Venom Inc. was spawned on the 24th of April 2015 during the Keep it True Festival in Lauda-Königshofen, Germany. The onstage reunion was a resounding success and fans and industry personnel alike were primed for more from these three original members of the genre-defining UK outfit. With setlists featuring a combination of classic Venom hits and new numbers, Venom Inc. have well and truly established themselves as mainstays of the metal scene. Following their recent signing to Nuclear Blast, Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn, Anthony ‘Abaddon’ Bray, and Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan have just unleashed their brutal, critically acclaimed new album, Avé. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we had a chance to chat with Abaddon about the new album, the upcoming Blood Stained Earth Tour, and plans to visit Australia in 2018.
SR: What’s it like to hear people describe you as the godfathers of black metal and one of the most influential bands of your era?
AB: It feels great. I mean, people speak about black metal, the genre, now, where Venom was never anything like that. But we were once asked, ‘You’re a band, but you don’t sound like a heavy metal band. And if you don’t sound like heavy metal, what are you?’ And we said, ‘We’re black metal, we’re thrash metal, we’re death metal, and speed metal.’ And the other guy was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are all these genres? What is all this?’ And we said, ‘Well, that’s what the core of Venom is.’ And those have all become different genres now. So, for us to be involved in the beginnings of death metal and speed metal, as well as black metal, it’s crazy! It’s like spawning different children and having them go out into the world and make their own music and make their own way. You can listen to a band like Pantera, who come back to Venom, or a band like Emperor, who also come back to Venom… Yet Pantera and Emperor are very different bands and very different genres. But the core, when you come back to it, is always going to be Venom.
SR: And that must be very satisfying to know.
AB: It is. I mean, it’s happenstance, because it’s not deliberate. You go out to make music and have a good time, really. I go out to be part of a band and have a good time. And if you’re doing good things historically as you go along, then that’s great. It is very satisfying. But it’s a job you’ve done as you’ve gone through life. It’s not something you’ve planned for yourself. I mean, you try to be professional and do the best you can with what you’ve got. And basically, it’s just what happens to you while you’re making other plans.
SR: What has it been like having a sort of rebirth and this incarnation almost being seen as a new outfit?
AB: Well, it’s because it’s the beginnings of a relationship with the record company. And the new album—it’s the beginning of 2 or 3, or maybe 4. We’re still playing music we wrote in 1979 and 1980. We’ve been going out like a kind of a classics band playing classic songs, and now we have to fit back in with being a band that’s promoting a new album again. So, it’s about how we make those songs—those more modern songs—fit in with the old stuff; and, so far, it’s been really good. We’ve been playing Avé live—we’ve played it 3 or 4 times now—and it’s found its feet, you know? It’s now got a live feel to it. We’ll be taking maybe 3 songs to put into the live set and they’re going to stand up really well.
SR: Tony was quoted as saying that if you were signed to Nuclear Blast, he’d be happy for the rest of his life. What’s it mean to you guys, in practical terms, to be signed up with that label?
AB: They are one of the best labels. I keep hearing this, and what I’m seeing is that they’re one of the best labels, from the point of view of promotion and getting you out there. And it feels really old school. It feels like being with a proper label from the eighties again, you know? It feels great and if we carry on doing what we’re doing, which is basically just playing as many places as we can to as many people as we can, I can only see it being a good relationship with the label.
SR: I read that you approached Avé with the intention of translating your live energy into an album. What was that experience like?
AB: It was a difficult process for me because we don’t live together anymore. Tony lives in London and Jeff lives in Portugal. From the point of view of a drummer, I’m kind of old school. I like to be in the room with the guys that I’m recording with so that I can affect them and we can get a bit of eye contact and a bit of velocity and a bit of anger—the heart and soul of the music. This album was very modern and very much recorded over the internet. It was sort of passed backwards and forwards and not the way I’ve done it before or the way that I’d prefer to do it. So, it’s been a big learning curve for me.
SR: And yet I think you effectively captured that immediacy and energy. Would you agree?
AB: Yeah, I think that’s because of the way the band always was and the reason we’ve had a bit of longevity. When me and Jeff get together, we bring something out of each other and we bring something live to the sound. And that’s just what the band is. The band aren’t good musicians, the band aren’t virtuosos. The band is just a good rock and roll band and we bring the best out in each other—and the worst. But because we’re a metal band, that worst also turns into a positive thing. And what’s going to happen, vice versa, is the songs are now going to be played live and they’re going to find their feet as live entities. So they’re going to have a whole new soul, which is something that I like, personally, because I’m an old fashioned Deep Purple/Pink Floyd fan. When Deep Purple used to play songs live they used to be completely different songs to what was on the album. And that’s what I kind of like about Venom. The songs change: some get faster, some get slower, some get more groovy, some get more intense. I mean, the song Warhead, which was a single years ago, was a very intense song with very intense lyrical content and a very intense, slow groove to it. We’ve been playing that live and we’ve changed the way we play it. We’ve changed the end of it and now it’s the absolute monster that it should’ve been back in 1985 or whenever. The song has evolved, itself, and we’ve just been the instruments within that. And I really like that—I like it when things are organic.
SR: And I suppose that contributes to keeping the whole process interesting for you?
AB: Yeah—it’s the fact that the songs are evolving. I mean, we play a lot of festivals and we don’t travel with equipment. We have to turn up and use whatever equipment’s there and whatever crew’s there. So you’re always on a bit of a knife’s edge. You’re always going on pretty much last. You have a turnover section of the evening where the band before you is playing. So there’s a live thing going on and you’re in a noisy environment and it’s dark and you’re using equipment you don’t understand. You’re hoping they know, but they don’t speak English more often than not. So when you get out there for your first song and it all pulls together, and the drums don’t fall over, and the sound guy understands what you want to hear, that’s fucking exciting. The adrenaline really kicks in then. And the crowd feedback off that? There’s no boredom. There’s no ‘Okay, guys, let’s just do it again…let’s just do it again.’ It’s all first-night nerves for everybody. And that very quickly turns to either disaster or an incredible live performance—that’s what we’ve been getting out of it.
SR: Speaking of touring, you’ve got the Blood Stained Earth tour across America coming up with Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust, and The Convalescence. When were you last in the States and what are you most looking forward to about this tour?
AB: We were last in the States at the back end of last year. There’s a period on these big tours where you kind of slip into the groove and things start working and you start being part of the machine. And I really like that—I like that we come off and hang out with the fans and get drunk with them and do photographs and all that kind of stuff. You have a drink on the tour bus, you fall asleep, you wake up, and you’re at the next place and there are guys outside with album covers waiting to be signed. And you start it all again. It perpetuates and the adrenaline just keeps flowing, you know? It’s magnificent. It’s what it must be like to be a sportsman at the height of their career—it’s a constant high. I mean, I’m 57 now; so, in theory, I should be sitting with a pipe and slippers. So to be able to get out and do this is fantastic.
SR: It’s funny to hear you say it’s like leading the life of a sportsman when they probably use the rock star analogy.
AB: Well, they probably think that it’s a lot more glamorous than it actually is (laughs).
SR: Avé’s been receiving well-deserved praise. Do you read the reviews and what’s some of the most satisfying feedback you’ve heard so far?
AB: I read some of the reviews, yeah. I tend to kind of cherry pick—especially the magazines that I’ve known from the past, or a reviewer I know from the past. Some of these guys have been writing for the same amount of time as I’ve been playing, so their opinions have changed. And sometimes, when they go back to Venom, it’s sometimes like a comfortable jumper you put on or something. I kind of like reading between the lines, you know? These are the words you’re saying, but I can also see where that comes from. It’s almost as if it’s a personal letter to us, and I kind of like that. I get a lot of satisfaction from reading between the lines and looking at the other side of things.
SR: It’s great to speak with someone who has such appreciation for their fans and other people in the music industry. Were you always that way?
AB: I think so. I hope so. I’ve always thought—and this is something we say on stage every night—that if there aren’t fans, there is no gig or record sales or t-shirt sales. These people go out and do shitty jobs—jobs that they don’t enjoy sometimes. And then they have a little bit of disposable income and they could spend that anywhere. When they choose to spend that on me, or on us, you have to appreciate that. I come from an industrial background. I started working in a factory when I was 16 in the North East of England. People were being laid off left, right, and centre from the mines, the shipping industry, and the coal industry. It was a very hard time to grow up—in the seventies. When you come from the North East of England, you normally only break out if you’re a good footballer or you’re in a band….or if you win the lottery. You don’t get these chances very often, and when people want to spend money on a new album…and especially these days with social media…you read all these…not just reviews, but opinions of people you become friends with, not just Facebook friends. You become real friends—you’ve met them, you care about them. You know about their family and their background. You know when they lose their job or when they’re struggling. And you go out and all they want to do is smile. They bring me bottles of whisky and we sit down and chew the fat and have a drink. That’s massive. It’s massive, you know? For a band the size of us, it’s gigantic.
SR: Who were some of your influences when you were starting out?
AB: Oh, Ian Pearce, Neil Peart, Cozy Powell obviously, Tommy Aldridge—I suppose Buddy Rich, if you want to go back that far. A guy that I looked at the other day that I haven’t looked at for a long time is Bobby Rondinelli, who was with Rainbow when I first saw him. Bobby had filled in when Cozy Powell died and he was just gigantic. I’d forgotten all about Bobby and then I saw a thing online yesterday. I’d forgotten how good he was. So those guys, absolutely.
SR: Who was responsible for the terrific album art?
AB: The album cover had a lot to do with Tony. It was a friend of his, I believe. I think he’d done a line drawing and this guy had kind of fleshed out the idea. It’s still my original logo from 1979. It all just works—the whole cover works really well. I’m glad we’re back to doing vinyl as well, because I like vinyl as an art form, you know? You have the big gatefold sleeves and the whole area to do the artwork.
SR: It was great when that really made a resurgence. I was afraid we were going to lose it forever.
AB: Yeah, I thought it was gone too, once we got rid of the turntables and whatnot and got into CDs and the throwaway nature of that. But I’ve got young friends who are in bands and they still come to me with their album on CD and say, ‘Listen to this!’ And they only play like 30 seconds of the first song and 30 seconds of the next song, and I’m like, ‘Well, just wait a minute. Leave the fucking album on. I want to listen to it.’ It’s become too disposable. And when you think about it, if you grew up with vinyl, you always put them away carefully, didn’t you? You’d put your vinyl away and take care of it and dust it. You’d put it back in the jacket and stand it up. But CDs? The amount of CDs I’ve found that aren’t in the right boxes—it’s just disposable shit! They’re scratched, they’ll have beer stains on them and bits of fucking pizza—what the fuck? (Laughs). That era of music just took the respect away from that sort of art.
SR: I really love the clip for Dein Fleisch. Was that your concept and do you have plans for more videos?
AB: That wasn’t my concept, no. I had nothing to do with that. I do have ideas for videos for other songs. Venom were always a band that produced an album and then follow-up singles which weren’t necessarily off the album. So, that’s something that I’ll take back to the table—to say, ‘Let’s make a single that isn’t off the album.’ And you’ll get another three songs. That’s something we’ve always done. We did that with Die Hard, we did that with Manitou, we did that with Warhead and In League with Satan. There were a lot of singles that were standalone items, you know? So that’s something I’ll be looking to be doing again.
SR: When do you think you might head down to Australia for a tour?
AB: We’re looking at early 2018. Now, I’ve been saying that to a lot of people since early 2017, so I’m going to get my balls crushed if we don’t get down there. (Laughs). We’ve got a lot of fans down there, you know? It’s somewhere I’ve never been and somewhere I’d absolutely love to play. I think there’s a kind of an affinity between Australia and North East England. There’s a lot of similar humour and a similar love of live music. I think we’ll have a great time. So yeah, early 2018. I have to do it quite early because I’m expecting a baby in April. So we have to do it before that. (Laughs).
SR: Oh, congratulations! It’ll be a big year for you. What are your thoughts on the current metal scene?
AB: I think it’s pretty healthy. It’s always been an underground scene. I mean, you’ve got your big acts: AC/DC and Metallica and whatnot. But I think the fact that it’s intrinsically an underground scene keeps it healthy and it keeps it fan-driven—that’s what I really mean. The fans pick and choose what they like and what they don’t like. Social media is such a big thing now, and if the fans don’t like it, they fucking let you know. It’s not like they pick up Kerrang! and write a letter in five weeks later. It’s right there, straight away. If somebody doesn’t like Avé, they’re going to have their say about it. It’s a very healthy scene and it always has been. I also love the fact that there are so many festivals now and everybody’s still looking after each other, you know? There aren’t any big fights, there’s not any police involvement. There aren’t the threats of the bullshit that’s gong on in the rest of our society right now. I hope it stays that way. People are looking after each other, which is great. It’s cool. When my little one grows up and says, ‘I want to go to a metal festival’, I’ll be like, ‘Well thank fuck for that’, you know? You’re going to be alright.
SR: It’s a community, really.
AB: Yeah—it’s a very, very healthy community, and it’s worldwide. It’s not like the German festivals are cool, but if you go to America you’ll get mugged. It’s cool everywhere, you know?
SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your Aussie fans who’ll be grabbing their copies of Avé?
AB: I do. I’d like to say enjoy Avé and I apologise profusely for not being down there in 2017. (Laughs). I’m just a lying bastard. But we will be down there in 2018—I promise. And the drinks are on me.
SR: Whoa—careful saying that around Australians!
AB: Yeah, I know! (Laughs). I regretted that instantly! (Laughs loudly).
»Blood Stained Earth Tour 2017«
w/ GOATWHORE, TOXIC HOLOCAUST, THE CONVALESCENCE
01.09. USA Philadelphia, PA – Voltage
02.09. USA New York, NY – Gramercy Theater
03.09. USA Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
04.09. CDN Montreal, QC – Les Foufounes Electriques
05.09. CDN Toronto, ON – Mod Club
06.09. USA Detroit, MI – Harpos
07.09. USA Cleveland, OH – Agora Ballrom
08.09. USA Chicago, IL – Reggies
09.09. USA Cave in Rock, IL – Full Terror Metal Fest
10.09. USA Kansas City, MO – Riot Room
11.09. USA Denver, CO – Marquis Theater
13.09. USA Spokane, WA – The Pin
14.09. USA Seattle, WA – Studio 7
15.09. CDN Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater
16.09. USA Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater
18.09. USA San Francisco, CA – Slims
19.09. USA Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy Theatre
20.09. USA San Diego, CA – Brick By Brick
21.09. USA Phoenix, AZ – Club Red
22.09. USA El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
23.09. USA Dallas, TX – Gas Monkey
24.09. USA Austin, TX – Grizzly Hall
25.09. USA Houston, TX – White Oak Music Hall
26.09. USA New Orleans, LA – Parish at HOB
28.09. USA Miami, FL – Churchill’s
29.09. USA Tampa, FL – Orpheum
30.09. USA Orlando, FL – The Haven
01.10. USA Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
02.10. USA Baltimore, MD – Soundstage
27.10. FIN Helsinki – Heavy Metal Cauldron
28.10. F Vouziers – Festival de Vouziers
10.11. IRL Dublin – Voodoo Lounge
11.11. UK Glasgow – Audio
12.11. UK Manchester – Ruby Lounge
13.11. UK Bristol – Fleece
14.11. UK London – Underworld