Venom – ‘At War With Satan’ (DISS003CD)
Originally released on Neat Records, NEAT 1015, March 1984
Confounding the critics was one of the many things Venom were good at, and 1984’s ‘At War With Satan’ certainly did just that. After issuing two thrash ‘n’ bash albums in ‘Welcome To Hell’ and ‘Black Metal’, the Geordie trio had – it was assumed – pretty much found their niche, and most of the reviews had probably already been written before their third album hit the racks: ‘more of the same…’, ‘no finesse…’ etc etc.
And then Venom turned in a concept album.
Beloved by the progressive fraternity, by the 1980s the term ‘concept album’ had become almost a kiss of death for any release, conjuring up visions of pre-punk Yes and Genesis endlessly noodling away and getting, frankly, nowhere. In fairness, ‘At War With Satan’ is only half a concept album, with the first side being one nineteen-and-three-quarter minute song and the other comprising six more regular Venom workouts. In that respect it’s based on Rush’s 1976 release ‘2112’, an album bassist/vocalist Cronos was particularly fond of. “I started writing the song ‘At War With Satan’ before I was even in the band,” Cronos told Iron Fist fanzine. “It was something I came up with when I first heard ‘2112’… Once I got into Venom, I kept badgering the other guys in the band about it. I had thousands of lyrics, all on cassettes and bits of paper. I had about 250 years’ worth of riffs, and I’d only been doing it three years – here’s your intro, here’s your verse, here’s your chorus – the idea was to do a song where we don’t always repeat the riffs.”
Neat Records pushed the boat out with Venom’s third album, the first 10,000 copies coming with a poster and the initial print run having a textured sleeve. It was also released as a picture disc, and actually broke into the UK album charts, albeit just for one week, at No.64, although controversy over the album’s title and content meant that some UK shops refused to stock it. Manager Eric Cook was quoted as saying: “This is ridiculous. The album is no more controversial than the last one,” which didn’t really help matters.
Kerrang!’s Dante Bonutto seemed to like the title track, noting that it “starts full of promise and falters only rarely. Founded sensibly on a recurring motif – originally included as a ‘teaser’ on the ‘Black Metal’ album – the whole carcass hangs together remarkably well, moving forwards, sometimes nobly, on the back of an anarchic logic with variations in mood and pace keeping interest levels high and sensory powers poised.” Writing in US magazine Metal Rendez-Vous, John Strednansky was much more animated and much more to the point: “I for one love it! The title track is in a class by itself. This side-long epic gives you everything that Venom is about. Violent riffs, howling screaming, thundering bass, exploding drums, black metal at its finest hour… Side two is a fine collection of shorter Venom destructors to castrate the demon by… Venom have truly come up with another winner…”
One fan of ‘At War With Satan’ is The Dreamside’s Roman Schoensee, who recalls that, back in the 1980s, “living in a very rural environment, the only source of information about metal was my older buddy who lived in the city. I was looking for the ‘most brutal metal band on Earth’ and my friend advised me to check out Venom.
“‘Streaming music’ back in those days meant cycling twenty kilometres to the nearest record store if you wanted to listen to new albums or even (at a time when mowing the grass for a few Deutsch Marks paid enough) buy a new record. As lawn mowing was not well paid, investing in a new record took a lot of research, and the choice of what to buy had to be thoroughly considered. As soon as I checked out Venom all my mowing earnings went straight to the record store where I bought their albums blindly.
“‘At War With Satan’ was one of my first Venom albums. An almost twenty minute long concept song with such an energy still thrills me and was a big inspiration to me and my work as a musician. When I listen to Venom today, I still smell fresh mowed grass and feel the sweat on my forehead from long bicycle trips.”
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