In retrospect, of course, Vader were the safe bet tonight. The metal scene is well known for its celebration of musical history and heritage and when a band decides to unearth their very earliest material for a special performance (particularly a band as reliable and beloved as Poland’s Vader) they have to really get something wrong to displease the crowd. And pleased the audience certainly are, the devastating performance treated as a sort of homecoming, not least by the sizeable Polish fanbase present tonight, many of whom are old enough to have followed the band back in the seminal era revisited during this set.
Venom Inc., on the other hand, take the stage as a truly unknown quality. Featuring guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon, two thirds of Venom’s classic line-up, and with vocalist Tony Dolan from one of the band’s later incarnations to boot, this is theoretically much more authentic and close to the heart of the beast than the band using the Venom name today. Yet that outfit (featuring of course, remaining founding member Cronos) have been pretty active over the last decade, releasing four albums and playing live, albeit somewhat sporadically. The three men playing tonight have undoubtedly received less scrutiny; Mantas and Dolan’s exploits together in the band M-Pire Of Evil have flown somewhat under the radar, while Abaddon has been largely AWOL since leaving the reunited Venom at the end of the ‘90s. Frankly, a hell of a lot rests on this show – a bad performance, after all, would confirm the sceptic’s position that the group is simply a pretender to the true Venom throne or even – as some have claimed – a sort of covers band.
Thankfully, despite a slightly ropey start, such fears are soon put to rest. The very sight of Abaddon drumming on these songs again is enough to excite the hardcore Venom fans here – the fact that he is playing with Mantas, a combination last seen some three decades ago, is enough to push some here into elation. Although tonight is obviously all about nostalgia it still feels surprisingly fresh and relevant. The presence of stone-cold classics such as Warhead and Countess Bathory guarantees a good time of course, but it’s the vitriolic delivery that seals the deal, the crowd intoxicated enough by the spirit of the glory days (as well as by more traditional means) to demand not one, but two encores from the trio.
This early test is passed with flying colours then, but how did this unlikely reunion come about in the first place? After all, Venom lore has it that the Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon can barely stand to be in the same room these days, let alone playing classic metal together.
“It began when Keep It True festival booked M-Pire Of Evil and started to enquire about Venom songs,” explains Mantas back on the band’s tour bus. “We said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got some in our set’ and they said, ‘What would happen if Abaddon were there?’ The idea was that we would do an M-Pire Of Evil set and then Abaddon comes on and we do some classic Venom songs. I hadn’t spoken to Abaddon since 1998, had no contact whatsoever, didn’t know what the hell he was doing. But after a while we said, ‘Let’s go for it, we’ll do five or six songs, but that’s it’.”
The reaction, perhaps unsurprisingly, was overwhelming. Excitement began to build online at the prospect of a lasting reunion between founding Venom members, something last witnessed in the late ‘90s on the Cast In Stone album. As it turns out, relations with Cronos remain as fraught as ever and the obvious question of whether the band considered approaching him is met with a quick ‘Not at all’. With that in mind, the adaption of the Venom name and logo is likely to continue raising eyebrows, at least among those who have yet to have the pleasure of seeing the band prove themselves in the live arena.
“We searched long and hard for a name and eventually came up with Iron And Steel and sent the logo over to the promoters, but they were going, ‘Yeah… but this is Venom isn’t it?’ So the next thing we see is a poster with Venom on it so we thought, ‘We’ve got to do something’, so it became Venom Incorporated, Venom Inc. We used the logo that Abaddon drew in 1979, 1980 – he designed the original logo and said, ‘We’re using the fucking logo. No one has asked my fucking permission to use it in any way, shape or form, I haven’t sold it to anybody, so we’ll use that!’.
What happens from here will be interesting to observe, since there are effectively two bands playing Venom songs. But one thing is for sure, these are the songs that arguably helped kickstart extreme metal as we know it today (be that thrash, death or black metal), and there is a legion of fans around the world who want to see them in the flesh.
“I cant get my head round it,” says Mantas. “You get people tell you that you changed their lives. It’s like, ‘Sorry!’ But then saying that, if I was to meet KK Downing from Judas Priest I’d probably piss my pants. I met Rob Halford twice and I was shaking. And we’ve had that, when we went to Japan, there was a guy just shaking. And through their translator he just said, ‘I can’t speak’. It’s all very humbling indeed.”
All photos by Kevin Nixon