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Venom Inc.'s Mantas Discusses 'Avé' and the Toxicity Surrounding the Venom Name

Venom Inc.'s Mantas Discusses 'Avé' and the Toxicity Surrounding the Venom Name Venom Inc. (from left): Tony Dolan, Anthony "Abaddon" Bray and Jeff "Mantas" Dunn

There’s a reason why guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn and drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray—two-thirds of the members that created Venom’s classic lineup—can’t call themselves Venom anymore, while bassist and vocalist Conrad “Cronos” Lant continues to perform under the band’s original moniker.

And it’s not because the three musicians came to any sort of friendly, mutual arrangement regarding how to best share the legacy of the legendary British proto–black metal band.

“My mother had a serious stroke in 2005, which she later died from, and Cronos caught me at a really bad time,” explains Mantas from his new home in the outskirts of Portugal. “All I was thinking about was my mother. I didn’t give a shit about music or band names or anything. Cronos said he called to talk about the return of a product license and then he asked me if he could use the name Venom. I said, ‘Yeah, just go fuckin’ do it.’ I gave him verbal permission. I wish I hadn’t, but there you go.”

After he got the go-ahead from Mantas, Cronos quickly assembled a new Venom lineup that included his younger brother Antton on drums and recorded two predictable records—Metal Black (2006) and Hell (2008)—before Mantas returned to making music. The guitarist’s new band, M-Pire of Evil, featured his friend, bassist and vocalist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (Atomkraft) and, strangely enough, Antton, who played with the group for a couple years, then joined his brother in Venom.

While Cronos gave interviews to promote his first two post-2000 Venom albums, it was 2015’s From the Very Depths of Hell (named after the band’s old stage intro, “From the very depths of hell we bring you Venom!”) that really brought the beast out of the frontman.

“Suddenly, he tried to change the whole fucking history of the band, saying he formed it, and erasing the contributions of Abaddon and myself,” says Mantas in an even-keeled Newcastle accent that belies his onstage ferocity. “If you look at the history of the band, we started as a five-piece and Abaddon and I were the founding members. We wrote ‘Buried Alive’ before Cronos even joined the band. We brought Cronos in as a rhythm guitarist when one of the original guys left. My girlfriend at the time had a friend, and Cronos was her new boyfriend. So he came into the band and after a while, he moved to bass and then bass and vocals and we became a three-piece.”

Mantas and Abaddon now operate under the name Venom Inc., and they’re only allowed to do that because Abaddon invented and trademarked the Venom logo decades. ago. “It’s kind of annoying, but I really don’t care,” Mantas says. “People know who we are. They’re coming to our shows. And we’re making new music.”

The first Venom Inc. album, Avé, is a fine start. Realizing they’ll never be the most extreme or offensive players in the game, Mantas has opted for a NWOBHM and thrash-driven approach, with songs like the anthemic “Metal We Bleed” and the faster, more frenetic “The Evil Dead.” Both should sound good placed in a nest of viperous Venom classics.

Sure, the existence of two bands named Venom playing many of the same songs in concert is kinda confusing, but stability has never been a characteristic of Venom. From the moment they formed in 1979 in Newcastle Upon Tyne out of the ashes of three bands, Guillotine, Oberon and Dwarf Star, Venom has been a revolving door, especially for Mantas, who entered and exited three times before forming Venom, Inc.

The band’s powerhouse lineup—Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon—approached their blasphemous music with crosses blazing, crafting some of the most influential early Motörhead-inspired thrash and planting the fetid seeds of black metal with their blatantly Satanic lyrics. Back then, the members of Venom shared a common goal to be the loudest, most abrasive and evil band in metal without forsaking memorable verses and choruses.

“If you took Judas Priest, Motörhead and Kiss and put them all in a blender and let it all spill out, that would be Venom,” Mantas says. “But I’m old school. I love choruses, and I’ve always written with the audience in mind. I think, When can they join in when we play live?—and a good chorus is a great time for that.”

Hooky refrains notwithstanding, it took a certain level of perversity in the early Eighties to stand behind lyrics like ‘We drink the vomit of the priest, make love to the dying whore/We suck the blood of the beast and hold the key to death’s door” (“Possessed”). Unlike others that followed in their lyrical wake, including Morbid Angel and Mayhem, Venom’s songs were pure theater, with no affiliations to any religion, godly or demonic.

“Black Sabbath did the same kind of thing, but they didn’t push it far enough,” Mantas explains. “So we thought, Right, we’ll stuff it in your face and if you love it, great. If you run away screaming, even better. Fuck off. I mean, how much more blatant can you get than calling your first album Welcome to Hell and having a pentagram on the cover? There’s no hidden message there.”

Was there always friction between you and Cronos?
In the early days, I would say the closest relationship in the band was probably myself and Conrad, but we were all very volatile. It always seemed to be two against one—either myself and the drummer or it was myself and Conrad or it was Conrad and the drummer. We were never a band of brothers. But when we started out, we thought that we were going to be together forever. [laughs]

Venom seemingly came out of nowhere in 1981 with the single “In League with Satan”/“Live Like an Angel.”
Pretty much. Conrad was working at Neat Records. There was a thing in England at the time called the Youth Opportunity School, which was supposed to keep young people away from unemployment. So Conrad got an internship there. I used to hang out with him there and we repeatedly bugged the owner of Neat Records, David Wood, about recording a single. Finally, he gave in and we did “In League with Satan.” I reckon they put out 1,000 copies of those fuckin’ singles just to get us to shut the fuck up. It was like, “There it is. It’s gone out. It’s shit. No one’s gonna buy it. Now fuck off!” But of course, it blew up like crazy so then they let us go right back in and do Welcome to Hell.

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