VENOM is one of the few Metal bands that – in the year 2015 – still tickles the imagination. In the beginning of the eighties, the band released a couple of albums – “Welcome To Hell” (1981), “Black Metal” (1982) and “At War With Satan” (1984) – that shook and changed the Metal scene. There is probably no Black Metal band who have not somehow been influenced by VENOM. When frontman Cronos left the band in 1988 to start a solo career, VENOM continued and released a few very underestimated albums – “Prime Evil” (1989) and “Temples Of Ice” (1991) – which unfortunately weren’t such a big commercial success as the records which came out in the early eighties. Since the reunion in 1995, VENOM is active again and put out every few years a new album. Their new CD – “From The Very Depths”- is a rather good album and deserves to be heard. We sat together with singer / bassist Thomas Conrad Lant, better known as Cronos.
“I was born in London, I’ve also spent my childhood there. When I was ten years old, I moved to Newcastle with my family. That was a pretty brutal confrontation with a totally different environment. Margaret Thatcher reigned and England was badly hit by an economic crisis. Newcastle was a typical industrial city, it was all about the industry. Many people were working in the industry, building ships or working in the coalmines. Or they went out to sea to catch fish. In the seventies, the industry in England had more and more to endure and there were increasing financial problems. It was also somehow expected of you that – if you quit school – you would have the same job as your parents. But that just didn’t work any longer. The industry was coming to an end, the coalmines closed and the boats didn’t set out any longer. That was the period in which the Punk scene arose. It was a movement which was just perfect for the situation in England at that time. There was hardly a future. The whole concept of a ‘job for life’ was just gone. Everyone was living with many questions and was faced with the harsh reality. How were we all going to make a living and feed our families? How were we going to build a decent life? I was only a teenager, but the whole country was really scared. Many politicians considered Punks as troublemakers, but they were not, really. Everyone was just scared. And you could not count on help from the government. Nobody knew what they had to do. Music was an ideal outlet and a relief. You could just forget your troubles when you went to see a show and had a beer with your friends.”
When you left school, you immediately started to work for the record company Neat Records.
“Indeed. Actually Neat was in the beginning just a recording studio, the Impulse Studio. There were many English Folk bands recording there, singing about sheep and living in the wild, it had not much to do with Rock’n’Roll (laughs). I really loved Rock and Punk music and I pushed the people behind the studio constantly, to get Rock and Punk bands in to record. After a long time, they finally went for it and I was able to get bands like RAVEN, FIST and TYGERS OF PAN TANG in the studio. When their albums started to sell well, the guys behind the studio were convinced. From that point on, they went much more in the heavy direction and eventually also founded the record company Neat Records. I would dare to say that I could hear if a band had potential and was talented or not. If you look at RAVEN and TYGERS OF PAN TANG… those bands are still going today. The guys behind the Impulse Studio were not at home in the Rock scene. And they trusted me to decide what was good and what was shit. When I started to work in the studio as a technician myself, it was a little awkward first. I was scared, I had no idea how to operate all the equipment. But there was a very patient and kind man who also worked there, Mickey Sweeney. He taught me everything, he walked me through how a studio works. I had only been working there for a year when one day a band came in to record. The engineer was not there, he was ill. The band thought they had to come back another day but I said that I could do it. And so I recorded their single.”
After several demos, you recorded your first single with VENOM, “In League With Satan” (1981). The legendary albums “Welcome To Hell” (1981), “Black Metal” (1982), “At War With Satan” (1984) and “Possessed” (1985) followed. What makes those albums special, is that you apparently already had the whole concept and the material of those albums worked out from the very beginning?
“I have thousands of riffs, lyrics and songs at home that have never been used or recorded. When we recorded “Welcome To Hell”, I already had a song entitled ‘From The Very Depths’. And that became the title track of the new album. Thirty-five years later, I can finally use the idea when I was 16 or 17 years old (laughs). We worked very quickly. “Welcome To Hell” was both mixed and recorded in just three days. It was originally our intention to record a demo. We had three days studio time for that. When all the work was done, the guys of Neat were so enthusiastic that they wanted to release the recordings as an album. We wanted to do it again, but there was just no time as the studio was constantly booked. VENOM was still a very young band. Getting the offer to release an album, we did not hesitate and just grabbed the idea. And so we did. But “Welcome To Hell” was actually just a collection of demos. I do not know if it would have made much difference if we had done the recordings once more. Perhaps the production would have been better, and soundwise the album would have connected more with “Black Metal” (1982). But that’s also it.”
On the back of those first VENOM albums, you can read that the cover and all the artwork is done by someone called Magda. But apparently you are responsible for that?
“We had a bit of a problem with that. Magda was the woman who did the layout of all the Neat albums. But she never designed sleeves or illustrations, she just put the layout together. She didn’t do anything regarding artwork. I did all the VENOM artwork. I’ve been really upset about that for years. I drew and did all the artwork for VENOM myself. The only thing that I didn’t do is the image of the two children’s heads that you can see on the back of “Possessed” (1985). “Welcome To Hell” (1981), “Black Metal” (1982), the single “Bloodlust” (1982), the single “Manitou” (1984)… I did them all. I thought that was very important. The music, the concept of the band and the imaginary should match and form a whole. In addition to album covers, I could also design clothes. The outfits that I wear on stage – the boots, the studs and the straps – I also designed all those myself. You couldn’t buy the clothes I wanted to wear during shows in a store. So I simply had no other choice than to make them myself.”
In the book “Murder In The Front Row”, you can see a lot of old pictures of many American bands in their early years, including METALLICA, EXODUS and SLAYER. You can see both James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine in various photos from early 1982 wearing VENOM shirts. When were you aware for the first time that VENOM inspired other Metal bands?
“That was quite early on in our career actually. We were also really looking for such bands to go on tour together. We really did not want to go on tour with bands like SAXON or SAMSON, those kind of bands. We wanted bands that were more aggressive. One day, I got a video of a show of METALLICA in San Francisco. Dave Mustaine was still in the band at that time and he was wearing a “Welcome To Hell” shirt. METALLICA had a lot in common with VENOM musically at that time. When you listen to songs like ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Jump In The Fire’, you can easily hear that. That’s why we asked them to accompany us on the road. When we were touring through Europe in 1984 together with METALLICA, they let me hear SLAYER from Los Angeles. And from there, it all developed. I still have very fond memories of the “Seven Dates Of Hell” tour with METALLICA. It was great fun. We really had not a big fan base in England at that time. But we got a lot of feedback in the US and the rest of Europe. It was definitely a boost for us to play in those countries for the first time and feel that the audience was really waiting for us. It was also the first time for METALLICA to play in Europe. It was also a great opportunity for them. The guys in METALLICA are still good friends of mine. We always have a chat when we meet.”
In “Only Death Is Real” – the book that Tom Warrior wrote about HELLHAMMER – you can read an amusing anecdote. During a press conference that you gave in Zürich in February 1984 during the “Seven Dates Of Hell” tour, he would have dropped the HELLHAMMER demo “Triumph Of Death” on your table, saying that his band was more extreme than VENOM. Apparently, you would have reacted quite amused when you saw the cover of the demo and the slogan ‘HELLHAMMER are killing VENOM’ and even played the demo in front of the press.
“I think Tom slightly changed the story. We had indeed a press conference in a hotel in Zürich. And there was a guy sitting in the front, who said he knew a European band that was more extreme and heavier than VENOM. I pointed at him and said ‘And that’s probably the band you’re playing in.’ He came forward and timidly asked if he could give us a demo of his band and walked away. The slogan ‘HELLHAMMER are killing VENOM’… I really can’t remember that.”
You had only played a handful of shows when you played for the first time in Belgium in 1982, in Poperinge. The bands ACID and PICTURE were support acts.
“That was indeed our first concert on the European continent. Belgium has a very special place in my heart. Belgium was the first country that received VENOM with open arms. I remember very well that I was so excited the night before, that I could hardly sleep. We had previously only played a few times in church halls in England. Nobody wanted to let us play in a nice club. It is for this reason that we travelled to the rest of Europe. It was only after we had successfully played in countries like Italy and France, that England also got it. Last year, we played in Torhout. And I was really astonished when I realized that it was already thirty years ago that we had been on a stage in Belgium. Torhout was a great experience… to finally be able to play again in the country where it all began. The problem is that we can only give a show, if we get a real offer from a good promoter. I recently talked to someone from Turkey, who thought that we should give a show in Turkey. That’s perfect for me, I want to do it, but all the details should be discussed and taken care of in advance. When the original line-up got back together in 1995, we had a lot of problems with promoters, announcing shows of VENOM that had not been confirmed. We even had to hire lawyers several times. Many tickets were sold for various festivals and concerts, while the organization had never contacted us or made a deal with us. You can luckily avoid that these days, thanks to the internet. If a show is not listed on our website, you shouldn’t believe it.”
One of the highlights in your career is probably your headline show at Dynamo Open Air in 1996. You can watch that show on YouTube. When the bombs are set off in the beginning of your set, it seems like whole Eindhoven is blown up.
“The bigger, the better (laughs). That really was an occasion where we could set off a lot of fireworks. We really wanted to make a spectacle of it, so that people would still be talking about it for years to come. I have seen many theatre productions in London, which have ten times more possibilities as we have. Moving stages, women dressed as angels, special effects… I would also really want all that. We always have a lot of ideas. And even if we can only realize about forty percent of it, that’s still much more than most bands come up with. I love to sit together with technicians, to see what’s possible. Our concerts are always quite big, but I have never hurt me during a gig. It may not seem so, but we always know what we do. Those bombs are quite dangerous, you really need to watch out when they go off. But playing a show is still the best job there is.”
In 2000, you recorded the album “Resurrection” together with your brother Antony. How was it actually to make an album with your brother?
“That’s just a fable, because the drummer has the same last name as me. I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”
A couple of years ago, you were involved in a serious climbing accident. How did that accident affect you psychologically? Did it change your general view on life?
“I was climbing, I had an accident, I spent some time recovering and I got better. That’s all I want to say about it, I talked about this already way too many times in the past.”
Since you returned to the stage with VENOM, your shows have become quite exclusive. You don’t do long tours anymore as in the beginning of your career. It that mainly to make your shows something special?
“Since 2009, VENOM has played more shows than during our early years (laughs). In the eighties, we actually really didn’t play that much. We prefer to play at festivals nowadays. Many fans who live in fairly remote countries and areas write to us, asking if we could come to their country. I have put a very clear statement on our website regarding that. We always play big shows. But in some venues or at certain festivals, that’s just not possible. And if fans just want to see a nice Rock’n’Roll show without all the fuss, that’s also possible. And because of that, we have been able to play in new territories and countries like Portugal, Bulgaria and Romania. The shows in South America were also great.”
Last month, you released your new album “From The Very Depths”. It’s an album that sounds remarkably fresh. There is a good mix of up-tempo work (‘Grinding Teeth’) and slower songs (‘Smoke’). The album proves that VENOM is still relevant in the extreme Metal scene in the year 2015.
“Absolutely! You can also see that when you have a look at the sales of our albums and the fans who come to the shows and sing along with the songs. When we got back together in 1995 in the original line-up, we made one album afterwards, “Cast In Stone” (1997). I think that “Cast In Stone” (1997) is definitely an ok album, but it is not a masterpiece, especially if you compare it to “Welcome To Hell” (1981) and “Black Metal” (1982). That was our chance to see if the old line-up would still work. Our current fans know that they should no longer hope that the old line-up will ever get back together. Many bands – such as STATUS QUO – have young and new members in the band, who are hungry and want to prove themselves. There are not many old bands who still attract fans who appreciate and are interested in the old material, as well as the more recent material. When we ask fans what songs they want to hear, we always get songs from our last albums. We have kind of lost the people who are only interested in our first records along the way. It’s also pretty pointless for them to come to one of our gigs, because we are not going to play only old songs. We want to play songs that the fans want to hear.”
The line-up of VENOM has been stable since 2009. What are in your opinion the strengths of Rage (guitar) and Dante (drums)?
“Their dedication. In the past, there were a lot of people who played in VENOM for the wrong reasons. They thought they would become rich and famous pretty quick. Dante and Rage are both tremendously hard workers. I have my own studio where we meet a couple times a week. We do this not only when we have to practice a set or when we want to record an album, but because we love to make music together. Dante called me yesterday afternoon quite spontaneously, asking if I wanted to play together. And we ended up in the studio, playing the whole album from back to front (laughs), just because it’s a cool thing to do. During the first years we made music together, Dante and Rage had to play only songs from many years ago, written by other people. And I can imagine that something like that is terribly frustrating after a while. I also would not like to do that. On “From The Very Depths”, we have tried all kinds of things. Live, we can play more songs now where they’re also a part of.”
On the new CD, there’s a song entitled ‘The Death Of Rock’n’Roll’. Do you miss the feeling of danger in the Metal scene of today?
“VENOM has always been quite controversial. And I want to maintain that. I don’t want to become a parody. I want to try new things and challenge myself as a musician. That sense of danger you’re talking about, that’s still there, I think. However, many things have become common in the meantime. The only dangerous bands that there were when we released our debut were SEX PISTOLS and MOTÖRHEAD. Metal is still dangerous music, for an audience that wants more than just a catchy chorus. I think a lot of Rock music is actually quite intelligent music. The best musicians of today are playing in Rock bands.”
How ambitious would you say that you still are in 2015?
“Well, even much more than in the beginning. When I saw RAVEN and TYGERS OF PAN TANG working in the studio in 1980, I was convinced that they would become as big as DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN (laughs). I was sick with envy. I went to all the shows of my favourite bands… RUSH, DEEP PURPLE, RAINBOW. And I just dreamed of being able to do that as well. That just seemed impossible, because I really thought that those bands were just brilliant. And then, to be able to make an album and also notice that people were interested in your band, that was great! There is nobody who is going to stop me with VENOM. Fortunately, we have a big following that supported us through thick and thin, in both good and bad days. That’s a huge motivation.”
How big are the chances to see VENOM on stage again this year in Belgium or the Netherlands?
“Our management is currently negotiating with many festivals. So far, there are five festivals confirmed, but we will certainly add a lot. I always have the feeling – already for a long time – that the promoters in Europe always have a preference for American bands. Year after year, they put ANTHRAX, SLAYER, MEGADETH and METALLICA on their bill. Again and again. That’s fucking boring! Many festivals in recent years have failed and had to cancel, because the audience just doesn’t take it anymore. See MEGADETH play once every five years is more than enough. Twice a year is too much, they’re not that good. MEGADETH is a very average Metalband with a very average singer, in fact below average. There are so many other great bands who would just fill those festivals.”
Interview: Steven Willems
Live pics: Jonas Rogowski / Wikipedia