Venom's Cronos: The Guitar World Interview
Guitar World sits down for an in-depth interviw with founding
Venom bassist Cronos to discuss the black history of his highly
1981 was a good year for metal. Iron Maiden’s Killers, Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, Def Leppard’s High ’N’ Dry, Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman: all quintessential, landmark albums in their own right, all indicative of where metal was at the dawn of the Eighties. The genre was still a few years away from poofy-haired MTV domination, but these and other releases, like Rush’s Moving Pictures, with their singalong choruses and hooky riffage, hinted at the overly commercialized direction metal was headed. And the hard rock community — bands and fans alike — certainly seemed content with this evolution. Except three lads from the north of England, that is.
Conrad Lant, Jeff Dunn, and Tony Bray — three strapping longhairs from Newcastle, England — envisioned a different future for metal, one that did away with all songwriting convention, broke all known speed records, and scared the bejesus out of people. And they accomplished just this in 1981 with the debut album from Venom, Welcome to Hell.
“Venom was unlike anything at the time,” says Lant, known to the Venom legions as the bass-playing warlord Cronos. “People credit us with starting a movement and all, but the truth is I think it was inevitable. Punk had died. Metal was lame. There could only be one new way to do this — for metal bands to get some fucking balls again.”
Welcome to Hell was an unholy cacophony of bass, guitar, and drums pounding away in unrelenting fury as if they were the soundtrack to the end of the world. To some it was pure noise, revolting in its aural stench…but to the metalheads of the world who had grown tired of neatly packaged songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” it was the sound of a revolution: the sound of extreme underground metal being born.
But there was more to Venom than three guys (Cronos, blonde guitarist Mantas [Dunn], and shades-wearing drummer Abaddon [Bray]) who quickly earned a reputation for not being able to play their instruments. There was something much more sinister at play here — and kids who bought Welcome to Hell immediately fell under the Venom spell, as the eyes of a goat-headed Satan stared back at them, telling them it was okay to come to the other side. Song titles like “Sons of Satan,” “In League with Satan,” and the title track solidified Welcome to Hell as the Dark Lord’s official coming out party, and in the process made Venom the world’s first Satanic metal band, an influence that can be heard in every Bathory, Possessed, Mayhem, and Emperor that followed Venom’s lead in the 25 years since.
And what we now know as “black metal” didn’t officially become that until a year later, when Venom unleashed its masterpiece, Black Metal. With Welcome to Hell Venom had started a musical mutiny — with Black Metal they unknowingly created a genre. “When people talk about Venom creating the whole black metal thing, it does make me proud,” says Cronos. “It’s a humbling thing for me because I’m a fan of this music. And we love it that all these bands were influenced by us, but it’s even better when bands do their own thing with it. Like Pantera and Slipknot — both bands took what we did and took it down another road and turned it into something else.”
Despite the profound influence the band would have on those that came after, the truth is that Venom were never able to recapture the (black) magic of Welcome to Hell and Black Metal. Subsequent albums like 1983’s At War with Satan and 1985’s Possessed had their moments, but ultimately fell short of what the band had accomplished with the first two records — and things quickly worsened from there. The seemingly unbreakable trinity of Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon eventually crumbled, with Mantas and Abaddon hijacking the Venom name one minute, and Cronos wrestling it back the next for his own reincarnation of the group. A reunion of the original three ensued in 1993, and by 1995 the pioneers of black metal had again gone their separate ways.
A quarter century since bursting forth from the gates of hell like a pack of wild dogs, Venom soldiers on. The band recently issued the comprehensive four-CD box set MMV (Castle/Sanctuary), which chronicles the group’s entire history and features many never before heard demos, outtakes, and rarities. In March, the current Venom lineup of Cronos, guitarist Mike Hickey (who first appeared on 1998’s Cast in Stone), and Cronos’ brother Antony Lant on drums will unveil a new album, one that Cronos feels is the perfect bookend to the Black Metal days. Appropriately, it will be called Metal Black.
“I wanted to recapture that energy of the early Venom records. I wanted all three of us in the room playing like we were playing live — like, if you wanted to drop to your knees to play a guitar solo, go for it, and don’t worry about making mistakes. I wanted everybody to get into the spirit, and I think we came up with an album that’s got all the piss and shit and snot of the early Venom records.”