless vocals, and the brilliant drum performance; uncouth, unhinged and completely devoid of pretention. For you see, Venom are too smart to try and be intellectual: the nihilistic resignation here is so complete it leaves no room for further thought, only for mayhem. The mayhem is, however, encompassed within certain structural parameters, which are for the most part quite strong. “Witching Hour,” “In League With Satan” and the title track are all well written rock songs that go straight for the jugular: fast, aggressive and often quite catchy. Venom take care never to lose this directness, even in slightly more sophisticated musical moments like the wonderful “1000 Days In Sodom.”
Simplicity is Venom’s mightiest tool, and they often use it to grand effect on “Welcome to Hell.” The sound is generally distorted and raw, overdubs are very rarely present, and never superfluous. Riffs are simple, choruses catchy and solos, on the rare occasion that they actually exist, never outstay their welcome by even a second. The drums pound on belligerently and angrily while Cronos spews forth verbal poison of the sickest, tackiest kind in an angry, booze-soaked rasp. For while the record may at times appear cheesy, it is never pretentious. The intent is always transparent; to bring forth hell and mayhem in their earthliest, most immediate sense. The songwriting is not always spot-on, and the performances are a bit sloppy at times, but that detracts nothing from the record's real value: in fact I believe it only further adds to its decadent charm.
Curiously enough, the few times the record does let up in terms of quality and immediacy coincide with the few times Venom back off the Satan worshipping, such as in “Poison” and “Red Light Fever.” For what is particularly compelling about “Welcome to Hell” is the presentation of a classic, debauched rock’n’roll ideal beneath the obscurity of this Biblical imagery and apocalyptic references, a thematic in which their riffs and attitude seems to thrive. Like Milton on speed, Venom make all the anger and disappointment, all the angst and lust in our lives seem resoundingly more cosmic by wrapping it around in Old Nick’s visage, and probably a few lines of his very own nose powder. Most importantly though, as is clear throughout the entirety of the record, Venom just don’t give a ***.