Venom, Inc. is both a new band and a very old one, depending on how one looks at it. The band consists of 2/3 of the classic Venom line-up (guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon, to be precise), joined by Atomkraft mastermind and sometime Venom member Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on bass and vocals. The band played San Francisco on Wednesday (see Umlaut’s review here – Umlaut, via his ‘zine, Whiplash, was my introduction to Atomkraft back in the day – I still have my copy, as does every member of Venom, Inc. and their tour manager), but I held out for the San Jose show because a 20 minute round trip beats a 2 hour round trip.
Jeanine and I showed up sometime after 8:00, only to learn from one of the doormen that things wouldn’t get started until 9:15, so we wandered down the street to the Sofa Market to get some fries. By the time we got back to the club at 9:00, the first band, Boar Hunter, had already started, so the doorman was either misinformed or dishonest. Boar Hunter is a local trio consisting of drums, bass, and guitar. The guitarist and bassist shared vocal duties. The drummer looked a bit like MRR mastermind, Tim Yohannan.
They played a set of heavy, crust-punk flavored songs that, while well-played, didn’t bring anything original to the table. Toward the end, the guitarist mentioned that he was too lazy to set up a merch table and that he was a communist, so he was going to give away CDs. He put a box at the front of the stage and did just that. I haven’t listened to mine yet, but I’ll get around to it sooner or later. Not bad, but not that memorable either.
Our friend Stacy got there just as Boar Hunter was ending. She’d been to the show on Wednesday too, and said that she preferred “2/3 Venom” over “1/3 Venom”, which was nice to know. I saw 3/3 Venom back in 1985, and truth be told, they were kind of sloppy (I still have the shirt I bought that night, but it's now part of a quilt - see above), and I saw 1/3 Venom at MDF back in 2013 (scroll down to the end), and really enjoyed their set, despite the fact that it got cut short by curfew, which resulted in a mini-riot in the parking lot. It’s nice to know that there are two good Venoms out there in the world right now.
Necrophagia is another band that has been around for awhile. I have a cassette their first album, “Season of the Dead”, which was released way back in 1987, but was never inspired to buy any of their subsequent releases (maybe because the original band broke up, which caused them to fall off my radar – I don’t really remember now). Despite my lack of enthusiasm for their recorded output, I was curious to see them.
Vocalist Killjoy is the only original member (as far as I know), and the band delivered a nice set of heavy, mid-paced death metal. The mic stand was adorned with a spine, and Killjoy occasionally waved around foam rubber body parts (an arm and a leg). There were clips of film dialogue (mostly from the likes of Lucio Fulci) sprinkled throughout the set as well. Killjoy’s shrieks were savage, but as with a lot of vocalists who prefer this style, they lacked real power, sacrificing the bottom end for over the top aggression. Still, I enjoyed their set, and I’m happy that I got to see them. They got a pretty good response from the crowd too. That said, the venue still looked like it could hold more.
Venom, Inc. finally arrived on stage and wasted little time in launching into Prime Evil, the opening track from the 1989 album of the same name. “Prime Evil” was the first Venom album to feature Tony Dolan.
The remainder of the set was given over to songs from the classic period. From what I can see on Setlist.fm, they’ve been playing the same set every night. Nobody has uploaded one from the Ritz, but here’s the set list from the DNA Lounge a couple of nights before. Speaking of which, whoever booked the tour doesn’t seem to have a good handle on U.S. geography. The band played San Francisco on Wednesday, Pomona on Thursday, San Jose on Friday, and San Diego on Saturday. That’s a lot of back and forth.
It’s safe to say that the songs played for the remainder of the set are inextricably embedded in my DNA. Venom was my favorite band back in the early eighties, and I know the lyrics like my daughter now knows One Direction lyrics. That is to say, quite well. As Dolan sang, his every word was overlain in my mind with Cronos’ voice from the original recordings, so I was constantly, subconsciously, doing a note by note comparison. Dolan did a damned fine job, and despite his vocals being too low in the mix at the start of the set, sounded great. It’s not surprising, since he was a member of Venom for awhile, and early, demo-era Atomkraft also sounded much like Venom.
I hadn’t seen Mantas or Abaddon on stage since 1985. Abaddon looks exactly the same – a hulking ball of hair with aviator shades – but Mantas looks a lot different. I’m not sure I would have recognized him in a crowd. It’s what they sound like that really matters though, and they were both spot-on. Hearing those old Venom songs played note for note was a real kick in the pants, and I have a newfound appreciation for Mantas’ melodic sense. His bluesy solos sounded fantastic. Abaddon’s thundering assault on his kit, especially during the more aggressive songs, like Bloodlust, shook the venue and inspired rabid movement in the pit. Hearing Bloodlust live took me right back to my high school days, when I would sit in my room and play it again and again (along with B-side In Nomine Satanas, which they also played).
A couple of times, I actually got goosebumps. The first time was during Buried Alive, right when the main riff appeared in all of its slow, grinding glory, and the second time was during the encore, when the band ripped into Black Metal, the song that may or may not have started a genre. At the very least, a term was coined.
At the end of the evening, my throat was raw from singing along. Audience participation was encouraged, especially during Warhead and Countess Bathory, and we all gleefully added our voices to the din.
The songs from their debut album, “Welcome To Hell” (Live Like An Angel (Die Like A Devil), Schizo, Sons of Satan, Welcome To Hell, Witching Hour, and of course 1000 Days In Sodom), sounded perfectly raw, and almost hardcore in their execution, with Dolan’s staccato growl lending a punk fury to the mix. The others all sounded like they’d gotten a new lease on life as well.
Stacy, who had gone to both local shows, said that the sound was better at the DNA, but that she had more fun at the Ritz. Now I wish I’d gone to both shows too. And she’s right about 2/3 Venom having an edge over 1/3 Venom. I guess it’s not really a competition though. I’m just happy that there are currently two Venoms.
Finally, I must apologize for the atrocious quality of the photos. My camera fell in a creek last week, and for most of that time, it wouldn’t even turn on. Hours before the show, it came back to life, but there is obviously some moisture inside the lens, making the photos look kind of foggy. I used my phone as a backup, but it’s a phone, so of course the photos suck. Add to this the fact that the lighting scheme of the club seems to be red, more red, and darkness, and you have a recipe for photographic disaster. None of this detracted from the show one bit (in fact, quite the opposite, because I didn’t feel compelled to take as many photos as I usually do), but it sure as hell detracts from the look of this review.
Also, check out this recent interview, conducted at Heavy Montreal, 2015.
Venom, Inc. Facebook here.