Venom’s Cronos: The Story Behind Coining ‘Black Metal,’ Touring With Metallica + More
Venom's bellowing vocalist and rumbling bass player, Cronos, is among heavy metal's most influential figures. Without Venom's Satanic might coupled with their gritty punk/metal cacophony, heavy metal may have never evolved to quite the extreme state that it did. Perhaps the transition was inevitable, but Venom undeniably expedited the evolution, spurring a legion of new acts like Slayer to name just one, and the dominos of influence have continued to fall ever since.
Nearly 40 years later, Venom have endured a myriad of lineup changes with no founding member serving as its constant. Cronos has been at the helm for the last 15-plus years, piling albums on top of the band's existing legacy, the latest being Storm the Gates, Venom's 15th full length.
In our conversation, Cronos remains enthusiastic about Venom and the metal scene overall, despite thinking it could use some reinvention and fresh ideas. He assesses the current state of things while reflecting on some big moments in the past, including having a young Metallica open for them in 1984 as well as the moment the term "black metal" was born. Check it all out below.
The thing that immediately jumped out to me when you released "Bring Out Your Dead" was how raw this production is. When you're going into the studio doing pre-production, what was your mentality toward what you wanted this album to actually sound like?
Well, just as raw as fucking possible. I mean, this is one of the things, when you get up onstage and you play, it’s really difficult to capture that on vinyl disc or whatever people are using now and I’ve been fascinated with this since the first day I stepped in the studio was, how it sounds so different from one room to the next. There is no better sound than live.
I’ve worked with hip-hop guys and and guys who are into all this house and dance and everything because I know that’s electronic music but it’s the clarity in it. One of my big influences in that scene has got to be The Prodigy and how they can create the intensity in that music.
The birth of Pantera was kind of a pivotal point in production where bands start to get that clarity. They managed to grasp that fucking real sense of guitar in your face, you know? I met those guys in the '90s and I went over to do a session with the band Massacre — they were doing a cover of "Warhead" and we had a night off and they said, "Oh we’re going to drive down to Tampa, there’s this new band" and I had already got the cassette for Cowboys From Hell and I remember standing at the bar, I was talking to these chicks and when they hit the stage, I sort of just turned around, I was like, "What the fuck?" I thought these guys had actually made the next progressive step toward getting metal really in your face.
And there are a lot of different styles on this album. You've got "Destroyer," which is pretty doomy and then "We The Loud," which was also issued on an EP last year. More just straight up punk. What would you asses the current state of punk as today?
As always, in blocks. Punk didn't last very long as its original explosion. It got very political against the government, against the monarchy and everything. I think fans must get very bored of that very quick because we hear it on the news every day from the politicians and everything, but I do appreciate that a lot of the punk bands were working class people.
Music is entertainment and it is supposed to make us feel good. I don’t mind the aggressive stuff, and it is good to fucking get your point across. Music would be sad without it, but it is in addition to but it shouldn't be all-encompassing.
I think that's why punk has been in flux for so long, because punk has also adopted many other styles. There's even kind of a reggae side to punk as well. I don’t know, it's hard to say with punk.
Can you take me back to the moment when you came up with the term "Black Metal?"
Actually it was flat out of anger. We were doing an interview and just before the interview, we had been looking through some of the press and Eddie Van Halen had just done the guitar solo on "Beat It." It was the Kerrang! magazine or one of those magazines that had the heavy metal chart and number one on the heavy metal chart was fuckin’ Michael Jackson's "Beat It." Having Michael Jackson brought into our world was just a blast for me and so fucking wrong.
I remember sitting in the interview and we were asked, "Where do you guys fit in with all that?" I said, "Well, we certainly don’t fit in that. If that’s heavy metal, then we’re not — we’re power metal, death metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal. I just started spitting all these other types of terms out straight right off the top of my head and it stuck. We used to just call ourselves power metal back in the day.
Nobody's creating anything new and that’s because people have seemed to just be taking other people's ideas. I think if we could provide like, deny people to be able to do that, people might start creating again and we’ll get some new David Bowie's and some new Gene Simmons, and some new fucking Ozzy Osbourne's you know. We need some new explosions and ideas.
It seems like people are the most creative when there are limitations. You look at King Crimson's In The Court of the Crimson King and that was tracked with an eight-channel recorder.
I think you’re right. We need some fresh air, we need some new ideas and it needs to come from the young guys. The kids who are at school, leaving school, they need to be grabbing the industry by the balls and coming out with something new.
I want to talk about your tour with Metallica in 1984. Obviously, they've given Venom a lot of credit for influencing them and they're always generous about letting everybody know who's influenced them. When you were on the road with them did you foresee any potential in them that hinted at what they'd become?
At the end of the Seven Dates of Hell Tour I was speaking to Lars and them and I asked, "Are you going back home after the tour," and he said, "Ah no man, some promoters have got us some more gigs out here." And I remember saying, "If you guys don't make it then there's something wrong with this world because you are hard workin' motherfuckers."
We were all going home to put our feet up and those guys were going back on the road. Cliff Burton was just cool as a cucumber. He was like, "Yeah man, it's gonna be cool. Yeah more gigs." They were just so happy to be in Europe.
It was like, going down to Italy and they're picking up bits of rock out in the street going "B.C., man! This is fucking B.C.!" Like, Christ could have walked on this piece of rock. [laughs] They were really excited kids, it was great. Those guys are hard working fucking guys and they really put the fucking gigs in. All fucking power to them for it.
I'm sure you're aware, your former bandmate Mantas suffered a heart attack. He actually said he did die temporarily and was resuscitated. Things have been tense between the two of you over the years, but I want to know if you reached out to him at all. Was there any contact after he suffered that heart attack?
No. We don't speak. I've had tragedies and things and we've lost crew and he didn't turn up for funerals or anything either so, best just not have anything to do with each other really. I didn't feel the need to. If he's gonna be absent for things like that, well then I take the hint. He doesn't want anything to do with a goodbye, that's no big deal.
He lost real contact with me back in 1986 when he just completely changed his personality. That's all his whatever he wants to do with his life, get on with it. But, I mean he was the guy who just sat in the hotel room and everybody got on with it anyway. He was never a real big influence on Venom as much, he just played the guitar and went home. He's a very private person and I'm sure that's just the way he likes to go. To tell you the truth I wouldn't know where to contact him anyway. I haven't got a clue. I don’t know what label they're on or what they're doing, so no.
Thanks to Cronos for the interview. Venom's new album, 'Storm the Gates,' is out now on Napalm Records and can be ordered here. Follow Venom on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing.
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