Having given birth to what became known as the black metal genre via their 1981 debut groundbreaking masterpiece Welcome To Hell, Venom set the benchmark of all that would follow in their wake. First formed back in the later part of the Seventies, Venom took the blistering speed of Motorhead, fused it with the satanic imagery of Black Sabbath and served it up with the middle finger attitude of punk to create their own original metal beast. Via albums such as At War With Satan (1983) and Calm Before The Storm (1987) the group continued to expand upon their black metal formula. Though the band experienced changes of personnel over the years, 2006 sees the group comprised of founding vocalist/bassist Cronos together with longstanding members Antton on drums and Mykvs aka Mike Hickey on guitar.
Venom's new studio release titled Metal Black is out in March via Sanctuary records and sees the trio harking back to the days of the group's '80s creative peak by re-inventing and taking their charging black metal into the 21st century. Joe Matera spoke to Venom's demonic six-stringer Mykvs for an exclusive interview for UG.
UG: Metal Black is a return to the classic '80s sounding Venom, was this a conscious effort on the band's behalf or something that over time naturally saw the band coming around full circle?
Mike Hickey: It would be a natural progression and a conscious effort as well. The band has gone through many incarnations and in various musical directions through the years. When we started working on this album, we wanted to keep the direction true to the original bombastic spirit of early Venom and to keep the music raw.
|"We basically took all of our ideas and threw them into the mix."|
We basically took all of our ideas and threw them into the mix and put all the songs together as a band. Some of the songs were more complete ideas and others were composed out of a couple of basics riffs. Everyone in the band plays guitar and writes in this band, so we have the luxury of having a multitude of riffs coming together. We tried to strip down the tunes to the most straight ahead arrangements possible. Cronos provided all of the lyrical composition.
And what about the recording process for the album?
We put down the basic tracks as a band and then went back and redid what we felt was needed here and there. Obviously anything I double tracked was an overdub. There is nothing better than getting in the room together to get the feel on the basic tracks. I did overdub all the solos. I am very happy with the end result.
Is it true that the album was actually recorded twice?
We have always demoed all of our ideas first, so we did record all the songs in full. After having the time to listen to the demos and make changes to our arrangements, we went back and recorded everything again for the final versions. It allowed us to get the songs feeling and sounding the way we really wanted.
|"I tried to compose memorable melodies that the kids would actually be able to learn if they so desired."|
My approach was determined by the song, I tried to keep in mind the end result we were after and avoided overplaying for the sake of being clever. We also wanted to have the music translate well to the live environment, so the more to the point, the better.
Did you double track any of your rhythm guitar tracks?
Yes, I doubled all of my rhythm tracks and also most of the solos too.
When laying down guitar parts, what do you look for? Do you seek to find something that will work harmonically within the context of the chords or something that will capture the imagery of the song's essence?
I try to think of both the harmonic content and also the imagery. In this genre of music we end up with a lot of Phrygian and Harmonic Minor type of progressions, so one of the real challenges was creating solos that were interesting within those modes. I tried to compose memorable melodies that would reflect the song's direction and also to play things that the kids would actually be able to learn if they so desired. As I've already mentioned earlier, I also tried to avoid overplaying for the sake of showing off chops. It was really about making a cohesive statement for each song for me.
How did you go about capturing your guitar sound in the studio?
It was really basic, two Shure SM-57 microphones in front of some 4x12s. No big surprise there. I would generally have one mic straight on and one at a slight axis.
How do you go about creating a vibe in the studio to help capture the songs atmosphere?
The vibe is loud amps, pounding drums and rock and roll! We stood in the room and cranked it up, that was the ritual. When the three of us get in a room and play the atmosphere is immediately metal.
Give us a rundown of the gear you used for the recording and what you're currently using live?
I used a few different Charvel Strats from the early 80's San Dimas era that I love to play, including my original Charvel that I had used on Calm Before the Storm. For amplifiers I had a new Peavey 6505 and an older 5150 through some old Marshall 4x12's. The effects were basic stuff. I used the new EVH MXR Phase 90, a Crybaby Wah, Boss Chorus, and a Boss Super Overdrive. Most of the rhythm work was done straight into the amp without anything else. I also used the Line 6 POD on a few things. Live, I will be using a couple of the Charvels and the Peavey 6505 amp with the aforementioned pedals.
What sort of gear did Cronos use for the album?
Cronos used his custom made Fender Deluxe Jazz Bass, which is fretless above the twelfth fret. He also used his trusty old Acoustic 220 bass amplifier through a couple of 4x12s.
Are they're any special tunings utilized on Metal Black?
We tune to C#. I dropped the low string to B for Maleficarvm.
What is your favorite track on the album and why?
I like all of the songs, but my personal favorite has turned out to be Death & Dying. It has all the elements for me. The drums are outrageous, the riff is grinding, classic lyrics from Cronos, and I am really happy with the solo which was improvised and captured on the second take. But I don't just have one favorite. Metal Black is crazy shit. I really like the way Hours of Darkness came out. Burn in Hell is another. I am into the whole record.
Venom is preparing to go on the road to tour the album, what can fans expect?
We are starting off with some shows in England in late March and will also be appearing at the Sweden Rock Festival June 9 and at Tuska Rock Festival in Finland in July. We are also lining up some USA dates and some more European festivals. Fans can expect to hear a lot of the classic Venom material along with songs from Metal Black. We want to get out and play in territories we haven't covered in the past.
|"Certainly Metal Black is the album to reintroduce Venom to the world."|
Certainly Metal Black is the album to reintroduce Venom to the world. I feel it captures the real Venom style and sound and brings it to a modern level while staying true to the roots of the band. And with Sanctuary behind the album we will have the distribution to get Metal Black into the hands of the Legions all over the world.
What do you think of the bands that came in Venom's wake and have taken their black metal template to success?
Venom is the only Black Metal band to me personally. The bands that call themselves Black Metal seem to only use the imagery as their backdrop. I don't feel any connection between Venom and the new bands that call themselves Black Metal on a musical level. Which is why, we have now reinvented our style to be Metal Black. I hear more of a connection to Venom in Pantera or Slipknot than I do with many of the new Black Metal bands.
Joe Matera 2006