Venom - Black Metal - Review
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critics' view

For this review, I’ll assume you’re not new to metal and already know why this album is important. If you're not, you can find out on some of the other reviews here but I’m going to cut to the chase. This landmark release is about as influential as they come in the metal world and, as such, it's been praised to Heaven, err… Hell and back and, while this was a trailblazing effort, it’s not quite perfect. There are a few small problems that pop up too often and drag this album down from what otherwise might have been a perfect score.

A number of indisputable classics call this album home. The title track is a powerhouse opener. When the welding torch or whatever industrial machine that is at the beginning gives way to the main riff, you know you’re in for an ass-whooping. The sloppy proto-thrash riffs barrel forth at a sickening speed, flattening you with ease. ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ and ‘Raise the Dead’ are equally vital, with a boundless energy and merciless drive, both as stimulating as they come. Death, black, and thrash metal were all foreseen on this album and it’s not hard to see why legions of followers from Metallica to Mayhem found Venom’s twisted musical vision so inspiring.

On all of these songs, Black Metal's main selling points are on full display. First up is the record's simplicity and violent musicianship. No frills, no pretensions, just a vicious barrage of savage riffing and hostile attitude, demonstrating more than a little influence from the punk movement that had exploded into the public's awareness a few years prior. Said hostile attitude is there in the blazing guitar work, it's there in the drums that bash away with reckless fury, and it's there in Cronos' bellowing, his vocal tone not dissimilar to the sound of gravel scraping against sandpaper. And of course, the album's low-grade production is equally important, as Black Metal's desired roughness would be incomplete without it. If Motörhead can be said to have hot-rodded the metal genre, Venom supercharged it even further, equipping that vicious bitch with the engine of a drag racer and a dangerous amount of nitrous.

Sadly, this album isn't all sun-consuming darkness and Satanic mischief. About half of these tracks have endings that the songwriters clearly put almost no thought into. 'Teacher’s Pet' is a prominent victim, with the band coming across like they didn’t have time to think up a solid way to bring the song to a close so they just improvised this moment where the last note played on the guitar lingers and Cronos shouts “That was good. That was real good.” More than half the pieces on the album also putter out like a junky old car with surprisingly weak, half-hearted endings.

'Teacher's Pet' is the only real weak link here, a fine song hampered by the stupid crap that weighs it down. In addition to the half-baked ending, there's a needlessly long passage in the middle packed with awful noodling that goes nowhere. Eventually it comes to an end when a bunch of rowdy British youths start howling and singing about the teacher showing her tits, each of them managing to find a different way to be off-key. The rest of 'Teacher's Pet' is great, delivering the same savage, high-speed musical bruising most of the other songs do, but about a quarter of the song is just noise the band should have known nobody would want to hear.

As primitive as it may sound today, Black Metal was about as futuristic as they come. In a way, it predicted and laid the groundwork for a smorgasbord of genres, including speed, thrash, and black metal. Despite decades of those genres' practitioners building on the groundwork Venom provided, the ferocity and vitality of this album has rarely been surpassed or equaled. Even when the band slows down the tempo on the dread-inducing 'Buried Alive', Venom's strength as composers shines through, as they deliver an over-the-top cavalcade of songs as goofy as they are furious. This landmark release is absolutely essential, both for its place in history and the quality demonstrated through almost every moment of the disc.

Valfars Ghost
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Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives (commonly known as Metal Archives per the URL or just MA) is a website which lists bands of predominantly heavy metal music. Encyclopaedia Metallum was described by Matt Sullivan of Nashville Scene as "the Internet's central database for all that is 'tr00' in the metal world." Terrorizer described the site as "a fully-exhaustive list of pretty much every metal band ever, with full discographies, an active forum and an interlinking members list that shows the ever-incestuous beauty of the metal scene".
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