Venom – From the Depths of Hell

Sunday, 25th January 2015

The music of the 1970’s – the proto-metal scene has spurred on many a fan into picking up an instrument and churn out their own ideas. During this conversation with guitarist Rage (real name, John Stuart Dixon), I think we threw around all the major players of the UK scene: UFO, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Budgie, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Whitesnake, and a whole host of others. You can tell that even with all the history of Venom and their influence on extreme speed/ black metal, at the heart of the trio today is that same drive that fueled their early formative years in the late 70’s.

Venom in 2015 is not the same act that shocked the world with Welcome to Hell or Black Metal – Cronos is in his early 50’s, but his drive and determination to continue to forge his own metal path cannot be denied. On short notice I was able to gain an opportunity to talk with Rage, who had quite a few stories to regale through his Newcastle accent. Learn more about the man who never imagined he would be spinning his 12” in school for his English teacher to hear, and then decades later gain the opportunity to be a part of the Venom legacy. From the very depths of trans-Atlantic lines, here is what transpired…

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories regarding music growing up, and at what point did you decide to pick up an instrument and elevate things from a pastime into a possible career?

Rage: I’m a child of the 70’s. In my local town I remember an album called Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from Black Sabbath, and I wore this album out, it was evil and raw. Black Sabbath changed my life, this landscape of music – and next was Judas Priest, and then Motörhead and all that. If the album cover was scary, that was good enough for me, this was all pre-internet. A little bit of Iron Maiden too, this got me on the path- with heavy metal it’s not just music that you can listen to in the background, you take an interest in everything about it. From there I bought a guitar, and I daydreamed about being famous. In 1990 I bought an album Overkill called Horrorscope and that album blew me away, I wanted to write songs like that and do this forever. I wanted to go on tour from about 1990 on, form a band and write the best songs I could. It’s been an evil, Satanic pathway ever since then.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding Venom as a fan, and how does it feel to be a member now of such a legendary act?

Rage: I come from a town called Newcastle, which is in the north of England. For any of us to have a record career, you had to move to London, which is miles and miles away. Here was a band in Venom that lived 5 miles away from where I lived, and they were making albums, doing concerts, bringing out tapes and videos. If they can do it, we can do it. One of my funniest memories is when I was at school during the 1980’s my English teacher allowed us to bring music in to listen to, well our local priest/clergyman, his son didn’t have any music so I gave him the “Nightmare” single, a 12”. It had “F.O.A.D.” on there, we told him to put it on there. The teacher asked him if he wanted to put a song on there, and he proudly said ‘this is a song by Venom called “F.O.A.D.”’ and he put it on… I got the vicar’s son in trouble for playing Venom in school, 20 odd years later I am in the band. It’s an honor to be accepted by the fans, to be accepted by Cronos that he feels I’m good enough and that my songs are good enough to carry the band forward. It’s a great honor, there’s a lot of heritage and history which I have respect for. Our goal is to take Venom on for the next 10, 15, 20 years or so, you know?

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the songwriting and recording sessions for the new album From the Very Depths? Were there any particular surprises or major changes that occurred in the process from previous recordings such as 2008’s Hell or your last album Fallen Angels?

Rage: Most of the songs on Hell were written before I even joined the band, I got to put the guitar lines down but it was like pulling teeth to do that album because I was getting my head around stuff, plus I wanted to write songs for the band. With Fallen Angels it was my call to get as many of my songs on there as I could, but on From the Very Depths it was so much easier to do the album. The last album Danté had just been in the band a couple of years but hadn’t recorded with us – with this album we didn’t discuss anything, we didn’t plan anything, we didn’t come in with any complete songs like we did on Fallen Angels. We split things up half and half with Cronos, sometimes I would come in with a verse, and he would contribute a chorus – we did a lot of jam tracks like the way Deep Purple used to do, jam on a riff from anywhere like 10 minutes to half an hour, play and play to find a couple of minutes of good parts.

We had no pre-conceived ideas, we knew we wanted to do a really good album and move forward, progress. Me personally I wanted it to be a different aspect of guitar playing than has been in Venom, a little bit more technical playing and a few more guitar solos than usual. Surprises, there’s a track on the album called “Smoke” that has a dark doominess that is different. We haven’t done many tracks like that, this was a left-field track, and we wondered how it would fit in. We just went with it, and once the lyrics came out with Cronos’ singing, it’s another part of music we brought into the band, where Venom can go in a new direction. Sometimes you can be dark and melodic instead of thrash and bash, 666 evil. It was an easy album to write, afterwards we thought is this going to hit the market because there was no tension, the recording went down so easy. Everyone was united. That comes across in the album, it sounds fresh. This album could take a lot of people by surprise.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you give us some insight into the cover art for the new record?

Rage: When we came up with the song “From the Very Depths” it touches on witch trials and stuff like that, we were talking about having a piece where all the witches would be tortured – that’s what we were thinking about with the art. We get a lot of people wanting to submit art for us, and we had a different cover in mind. We got this from another artist, and it took on the theme of Fallen Angels, passing down from heaven, and this just seem to fit hand in hand. I don’t want to say this is a re-birth of Venom, but recording-wise it is. People have been a bit disappointed with the direction of the band since Resurrection, while I think the last two albums have pushed us back into the legions of Venom followers. I think this album art has a little bit of that classic feel, something I would have seen in the 1980’s when I was first buying records. The next level is the hell on earth scenario.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel there are certain advantages to keeping Venom purely as a power trio outfit?

Rage: There are certain things that are set in stone, and the power trio thing is like Motörhead. I think certain bands need to be this way. I grew up in an era where a power trio wasn’t that unusual- Budgie for instance, Motörhead as well. It keeps us on our toes, I don’t have another guitarist to fall back on and I can’t get away with having a bad night, it gives that little bit of tension. We don’t have a classic bass sound- it’s a little dirtier, it feels comfortable like this. Some things you just can’t mess around with and that’s one of them.

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