EXCLUSIVE – Venom Interview
Spawned from the industrial wastelands of late 70s North East England, Venom pooled their collective frustration with the NWOBHM and life in general to create a lasting legacy for metal fans the world over.
As Black Metal – the album and the genre – is celebrated in September we caught up with founder member Cronos and if you’re an easily unsettled reader then look away now. (Even his phone number included the numbers 666 in sequence…).
rushonrock: How did you coin the phrase Black Metal?
Cronos: It was a way of describing what we were doing differently to everyone else. The label we released out first record on was a folk label really. But I worked there and I kept pestering the guy who ran things to release our record. I think it was when Iron Maiden hit the charts that he decided to relent. For all the success and buzz about bands like Tygers Of Pan Tang and Raven it seemed they were trying their best to be someone else and they weren’t interested in trying to find their own identity.
rushonrock: But you were?
Cronos: I grew up listening to bands like Jethro Tull, Status Quo and Led Zeppelin – they all played rock but they all had their won identity. When Venom was formed it was all about how we’d follow the lead of those great British bands and how we’d do things differently enough to make an impression. Describing our music was important. We threw around all of these phrases like power metal, long haired punks or whatever. But it was when the journo Dante Bonutto mentioned the fact that Eddie Van Halen had played on a Michael Jackson album – and then Michael Jackson made the Kerrang! charts – that we decided enough was enough. If Michael Jackson was heavy metal then we didn’t want any part of that. We didn’t play nice music and black metal didn’t sound very nice at all.
rushonrock: Once you created that buzz around Black Metal did you ever feel restricted by the genre?
Cronos: The scene suddenly exploded and everything went nuts. It went through the roof when the whole Norway thing kicked off and as a band we went from strength to strength. Even during the times when Venom were having problems and we weren’t putting albums out other bands were recording our songs and people were wearing our T-shirts. The whole metal industry refused to let our band die. You get guys like Dave Grohl wearing Venom T-shirts at Party In The Park! So we felt proud of what we created. Of course Satanism is the controversial side to our music but what is a Satanist? Are you talking about witches or devil worshipers? Educate yourself before you ask that question but as far as the members of Venom are concerned I think you can say we’re fully qualified Satanists now.
rushonrock: What inspired you to play such heavy music?
Cronos: It was a cross between our youth and what we loved. I was always a massive punk and I loved that scene. But for me it was over too quickly. One journalist described it as like a fuck – it was great while it lasted but over too fast. John Lydon’s lyrics became the soundtrack of my life for a year or so. Up in the North East the ship yards were closing and there were no coal mines left and it was a pretty depressing time if you were a kid about to leave school. In the past you’d have walked into one of those jobs but that was gone. Suddenly here are all these kids about to leave school with no job prospects and punk was the powerful voice that brought us together. I just liked the fact that the music was so in-your-face and at the back end of the 70s the so-called metal bands suddenly went so lame. Rock music is supposed to be the Devil’s music but rock went soft. Bands were putting socks down their spandex trousers! Where was the piss and the puke? Where was the growl? Motorhead made a big noise but there weren’t another 20 Motorheads out there. I thought this is great – bands will come out with a similar approach and metal will be nasty again. No such luck. So we just decided our band needed to shock the fuck out of people and we were so right. That’s what people wanted and it’s what they want now. When I listen to bands like Pantera and Slipknot it’s the sort of music I wanted to hear as a kid. Instead I was hearing stuff like Def Leppard and Saxon. I wanted something with more of a growl.
rushonrock: What was the reaction of friends and family to Venom and their music?
Cronos: I can remember a few awkward smiles and sideways glances. I do believe that the people closest to me honestly thought it was a phase I was going to grow out of. I still believe the guy at the record company put our first album out as a means of getting it out of my system. He thought I’d feel like I’d realised my dream and would happily go back to twiddling knobs in the studio. Of course it didn’t happen like that! On reflection I think my family have been well proud of what I’ve achieved as a musician. Growing up my older brother loved Genesis. But my younger brother loved Motley Crue. That was his way of saying to me that what you’re doing is wrong. But he had to give in and now he plays in a heavy metal band!
rushonrock: What was it like growing up as a wannabe Satanist?
Cronos: I was actually born in London even though I grew up in North Shields, North Tyneside. My parents were Geordies but moved down to London for work. For various reasons they came back up here when I was eight and you can imagine what fun that was. I was a Cockney kid growing up in Geordieland. My mother often apologised that she’d had to drag me away from London but I’m so glad I was brought up in the North East of England. North of Watford Gap means nothing to people in London – they don’t bother to find out anything about anyone. I’m proud of the fact that as Geordies we know far more about the Cockneys than they do about us because we take the time to educate ourselves. In Newcastle people don’t spend time with you because of what you’ve got. They spend time with you if they like you. The North East will do me fine and I’ve never felt the need to live anywhere else.
rushonrock: Listening to the Deluxe Edition of Black Metal, Teacher’s Pet still stands out as a rare snapshot of Geordie humour in amongst some pretty serious stuff. Was it meant to bring a bit of light relief to a heavy record?
Cronos: Absolutely. It’s a bit like us saying that we do take our jobs very seriously but we do like a laugh. There has to be light and shade in everything – even on a Venom album. And I don’t think the Norwegian bands really get that. I don’t suppose they have that British sense of humour. That song’s just a joke – there’s no other side to it. We were just three piss heads making a record and that song seemed funny at the time. Away from all the serious stuff we still enjoy putting down the mics and sitting around having a bit of banter as human beings – like all Geordies do. We’re not really going to come round your house and kill you!
rushonrock: You’re too busy recording a new record to start any killing sprees aren’t you?
Cronos: That’s right. We’re hoping it’s going to come out next summer and we’re going to stick with Universal – who bought our former label Sanctuary – because they’ve done a great job dealing with the band’s back catalogue. They’re really keen to keep Venom going and really keen to keep the back catalogue alive. The great thing about the Black Metal Deluxe Edition is the fact that fans finally get the chance to watch a decent version of the Seven Dates Of Hell show from Hammersmith. We’ve not really touched it that much but it’s been tweaked from the Beta masters to give fans a better viewing experience! It captures the band in a certain moment that summed us up perfectly.
rushonrock: Did you ever imagine Venom would still be revered by so many big metal names 30 years after you came together?
Cronos: No way. We didn’t do it for that and longevity was never something people associated with Venom in the early days. I think if we’d put out two or three albums and toured a few places we’d have been quite happy. We just wanted to know what it’s really like to play a gig in a foreign country – that kind of thing. It’s so humbling that other musicians still refer to our work and refuse to let Venom die. During the early days people used to take the piss out of us and laugh at our logo. Now we’re on metal icons lists alongside the likes of Sabbath, Purple and Zeppelin. It’s so humbling.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.