Fourteen albums into their career, UK metal legends VENOM are clearly no longer releasing music as revelatory or influential as the records they made during their early-’80s heyday. From the Very Depths is a far cry from their incendiary debut Welcome to Hell, the genre-spawning follow-up Black Metal, or 1984’s epic At War with Satan. In fact, it would be easy for a cynical metal fan to accuse singer/bassist Cronos (the band’s sole-remaining original member) of simply cashing in lazily on the name recognition and reputation he helped establish decades ago. However, I don’t think that accusation holds up to much scrutiny.
For one thing, even on weaker records you can always tell that these guys are having an absolute blast playing. Cronos said in a recent interview that he takes the idea of his band being a BAND very seriously. His newer, younger collaborators are equal partners, encouraged to bring fresh ideas to the table when it comes to songwriting and production, lest Venom become just another black metal solo project. Secondly, if Cronos were merely trying to capitalize on people’s fondness for the band’s classic material, he’d keep making records that mimic exactly the sloppy, high-speed raw punk spirit of the first two. Ever since the prog-influenced 20-minute title track on their third album, Venom have attempted to stay contemporary, to stretch as musicians and challenge themselves to try new things.
“I remember watching the ‘Some Kind of Monster’ video from METALLICA and they were sitting trying to come up with some ideas for the new album, and Lars pops up saying, You’re really stuck, man,” says Cronos in the aforementioned interview. “You have no ideas left. And I must have said, If I ever end up in that situation, I would get a different job. So it’s great to be able to have a band where we have too many ideas.”
Unfortunately, not all these ideas pay off. From the Very Depths, which was subject to a year-long delay during the writing and recording process, is far too long. Groove-metal yawners like “Smoke” drag the whole thing down and stretch on interminably. The improved musical chops and cleaner production leave a number of the songs just feeling middling and unmemorable, and if I’m being honest the best tracks ARE the ones that come closest to the classic Venom sound, such as the excellently titled “Long Haired Punks.” Thankfully, there are enough of those fun moments to warrant at least a couple listens, and like many of their later-period albums there are a handful of songs that are straight-up rippers. And at the end of the day, it’s really admirable that Cronos and company are still just having a blast making the records they want to make, whether the public responds or not.
From the Very Depths is available now from Spinefarm Records.