The true story of Venom, the most influential NWOBHM band of them all

(Image credit: Fin Costello / Getty Images)

Dateline: June 5, 2003. This news just in: Drummer Lars Ulrich is furious at news that the US military is using Metallica songs to ‘break down’ Iraqi captives in Baghdad.

A little under a year later, and with post-war Iraq in a state of anarchy, some might consider Ulrich’s remarks to be something of a soundbite by themselves. The more cynical may even believe that instead of standing for ‘weapons of mass destruction’ the term WMD could also refer to ‘worries about Metallica downloadability’. But I’d prefer to think that Ulrich, in an open-hearted, post-therapy way, was simply being sentimental. Reading between the lines of his comments, he was probably just trying to be helpful and revive some interest in his old mates’ back catalogue. Because Metallica’s relationship with Venom – the notorious Geordie three-piece who first invited us to sample their own, uniquely dangerous brand of Angel Dust back at the turn of the 80s – goes back a long way.

It was after a show with Venom in New York that then Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine (later of Megadeth) had a huge bust-up with guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield. Mustaine was left bloodied and bruised, and was told he was within a Metalli-metre of losing his job. It turned out to be a very real threat, in fact, because Mustaine managed only one more gig with the band (supporting The Rods) before being sent packing with First Aid kit in hand, and Exodus’s Kirk Hammett was ushered in as his replacement with almost indecent haste.

Later, Mustaine recalled: “Generally, James was a gentle person when we were together but he liked very violent music. We would drive at 60 miles an hour up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in the fog, drunk and listening to Venom.”

Moreover, Venom gave Metallica their first big break in Europe 20 years ago, when the band invited Lars & co over from California to support them on tour. The dates kicked off in February 1984 in Zurich, Switzerland, and covered Germany, France and Belgium before finishing up at a fledgling thrash-metal festival in Holland.

So was that tour with Metallica as momentous as it sounds? It’s about time Venom leader Cronos was given the chance to have his say.

“Did Metallica support Venom on numerous occasions?” spits the bassist/vocalist, who these days increasingly uses his real name, Conrad Lant. “Someone should remind them of that; they appear to have forgotten. I read an article with Arse Ulrich the other day where he said the start of their career was on a Motörhead tour. Cor blimey, fancy that, eh? You see what the dangers of fame can do – erase your memory and make you wear girls’ make-up.”

Laughing (better make that cackling), Cronos continues: “I remember having a good time with them, actually. We didn’t want a ‘rock band’ to support us. And I’d been sent a cassette [Metallica’s Metal Up Yer Ass demos] and some dodgy video footage of them in San Francisco, and I thought they were quite Venomous; they were wearing Venom shirts on stage if I remember rightly. This was when Mustaine was still with them. So we asked them to support us on our first mission to the States in 1983, then again on our seven-date European tour a year later. The last gig we did together was when they supported us at the Loreley Festival in Germany in 1985.”

Cronos went to see Metallica years later when they played Whitley Bay Ice Rink. “I got chased by security when they saw me light up a massive reefer,” he growls, “but I escaped and got into the snake-pit. I had a laugh jumping around in a mosh dance with the fans, then I got Hetfield’s attention and mouthed the words: ‘Get off, you’re shit.’ It took him about two seconds to realise it was me.

“I went backstage after the show and had a few beers with them, then I went walkabout with Arse looking for any loose women. It was good to see them again, and they were friendly enough. Good luck to them, really.”

I apologise for that lengthy anecdotal opening, but I think it’s important to place Venom in a little bit of context before we get to the bloody heart of the matter. I’m also hoping that those early Metallica connections might help convince you of Venom’s pivotal importance in the great heavy metal scheme of things. And if they don’t… well then you better fasten your seat belt, because I haven’t finished yet. Before long I’m going to urge you to forget all about Iron Maiden or Def Leppard or Saxon or Diamond Head even, and advise you to worship instead at the pagan altar of Venom. Because that band were – indeed still are, and without a skin-grating shred of a doubt – the single most important act to be thrown up by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. (And yes, by ‘thrown up’ I do mean ‘vomited’.) This, in turn, would certainly place Venom among the top 10 most influential UK rock bands of all time. Which isn’t bad for an oft-derided dumb-ass trio of pyrotechnic-obsessed Satanists from Nukecastle.

Venom - Welcome To Hell

As Lars Ulrich once said: “[The first Venom album] Welcome To Hell was a classic! Black metal, speed metal, death metal, whatever you want to call it, Venom started it all with that one record!”

Alternatively, as Jon Bon Jovi would have it: “This is the sort of shit that gives heavy metal a bad name.”

That’s Venom for you: a legend in their own demise.

It all began with Elvis Presley. As it often does. “I started listening to music at quite an early age,” Cronos snarls. “Elvis was my hero. Then I moved on to David Bowie, T.Rex, Status Quo and Led Zeppelin. But my serious, hardcore life-changing experience came with the Sex Pistols.”

The punk era in the mid-70s, it appears, was exactly what Cronos craved. “People like me needed to rebel,” he grumbles. “We needed to stick a middle finger up to the establishment and say: ‘Fuck you. We have our own ideas, our own rules.’ I told people that Johnny Rotten was my dad, even though he would only have been about six when I was born. And I used to tell people that I was the drummer in The Clash, even though I couldn’t play drums. But I was a member of the Sham [69] Army, hence the Doc Martens I always wear, and we used to roam the streets getting into drunken fights for the hell of it. Ah, them were the days!”

Cronos played in a band with school friends, “but we just made a racket, same as now really,” he snaps. “I just thought it was such fun that you could kind of make it up as you went along, and considering I’d been acting in plays from a very young age, learning and memorising the whole script, which is great fun and hard work, I was totally relaxed on a stage in front of an audience. But with acting you have to read other people’s lines, so playing music was like a spontaneous outburst. We just jammed on any riffs we could come up with and shouted out the words on the spur of the moment. Those were good times.”

After he left school, Cronos got a job at Impulse Studios in nearby Wallsend. Impulse would later become the epicentre for a series of vital NWOBHM recordings on the Neat Records label. (The first of those releases was catalogue number Neat 03: the Tygers Of Pan Tang single Don’t Touch Me There). Bands such as Raven, White Spirit, Fist, Avenger and, of course, Venom would follow.

“I applied for a job on a training scheme for an audio-visual engineer, and I went for an interview at Impulse. This was in 1979, and there was no Neat at this point,” Cronos lacerates. “I trained as an assistant engineer and tape operator, which was a good laugh. The senior engineer used to walk in the studio and skin up a joint or 20 and we’d get battered before the band of the day came in; this was very normal then. Most of the bands arrived with crates of beer or bags of coke. There were even orgies when some of the musicians brought slags in from Whitley Bay who they’d met the night before. The managing director turned a blind eye to everything and just sat downstairs with his Special Brew and Café Crème cigars.”

In the meantime, Cronos continued to play in bands; he was guitarist in an outfit called Album Graecum (“We read in a book that it’s Greek or Latin for ‘dried dogs’ shit’”) that later metamorphosed into DwarfStar.

“One day I chatted up a girl who worked in the local burger bar and she asked me around to her house,” Cronos bellows. “Jeff [Dunn, later to become Venom guitarist Mantas] was there with a girlfriend and we got chatting. He said he was in Guillotine, a Judas Priest covers band – he was the double of [Priest guitarist] KK Downing in those days; he even had a Flying V. I told him about DwarfStar and how we did dark, demonic stuff with pentagrams et cetera – like Black Sabbath but much more evil – and about my masterplan to create a mega-satanic band.”

Dunn’s eyes lit up: “I wanna do stuff like that!” he exclaimed.

Cronos soon met up with Dunn’s band and thought, “with a few changes they would be more suited for what I had in mind. There were some underlying problems with DwarfStar anyway, so I left them and joined up with Jeff’s lot; the band had actually renamed themselves Venom by this time. I met the drummer, Tony [Bray, soon to adopt the pseudonym Abaddon], at the first rehearsal; he was buddies with the singer, Clive Archer.”

Cronos was initially the second guitarist in a five-piece Venom. “But within a short while the bassist [Alan Winston] left just before a small gig we had planned, so I got a loan of a bass from a friend at the studio and plugged it into my stack, effects pedals and all, and the unholy bulldozer bass was born!”

At this point the Venom members decided to change their names to match their burgeoning Devil-may-care approach. “As we were rehearsing some new songs and going through stage-gear ideas at rehearsals, I mentioned that as some of the Sex Pistols had pseudo names we should do the same,” Cronos screams. “It just made sense to call ourselves something more hardcore than Conrad, Jeffrey, Clive and Anthony. Clive’s stage name was Christus or something like that.”

In a 1982 interview with Garry Bushell, Cronos elaborated: “They’re more than stage names, they’re states of mind. It’s sort of like a possession. We actually feel possessed before a gig. We start getting really angry and mad. We have to have a fight before we can go on stage… it’s the only way we can play.”

One day Clive ‘Christus’ Archer failed to turn up to a Venom rehearsal. He was apparently disgruntled because his back garden had been destroyed – it had been used as testing ground for Venom’s pyrotechnics. Cronos wasn’t disappointed: “Clive was painting his face like some bands do nowadays,” he guffaws. “I used to have to watch him while he stood still waiting for his make-up to dry, ha-ha!”

In Archer’s absence Cronos “sang some tracks just so we could get on with rehearsals, and it worked really well,” he roars. “It was after this that Jeff wrote the song Live Like An Angel (Die Like A Devil) and said he wanted me to sing on it. We did a rough recording of the track, and the decision was made to get rid of Clive. This was when we turned into a three-piece.”

But for all Cronos’s blusterings, no one in the north-east was taking Venom seriously at the time. As Jess Cox, ex-singer with the Tygers Of Pan Tang, recalls: “I remember Venom’s first show in Wallsend just across from Impulse Studios – it was for one of their mum’s birthdays. There were only 10 or so people in this old council hall, and the band had long metal pipes full of gunpowder on the sides of the stage. One fell over and exploded, nearly taking out all of their families in the process!”

Venom - Black Metal

Cox also remembers when Cronos, Mantas (at this time working as a petrol-pump attendant) and Abaddon (a labourer) came into Impulse for some early studio sessions.

“We had a laugh because it was so terrible,” Cox says. “It was just a racket with someone grunting over the top. If the truth be known, pretty much all of the bands in our local area didn’t understand the fascination with Venom. The band were truly dreadful; or maybe this was the whole idea and I missed the point?”

Cronos responds: “Mrs Small Cox is a lying turd”.

Soon enough, a Venom demo landed on my desk while I was working on Sounds music weekly. Dispatched to me by Cronos himself, for some reason I knew immediately I was on to something rather special – even if the package was rather slimy to the touch and whatever was inside it crackled like broken chicken bones. Donning a pair of surgical gloves, I extracted a three-song cassette: Angel Dust, Raise The Dead and Red Light Fever. I remember playing the tracks on the office stereo one time, and within seconds all of my fellow journos had vacated their desks and fled the building – not so much in protest; they were white-faced and panic-stricken, and genuinely seemed in fear of their lives. So I was sat alone and bewildered when I was assaulted by a terrible racket that went something like this:

“Blaaargh-blaaargh! Urk-schluurp-urk-schluurp! Wooargh! Glurg-glurg-gag-gag! Kak-kak-kak! Phludd! Spat-spat-rooargh! Phludd! Groouurf! Yeowll! Wooargh! Gortch-gortch! Yeowll! Budda-budda! Achh-acch! Yeurgh! Kuch-kerrouch-kuch! Ghungh-ghungh! Wooargh! Hargh-hargh-spew! Ug-ughh! And one last wooargh! for good measure!”

I had never heard anything like it. It was like being a living, breathing, tormented character in an Exorcist movie. Only Venom didn’t just make Linda Blair’s head revolve like some child-friendly funfair roundabout; instead the band ripped her cranium from her shoulders, brandished it triumphantly above their heads and then smashed it down through splintered floorboards, to be reduced to grey ashes in the incandescent kingdom below.

Cronos convulses at the memory: “You put the three tracks from our tape on your Sounds playlist, then you wrote a comment on the end of a White Spirit single review where you basically told Neat to release a Venom disc. Yeah, you definitely helped, Geoff. I don’t think Dave [Wood, head honcho at Neat Records] would have even considered Venom without your intervention. He always needed to be told what to release, as he didn’t understand this music at all.”

Venom debuted on Neat in 1980 with the In League With Satan single, and followed it with the Welcome To Hell album in December ’81. No one could believe their ears. The band’s music was just so heavy, evil and truly black.

I felt I had to compete with lyrics that boasted of ‘killing new-born babies’ and ‘tearing infants’ flesh’, so my five-star rave review of Welcome To Hell was satisfyingly over the top: ‘It’s the sound of sinners screaming in eternal damnation, hellfire licking at their blackened limbs,’ I wrote. ‘It’s the sound of a succubus mating orgasmically with a mortal man… it’s possibly the heaviest record ever allowed in the shops for public consumption.’

But beneath all their God-bothering splutterings, Venom’s actual music was uniquely monstrous. As I said, no band had ever sounded like this before.

Venom - At War With Satan

“I would never, ever have wanted to be in a band like Iron Maiden or Saxon, and I didn’t want to be commercial or sound like anyone else,” Cronos gnaws. “We wanted to create music that scared people. And we succeeded.”

Even Black Sabbath were too lightweight for Cronos: “Sabbath had these lyrics like: ‘Oh no, please God help me.’ They were asking to be saved from Satan, whereas we were saying the opposite: Satan is my friend, I drink with him, I have fun with him and I want him to be by my side. We wanted to invent something like a nightmare, something truly hideous.”

The reason why Venom remain such an important band is because they invented and defined at least one, and probably several, all-new musical styles. They certainly created thrash metal, the genre that spawned bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, Death, Possessed and many more in the US. Venom also gave birth (in typical Rosemary’s Baby-style) to a host of imitators in the UK and, particularly, in continental Europe: Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Destruction, no end of groups on the Earache label and from the German industrial city of Bochum, Cradle Of Filth… the list just goes on and on.

With the NWOBHM celebrating its 25th anniversary [at time of writing in 2005], it’s pertinent to point out that none of Venom’s more mainstream contemporaries – no matter how many gold and platinum albums they might have hanging on their walls these days; no matter how much they might think of themselves as having once been trailblazers – was remotely as influential. That’s an irrefutable fact. (Although in Venom’s case the acronym NWOBHM most likely stood for New Wave Of Brutally Horrible Metal.)

“I got pissed off when I saw a heavy metal chart in a music magazine that had Michael Jackson in it [Jacko’s 1983 hit Beat It, featuring Eddie Van Halen on guitar],” Cronos oozes. “That’s when I said that Venom were not heavy metal, we were much more than that. I had been playing around with various ideas, so in an interview I said we were black metal, power metal, thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, anything but heavy metal. And these terms seemed to stick.

“Venom albums contain songs from all of these categories,” he yelps, “although after we started out, bands started to emerge that would only use one. Some bands played songs like Witching Hour or Bloodlust and called themselves speed metal; some groups played songs like Buried Alive and called themselves death metal, et cetera. I could go on about this, but I think you get the picture.

“All of the acts that dabbled in the musical black arts before Venom arrived on the scene always seemed to take a sort of Hammer horror approach, or they sang about being tormented by a wizard or whatever,” Cronos disgorges. “No one wanted to actually be the Devil. So that’s my job now – I am Satan!”

This seems an appropriate point at which to bring up the subject of demented church-burning Scandinavians; those worshippers of the Horned One from the bleak and frozen northern territories of Europe. Imbeciles such as Count Grishnackh of the one-man band Burzum used Venom’s music as a template but took it to murderous extremes – yes folks, Varg Vikernes actually killed people.

“Venom were a catalyst for a whole bunch of stuff; we kick-started loads of new trends in various directions,” Cronos shrieks. “The most extreme thing to come out of England before Venom was the punk era, and nothing has topped those extremes since. Everyone now sticks to a safe image, and it’s more about marketing than doing what you believe in. Look at The Darkness, for example… although no, let’s not. The Scandinavian scene probably wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t crossed the line and committed those crimes to get the exposure.

“I recently read about Marilyn Manson’s shit, with kids killing themselves, and the reviewer said: ‘If it wasn’t for bands like Venom then none of this dark music would be around and our kids would be safe.’ But didn’t they say the same about Elvis? Music only works if it’s an extreme. The Rolling Stones were once an extreme, but then after a while the extreme becomes the norm and a new level of extreme needs to be found. I’d murder everyone on Pop Idol, even the judges. What’s the matter with them? None of those acts are any good, kill ’em all!”

Following Welcome To Hell, further Venom albums arrived with indecent haste: 1982’s magnificently harrowing Black Metal and 1984’s semi-conceptual offering At War With Satan saw the band making great strides forward, especially in mainland Europe where they built up a formidable following. But Venom were virtually shunned in the UK; tour dates kept on being announced and then scrapped, tarnishing the band’s already questionable reputation.

Cronos barks: “We had a lot of venues in Britain pull the plug at the eleventh hour. We had sent them the first video [Witching Hour and Bloodlust] as an example of our show, and we sent them pyro specs and everything, but they mustn’t have watched them, as at the last minute some venues said we couldn’t use pyro. This has plagued us all the way through our career.”

In fact Venom had ambitions to emulate Kiss’s stage show but they never had the money to do so successfully. Thus, while the US stadium-strutters could afford state-of-the-art military hardware, Venom had to make do with rusty Kalashnikovs, recycled land mines, body armour made out of Christmas turkey foil, and cannons last used against the Spanish Armada.

“I’ve considered dropping the pyro to get back to the way we were with the early albums – raw and ferocious,” Cronos spits. “We never had much pyro at first, even the first video only had a small theatrical flash at the start and end; plenty of smoke though. I think the legend of Venom’s pyro show is a myth. People say we had a million effects in each song at the Hammersmith Odeon [Venom finally headlined that London venue on the At War With Satan tour]. But it’s like Chinese whispers. Check the video out; there’s not that much, really.

“I’d like some sort of stage show, of course, but in light of all the terrorist shit it’s going to be even more impossible to cart a boatload of pyro around the world, isn’t it? I’m seriously considering nixing the bombs. It would make life a lot easier, plus we could play a lot more of the venues.”

Classic Rock’s Dante Bonutto, for one, has fond memories of Venom’s Hammersmith performance: “They attempted to create Hell itself below their drum kit – Abaddon was perched on the tallest drum riser I’ve ever seen, his head was practically touching the venue’s ceiling – but all they succeeded in doing was to set fire to the curtains at the back!”

But, as Abaddon insisted at the time: “This band is fucking brain-melting. At Hammersmith we were recorded at 147 decibels before they switched the PA on!” Or, as the moustachio’d Mantas responded: “We don’t do gigs, we do shows. It’s massive. If you stand at the front you’re gonna get your head blown off.” In many ways Venom’s gory (sic; or should that be sick?) years revolved around their first three albums. Possessed, released in 1985, failed to match the satanic majesty of the previous releases and the band began to stray into bog-standard heavy-metal cliché territory with tracks such as We’re Gonna Burn This Place To The Ground and Too Loud (For The Crowd)

A planned US tour was thrown into confusion as Mantas caught chicken pox, and local north-east guitarists Les Cheetham (from Avenger) and Dave Irwin (from Fist) were brought in to replace him. Mantas decided to leave Venom in 1986 (when the band released the Nightmare EP and the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik live album), only to resurface shortly afterward with an AOR-oriented solo album! Less Venom, more Vandenberg, you might say. Or as Kerrang!’s Derek Oliver commented at the time: ‘Mantas’s guitar break is quite the best thing since the recent Jeff Beck album.’

At the time, Cronos claims, Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn was in all manner of confusion over his hellish alter ego: “He seemed at odds with himself, he didn’t seem to know what he wanted. He said he left Venom because of pressures from his new girlfriend. He said he also felt under duress because of the activities of the rest of the band and crew, which were basically sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, which we thought was normal for us, young lads on the road enjoying ourselves.

“There’s been loads of comments apparently from Jeff about this period, but he says one thing to one person and then something else to another, so what can you really believe?” Cronos excoriates. “All I know is if he’d really had a problem with either myself or Tony then he wouldn’t have rejoined the band with us years later, after he’d just split with this girlfriend. So you make your own minds up.”

For 1987 album Calm Before The Storm, Mantas was replaced by two guitarists, Jimmy C (Jim Clare) and Mike H (Mike Hickey). But internal friction soon caused Cronos and Clare to break away, relocating to America and resurfacing as Cronos (the band).

“After Venom did the Calm Before The Storm album there were growing tensions between the manager, the drummer and the two new guys,” Cronos snorts. “I couldn’t be arsed with this shit and I didn’t think the new guys deserved it as they were doing a good job, so I sided with them. Then I decided I just needed a change – and a laugh. I was finding the arguments boring and everything was getting on my nerves. I wanted to let my hair down and just make music.

“The American guitarist [Hickey] had gone back to the States, and I was talking to him on the phone when he invited me and the other guitarist [Clare] over to his for a break. We took him up on the offer, and while out partying we met an American drummer [Chris Patterson]. We went to his house where he had a rehearsal studio in his basement, we got wasted, plugged the gear in, went through some tunes, and Cronos the band was formed in true rock’n’roll fashion.

“We recorded a few albums and videos, and we got to tour America and play the UK et cetera, so we had a good time,” Cronos reviles. “It was good for me to do this. I saw the other side of the industry; I even drove the tour bus and the truck to the gigs on occasion. What a riot that was, charging through the icy, foggy valleys of Wales in January, in a loaded truck full of equipment and you can’t see two feet in front of the vehicle. Very scary shit. Hell yeah!”

Venom regrouped without Cronos, but with Mantas and Abaddon, for 1989’s Prime Evil effort. The line-up was augmented by singer Tony Dolan (ex- Atomkraft) and rhythm guitarist Al Barnes.

Cronos dismisses the Dolan-era Venom with a shrug: “From the little I heard of the cover versions of my songs it didn’t sound like Venom to me, just another short-lived tribute band – lame and boring and who gives a fuck anyway. I get the royalty statements, and I can tell you that ‘they’ certainly didn’t make me rich.”

When Dolan eventually quit the band, he amazingly cited Venom’s links to Satanism as the main reason!

Apart from the new stuff with Dolan on vocals, much of the 90s releases by Venom seemed to be endless compilations, dubious live albums and re-recordings of past glories. Thus the band’s popularity slipped further.

The classic three-demon line-up of Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon eventually reunited in 1995 to headline a couple of European festivals. An all-new album, Cast In Stone, followed in 1997.

Cronos ejaculates: “I’d heard that the Tony Dolan line-up had split around 1993, so I contacted a guy called Mark Wharton [ex-Cathedral drummer] to form another Venom in 1994. We had a blast, and recorded some stuff with Mike Hickey. This was also while I was still with Cronos the band. But there were growing problems with the people at Neat Records so I decided not to do a deal for the album with them. I let them use some tracks on a compilation as a one-off, but the album remains as demos and unreleased.

“In 1995 I decided to contact the original members of Venom to see what their views were on re-forming the band, and they were surprisingly up for it,” he masticates. “We organised a gig at the Waldrock Festival in Holland to see how it would go. The drums were sloppy and the guitar was out of tune, so I figured this was the original Venom again then. We then set about looking for a deal, and Jeff and I started writing songs. But it didn’t take long for the bullshit to kick in and I knew it wouldn’t last; something would have to change or we’d be splitting again.”

Venom - Resurrection

The turning point came in the form of a letter Cronos received a few months later from drummer Tony ‘Abaddon’ Bray.

“Tony wrote to tell me that my ‘services were no longer required’ and he was going to continue with Jeff and some other people, blah-blah- blah. I couldn’t stop laughing for days,” Cronos skulks. “Then I phoned the German record company [SPV] to tell them the score and wish them good luck with whatever they decided. But they went ballistic and refused point-blank to have any line-up of Venom that didn’t have Cronos in the band.

“So basically I contacted Jeff and told him the score, and we went into rehearsals with my younger brother Antny [of DefConOne] on drums. We asked Antny if he would be interested in doing an album and he said he’d give it his best shot – he even changed his name to Antton! Then while we were recording the album in Germany the record company said they loved what Antny was doing on the songs and thought the album was Venom’s heaviest yet. We had to agree, and Jeff commented that Antny was the first drummer he’d worked with in 20 years who could play the Venom songs the way he wanted them to be played.” The result was the aptly named 2000 album Resurrection, and Venom were back on the track. But not for long.

Earlier this year, Cronos re-emerged after an unusually quiet period as one of the guest singers on Nirvana/Foo Fighters man Dave Grohl’s Probot album, contributing some characteristically guttural utterances to a track called Centuries Of Sin. Cronos’s enforced silence had been due to serious injuries sustained in a climbing accident in February 2002.

“I’d travelled to Wales to meet up with some old friends, ex-Marines, for a get-together,” he drools. “One of them said there were some great climbing spots near to where we were staying, so the next day we set off on a mission. It was halfway up that I dislodged some loose rock and lost my footing and fell. I landed on a ledge and then a whole heap of rock fell on top of me. The doctors said I’d damaged the muscles, tendons and bones in my neck. They said if I hadn’t had such thick neck muscles then the rock impact could’ve snapped my bones and I’d probably be in a wheelchair.”

A dice with death indeed. (When once asked what song he would like played at his funeral, Cronos responded: “In League With Satan, definitely!”)

“The doctors initially said this could take up to 12 months to heal,” Cronos grinds, “although in fact it has taken just over two years and I’ve had to attend physiotherapy sessions to regain mobility in my neck. I’ve now started going back to the gym and feel okay; so far, so good. I’m not getting any pains but I’m taking it easy; I’m not leaping around the rehearsal room like a baboon – yet.”

So Venom are far from dead and buried. “I’m now in the last stages of physiotherapy since my accident,” Cronos exhumes. “I’ve just started rehearsing again with Antny and putting the new ideas together for the next Venom album. This has been the most frustrating two years of my life. I’ve been playing music and working out in the gym since I was a teenager, so to have to opt out of both was really hard. At first I thought I was going nuts.

“I’ve tried contacting Jeff but I’ve had no replies. He’s apparently involved in another solo project of his. I spoke to him last year and he sent me some new riff ideas, but then I never heard back from him. I’ll not know what his plans are until he gets back to me. I have another guitarist I’m rehearsing with in the meantime [an unnamed ex-Venom member], so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. But, hell yeah, I’ll be back!”

Personally, I can’t wait to see a fully fit Cronos wielding his unholy bulldozer bass once again – a weapon of mass destruction by itself. And thinking about that other supposed definition of WMD (‘worries about Metallica downloadability’) reminds me of another of Venom’s dubious attributes: the band were also pioneers of musical piracy. Because as one commentator put it succinctly around the time of the release of the band’s Welcome To Hell album:

‘Home taping is killing music. And so are Venom.’

‘Shok To The System

Cronos’s most outstanding Venom memory is of appearing at the Aardshok festival in Holland – even though the band didn’t actually get to play there on the day.

“We were meant to headline the festival,” he recalls, “but all our equipment was still en route back from America so we just turned up to say: ‘We’ll be back next year.’ Then we played the Bloodlust and Witching Hour videos on the huge screens and the crowd went nuts. Jeff [Mantas] started crying. We just couldn’t believe the response. It was awesome.”

And Cronos’s worst Venom memory?

“Having to put up with those other two miserable muthafuckers in the band!”

Cut ‘Em Down To Size

Venom - specifically Cronos - always had a strained relationship with the press. People almost seemed scared of the band’s bassist/vocalist.

“Yeah, well, they must have given me reason to make them feel like that,” Cronos gristles. “Unfortunately some press people seem to think they have a licence to take the piss. And that’s at their peril. I’d fight a rhino if it charged at me. That’s just the way I am.

“There was an incident at one of the British festivals [the 1985 Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock] that people keep bringing up. It was shit what happened, but I had no choice. I was signing autographs for some fans when this press guy came up and started hassling me about his god versus my demons or something. Then he jumped on my back, so I threw him in a puddle of mud. End of story. That’s all it was.”

Classic Rock’s Malcolm Dome (for it was he) remembers the incident somewhat differently: “That’s not quite the way it happened. Cronos jumped on my back, and we both collapsed in a heap in the mud, flailing around, going on about some nonsense concerning ‘evil’. I think there were witnesses who’d back up this part of the story. But it was just a load of drunken silliness.”

Cronos even pulled a knife on Classic Rock’s Dante Bonutto one time. Venom were angry because Raven, a rival Geordie band, had ‘hijacked’ some of Dante’s interview time on a visit to the north-east. “I was told that Cronos and his friends were trashing the studio in Wallsend in a fit of pique,” Dante recalls, “and that I’d better watch my step when I eventually met them.

“On entering the room where the band were holed up, it was clear that, yes indeed, a great deal of trashing had been done. The three of them [Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon] were sitting on the floor surrounded by what looked like driftwood – but which presumably had until recently been some form of furniture – with threatening scowls on their faces. All except Cronos, who in addition to the scowl was wielding a dirty great knife!”

But there was a happy ending, Dante says: “The collective Venom anger fuelled a really great interview.”

This feature was first published in Classic Rock issue 67, in January 2005. 

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.