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From The Very Depths Dean Brown , January 19th, 2015 16:31

Welcome To Hell, 1981. Black Metal, 1982. Two albums that inadvertently gave extreme metal its bloody birth. Because of those classic records (brimming with blasphemous, ramshackle speed metal), Venom's reputation as black/thrash metal progenitors is carved into legend – there's nothing Venom, led by sole original member Conrad "Cronos" Lant (bass, vocals), can do that will ever take away the cultural and musical significance of their first two albums and to a lesser extent, 1984's At War With Satan. And thank Lucifer for that, because every Venom album since then – with the exception of a couple of songs here and there – has paled in comparison and added little to the Newcastle upon Tyne band's esteemed early legacy.

For the second consecutive album, Cronos is joined by Stuart "Le Rage" Dixon on guitars and Danny "Dante" Needham on drums; both of whom have been involved in the Venom saga since 2007 and 2009 respectively. Their first album as a trio, Fallen Angels, was released in 2011, and much like the majority of Venom's albums since their glory days, it was mostly forgettable. Studio album fourteen, From The Very Depths, doesn't change the habit of what seems like a lifetime now.

At this point it has to be acknowledged that there is a temptation to write Venom off, regardless of the standard of their music these days, just because they've lived off the back of their legend for decades without adding anything of serious artistic worth. But to do so without giving the new music a chance would be both lazy and unfair to a seminal act that is uttered in the same sacred breath as Black Sabbath when it comes to mass influence on metal musicians young and old. Yet, when you really look past the muscle and sinew of From The Very Depths, you'll be left with no other option but to cast this album into the discount bin to rest alongside 2006's muddled Metal Black and 1987's Satan-free, twin-guitar-led Calm Before The Storm, amongst many others.

The real problem here, and with other post-At War With Satan albums, is how Venom are cautious of being retrospective and instead desperately want to sound current. But what metalheads love about Venom is the raw punk attack. Venom, however, have no desire to pander to the past and they want to sound muscular, tighter and more stable, yet they don't have the acumen to write a strong album in this manner. Instead, as the overly long album plays out, the more insipid and monotonous the music seems.

The extremely clear, punchy modern production on From The Very Depths sits right with Venom's brand of metal in 2015, lending a brutish but personality-free tone. The best moment on the album is unleashed early on in the form of the aggressive title track which comes out gnashing and baring its teeth: Cronos' inimitable snarl is front and centre and his authoritative bass playing thrashes along with Le Rage's grinding guitars and Dante's drum-pummel. 'The Death Of Rock n Roll' is also fun if nothing else; you can almost see the cheeky glint in Cronos' eye as he drops the chorus of "Line up the Marshall stacks / We're killing King Creole / With devastating thrash / The Death of Rock n Roll." It's cheesy as sin, but so are Venom's classic songs and they still work.

For the very same reason 'Long Haired Punks' and the sharper 'Grinding Teeth' are tolerable as they barrel along recklessly, which will satisfy those still crammed into their faded Welcome to Hell t-shirts. Those same fans may set said t-shirt alight in effigy when they encounter the rest of the tracks, though – and that's nothing to do with being prudish purists, it's just bad songwriting.

'Smoke' makes you think the trio have been listening to Down and have tried (and failed) to incorporate their stoner rock thump into Venom's oeuvre, following a Middle-Eastern-inspired intro. The unforgivable result of which is like something you'd expect from the knuckle-draggin' Five Finger Death Punch, because the repetitive chugging riffs are as generic as they come, and the energy just isn't there. 'Temptation' and 'Crucified' are equally bland: the stunted syncopated riffs of the former sound like they were stolen from St. Anger (laden with the kind of pinch harmonics even Zakk Wylde would reject), with Cronos incessantly shouting 'Temptation!' to increasing degrees of annoyance.

In fairness to Venom, they have tried to write an album that suits their present tastes (which seems to have stopped around time nu metal and groove metal were interchangeable), and the guitar solos, when used, are on-point and sometimes excellent in the context of the kind of metal they play these days. But what they've varied their sound with is an over reliance on chugging, thrash/groove metal riffs that lead aimless songs like 'Mephistopheles' and 'Wings Of Valkyrie' nowhere, because they are hampered by tired, unoriginal songwriting and often a toothless vocal performance from Cronos. So, there's very little to be found within From The Very Depths to warrant repeat plays, and it's safe to say when the dusk mercifully settles on Venom (or on 2015, for that matter), this clumsy attempt at modern metal will not be remembered. Once again, Venom's new music proves their witching hour has long passed.