DNA Lounge, San Francisco
January 20, 2016
A couple of days before this show the anticipation was so thick in the air amongst old school Metal friends you could cut it with a knife. Yes, there are 2 versions of "Venom" active now here in the 21st Century. One is fronted by Cronos (aka Venom) and the other features the other 2/3 of the original band plus Tony Dolan of Atomkraft on vocals / bass (aka Venom Inc.). Honesty is my only excuse: People focus too much on Cronos being "Venom". The original guitar tone of Mantas and the drumming of Abaddon were as much a part of the original band as anything else. This makes Venom Inc. completely valid plus Tony Dolan was there back in The Day in Newcastle, England fronting Atomkraft. Ironically, my teenage Metal 'zine featured both bands in 1983:
The Atomkraft article was probably the first thing ever written about the band (Peace in Rest, Sam Kress). A couple of hours before the show things suddenly got crazy old school full circle with this message from the band's tour manager:
"Hi Brian - Just shooting an email to you real quick - I've got ya down for tonight. Also wanted to mention that I have that copy of Whiplash mag - bought at my local metal shop in Arlington TX when it came out!! Hell yes!"
When I arrived at the venue it was immediately obvious the show had brought a lot of old school Metalheads out of the woodwork. It felt like a high school reunion seeing so many familiar faces; not bad for a Wednesday school night. Beers were shared with some good friends before all Hell broke loose (in a fantastic way of course).
As the support bands played I met up with John, the tour manager, and it was as if we'd known each other for 30 years. Most people believe only the old Punk scenes had a D.I.Y. underground ethic.. but the early-80's Metal scene worldwide had just as much of that. The fact that John and I met for the first time here in the 21st Century but our easy conversation was like we were right back in 1983 was a testament to our roots (bloody roots). It was during this time I also met Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan and a circle started 33 years ago with my old Whiplash 'zine was completed. Amazing!
I was standing at stage left as the house lights went down for the headliners and I noticed someone standing to my right... and it was Abaddon.. drumsticks in hand... ready for battle... and he still looks exactly as he did in 1983... long hair and aviator sunglasses! It was a profound moment because tonight was the first time Abaddon and Mantas had performed in San Francisco since 1985 on that first U.S. Tour. The original band never returned here after that. Crazy.
Obviously there was some doubts in my head about how this version of "Venom" would be onstage. However, my expectations were fueled by very positive reports from friends who had seen Venom Inc. before... The set opened with 'Prime Evil' and then for the next 90 minutes it was full-on classic greatest hits one after another after another after another. 'Die Hard' into 'Don't Burn The Witch' into 'Live Like An Angel (Die Like A Devil)' into 'Buried Alive' into 'Raise The Dead'... My expectations were completely hung, drawn, and quartered. The band was fantastic... and judging by the rabid crowd action on the floor below my San Francisco Metal brothers and sisters felt the same.
As the next song, 'One Thousand Days In Sodom', got going someone came up next to me, fist in the air, and shouted the lyrics into my ear as the band roared onstage. It was the guy who sings 'Master Of Puppets'. It was adorable watching the guy who sings 'Master Of Puppets' play air guitar and drums for the entire set... and after the show he hung out for a long while chatting and reminiscing with the headliners.
Like I said earlier, tonight felt like a high school reunion.. and it was pretty fucking cool that the class valedictorian showed up, right?
When it comes to vintage Metal bands it's not often that the present is BETTER than the past. However, Venom in this incarnation was without question BETTER than the "Venom" that last played in San Francisco in 2006. The performance tonight was about THE SONGS and was one of the most focused, no bullshit sets by a vintage Metal band that I've seen in recent years. Tony Dolan's vocal delivery and bass playing is more direct and less cheesy than Cronos... and his stage presence more appropriate for the songs now.
This BAND is fucking tight! No sloppy rambling interludes. I started geeking out watching Mantas and Abaddon playing these songs again. At times I only watched each of them, soaking in their individual performances, and being reminded how important each of them is to what "Venom" meant to me. Mantas' guitar tone. Abaddon's double bass thunder. Even after all these years it's all still right where it belongs. Time travel does exist.
The main set closed with probably my favorite Venom song, 'Sons Of Satan', and the epic timeless evening was encored to a close with 'Black Metal' into 'Countess Bathory' into 'Witching Hour'.. and then the gates to Hell were closed and the band said goodnight. The after show hang was something the teenage me would not have believed possible as all of the band members told me separately how they still have their copies of my old 'zine Whiplash. Wow..
For those who care, chew on this setlist:
- Prime Evil
- Die Hard
- Don't Burn the Witch
- Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)
- Buried Alive
- Raise the Dead
- One Thousand Days in Sodom
- The Seven Gates of Hell
- In Nomine Satanas
- Sons of Satan
- Welcome to Hell
- Black Metal
- Countess Bathory
- Witching Hour
The subject of Venom (Cronos) vs. Venom Inc. (Mantas, Abaddon, Demolition Man) is not something I'm going to debate. I have not seen the Cronos band since 2006 when he last visited The Bay Area.. but I have seen the recent footage posted online. That being said, Venom Inc. captures the essence of what made the original band iconic to me in my salad days. Ironically, a day or so after the show, I received a message from the band asking me a question:
I will leave it at that.
I didn't do a merch audit... I was too distracted all night. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. It's rare for Umlaut to still be buzzing with excitement about a show days after it happened... but that's how I still feel after Venom Inc.. Amazing and this photo was 33 years in the making:
[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]
"Join Venom's Legions... 'cause we're going wild.."