Venom Inc – Whammy Bar February 27, 2018

Venom Inc. came with a complicated history but brought to Whammy Bar simple metal glee.

To call Venom Inc. an offshoot of the legendary proto-extreme metal band Venom would be selling them far too short, considering they boast two out of three members from Venom’s most influential era. A long history of line up changes, disbandings, reunions, and intellectual property disputes resulted in the snarl that birthed Venom Inc., but for the patch-jacketed crowd of metal vets that packed into Whammy, there was no ambiguity. This was truly Venom, a group of musicians with a valid claim to the musical legacy of that name.

Die hard old-schoolers Forsaken Age kicked off the night almost immediately after the doors opened. The mission statement is all in the name- this was unapologetic 80s trad metal worship. Galloping riffs, power melodies and lyrics about vikings and fantasy battles. By its very nature nothing you haven’t heard before, Forsaken Age overcame the familiarity by wrapping their clichés in the embrace of true love, and simply being able to play their chosen style really damn well. The one major downer for me was that vocalist Chrissy Scarfe did not at all sound on top form. The confidence and sustained power required to make this kind of metal really soar was completely lacking for most of the set, but started to creep in over the last three songs. In slower jam Ride On her mids acquired this moody ethereal vibe to them. While in Wolves of War and Heavy Metal Nightmare she appeared to finally lean in hard and delivered some lovely clean, witchy highs. The ability shown in those moments indicated I’d caught her on an off day.

Wellington stalwarts Bulletbelt  were up next. A black/thrash band that also borrows from a melting pot of speed and trad metal, Bulletbelt were a fitting choice to open for Venom. I’d seen them several times before, finding them consistently fast, tight and lots of fun. This, however, was the first time I’d caught them with their new lineup after replacing a vocalist and guitarist. I was interested to see how new vocalist Scott Spatcher Harrison changed the sound, especially after Jolene Tempest left her mark so resoundingly on latest album Nine Centuries. I was immediately impressed, with Harrison stamping his signature all over opener Death Tinted Red. He didn’t change anything in the song structure, but his black metal delivery was a retch much more guttural than Tempest’s high shriek, and he surprised by dropping the titular line in the chorus into a full on death metal growl. Based on the new song Bulletbelt treated us to, this is more his natural tendency, with the band as a whole sounded like some death influence was creeping into the aggressive thrash. Cloak the Night was clearly not Harrison’s comfort zone, with the combination of high pitch and fast cadence creeping some strain in. Otherwise, it was comfortingly familiar Bulletbelt- fast, tight and cohesive. Always worth catching.

Finally, with the crowd now packed in and visibly excited, we were treated to Venom,Inc. Storming the stage to cheers and a surge toward the front, the band were immediately embraced with rowdy excitement. Launching into a set with recent song Ave Satanas, the most essential part of this experience was also the most immediately apparent: it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan reared back and addressed the tall mic like Motorhead’s Lemmy, teeth bared and clenched, neck muscles standing out. His bass was laden fat with groove, a huge presence in the riffs co-curated with Jeff Dunn AKA Mantis. Mantis himself wasn’t afraid of showmanship either, getting right in the faces of the front row to show off his fretwork during solos. In fact the whole band embraced the gleeful Satanic camp of their image. Dolan especially was going full ham, licking his tongue at the audience, barking introductions to songs like Sons of Satan and Leave Me in Hell through wicked grins.

The musicianship was simple but superbly honed, the full head-banging potential of every riff and drumbeat exploited for maximum joyful abandon. The three whipped the front rows repeatedly into tumbling moshes, crowd surfers, fist pumping chants. Once or twice the fans lost their collective balance in the mayhem and started spilling over the speakers onto the low stage, the band grinning over the chaos like mad trickster gods. Their evident appreciation for their reception grew and grew as the night, with Mantis sending us off before the encore with a heartfelt speech about the importance of fans keeping the music industry alive, and the encore stretched into a crashing, exuberant back and forth between band flourishes and crowd cheers.

You can run out of things to say about a gig like this quickly, but that’s no insult. It was fast, it was loud, it was joyful. No need to complicate things.

Cameron Miller

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Venom Inc.