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VENOM is the Black Metal band that unwittingly inspired a plethora of imitators as part of the growing 80s extreme Metal scene in Europe and North America. Very few would dare dispute the band's righteous claim to having invented Black Metal and indeed many of the genre's higher echelon elite have been eager to confirm their allegiance both in print, on stage and in audio, a large percentage of extreme metal outfits, many themselves regarded as innovators themselves, have demoed with VENOM cover versions.

Newcastle upon Tyne trio VENOM was initially discounted for their early albums by the general Rock media, although these records were subsequently to be declared classics of the genre, in spite of their, deliberately, primitive approach. The group eschewed Rock stardom for a Punk Metal ethos and in doing so rapidly generated a loyal global fanbase.

VENOM's roots lay in the Newcastle upon Tyne late 70's acts GUILLOTINE, ALBUM GRACIA, OBERON and DWARFSTAR. In 1978 Lant was guitarist with ALBUM GRACIA. Members from this band including vocalist Keith Ballard and drummer Kevin Robson decamped to found a new act the same year entitled DWARFSTAR. Meantime, another local band GUILLOTINE, featuring guitarist Jeffrey Dunn retitled themselves VENOM in 1979. The inaugural line-up of this group being Dunn, vocalist Dave Blackman, second guitarist Dave Rutherford, bassist Dean Hewitt and drummer Chris McPeters. Both Blackman and McPeters lost their places in August of that year to former OBERON members drummer Tony Bray and singer Clive Archer. OBERON would play a further part in VENOM's later career when guitarist Eric Cook would wind up as manager of the band.

The new look VENOM, also with a fresh bassist Alan Winston, were to pull in Lant as replacement for Rutherford in November. However, mere days before the band's debut gig in Wallsend Winston bailed out forcing Lant to take over the bassist's role. This he did by necessity plugging a bass guitar into a lead guitar amp.

By 1980 the proto VENOM had decided upon the satanic image "de-christening" the band members in suitable fashion. Archer became 'Jesus Christe', Lant 'Mr. Cronos', Bray 'Abbadon' and Dunn 'Mantas'. A three song demo was cut in April featuring early work outs of 'Angel Dust', 'Raise The Dead' and 'Red Light Fever'. A second session, recorded for a miserly £50, laid down six more tracks with Lant taking lead vocals for 'Live Like An Angel'. Archer packed his bags soon after and the unholy triumvirate of VENOM was born.

The band adopted the position of marrying Lant's Punk influences with direct inspiration from some of the global Rock giants. In early interviews the band professed the desire to have the energy of JUDAS PRIEST with the theatrics of KISS. Having, naturally, been signed by Neat Records VENOM debuted with the 'Welcome To Hell' album and immediately came to the attention of 'Sounds' journo Geoff Barton.

Barton's championing of the group certainly brought VENOM to the attention of the Metal loving public, although the trio had yet to play a gig.

VENOM's debut 1981 single, 'In League With Satan' / 'Live Like An Angel', was recorded at Impulse Studios in Wallsend, hosted above an old cinema complex, and produced by Steve Thompson and Mickey Sweeney. Recordings in 1981 also summoned the group's first album, 'Welcome To Hell' produced at Impulse once again but this time with Keith Nichol behind the desk, this issued in a variety of formats including picture disc, regular black, white, grey and purple vinyl. A green marbled version is now worth over £300. Notably, a young teenager in the Norwegian town of Ski, Øystein Aarseth, took the song title 'Mayhem With Mercy' to brand his new act - MAYHEM.

In 1982 VENOM, once again employing Impulse Studios and Keith Nichol, issued the seminal 'Black Metal' set. A preceding single had coupled the non album tracks 'Bloodlust' and 'In Nomine Satanas'. Whilst previous product had incited curiosity, it was the 'Black Metal' album that triggered the global VENOM phenomenon. Neat Records handled UK versions whilst Roadrunner Records licensed the album for European territories. Once again limited editions saw the album pressed on a variety of colours including white, grey, purple, green, red, brown and "swirled" vinyl. That same year the band conducted their first BBC Radio One 'Friday Rock Show' session, laying down 'Black Metal', 'Nightmare' and 'Bloodlust'. These tracks would also make an appearance on the highly sought after 'French Assault' EP.

VENOM's third album, 1983's 'At War With Satan', found the Geordie triumvirate of Metal taking huge strides forward, especially abroad, as the semi conceptual 'At War With Satan' hugely increased the band's following.

The band's first European live date came in Belgium (the group's initial live performance having ensured they would never play a club again as the event was marked by a handmade stage prop falling over and firing pyrotechnics into the audience!) where they headlined above PICTURE and ACID. It was on the continent where the band were only able to translate their mystique into material success with a series of major festival appearances and tours, including a trek through Europe in 1984 with METALLICA as the support act, VENOM were virtually shunned by the UK audience where a succession of announced tours were scrapped, although the 'The 7th Date Of Hell' video did arise from the group's spectacular debut at Hammersmith Odeon in London on the 'At War With Satan' tour.

Before going in to record fourth album 'Possessed', Cronos produced fellow Neat label act TYSONDOG' first album, 'Beware Of The Dog', although somewhat bizarrely he then announced to the world that it was "shit"!

1985 began disastrously for the band. Although Combat Records gave earlier VENOM product an official US release for the first time, adding revised artwork and extra tracks in the process, the new offering 'Possessed' album was roundly chastized and a planned Canadian / American tour was thrown into turmoil as Mantas succumbed to glandular fever. The dates were put back and, as his health worsened, VENOM recruited AVENGER guitarist Les Cheetham and FIST guitarist Dave Irwin to fill the shoes of Mantas. The band's New York Studio 54 show, with EXODUS and SLAYER, their most prestigious date on the tour, was less than successful as Mantas, now with restored health, was denied access to America due to passport problems.

The band returned to Europe on September 14th 1985, performing at the 'Metal Hammer Fest' in Loreley, Germany sharing a diverse billing with NAZARETH, METALLICA, HEAVY PETTIN, WISHBONE ASH, SAVAGE GRACE, RUNNING WILD, TYRAN PACE, PRETTY MAIDS and WARLOCK.

1986 saw the departure of the guitarist following American dates with support act HIRAX. Demos, still with Mantas in the ranks, were conducted for a proposed album entitled 'Deadline' but with the guitarist's exit this project was shelved. A live album surfaced billed 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik', recorded at the band's now legendary 8th October 1985 London Hammersmith Odeon appearance and a 1986 gig at The Ritz, New York. Mantas resurfaced shortly after with his own MANTAS project that issued one album, 1988's 'Winds Of Change', but he soon retired to concentrate on building up a martial arts centre. Cronos busied himself producing the 1986 album from WARFARE 'Mayhem Fucking Mayhem'.

Mantas was to be replaced by two guitarists, Jimmy C. (Jim Clare) and Mike H. (Mike Hickey), who performed their debut live shows with VENOM touring Brazil with support act EXCITER as well as Japanese dates. Previous to joining VENOM Clare had operated with Newcastle acts HARDLINE and HELLFIRE. With the introduction of the twin guitar set up originally called for some new suitably occult pseudonyms although the initial concept of Clare as 'The Mighty Horn' and Hickey as 'King Incubus' would thankfully be abandoned.

This new line-up recorded the lukewarm Nick Tauber / Kevin Ridley produced 'Calm Before The Storm' for RCA subsidiary Filmtrax. The album, featuring some but not all of the aborted 'Deadline' material, saw the band endeavouring to pursue a more finely crafted, mature approach rather than the bludgeoning ferocity of yore, but merely succeeded in alienating existing fans. Behind the scenes, what VENOM fans were unaware of, was that the tracks used for the 'Calm Before The Storm' album were, in fact, originally intended as demos recorded at Neat's Impulse Studios and subsequently remixed in London. The tracks were not intended as finished product.

Following the live dates, VENOM set to work on a new studio album but internal friction resulted in a parting of ways. Cronos and Clare broke away, relocating to America and resurfacing as CRONOS, utilising tracks assembled for a VENOM release as their 'Dancing In The Fire' opening album. CRONOS would also include their former VENOM colleague Mike Hickey alongside drummer Chris Patterson.

In 1988 Mantas appeared again, this time as guest guitarist on WARFARE's 'A Conflict Of Hatred' album. VENOM regrouped once more in 1989, enticing original guitarist Mantas back into the fold alongside the drumming lynchpin of Abbadon, bassist / vocalist Tony Dolan and rhythm guitarist Al Barnes. Barnes had worked previously with Mantas on his solo album 'Winds Of Change', whilst Dolan was ex-ATOMKRAFT. This line-up debuted with 'Prime Evil', released in 1989 and once again produced by Tauber and Ridley. That same year the band cut a version of BLACK SABBATH's 'Megalomania', this subsequently surfacing on the 'Witching Hour' compilation.

VENOM took to the UK stages again in late 1989, billed under the pseudonym of SONS OF SATAN which included a "secret" London Marquee gig which attracted only a handful of followers giving ample indication as to the apathy towards the band. Their 1990 mini-album 'Tear Your Soul Apart' featured Mantas, Abaddon and Dolan and included a bizarre cover of JUDAS PRIEST's 'Hell Bent For Leather' classic.

VENOM released the 'Temples Of Ice' album in 1991. Produced by Abaddon and Kevin Ridley at Lynx studios in Newcastle upon Tyne, the album hosted a rendition of DEEP PURPLE's 'Speedking' and, perhaps more prominently, a tribute song, 'In Memory Of (Paul Miller 1964-90)', to the late journalist, a staunch champion of underground British acts. 'The Waste Lands', seeing an expanded recording roster comprising Dolan, Mantas, Abaddon, Al Barnes, former ATOMKRAFT man Steve White (a.k.a. 'War Machine') on second guitar and V.X.S. (actually two separate people) on keyboards, followed in 1992. Both these latter two outings soon sank from public view.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm outside of the UK was still strong and VENOM's first show promoting 'The Waste Lands' was on a festival billing at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia ranked alongside UFO, MAGNUM, SWEET, GIRLSCHOOL and ASIA. The success of this event, televised to over four million Russians, prompted a request for the new line-up to record classic tracks for a special Russian release. The group duly laid these tracks down but no release was forthcoming. The songs later re-surfaced on the 'Kissing The Beast' collection. However, Music For Nations opted against continuing with the band and Dolan, achieving success in his parallel career with the Royal Shakespeare Company, decided to quit, citing Abbadon's claims in the press linking VENOM with Satanism as the main reason.

In 1994 a VENOM tribute album, In The Name Of Satan, pooled a high profile collection of artists paying homage. Tracks included KREATOR's interpretation of 'Witching Hour', ANATHEMA with 'Welcome To Hell', VOIVOD's 'In League with Satan', NUCLEAR ASSAULT's 'Die Hard', SKYCLAD's 'Prime Evil', SODOM's entirely suitable '1,000 Days In Sodom', CANDLEMASS with 'Countess Bathory', PARADISE LOST with 'In Nomine Satanas' plus VENOM themselves donating an industrial mix of 'Warhead' and 'Holy Man'.

Famed Japanese Black Metal outfit SIGH paid their own form of recognition with an entire release of VENOM tracks, 'To Hell and Back'. Meanwhile, ex-VENOM guitarist Mike Hickey, following his stint with CRONOS, teamed up with arch goremongers CARCASS in 1994. Cronos also came out of the shadows, lending backing vocals to rising UK Black Metal band CRADLE OF FILTH's 'Dusk And Her Dark Embrace' album.

Following no less than three years of negotiations, the original band line up reformed in 1995, to nothing less than ecstatic European media response, to headline the Burgum 'Waldrock' and Eindhoven 'Dynamo' festivals. At the latter event VENOM used so much pyro that one particular blast proved so powerful the band's backdrop came to rest over the drum kit midway through the set! An edited form of this show was released as the video / CD package 'The Second Coming'.

VENOM spent a large chunk of 1997 recording their ninth studio album, 'Cast In Stone', only interrupting proceedings to headline the Metal Invader Festival in Athens, Greece. The protracted nature of the recording was to be drawn out even further when, upon nearing completion, the band actually scrapped all previous efforts, opting to re-record the entire body of work. Upon eventual release, initial copies of 'Cast In Stone' came with recent re-recordings of VENOM classics from the early days.

VENOM made a return to America in 1997 headlining the notorious Milwaukee Metalfest, but end of year European dates supported by the fast rising Swedes HAMMERFALL where cancelled due to Cronos having to undergo surgery for vocal nodes. A wealth of Swedish bands gave offering that same year by way of the 'Promoters Of The Third World War' set. Featured would be ALCHEMIST with 'Black Metal', FLEGMA with 'Leave Me In Hell', FURBOWL's 'Buried Alive', AFFLICTED's '7 Gates Of Hell', THERION's 'Witching Hour', KAZJUROL's 'Countess Bathory' and DERANGED's 'In League With Satan' amongst others.

The 2000 VENOM album 'Resurrection' saw Abbadon, who issued a somewhat bizzare solo album, replaced by Antton.

Cronos would contribute guest vocals to FOO FIGHTERS man Dave Grohl's Metal elite PROBOT project album of 2001. During March of 2002 Cronos would injure himself quite severely in a climbing accident. Some consolation for the frontman would be the Sanctuary Records remastering of the first triumvirate of classic VENOM albums, all re-released with a glut of extra tracks and extensive liner notes.

During the summer of 2002 former VENOM and CRONOS guitarist Jim Clare united with TYGERS OF PAN TANG drummer Craig Ellis and bass player Willie Angus in a new band project entitled PASSION PLAY. By August this project had adopted the revised title of TRIBAL CORE.

Drummer Antton, still maintaining his membership of VENOM, teamed up with Newcastle act NU-FUTURE COWBOYS in October. He would also be an active member of DEF-CON-ONE. VENOM themselves got back into action in early 2004, gearing up for recording of a new studio album. American guitarist Mykus, actually former member Mike Hickey, was announced as being the latest recruit to the fold in March. The new look VENOM debuted live on 5th April with an unannounced surprise set at Trillians in Newcastle following a set from DEF-CON-ONE.

During mid 2004 VENOM would have their classic cut 'Warhead' chosen as a pioneering piece of music for a compilation assembled by DARKTHRONE drummer Fenriz, released through Peaceville Records and entitled 'Fenriz Presents The Best Of Old School Black Metal'. Cronos acted as special guest on the 2005 HAMMERFALL album 'Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken'. That December Cronos guested on album recordings by leading Italian extreme Metal band NECRODEATH.

VENOM returned with a new studio album, 'Metal Black' recorded for Sanctuary Records, in March 2006. This opus, crafted by Cronos, guitarist Mike Hickey and drummer Antton, would witness a deliberate return to the original, 80s VENOM sound. 'Antton' was later revealed to be Conrad's brother Antony Lant of DEF-CON-ONE. UK gigs in March saw reformed Bristol Thrashers ONSLAUGHT as support. That same month the group recorded a four song session for the BBC at London's Maida Vale studios. Summer festival appearances at the Italian 'Gods Of Metal', Finnish 'Tuska' event, German 'Earthshaker' and 'Sweden Rock' festivals followed.

VENOM announced a two day "Thrash Domination" stint at Tokyo's famed Club Citta on September 16th and 17th ranked alongside DEATH ANGEL, SODOM, DRAGONLORD and ONSLAUGHT. However, the group pulled out, stating that Cronos had been "taken ill".

US shows for August, to be supported by DEVILDRIVER, were cancelled cue to "immigration problems". The band rescheduled these dates, commencing later that same month, now seeing GOATWHORE as support act.

VENOM announced that Mike Hickey was to stand down in January 2007, stating "Personal unavoidable commitments in the U.S. have forced Mykvs to announce that he cannot commit 100% to VENOM's 2007 schedule". A new man titled 'Rage' was swiftly announced as replacement. Ex-frontman Tony Dolan launched an anglo / Swedish act dubbed RAUBTIER in March 2007 working with guitarist Hulkoff and drummer Matt Buffalo.

Drummer Antony Lant announced his departure from VENOM in April 2009. VENOM unveiled the addition of drummer Danté to the group's ranks in May.

Garry Sharpe-Young

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