Oh ho, ha ha, blood, guts and gonads, what a lark. Take three barmy Geordies, add plenty of beer and “spice” and you can make a pigs ear out of a silk purse. VENOM inadvertently reverted millions of years of tectonic heat and pressure to turn diamonds back to coal. What with elements of Heavy Metal disappearing up their own arse, VENOM were the 40 gallon barrel of syrup of figs that purged the bowels of Metal to give us the filthy pile of glorious shit that is “Welcome To Hell.”
This album polarised opinion more than any other at the time. Reviled by many, hungrily devoured by others, this was one of the defining origins of extreme metal. Though not as dark as “Black Metal” and “At War With Satan,” it was nonetheless a sea change as far as the development of Heavy Metal goes. Remember youngsters that this was 23 years ago, and so it ain’t 2004 extreme, but you can hear the roots of much that you treasure today sending out their spiky tendrils to whither away the established metal of the day.
In the days when decent production was something virtually everyone strove for, VENOM cobbled together an album held together with string, tape and various dubious sticky substances. Less stellar than Stella (Artois,) this was a band intent on making something nasty with plenty of up yours attitude. It was, of course, a load of fun despite the satanic references. Though Old Nick gets plenty of mention, VENOM clearly had mischief in mind, rather than the sacrifice of farmyard animals.
“Welcome To Hell” had the dirtiest sound in Metal, rawer than a cheese-grated phallus and as anarchic as much of the second wave Punk being spewed forth back then. It was over the top in every department and so ramshackle that it sounded like it was going to fall around the terrible trio’s ears. At times it sounded like the instruments were being played in reverse, and on many of the tracks it had that “Black” quality that gives the association to the Black Metal family tree. Proficiency was not a word associated with VENOM then, but the chaos that ensued won them many friends, as well as enemies.
So what about the songs? Well, “Sons Of Satan” hints at the darkness that was to follow on later albums. Fast and black, it is without doubt proto-Black Metal, the flat bass sound giving it an infernal edge. The title track is very much Heavy Metal in feel, but after being dragged through a sewer. Add in the first time I had heard a female spoken word passage, reciting a prayer and what sounds suspiciously like a blast beat section, I think the die had been cast. Move on to the classic “Witching Hour” which rumbles along at speed like a bulldozer falling off a quarry face. It is obvious here why VENOM never got lumped in with the nascent Thrash scene, they were much too dark in sound and structure. The early spawning of the hell-noise that would influence so many (of whatever genre,) continues un-abated throughout the second side, albeit slower on “A Thousand Days In Sodom,” to the strange fruit of “In League With Satan.” This song is a mantra to the Dark One and sounds more like a heavy, hard rock number with a hint of psychobilly to it. It shows the lyrical direction VENOM were to follow. Forget thee not the twisted solos that shred on most of the tracks, be mindful of when this was recorded and marvel at crud encrusted finger it presented to the Metal establishment.
“Welcome To Hell” is an album that has me chuckling away to myself even after all these years and it was worth struggling through the shed to get to the turn table as I only have it on vinyl. As a hoot or a history lesson, it is worth soiling your ears with. On the re-mastered CD you get a shitload of extra tracks to heighten the experience.
This is a Hootenanny in Hades, severed brake pipes on the Heavy Metal chuggalugga, pint of piss, where’s the Wimmin, I know where you live opus. Is it the Source of the Black River? Who gives a fuck. (Online January 27, 2005)