Formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the arse-end of the ‘70s, Venom were the Satanic fly in heavy metal’s ointment. Fast, furious, chaotic and unapologetic in their allegiance to the dark side of everything, Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon fed their uncontrollable adolescent energy into some of the most revolutionary heavy music of all time.
From the release of debut single In League With Satan in 1981, Venom effectively wrote the rulebook for underground metal, coining multiple subgenres in the process and having a profound and enduring impact on the burgeoning scene’s imagery and iconography.
Unfortunately, Venom’s history has been as demented and chaotic as their classic early records. There have been splits, reunions and lots of public bickering, but the Venom legend has endured regardless, and a substantial catalogue of fine records has been steadily amassed, albeit by a variety of different line-ups.
From those epoch-shattering early days, through to the current, Cronos-led Venom line-up, the road to Hell has been a fascinating and noisy one. Here we rank the band’s albums, safe in the knowledge that Lucifer really digs all of them.
15. Calm Before The Storm (1987)
Widely regarded as Venom’s creative nadir, Calm Before The Storm attempted to marry the band’s legendarily grubby sound with something slicker and more melodic. Despite occasional high points like the thuggish Metal Punk, their first album without founding guitarist Mantas remains a cack-handed misfire.
14. The Waste Lands (1992)
The third album Venom made with Tony Dolan at the helm has its merits, not least gnarly opening epic Cursed and the skull-rattling Black Legions. But a rather feeble production and an abundance of filler suggested that this incarnation of the black metal pioneers was running out of steam.
13. Temples Of Ice (1991)
Buzzing from the positive reception afforded to Prime Evil two years earlier, the Dolan-led Venom very nearly repeated the trick on this underrated full-length. Temples Of Ice is no classic, but on the likes of Acid and the title track, that old evil magic was definitely in the air.
12. From The Very Depths (2015)
With the power trio of Cronos, guitarist La Rage and drummer Dante firing on all cylinders, Venom’s last decade has been a riot. From The Very Depths is patchy but still blessed with nasty speed metal gems like Long Haired Punks, and creepy slow-burners like the unnerving Evil Law.
11. Hell (2008)
The first Venom album to feature guitarist La Rage, and the last to feature Cronos’ brother Antton on drums, Hell was a respectable attempt to sustain momentum. The band’s 12th album occasionally comes close to summoning the filthy magic of the old days, not least on the grim grandeur of Blood Sky.
10. Storm The Gates (2018)
Inexplicably released midway through December, and widely overlooked as a result, Storm The Gates was another solidly scabrous offering from Cronos and his henchmen. Not everything hits the spot – Beaten To A Pulp is a bit silly, Immortal is one mid-paced grinder too many – but Bring Out Your Dead and We The Loud are certified dirty diamonds.
9. Fallen Angels (2011)
Fallen Angels brought Cronos and La Rage together with new drummer Danny “Dante” Needham for the first time, and the deafening, fizzing chemistry between the trio was hard to miss. Venom’s 13th album exudes the same rabid energy that made the band’s earliest works so irresistible. Hammerhead, Nemesis, Hail Satanas and the title track are all top-drawer Venom.
8. Possessed (1985)
Often decried for being a badly-produced rush job, Possessed is the raw, ragged and bilious last gasp of the original Venom line-up. It is also, undeniably, a badly-produced rush job. And yet, when it comes to seething, stripped down speed metal with no social skills, the likes of Powerdrive, Satanachist and Too Loud For The Crowd are unbeatable.
7. Cast In Stone (1997)
The original Venom line-up are notorious for not getting on terribly well, and so few expected the reunion that happened midway through the ‘90s. The record that followed was far stronger than expected. From the explosive kick-off point of The Evil One to the swivel-eyed squall of Flight Of The Hydra, it was good to have the mad old bastards back.
6. Metal Black (2006)
After yet another fallout, Cronos and Mantas went their separate ways after the release of Resurrection in 2000. This time, Cronos picked up the bloody baton. With his brother Antony “Antton” Lant on drums for a second album in a row, and guitarist Mykvs filling Mantas’ shoes, this was the fiercest that Venom had sounded since their heyday.
5. Prime Evil (1989)
In 1987, Venom briefly split. Cronos embarked on a career under his own name, while Mantas nobly kept the flag flying, recruiting Atomkraft frontman Tony Dolan, welcoming Abaddon back behind the drums and making one the band’s finest records.
Prime Evil is stuffed to the gills with great songs, from the imperious title track and the wild melodrama of Blackened Are The Priests to the raging Skeletal Dance and a surprisingly great cover of Black Sabbath’s Megalomania.
4. Resurrection (2000)
The original three-man Venom only managed one album together after reuniting in the mid ‘90s. Drummer Abaddon fled the nest shortly after Cast In Stone emerged in 1997, but Mantas and Cronos were not prepared to squander their momentum. With Cronos’ brother Antton installed as Abaddon’s replacement, the band conjured some of their best material since the early days.
The opening triumvirate of Resurrection, Vengeance and War Against Christ gave the Cast In Stone era a brisk upgrade, Pandemonium and Leviathan deftly harnessed doom’s rolling grooves, and Black Flame (Of Satan) saluted the Dark One with snot and swagger.
3. At War With Satan (1984)
Venom made their reputation by being bigger, louder, uglier and more unpleasant than everyone else. On their third album, they channelled all of that dark power into their most overblown and audacious statement. Dominated by its 20-minute title track, which contains more great riffs than many bands produce in entire careers, it revealed a progressive side to Venom that few had expected, while also cementing their reputation as Satan’s house band.
On the album’s flipside, Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon powered through six short, sharp punk-metal bangers, ranging from the vicious Rip Ride to the purposefully preposterous Aaaaaarrghh.
2. Welcome To Hell (1981)
Venom effectively invented the metal underground single-handedly. Welcome To Hell was harder, faster, darker and more blatantly blasphemous than anything that had gone before: Black Sabbath’s occult dabblings, reborn as a mad-eyed mission statement. Welcome To Hell is the starting point for thrash metal, black metal and any underground heaviness that leans toward the left hand path.
From legendary anthems like In League With Satan, Witching Hour and the title track, to the wild savagery of Poison and Red Light Fever, this was the blackest of the black in 1981, and it still casts a sickening shadow over 40 years later.
1. Black Metal (1982)
A monument to evil intent and balls-out heavy metal, Black Metal is simply one of the most important albums in metal history. Truly subversive and proudly individual, Venom had already pushed heavy music into uncharted territory with Welcome To Hell. The follow-up was undeniably more of the rowdy same, but it was also a much sharper encapsulation of its creators’ vision.
Most importantly, it boasts many of Venom’s greatest songs: from the ageless call-to-arms of the title track and the sludgy horror of Buried Alive, to the crazed blitzkrieg of Heaven’s On Fire and the bloody drama of Countess Bathory. Black Metal was critically acclaimed upon its release, but most metal fans thought the band were daft chancers, rather than a seminal, influential force whose early records would resonate down the decades and spawn a million like-minded bands. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?