Venom - Hell 3.5/5
1. Straight to hell
2. The power and the glory
3. Hand of God
4. Fall from grace
6. Evil perfection
7. Stab U in the back
9. Kill the music
10. Evilution devilution
11. Blood sky
12. USA for Satan
13. Dirge/The awakening
Written off more times than Rocky Balboa, Venom came blustering back in 2006 with what must have been at least the 4th comeback CD bearing the band's name, 'Metal black'. Driven by bassist and frontman Cronos alone from the original trio, the CD was a very satisfying, if not slightly flawed, effort from the legendary black metal progenitors and the haste with which its successor, 'Hell', has been released (even allowing for the departure of guitarist Mike Hickey) reflects an obvious desire to finally build some momentum.
Continuing in largely the same vein as 'Metal black', though with a slightly slower overall tempo, 'Hell' is another agreeable addition to the band's catalogue, though it must be said that the original Venom sound (i.e. snotty NWOBHM played too fast to bother staying in time) really isn't in evidence anywhere on the CD. Instead Cronos and his associates - brother Antton on drums and an unknown guitarist by the name of Rage – have crafted an oddly unique-sounding collection of songs that focus mostly on simplistic, pummelling riffs that requires a little patience to be enjoyed properly.
The production style lends to this aura – thankfully a step up from the rough-as-a-badger's-arse sound of 'Metal black' (surely down to a misguided attempt at replicating the rough-and-ready feel of the classics on modern equipment rather than genuine incompetence?), but definitely still very sparse and abrasive, and sure to dissuade listeners more sensitive to this aspect of the music.
A meaty proportion of the songs have great focus on mid-tempo chug, with Cronos' bass clanging so loudly that a guitar is barely necessary while the vocalist wretches out his usual underrated lyrical stylings. On first listen this makes the CD seems uninspired and painfully repetitious, but a few spins later and the songs dig their way into the brain and develop a hypnotic and impossible catchiness. 'Hand of god' and the doomish 'Blood sky' are possibly the best examples of this style.
Not to say that there isn't an injection of pace from time to time, and when 'Hell' does pick up speed the results are superb. "Kill the music", presumably a long-overdue jibe at former drummer Abaddon, is a nicely spiteful little number, and is also the only song on display to properly hark back to the early Venom sound, while the controversy-courting 'USA for satan' makes for an amusing end to the CD.
While more consistent than 'Metal black' (though with fewer moments of stand-out brilliance), 'Hell' unfortunately is just a tad overlong and would have been helped by the trimming of a couple of weak moments that cause the CD to suffer overall. 'Stab u in the back' is hampered by a weak chorus, which is a shame as it is, along with 'Evil perfection' and 'The power and the glory' (even allowing for a pretty poor pseudo-death growls on the latter) one of the more 'musical' songs on the CD. 'Fall from grace,' though, is the stick-out weak track, with the decent drum-and-vocal verses undermined by some second-rate, groovy riffs. The instrumental outro track "Dirge/The awakening" also feels unnecessary and out of place after the extended conclusion to "USA for satan", and it would have been better to have it either worked into a full song or dropped altogether.
In spite of these limitations though, 'Hell' is a definite triumph for Venom in their current incarnation, and more than justifies their continued existence as a recording entity. An unusual CD to be sure, and one that needs to be given some time to work its peculiar charms on the listener, but it proves well worth the effort in the end.
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