A few weeks ago, Venom Inc. (two-thirds of the original Venom lineup with early 90s frontman Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan) toured the United States, earning universal praise for a thunderous set packed with Venom classics. You will be able to read our inside take on how Venom Inc. came together in the forthcoming May issue. In the meantime, we thought it was a perfect occasion to rank the songs on one of the most revered metal albums ever: Black Metal.
Black Metal justifiably earned Venom their second slot in our Hall Of Fame (Welcome To Hell got there first). Let's get one thing straight before we dig in: by no means are we saying any of these songs are bad. I've played each one of them, conservatively, thousands of times in the past few decades. Venom is wrongly criticized (by some) as a band that was more of influence on good bands rather than a good band but I challenge you to find a dud on Black Metal.
Now, not all of these songs are as iconic as the ones at the top of the list but this album is as compelling now as when it was released in, egads, 1982. While Cronos said last year that he thinks the album is dated we're going to go ahead and completely disagree with the former frontman. These songs are timeless. Let's take a stab at ranking them. Bring the wench to the altar, priest.
11. At War With Satan Preview: "Crouched on the corner of a cliff's edge..." This isn't a track as much as a teaser for Venom's most audacious act outside of Cronos's stage banter; a 20-plus minute song. Even as a young fan I remember thinking: "Venom is going to do a song that takes an entire side of an album?" But damn if this little teaser didn't get me excited about Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon doing their own Satanic take on Paradise Lost.
10. Teacher's Pet: This song is a crude and explicit twist on the same thing Van Halen did on
"Hot For Teacher." It's entertaining in a juvenile way but takes away a bit from the dark vibe Venom had going on the first side. On Black Metal Venom lost a bit of the libertine humor that was all over Welcome To Hell. This track showed they could still match songs like "Red Light Fever." Trivia: this song is in a 12-bar format, like the majority of blues songs.
9. Leave Me In Hell: This is a song about an emo Prince in Hell. "I don't want to be born. I don't want it, leave me in hell." The confusing part is why Satan would want someone around who didn't boast the conquering spirit needed to overthrow heaven on At War With Satan.
8. To Hell And Back: Sort of Zagat's guide to the pleasures of Hell. Visit the home of eternal damnation, kiss the Satanic queen, see things that have never been seen. Hell's apparently not a bad place to be.
7. Sacrifice: An absolute ripper from Venom, complete with the singalong chorus "S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E." This might be one of Venom's catchiest tunes and definitely was a template for the thrash metal that followed -- and in some ways outpaced -- Venom just a few years later.
6. Raise The Dead: Early on Black Metal we're talking about literally burying a perfectly healthy person alive. The band gets tricky and follows with a song about bringing the dead back to life. Includes one of the best lyrics of Venom's career: "Ashes to ashes/dust to dust/If God won't help me than the devil must!" I have to think Goatwhore had this song in mind when they wrote: "Who needs a God when you've got Satan!"
5. Heaven's On Fire: This is Venom at their most fierce and uncompromising. By track three of the "metal" side of this album, you've almost forgotten these jokers were talking about doing naughty things to one of their teachers a few minutes earlier.
4. Don't Burn The Witch: One of the gems Venom Inc. brought back for their recent tour. This opens with simple but highly effective guitar work by Mantas, before switching to a terrific riff that dominates the song. Although Venom was never serious when it came to their lyrics -- they've admitted that they were trying to shock listeners -- you can't hear this track without thinking about the disastrous witch hunts in our history, from Salem to the recent unjust prosecution and jailing of the West Memphis Three.
3. Black Metal: Lay down your souls to the God's rock and roll. The first Venom song that many impressionable kids heard in the 80s. What's that sound in the beginning? I always thought it was a massive fucking chainsaw. This song started a musical revolution, from the Norwegian black metal scene to the American underground.
2. Countess Bathory: For many Venom listeners this song should be in first place. It's damn close. This might be the best riff in Mantas's long shredding career, and it might be the first metal song to reference Countess Bathory long before she was stylized by Dani Filth and others. One of the things about "Countess" is how sleazy this song feels; the music's slow churn helps you picture the Countess alone in her bath of blood.
1. Buried Alive: Venom always knew what do with slow, simple, colossally, heavy songs like "Warhead," and "In League With Satan." This is their best slow mammoth. When I first owned this album I placed the headphones on and listened to the intro -- from the last words to sounds of dirt falling -- and imagined what it would be like to be trapped inside of a coffin. This song does an incredible job of building tension; the gradual awakening; the slow realization of horror and, finally, the anguished screams of someone unable to escape.