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Venom: Welcome To Hell - Album Of The Week Club review

Venom's Welcome To Hell may have been a genuine force for musical revolution, but to some it remains unlistenable

Venom - Welcome To Hell
(Image: © Neat Records)
Venom - Welcome To Hell

Venom - Welcome To Hell

(Image credit: Neat Records)

Sons of Satan
Welcome to Hell
Schizoid
Mayhem with Mercy
Poison
Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)
Witching Hour
One Thousand Days in Sodom
Angel Dust
In League with Satan
Red Light Fever

Not many bands can claim to have inspired an entire subgenre. But then not many bands have ever scared the living crap out of everyone like Venom did back in the early 80s. 

Erupting out of the North East of England with their debut single In League With Satan in 1981, Venom – comprising singer/bassist Conrad ‘Cronos’ Lant, guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Anthony ‘Abaddon’ Bray – gatecrashed the flourishing New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene, armed with the ugliest heavy metal onslaught ever committed to tape and a shitload of censor-baiting Satanic imagery. 

The band’s debut album, Welcome To Hell, emerged in 1981 to a mixture of critical acclaim and outright disgust. 

“People might think we were living the high life, but it was shit,” spits Cronos. “Nobody understood our logo. Nobody understood the music. Nobody wanted anything to do with us because we weren’t pretty and we didn’t sing nice poppy songs. We weren’t like Deep Purple or Iron Maiden or any of those nice little bands that you could play to your mam, you know?" 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in December 1981

  • Damaged - Black Flag
  • LC - The Durutti Column
  • The Blasters - The Blasters
  • The Catherine Wheel - David Byrne
  • In God We Trust, Inc. - Dead Kennedys
  • Peter Cetera - Peter Cetera
  • Small Change - Prism
  • Wilder - The Teardrop Explodes

What they said...

"To Venom's credit, the sloppiness never derails any of the momentum of the tracks with regard to tempo. On the other hand, while I'm by no means a guitar wizard, I can't help but imagine quite a few Dream Theater techies viewing the approach of Mantas (and Cronos) as the equivalent of taking your own faeces and blood and smearing it all over themselves and the walls. But hey, fuck em. Breaking the rules used to be a good thing in metal." (Metal Archives)

"It's not that the hellish triumvirate of bassist/growler Cronos, guitarist Mantas, and drummer Abaddon - there, even the ghoulish names set a precedent - were such incompetent musicians individually (OK, maybe Abaddon), but their performance as a unit often sounds clumsy and under-rehearsed. All of this only contributes to the album's gimmick-free honesty, of course. (AllMusic)

"This was an album recorded and mixed in three days, and it showed. But if we’re to consider some of the bands that drew inspiration from this unholy first effort - Slayer, Hellhammer, Mayhem and countless others - it’s not hard to see how dramatically this album, no matter how sloppily it was played, impacted the entire history of metal that followed." (Decibel Magazine

What you said...

Marco LG: When Hamlet returns to Elsinore, after surviving a plot to take his life orchestrated by his murderous uncle and carried out by two of his closest friends, he discovers Ophelia is dead, killed by his actions as well as the circumstances. His devotion and unconditional love not only ineffective at protecting her but also among the causes of her death. Stories like that are ever present in literature, in any language and any culture. No matter how noble the intentions and how important the cause, there always are unintended consequences, and often these involve innocent people. Lesson learned: life sucks.

Metal is the soundtrack to the misery surrounding this valley of tears, it’s pain, sweat and blood in music, it’s the crushing noise of all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Metal is the true reflection of how pointless life is. All those meanings started with Black Sabbath, whose devil worshipping image served the purpose of describing our place in the universe. Venom however took that same image and moved the goalpost slightly, they went from worshipping evil to being evil itself. Listening to their debut we are confronted with this reality, in no uncertain or subtle ways as well: first we take hell itself as our home, all together like brothers, and then we gladly accept to be crushed by the one who is in league with Satan. If we needed reminding: life sucks.

With our feet struggling in the mud and our eyes firmly pointed at the stars, we accept endless pain and countless crushing defeats to savour a few fleeting moments of brilliance. If learning to live with the consequences of our actions wasn’t enough, we also have to learn nothing in this life comes easily. We work hard, put all our heart and soul in it, and accept defeat far more often than savouring victory. Rejections, failures and defeats being the norm, acceptance, accomplishment and victory the exception. Once again the music speak for itself: Poison, Live Like An Angel or One Thousand Days in Sodom. Life sucks.

Welcome to Hell is such an influential album its echoes are still heard today. Listening to it this week it has not lost any of its menace, and the message is still a clear and unequivocal warning that life sucks. It can only be a 10 out of 10 from me.

Pavel Reyes: It's not only the music, but all that this album represents as a symbol. It has always been a flag to carry into battle for the majority of us metalheads, and a huge influence for almost everything you call "extreme" nowadays (starting from Slayer). What else do you need ?

Iain Macaulay: Now here is a band! My introduction to Venom was initially seeing the logo in Kerrang! and thinking it was very cool. I even went as far as copying it and drawing it on school jotters. I’d not heard a note at this point, I’d just read some interesting script about them in the magazine. Then I saw that they were advertised to appear on an episode of ECT, a short lived UK channel 4 live music show for metal bands that was shown on a Friday early evening slot. It was on that show I first saw and fell in love with Doro Pesch, when she performed in Warlock.

Anyway, Venom, very cool logo, reported in Kerrang!, the band must be great. So, excitedly waiting with a tape recorder to record the tracks, they came on…. I pressed record, and… and …. I stopped recording. WTF was that? The sound was awful and they looked like Spinal Tap. Was it a joke? I’d never felt so underwhelmed by a band before that. Friends in school had also seen them and took delight in making sure they told me. What a let down.

But, I couldn’t forget them.

And they have always been there, lurking in the background of my music taste. It took many years and a route through Celtic frost, GBH, Amebix and other crust and hardcore death bands to ‘get’ Venom after that first disappointment. And yes, there are similarities in sound with those other bands, regardless of lyrical content. I have Black Metal on vinyl. And occasionally put it on to sing ‘lay down your souls to the gods rock and roll’ and I prefer it to this album. 

So those initial albums don’t have the best production and the lyrics are a touch juvenile but they do have a certain charm about them and they are essential to the history and development of black metal. Think of them like the baby brother branching out on his own with its own ideas and rules that no one has heard before. Not wanting to listen to anyone’s advice. Naively believing it’s staying proud and strong to his own ideals. 

There is no denying they are hugely influential. But classic? Globally, maybe not. Within the black metal genre? Definitely.

Uli Hassinger: When this album was released the book of hard rock and heavy metal had to be expanded with another chapter. This was the most brutal, mean and heavy music ever heard. This, combined with their diabolic satanic image and the fantasy names of the band members, were something spectacular new. I admit this album is not suitable for sophisticated minds in search of virtuosity, but it was a ground-breaking album which opened the doors for all the black metal, thrash metal and other extreme music to come.

The sound and the production of the album are awful, but this adds to the charm and authenticity of the record. Songs like One Thousand Days Of Sodom, In League With Satan and Welcome To Hell created a new music genre. Therefore it is milestone in rock history.

To me it's 8/10. The following Black Metal is even better.

I saw Venom once live. This was on the Metal Hammer Festival at the Loreley, one of the finest open air stages in Germany. Venom were the headliner of the show. Right before them Metallica performed one of the best gigs ever. This was the Ride The Lightning tour and they blew the audience away. The crowd went nuts. 

Then Venom entered the stage. It was the exact opposite. This was the worst gig I have ever seen till this very day. It was just noise. It was not possible to distinguish the songs or at least recognize one. Half the crowd was leaving the gig after a few songs. The others were booing them off. 

Cronos was totally freaking out, cursing and insulting the audience. After the gig the Venom tour bus tried to drive away. The bus was stopped by hundreds of metal heads who tried to tip the bus over. It was frightening, swaying, with Cronos at the windows grimacing and still stirring up the crowd. The bus driver then started to drive through and they had to let him pass. If they had been able to throw the bus over and grab Cronos this could have been his last gig.

John M O'Brien: I wasn't expecting this one to show up. And, I wasn't expecting nearly as much positive response. I thought it would be laughed out of the room, sorta like it was at the time of release.

I was one of those Americans that ate up six-month0old import issues of Kerrang! at the local record shop. Pored over every word, ad, and logo. And based their purchases off of album covers, and the suggestion of the Kerrang! scribes.

With birthday money in hand, I boldly purchased three albums by the same band, a band that I had never heard before. Welcome to Hell, Black Metal, and At War With Satan.

I hated them. Brought them back to Peaches and told them they were all defective. To my embarrassment, they played them over the store system and deemed them fit for play, no refund. So I figured I'd spent a ton of cash on import records that I had to eat, I better learn to love them.

And I did...

Apparently, there was a ton of underground kids here in Tampa that also loved them, and five years later we now know that our scene had birthed our own brand of death metal.

Venom were massively influential, but we had outgrown them by the time they released Possessed in 85. They were equal parts Motorhead, Alice, Kiss, and crusty, dIY brit-punk, and are arguably part of NWOBHM. While most don't include them as part of that movement, I discovered and enjoyed them as part of that era.

Roland Bearne: When Venom first appeared I was in the initial throes metal love. I heard a track or two, winced and with the pomposity of youth dismissed them as noisy style-over-substance incompetents. I assumed my review this week was going to be pretty easy "Noisy rubbish, they were crap then and still are". But in the spirit of this page it was time to strap on some objective ears after 40 years! 

Since my Rock weaning via the usual suspects these ears have gobbled up the likes of Death (still the best review I ever read in Kerrang!; "the aural equivalent of having your head scraped with a rusty potato peeler and dunked in a vat of acid"), Morbid Angel, Nile, Vader et al. As well as the canon of Black Metal screechers. So, as the much vaunted "godfathers" of all things "extreme", what was all the fuss about? 

Well to be frank, image mainly! Here's a three piece in '81 turning up to "everything louder than everything else". Growly vocals, check. Bass strummed to within an inch of its life, check. Riffy guitar with blurry wah wah solos check. Drums battered by someone who, may well have deep psych issues, check. Yup they're at this point, Motorhead's petulant cousin. 

Let's face it, Poison could absolutely be a Motorhead song. They're like Lemmy 'n Co only with (even) less production, then replace sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, cowboys and bombers with "Evil" et voilá!. 

I actually really enjoyed my listens this week. Details emerge; Mantas does tapping, ok he's no EVH but fair play. The tribal drum beat of In League With Satan evokes the intro Run To The Hills. At one point (is it 1000 Days Of Sodom?) Anyway, Cronos slips in a clean almost funky bass break. 

Their influence on the "extreme" is undeniable, but was it sound, subject matter or image? Well the perfect storm of all three, of course. Not many bands can look back on their heritage as having spawned a whole culture of sub-genres. So fair play there. The Kinks slit their speaker cones for distortion, Hendrix introduced virtuosity, EVH took the guitar to the heavens, Motorhead went to 11, and Venom went to Hell. 

A milestone and no mistake. Not my fave, but I hope original naysayers like me find, as I have, much to enjoy and appreciate here. Why aye man, and "that's a take!"

Peter Barron: There was nothing that mental before, so deserves a 9, even though it isn't their masterpiece. that's At War With Satan. TBH I would give it a 9 just for In League With Satan.

Worst drumming in metal? Just about, but who even cares any more, vibe beats technique, and this is all vibe, all the time.

Rocky Taylor: An undeniable legend, although it's clearly not the best-sounding album in the world. But hey, this was meant to be a demo that somehow got promoted to a full-scale LP, and it really sounds like it.

There was nothing like it before, and while there will be plenty of bands to nail that sound better, such as Bathory, Venom's impact is indisputable.

Nigel Taylor: Simply one of the greatest and most influential albums made by any band ever!

Adam McCann: a stone cold classic, influential and powerful. Not as good as the follow up, but Venom's first three albums are as influential as Black Sabbath

Paul Hutchings: One of the most influential albums in the metal genre, Venom's reach in inspiring thousands of bands cannot be denied. They are still the influence behind a whole new generation of blackened thrash bands such as Midnight, Hellripper, GraveRipper, Werewolves and Devastator, to name just a few. 

Listening to it today, it's raw, at times totally chaotic and amateur in delivery. At the time the sheer shock on the scene was massive. Looking back, it seems amazing that Venom had such an impact. But for me, this is my metal classic from start to finish. Whether it's a classic Rock album is another matter. Regardless, I shall enjoy another visit to 1981 

Steven G Thomas: My ears say this is technically punk, and not very good punk at that. My ears just aren't there for this. I prefer Motorhead by far as far as punk-metal fusion goes, but I just can't do this. I was in high school in orange county, ca between 1978-1982 and believe me, I was balls deep surrounded by punk back then. Black Flag even played for free at lunch one time. I liked some of it and still do. But this reminds me of the one time I picked random albums out at a record store in the mid 80s and ran across Voivod, which i haven't even bothered to check out any more recent stuff but back then it sounded like garbage.

Brian Anderson: I was a huge fan as a teenager and bought everything they released, 7”, 12”, coloured vinyl and picture discs. I sold them all 6 or 7 years ago and made a crazy amount of money. My purple vinyl of this album sold for about £250 to a Japanese collector. They were one of the first band’s back catalogues I listened when I joined Spotify so I’m going to enjoy giving this one a listen again. Pre-pandemic they were still an active band and I used to see them travelling in and out of my local airport all the time, Cronos was always receptive to my dumb questions.

John Davidson: Sounds like a demo by a Satan-loving motorhead covers band playing in a skip (that's like a dumpster for my American friends).

It's full on, it's frantic and like most seminal works in a new genre it has been bettered by the bands that followed after.

Overall this is a triumph of enthusiasm over execution...with extremely lo-fi production values and every dial set to 11. It none the less features some pretty decent songwriting and musicianship.

The drumming in particular is more interesting than most thrash - and doesn't feature the 'skank beat' at all.

To put Venom into context, the 'evil' imagery was already a staple of NWOBHM with bands like AngelWitch and Witchfynde both trading in similar tropes - though with a slightly more 'classic' rock sound, so when Venom appeared on the scene they seemed like more of the same albeit playing fast and dirty. They were not obvious candidates for inspiring a subgenre of black metal followers.

Proving perhaps that the devil does indeed have the best tunes.

Alexander Taylor: An absolute game changer, venom, as influential as Zeppelin, Sabbath and even The Beatles, this album belched forth every thrash, death, black metal band that ever existed. Of course its rough, raw, and played by lads who didn't have a clue what they were doing, but that's the beauty of it. Red Light Fever, Sons Of Satan, 1000 Days In Sodom and In League With Satan simply re-defined heavy metal. When I first heard this it made the establishment of metal look very commercial and lightweight, and the band followed it up with the even better black metal!

Nigel Taylor: My first experience of Venom was walking to a St John’s Ambulance meeting when I was about 13 with my older brother and his friend. His friend had a big boom box and as we walked through the streets of the sleepy Cornish town where we lived an unholy cacophony spewed out of it. That unholy cacophony was Venom and it scared the shit out of me.

Later on I saw some of the classic pictures of the band and I was even more scared!

Welcome To Hell is one of the most influential albums by any band ever, the birth place of extreme metal. It’s raw and uncompromising and was recorded by three guys who wanted to make evil sounding “music” and they achieved exactly that and in doing so changed the world.

Playing the album now it might sound slightly tame compared to some to the bands they influenced, but it still has that beautiful raw aggression that melts your face and makes you want to pop out to your local farmers field and sacrifice a goat.

It’s also amazing to think the same guys would go on to make an recording only two records later that had the amazing concept and musical dexterity to put Rush to shame.

Hail Satan, Hail Venom!

Alex Hayes: It would be very easy for an occasional visitor to this group to read my effusive review for The Cars' Heartbeat City last week and jump to the wrong conclusion. Venom's Welcome To Hell is such the absolute antithesis of that album that it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that it would have me screaming and running for the hills in fright. Not a bit of it.

Classic rock is a very broad church to me, and I've always admired the diversity and breadth of it's sermonising. I'm honestly someone that can go straight from, say, Bob Dylan to Obituary, and easily enjoy both for different reasons. I'll admit to finding a lot of alternative rock and metal hard work, basically anything that makes me feel too much like I'm reading the cringeworthy diary entries of a messed up teenager, but most of the different flavours of rock get a big thumbs up from me.

So, I revere Welcome To Hell for what it is. I almost feel duty bound to. It's the first link in a metaphorical chain of brutality that then spawned Kill 'Em All and Show No Mercy. Which in turn then led us to Master Of Puppets, Extreme Aggression, Rust In Peace, Seasons In The Abyss (my all-time favourite thrash metal album), Arise, Scream Bloody Gore, Blessed Are The Sick and so on. I've been a fan and admirer of thrash and death metal for decades now and, in that regard, Welcome To Hell pretty much constitutes ground zero.

And then there's black metal itself. No Welcome To Hell, definitely no De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or A Blaze In The Northern Sky. Now that is what I call extreme metal (Slipknot fans take note). The debt owed to Venom for throwing together this amateurish racket in 1981, from fellow artists and fans alike, is almost incalculable.

Even that lack of professionalism works in it's favour. Do I want to hear a slick, well produced, sanitised version of Witching Hour? Do I bollocks. I want it to make my ears bleed. No amount of biscuit tin production can diminish the raw fury of One Thousand Days In Sodom or In League With Satan. Welcome To Hell wears its lack of polish like a badge of honour.

I guess how receptive a person is to Welcome To Hell, or not, depends on how important and how big an impact extreme metal has had in their life. For me, that was quite profound, something that last week's review might not have made entirely clear! Absolutely seminal.

Hai Kixmiller: Venom's album, Welcome to Hell, sounds like Black Sabbath's dark and sinister themes, infused with amped up Motorhead distortion and speed, played by musicians with the stylistics calibre and talent level of the Sex Pistols.

If the listener doesn't know the historical importance of this album then there's nothing that really stands out significantly or musically. But, if you listen to the album with the understanding that it is essentially the blueprint or precursor to everything speed, black, thrash, death, extreme, etc., then you start to hear those genres throughout the album, and can start to appreciate the songs a little better.

There are other, better, Venom albums, but none more important than this one. It didn't just start a genre or two. Welcome to Hell" is the wellspring that nourished a whole new musical branch of the rock'n'roll tree.

This album was the forbidden fruit on the Tree of NWOBHM. Eve said "Yum.", Adam said "Oh No!", and Venom said... "Welcome to Hell".

Mike Canoe: More bullet belt metal, but this time from a band so frenzied that one of them is as likely to shoot himself in the foot as hit the target.

Venom's influence on extreme metal is obvious, especially on the title track or Witching Hour. Cronos grunts out vocals like slurs, the lyrics blaspheme with joyous abandon, and the guitar solos by Mantas consist mainly of white noise.

But the profoundly low sound quality of Welcome to Hell (and the following year's fearsomely foul follow-up, Black Metal) may be the most influential aspect of all. Venom's sound has a grottiness that brings to mind ghouls thrashing away in a crypt. Talk about your live undead.

Final Score: 6.06⁄10 (99 votes cast, with a total score of 600)

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