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January 1985 saw a surprising new addition to the Venom catalogue. By this time bassist/vocalist Cronos, guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon already had three official album releases for Neat Records under their bullet belts, together with a clutch of singles in a seemingly bewildering array of formats. Then, in advance of an American and Canadian tour, the Montreal-based Banzai label unleashed ‘Canadian Assault’ on the unsuspecting public.

At this time the band were in their ascendancy. Their second album ‘Black Metal’ had turned the band into cult heroes and its follow-up, ‘At War With Satan’ had even tickled the lower reaches of the UK Album Charts. Their first European tour, the Seven Dates Of Hell (which culminated in a show at the then Hammersmith Odeon on 1 June 1984 and was videoed and later released as ‘The Seventh Date Of Hell’), had been an overwhelming success, and the band themselves had spawned a legion of copycat acts. It’s little wonder then that Banzai speculated on the viability of a ‘souvenir’ release for their domestic market, and ‘Canadian Assault’ was born, setting a template for a number of spin-offs. Despite its title, though, there was nothing Canadian about the material. Side One collected up three tracks – ‘Warhead’, ‘Women’ [sic] and ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’ – from various singles, while Side Two offered three songs from the soundtrack of the Hammersmith Odeon video: ‘Die Hard, ‘Welcome To Hell’ and ‘In Nomine Satanas’.  

‘Canadian Assault’ was, in theory, strictly a one-off, but, in the music business, when something sells well you can be sure it’ll start a bandwagon, and eventually six such mini-albums adorned Venom fans’ collections. The series quickly soon took on quasi-legendary status, not because they offered anything particularly new (although the live tracks were nice to have on record) but because they had novelty value and, as imports, they were so damned collectable. And expensive. Only the first two (the Canadian and American editions, from January and November 1985 respectively) and the final ‘Japanese Assault’ from 1987 were ever officially sanctioned by the band; that said, both the German and Scandinavian releases carried a Neat Records centre label and an ‘issued under licence’ comment, so were ‘official’ in that respect and probably put a few quid in Neat’s bank account.

The second release (the American outing) followed the pattern of three studio cuts on one side and three live tracks from the Hammersmith Odeon show on the other, this time coupling studio cuts ‘Rip Ride’, ‘Bursting Out’ and ‘Dead Of The Night’ with ‘Seven Gates Of Hell’, ‘Countess Bathory’ and ‘Welcome To Hell’. The ‘French Assault’, also from the tail end of 1985, tweaked the formula a little by crossing the seemingly-traditional three studio songs (‘Powerdrive’, ‘Bursting Out’ and ‘In Nomine Satanas’) with just one from Hammersmith (‘Countess Bathory’) and ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Bloodlust’ from the August 1985 BBC Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show session. The Scandinavian release from 1986 featured three cuts from the Friday Rock Show (‘Nightmare’ and ‘Bloodlust’ again, alongside ‘Too Loud’ [sic]) with ‘Warhead’ and ‘Die Hard’ from Hammersmith and the studio cut of ‘Powerdrive’. Finally from Europe, the ‘German Assault’ from 1987 took the same three BBC cuts and added two studio tracks (‘Witching Hour’ and Powerdrive’), ‘Buried Alive’ from Hammersmith and the infamous Metro Radio interview with DJ Alan Robson. The only real variation on the theme came with the ‘Japanese Assault’, which at forty minutes ran in as a real album and wrapped up the ‘In League With Satan’ and ‘Bloodlust’ singles with other assorted A- and B-sides; the obligatory live cut was ‘Witching Hour’ from the ‘Hell At Hammersmith’ 12”, recorded in September 1985. ‘Japanese Assault’ also marked the end – the first time around – of the classic line-up, the rear sleeve bearing the message “Good luck to Mantas, best wishes to the new Venom!” During the sessions for the band’s fifth studio album – tentatively titled ‘Deadline’ – Mantas decided to leave the band. He would go on to release the more melodic ‘Winds Of Change’ album, while Venom – now expanded to a four-piece with Mike Hickey and Jim Clare replacing him – would unleash ‘Calm Before The Storm’ in November 1987.

Any legend spawns its own folklore, and stories abound, for example, of an ‘Italian Assault’ although, like the Yeti, the Holy Grail, and life without taxes, it remains merely a myth. The ‘series’ ran to six EPs in total, all of which are wrapped up in the Dissonance Productions ‘Assault!’  CD box set in replica card slipcases (and they are also available individually on vinyl through sister label Back On Black). They sound as exciting now as they did back when they first appeared, over thirty years ago. Reviewing ‘Canadian Assault’ in Sounds back in April 1985, Steffan Chirazi gave the release the full five stars, noting that “the best power metal band in the world offer us yet more tasty vinyl. Confirmed Venom addicts will already have the three studio tracks on the first side. But wow! Just wrap your ears around the blissful live side…” What further validation do you need?

‘Assault!’ is an electrifying box set, and the albums, which capture the band at the height of their powers, are demonstrable proof that Venom were a ground-breaking force to be reckoned with. What’s not to like?

To buy the ‘Assault’ box set, or any of the other Venom releases on Dissonance, click the links HERE