Venom - Black Metal (Neat)

In the four decades since Venom first uttered the command “lay down your souls to the Gods[:] rock and roll”, musicians have indeed died, murdered, and otherwise suffered in the name of black metal, a genre which, even now, maintains its impure-yet-pure aura of transgression and controversy. Venom's sophomore was not a masterpiece; Satan’s twisted jowl did not launch a thousand ships for its beauty and wholesomeness. Instead, they made a hard and fast manifesto that, in one permutation or another, has survived through works that bear little sonic resemblance to this rollicking mass of primordial vigor.

While comparatively tame to the modern metalhead, ears filled with hundreds of infernal acts, one can only imagine what your average punk or hard rocker must have felt when the record kicks into gear. Any ambitions of making pop music, as had infiltrated British punk from the beginning, were absent. The sense of fantasy and drama that much of heavy metal at the time was infused with, was corrupted — no more epic and reflective tales like those of Rainbow, but seedy adventures into vicious hearts. Musically, Venom placed speed first, artisan craft last; the result was a music that focused not on individual performances, but a pervasive, primal urge and vibe that infused the entire band as a ramshackle unit.

Venom’s vision isn’t entirely musically detached from the modern genre either; blackened thrash is seemingly in vogue, with bands like Demiser and Daeva showing that the prototypical mixture of vicious speed and primal fury remains enticing. Their gung-ho antics are a delightfully entertaining contrast with the more plaintive sphere that most of the genre now inhabits. But the vast majority of black metal projects deviate greatly in sound; who could have predicted the heady tumult of Krallice or the plaintive unravellings of Suffering Hour upon listening to Venom’s sophomore for the first time?

And yet, philosophies of the genre’s musical approach are also ever-present. The horrid noise at the beginning was, according to vocalist/bassist Cronos, the result of a need to “create something that sounded fucked… create panic”; the modern permutations of dissonant black metal are simply technologically advanced, nuanced steps in this same direction, the nausea of Norse or Skáphe the result of an almost half-century long feedback-loop further into terrifying derangement. More atmospheric black metal bands have "Buried Alive" as their touchstone (or, perhaps, headstone?), a song that takes the psychoactive and bluesy flourishes of Sabbath but distends them into something more immediate and impassioned.

Not just the musical ethos, but the very values of the genre are also present in this boisterous beginning. The core of Black Metal is that glorious one-two punch from "Buried Alive" into "Raise the Dead" – a track transition that has never failed to bring a demented smirk to my face, and a perfect example of black metal’s long-entwined emotions of despair and violent anger. Both are directed at a world that has forsaken its narrator; narrators who have turned to evil as their only option — “if God won’t save me, the Devil must”. This sentiment is pervasive throughout black metal, which differentiates itself lyrically from other extreme genres through its almost Romantic sense of introspection, directed most often toward the insanities of humans (both on an individual and societal level) and the tragic callousness of a nihilistic universe. Its rejection of God is a refusal to submit to the norms of a society which has disappointed us; black metal hinges upon transgression and excess – sonically, behaviourally, and lyrically. Even the black metal bands which are most detached from the Venom sound possess these foundations.

This contradiction of social norms manifests in many ways. The album’s closer, "Don’t Burn the Witch", is a more obvious love-letter to people who live in defiance or contrast to convention. While the horny ravings of "Teacher’s Pet" seem far removed from the Scandinavian miseries nodded at in "Leave Me in Hell"’s anti-natalist demand, the primal and socially unacceptable lyricism bears a filthy punk through-line that continues to emerge in the swathes of bands called “xfucker”, “xpenis”, etc. Black Metal, in this sense, is a prism — and most modern bands within the genre are composed of a few colours from the record’s fractious and impure spectrum, given greater clarity by their more focused and artisan attention, the majority reflecting through that aforementioned despair and anger. I do wonder if only a fellow Geordie could plant a song about a teenage wet-dream between two of the most dramatic songs they had written at the time…

Black Metal ends with a statement of further intent – an introduction to the band’s third, most ambitious release. But in many ways, the prelude of At War With Satan is a prelude to all their successors; a song that suggests an eternal cavalcade of madness; a continuation of the drama of… Black Metal!

[I don't think I need to tell you to listen to this one...]