The following interview with Anthony “Abaddon” Bray was done way back in 1997 when VENOM were promoting their reunion album “Cast In Stone”. The interview originally appeared in Snakepit # 2, but one part unfortunately got lost during the layout process, so this is not only the first time you ever get to read it online, it’s also the only complete version of it. Enjoy!
When did you start writing the new VENOM material?
“I guess it was after we played the Dynamo Festival in ’96. We realized that we weren’t just back together for one or two concerts, you know, we were actually going to record an album. We kind of got straight into it then. The other two guys had a lot of material that they’d been writing over the years, they had a lot of riffs… The stuff that I’d been doing, I had been doing in the studio anyway. I just had to kind of temper it and change it a little bit to suit in what VENOM were doing. So, the two songs that I did by myself were ‘Domus Mundi’ and ‘Swarm’ and they are the songs that sound a little bit different. They kind of sound a little bit futuristic and I hope they will be taking VENOM a little bit further forward. A lot of it was done with samples, with drum samples, with loops and these kind of things, which is something that VENOM hadn’t really explored before. But the remainder of the stuff, that Cronos and Mantas wrote, had been happening over a good period of time, so there was a lot of material already there.”
So, what about this track ‘The Evil One’, which already appeared on this “Venom ’96” Mini CD?
“When we first agreed that we were gonna play the Dynamo, we were doing Waldrock before… We started jamming, playing old songs and whatever and agreed, if it didn’t sound like VENOM right from the beginning, then we wouldn’t do it! We would kind of leave it to where it was and go separate ways again. But it sounded so good, it sounded so much like VENOM when we were playing our old songs that we agreed to go on. And the song ‘The Evil One’ was a riff that Mantas had been playing with and jamming with and we all kind of jammed along with it. We had some lyrics and threw it together as a kind of a demo while we were rehearsing, because we were rehearsing in the recording studio. It was quite easy to stick a riff down. We just said “Put the riff down, so we don’t forget it!” and I said “Well, I’ve got some drumming and we got some lyrics, let’s throw it all down and do a kind of a mix on it.” So, the version on the “Venom ’96” thing obviously is a very different version to what’s on “Cast In Stone”. Because it was really meant as a kind of a demo… it was meant as something for us to record at the time, so we would keep it in our memory and remember the song and remember the lyrics. Some of the lyrics have changed and some of the pattern has changed, but the basis of the song is the same.”
Why did you just include a taste of ‘The Evil One’ on that MCD?
“Because that’s all it was! For me it’s just a taste… Like I said, it’s just a rough demo, it was just convenient that we’d happen to be in the recording studio. I guess if we’d been just in a normal rehearsal room, we kind of would have stuck it down on a cassette or something. Then we wouldn’t have released it, but because we were in a recording studio and it was going down on a 24-track tape, we thought it was a pretty good demo version to release at that point and the “Venom ’96” thing was only for the Dynamo crowd, so it was kind of a special thing. VENOM always did things with different B-sides or different singles, or the singles weren’t on the albums and it was another one of those. It was kind of a song that was a little bit different. For me personally, I would’ve left it off “Cast In Stone” and left it as a stand alone song on that EP, but it didn’t work out that way.”
You also re-recorded four other old VENOM classics for that EP… Have you considered those as some kinda test for the actual album recordings maybe?
“Yeah, but I was also aware that there’s a lot of people coming to see VENOM, who are too young to be aware of what “Black Metal” was when the album came out or what ‘Witching Hour’ is or ‘Countess Bathory’ or anything like that. When people are coming to see VENOM, we’re only playing four or five songs from “Cast In Stone”. So, we’ve got this whole one and a half hours set, with songs that a lot of the people haven’t heard before… So, this is part of why there’s this free CD thing in with “Cast In Stone” as well, to let people hear some of the old songs. But also for ourselves, we need to know that we still sound like VENOM. When you’re re-recording things like ‘Lady Lust’ or ‘Burstin’ Out’ or something, it’s like you’re always checking yourself, you’re making sure that it still sounds like VENOM did and it still feels good and it still works.”
Was it difficult to choose those songs from all the old stuff you have available?
“Yeah… Well, in the times that we hadn’t been together, we’d still been doing interviews and talking to people and lot of fans had kind of said that whenever there was a compilation coming out, it always had the same songs… It always had ‘Witching Hour’ and ‘Countess Bathory’ and ‘Seven Gates…’ and a lot of people kind of had the opinion that some of the B-sides and some of the more obscure songs would’ve been better on an album, so we had that in the back of our minds as well… To keep the old stuff relevant, but also for the die hard fans, to re-record some of these songs that don’t turn up quite as often.”
What would you say has changed for the better now? Is it just the production that has become stronger on the new versions or did you change anything else?
“I think the playing has become a lot better! We’re all better musicians now than we were… I think a good song is a good song, you know. I think that’s why people like “Welcome To Hell”. The production was bad, the recording was bad, the musicianship was bad but they were good songs! And I think now that we’re better musicians, again some people say that’s not so, some people say that that old production and that old bad playing was part of what made the song good. So, there’s kind of an opinion on both sides or on all different sides of VENOM. Personally I think that being better musicians has to help make the song sound better.”
Have you tried to stick as much to the originals as possible when you re-recorded those songs?
“Yeah, very much. The main things we changed I guess is solos and lead breaks, you know. Mantas never plays the same thing twice! But again, that’s the same when he plays live. A solo that’s on “Cast In Stone”, the riff will be the same, but I doubt that the solo will be anything like it! The solo section will be the same, what Cronos and myself will play over that section will still be the bedrock under whatever he does. But I think that’s one part of VENOM that I would like see develop more.”
l was somehow familiar with the track ‘Venom’ already, but as far as I know it has never officially been released before, has it?
“That’s right. No, it was never released.”
Where is that from?
“I think we did it once or twice live and it sort of came out on bootlegs and compilations and things, but it was never officially released. It was the first riff we ever messed around with and to be honest, I think it was kind of a rip off of the QUEEN song ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, I think Mantas was playing that and I started playing along with him. The old singer, before Cronos ever sang, had some lyrics, but they changed all the time. It was mainly a piece of fun and we never really wanted it to be a song that particularely got heard. But when we started doing these things, we thought it would be fun to drag it out and do it. And like I said, it still sounds like ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ to me.”
Was it originally on some kinda demo or anything?
“I don’t think so, no. I think we just played it live. The first couple of gigs we did in New York, we played it live there. And because we were working with METALLICA then, they became quite famous bootlegs.”
Most of the new songs definitely sound like classic VENOM again, but you also incorporated pretty untypical elements this time… Where did you draw those influences from?
“I think mainly from owning a recording studio and sitting around in downtime when there’s no band in. I was sampling a lot of stuff, like a lot of old VENOM drum loops and things. That’s why ‘Domus Mundi’ starts with the first single we ever had, ‘In League With Satan’, which was a drum / bass thing as you know and I sampled it and made a loop from it and then played along to it. And the same with some of the things that are in ‘Swarm’, that’s Mantas’ guitar parts, from the start of ‘Seven Gates…’. I was still kind of using Cronos’ vocals even when Cronos wasn’t in the band and I was still kind of creating VENOM stuff even when the other members weren’t there. So, when they came along and I played them the 24-track for those two songs, they were a bit confused as to what I wanted them to play. So I had to explain that there was a whole new song over the top of all the drum loops. And when I played the drum part, then they kind of turned down some of the drum loops and the samples, they listened to the new drumming that I was playing and they listened to the new guitar parts I was giving them. And then when we turned all the drum loops up underneath, that’s what made the new sound. And now, when I play it to Cronos and Mantas, they really like the songs. But they couldn’t get into the direction I was trying to go. So, I don’t think I was particularly influenced by other bands, say like NINE INCH NAILS or MINISTRY or anybody. I think I was really influenced by technology and by the equipment and what we could do with samplers and that kinda thing and still make it sound like VENOM. I’ve been told that it sounds probably like MARILYN MANSON or WHITE ZOMBIE or something. But I don’t particularly listen to those bands, so I wouldn’t have said I’ve been influenced by them. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing if we do sound like those bands, cause I think those bands are pretty relevant for the 90s. But I can’t say I’m influenced by them, more by the technology!”
Did you already get any reactions on those tracks from VENOM fans?
“Everybody says they like them! Cause those are the two songs that everybody brings up. You know, people mention ‘Flight Of The Hydra’ because it sounds very much like ‘Bloodlust’ and they mention ‘Raised In Hell’ because it sounds almost like ‘Witching Hour’ or something. But the two songs that they bring up as being different and being exciting and interesting for the future are those two songs! And I don’t think people particularly know that I wrote them and only bring them up because they’re my songs. If all fourteen songs sounded like that, I wouldn’t have said that was a particularly good indication of VENOM. I think the stuff that Cronos has been writing was deliberately going back to 1980. He made the songs sound like they could’ve been on “Black Metal”, you know. I don’t think ‘Domus…’ and ‘Swarm’ sound they could’ve been on “Black Metal”, but I feel like ‘Flight Of The Hydra’, ‘Raised In Hell’, ‘Destroyed & Damned’… all those songs sound like they could’ve come from the “Black Metal” era.”
How much time did you invest in the actual writing process of the new material?
“Probably about two or three months. It took quite a while to pull all the pieces together and then to rehearse them, you know.”
How did you actually write them? Did you all get together in some rehearsal place…?
“Not really. We did once or twice… the other two, Cronos and Mantas, got together almost every day. We came up with thirty or fourty songs… there’s a lot of songs that we demoed and then didn’t record, so there was a whole lot of material, which I think is good.”
Will you use those songs for upcoming releases?
“Quite possibly, I don’t know. It depends on what the future holds, really, because we’re the kind of band that… when recording new stuff, we don’t really… well, personally speaking, I don’t really like going back to the past to bring stuff out. I prefer creating as we’re going and letting the songs influence us as well as us influencing the songs. One of the albums I liked doing best, but most difficult, was “The Waste Lands” album, because the members of the band were very rarely there all at the same time, you know. I would go in and do some drum tracks along to a rhythm I had and then the bassplayer would come up with some bass on and the guitar player would come up with some guitars on, then we’d put some keyboards on, the guitar player came back in and the keyboard length would suggest something else to him. So, we would strip the guitar parts and re-do them. And then I would think “Oh, that sounds good, let’s strip the drum parts, I go back in and play the drums again.” I don’t know if I have the time to do that now, but I enjoyed doing that. It took a long time, it’s a different way of writing, because you’re always being influenced by the music and by the album. So, at the end of the day, it’s kind of a fresh entity, it’s not just a song that you’ve lived with, that everybody else learns and then you play it. The album itself has an influence back on the bandmembers, it’s quite rare and difficult to get that! I don’t think we did that with “Cast In Stone”, but we certainly were influenced as we went along, because it took such a long time to record the album and there were outside influences coming in, you know.”
Was it difficult for you to work together again and all of a sudden trying to re-activate the old magic after all those years and all the bad blood between Cronos and yourself?
“Re-activating the band and bringing out the old magic wasn’t difficult at all, it just happened naturally, we happen to sound like VENOM. But the bad blood is still there and if anything, it’s worse than ever! But one of the most positive things for VENOM right now was, that we’ve learned to grow up a little bit and we’ve learned to channel bad energies into a positive force. I can be angry, but then I can learn to sort of sit down and count to ten. And I think Cronos as well. We’ve spent so much time being negative with each other and being hard work for each other, that’s quite a lot of energy, you know. And for the good of the band this or that just has to happen, it’s not always what each of us particularly wants. It’s quite difficult to be so angry with somebody, so when you can kind of channel it into a natural progression and a good future then you can get good things out of it. And I think hopefully that’s what we’ve learned to do. It’s all about compromise at the moment.”
Is this bad blood between Cronos and yourself also responsible for him not having a thanks list in the new CD?
“Uhm, that hasn’t anything to do with me. I did the sleeve and I did all the credits and everything and all the artwork. But I gave him time and I asked him for a thanks list and for a credit list, but he didn’t come up with one, so I actually wrote on the bottom of the CD “Cronos would like to thank no one.” But when he saw it, he said “Will you take that line off and just leave it that there’s no thanx?” and I was like “Ok, that’s fine!” That’s kind of what happened. I asked Mantas for a list and he gave me one and I asked Cronos for a list and he didn’t, so…”
Tell us a bit about the artwork… How did you get the idea to come up with this pretty untypical looking design for the album cover?
“It’s quite interesting, because long before we got together I had… I like taking photographs and I saw a photograph of a gargoyle… And when we got back together, I spoke to Cronos about doing the first photosession before Waldrock… And obviously we weren’t doing any seperates, we would all do three head shots and after we’ve finished, I think Mantas was getting changed, I said to Cronos “Will you come and do one more photograph for me?” And I made him pull a face in a certain way because I knew what this gargoyle was like. He said “What’s it for?” and I said “Oh, it’s just an idea for a photograph, for a piece of artwork.” And he was cool about it. What I was gonna do was, I brought it back and put it on a computer and merged it too, it worked very very well! When I showed it to him again he was really excited about it. What I hadn’t worked out was, what to do with my face or what to do with Mantas’ face. I thought that the cover just would be Cronos’ face, because that piece of the artwork worked so well. But I got another gargoyle and worked Mantas’ face in with that and I tried loads with mine, but it didn’t work. So then we got a skull and I merged the skull and I think that works quite well. And when I was putting the whole thing together and was putting all the rocks around it, I wasn’t really aware until I saw it come back from the print… The band that I’ve most been influenced by and I think the band that I like the best is DEEP PURPLE! And when you look at it, it actually looks like “Deep Purple In Rock”. And I had never thought about that, you know. So, when I was looking at it when it came back, I just thought “This looks like I’ve just ripped off “Deep Purple In Rock”!” It’s such a similar sleeve. I must have being influenced by that from the back of my head without being aware of it, you know. It’s weird, because I was seeing it for three years, working on it for three years…”
Was it planned from the beginning to use this effect kinda thing as well or did that come afterwards?
“The effect on the front?”
“No, that came afterwards. That was really a record company thing. I mean, that’s just a sticker and if you take the sticker out, the actual artwork is the one that’s on the booklet, the one behind! That’s the proper artwork, that’s how I finished it. When I sent it to Rainer at CBH Records, he said “We were speaking to Jay at SPV and we got this idea about this hologram thing.” And I didn’t know what it was, I had never seen it. I only saw it when the job was finished. But when I looked at it, I thought “Wow, that really works pretty good, but you can’t see the artwork now!” I had spent so many hours on the artwork to get it looking right and I thought now it’s hidden. And then, when I took the booklet out and saw that it was only like a sticker, I thought “Ah, that’s ok!” You can take the sticker out and put it on your wall or something, or you can have that on the front of the CD or you can put it behind and put the proper sleeve in. So, I quite like it now, but it was completely done by the record company. That was their idea and they spent an awful lot of money on it. I think it’s cool, it’s a bit of a different sleeve, you know.”
Why didn’t you use the original VENOM logo for the artwork as well?
“I had done a whole new logo which was based on the old one, just a little bit changed. Because every time I do a logo, I change it a little bit. When you look at the first VENOM logo, it’s always been a similar logo, but it’s had a little bit of a change. What I wanted to do was, make it look like it was carved into the rock, you know, cast into the stone. But the original logo didn’t really work, so I thought a straight type face will cut in better. I wasn’t deliberately trying to get away from the logo. I’ve done a new one since then. But with the stone effect on the sleeve, that one worked a bit better.”
There’s also a vinyl version of “Cast In Stone” available and it’s supposed to be a three album box kinda thing… So, are there any other differences to the CD version, except for that?
“I don’t really know, because I haven’t seen one. All I know is that… One of the places I always wanted to play was in Greece and I’d been there a couple of times with SKYCLAD and met a lot of VENOM fans overthere. They said, they still played vinyl and they still liked LPs. There’s a lot of places, like South America, Italy, Spain, Greece… places that still buy vinyl and they still consider it important. So, when I spoke to Rainer, I said “What about doing something like a limited boxset or something?” That was where that came from. But I don’t think there’s anything different on there particularly, but like I said, I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t really know.”
Who came up with the majority of the songwriting by the way?
“I think the majority of it is probably Cronos’. To be honest, he didn’t come up with that many more, it just turned out that many more went up on the album. I think everybody came up with… I only came up with like eight songs and I think Mantas had about seventeen or something. But the majority on the album belongs to Cronos. He’s sort of writing all the time and he’s always going back to stuff that he wrote sort of ten years ago and touching it up, so there’s always a lot of material there.”
Where did you record the album and how long have you been in the studio after all, including mix?
“It was done at my studio, I’ve just put a new studio in my house. We converted the ballroom there and started in November of 1996 and it was finished by February ’97. VENOM were in in March… So, the whole studio was built really for the comfort of VENOM, which also means that it’s comfortable for other bands as well. We had a new desk and new monitors and a full rebuild in the studio. VENOM was in until July or August ’97, we were in for a good part of the year, mainly because we were writing stuff and demoing stuff. We recorded the whole album once, took it away and decided which songs we’re gonna keep and then went away and re-recorded all those songs and mixed it. And we sent the whole lot out to Rainer at CBH. And Rainer said that he loved the songs and he loved the playing and the arrangements, but he wanted to remix it. He didn’t like the mix. Normally VENOM would be pretty defensive about it, but Rainer was so involved with the band, that we thought, “Well, it can’t harm anything. If we don’t like the mix, we can always put our own mix out.” But when it came back, it sounded so good, it’s a tremendous job he’s done, him and Charlie Bauerfeind. It’s their mix!”
How long did you stay in the studio in general for your old albums? I doubt it was that long…
“Nooo. For “Welcome To Hell” it was something like three or four days and I think “Black Metal” took like six or seven days. It wasn’t our studio then, so we had to kind of rehearse songs weeks and weeks and weeks before we went in to record them. They’re all kind of first or second takes, we didn’t have enough time to kinda go through and be picky about it. I think if we would take “Black Metal” home and listen to it a couple of times, we would’ve gone back in and re-record that if we’d had the option to do that, but we didn’t, so… For “Cast In Stone” we had more time, more space, more options and we were recording for one or two hours a day and then just forgetting it. A couple of guys were going home, but it’s great when you live there, because you roll out of bed at ten thirty or something, go downstairs and do some drum tracks and then you got the rest of the day free. It’s a nice recording for me, I quite enjoy doing it. Cause I’ve never been a big fan of recording, I’ve always liked live work better. But now it’s kind of going in the same way a little bit.”
What does the future bring us, when it comes to VENOM? Will this re-union be a one time thing, with an album and a tour in support of it or will you continue to work together again?
“I think we’re probably gonna continue working together. We’re certainly signed for three albums with Rainer and we’re very very happy with CBH and with SPV, so I don’t see there being too many problems outside of VENOM. Before there was always problems with Neat, there was always arguments because of publishing, there was always bullshit. So, even if VENOM didn’t have any disagreements, there was always still bad feelings, you know, coming from outside. But now everybody’s really happy, so I only see problems being from within. And if we can be professional about that, which I feel we probably can now, I don’t see any reasons for there not being more records and more live gigging! So, it’s an ongoing thing!”