Review Summary: Venom's fourth album and the last one worth getting. Fans of "Welcome to Hell" and "Black Metal", get this!
It goes without saying that Venom were an incredibly influential band in the development of extreme metal, playing a form of grimy Motorhead-influenced rock n rollish heavy metal crossing over into harsh and gritty thrash/speed metal styles (way ahead of their time) and laying down the groundwork for what would become black metal (even further ahead of their time). Their first three albums are widely regarded as classics and masterpieces, constituting their "holy trinity". "Welcome to Hell" was the grittiest, sleaziest and filthiest by far, while "Black Metal" refined the sound a bit and focused more on Satanic themes, and finally "At War with Satan" was their most epic , conceptual and concise effort. After permanently forging their name in metal history, Venom devolved their style a bit for 1985's "Possessed", retreading the old grimy sound of their first two albums rather than continuing the progression seen on AWWS. For many this album is seen as mediocre and perhaps even a disappointment, but for those who couldn't get enough of Welcome to Hell/Black Metal it's just what the doctor ordered: catchy, heavy, evil and sleazy songs played by none other than metal legends Venom.
Unlike the sharper, cleaned up sound of At War with Satan, this album brings the production right back down to an uncompromising gritty tone. The mixing and production job is actually even more amateur than on their first two efforts in some regards, showing that these guys really wanted to lay on the filth here. The guitar has a fairly sharp tone with heaps of fuzzy trebly distortion. The riffs as usual alternate between Motorhead-ish rock n rollers, head smashing thrash/speeders and some traditional heavy metal chugging and slightly refined more complex and melodic leads (in contrast to their usual ripping noise solos). Mantas is flyin' solo here, so while leads are going on only the bass is plunking behind them rather than a rhythm guitar holding up the backbone. The drums gallop along to the rockin rhythms and pound in the thrashier sections, doing their job adequately but not outstandingly. The recording on the drums is nice and dull and adds a lot to the primitiveness of the sound. Cronos, the frontman of the group and bassist/singer brings perhaps the most to the table. The guitar and bass are held roughly equally in the mix, so the bass lines are always easily distinguishable. In the faster, thrashier parts he's usually just chugging along, but also bringing in his signature chaotic sliding all over the fretboard. In the more rock n roll style riffs and slow/heavy sections this technique adds all kinds of sleaze to the riffs. The bass fills out the rhythm section perfectly, adding a huge, disgusting, filthy presence to the sound. But that's not all for Cronos, as his vocals are equally integral to Venom's sound, and his lyrics are most excellent. His vocal style is a dirty Lemmy-like grunt or yell (these guys obviously loved Motorhead) and when added to thrash/speed/proto-black metal sound seen here it creates the ultimate in early filth. His delivery is often sinister and satirical sounding, showing that the band were at times tongue-in-cheek. His lyrics and songwriting ability are second to none, creating some incredibly catchy choruses and purveying the image of hell-obsessed drug addled maniacal sex fiends (before black metal groups wore corpsepaint and lit candles they did drugs). Also, "Possessed" doesn't completely ignore the epic tendencies of "At War with Satan", as can be seen in the more technical and complex tracks "Wing and a Prayer" and "Mystique".
While "Possessed" doesn't quite pack the punch of its predecessors, it's well worth investigating and is certainly an important piece of Venom's legacy, being the last great or even listenable album they ever made. The influence Venom's early output had on the development of metal is astounding, perhaps singlehandedly setting in motion all the primitive thrash and speed metal (such as Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Teutonic thrashers like Sodom and Destruction, and South American maniacs like Sarcofago) that would inspire the explosion of black and death metal in the late 80s and early 90s. All of Venom's material up to 1985 was untouchable, undeniably influential, classic and truly outstanding. Any fan of gritty extreme metal should be in love with Venom already, so this should be recommended to those who have only heard their earlier material. If you haven't yet heard these guys at all, well I just don't know about you... get this album immediately, or at the very least blast "Welcome to Hell" at high volumes while smashing your skull on a concrete wall and smoking PCP or snorting speed. Aaaarrgghhh!!!