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by Mark Hensch

It seems hard to believe that Venom formed (originally as Oberon and then as Guillotine) all the way back in 1978. Why? Well, since that time, their (at the time) innovative new genre, black metal, is one of the most widespread metal sub-genres in existence. Despite all that age, and all the equally diabolical bands they inspired, Venom's eleventh full-length album still sounds like a million bucks. 

To be honest, I was a tad skeptical when I heard the band was going to name it Metal Black (a play off their classic Black Metal, which many cite as the album that named the entire genre) and "again define all that is black in metal." After putting it under the microscope a few times, I'd have to say that this isn't groundbreaking music, but still damn wicked all the same. Metal Black is in fact the perfect evil party album, and never seems to lag or feel bloated at all.

The Satanic deluge begins right off the bat with "Antechrist," a low-rumble of a mid-tempo thrasher that has some slaying melodic guitar lines buried in there. The pounding "Burn in Hell" is no frills Venom, short, sweet, and sinister. "House of Pain" surprised me a lot. Basically, the song is a five minute metalcore breakdown, loaded with chugging riffs, pinch harmonics, and even a bellow from Cronos here and there. It is surprisingly tight and Venom's more played out traits still shine through, so the song should please old fans and newcomers equally and in spades. The wicked little monster that is "Death & Dying" is the catchiest ode to the Grim Reaper ever, and a fantastic song. 

The band really hits their stride on the old-school fist-pumper "Rege Santanas." Mixing low, pulsing thrash with classic Venom riffage and biting lyrics, the song is a real gem and fun as hell to hum on the road. The trudging beatdown of "Darkest Realm" slowly but surely climaxes into grim majesty, and really allows Cronos to showcase his still pristine vocal chords. "A Good Day to Die" should have everyone who hears it throwing the goat horns to what is sure to be another true metal classic, and boy is this one a firestorm! Great stuff here. 

"Assassin" is razor-sharp metal that cuts, grinds, and flays. I don't expect anything else from a strong Venom track, and neither should anyone else. Songs like this are what Venom does best. "Lucifer Rising" kicks utter ass, pure and simple, it's palm-muted menace spliced with periods of epic guitar solos. Twisting and turning like an impaled snake, "Blessed Dead" has some really powerful riffs that a band this storied wouldn't be expected of producing; to all the detractors out there, Venom can still get heads banging. The crisp cinders of "Hours of Darkness" floats in on compact riffing, tolling bells, and excellent guitar lines. It floats out being another great track, the band working hard to add melody amidst the roiling chaos. 

"Sleep When I'm Dead" is a song that starts a bit weak, but saves face towards the end with ambient guitar harmonies that are slowly perverted into more frantic fare. "Maleficarvm" is the sound of pitch black tar boiling; slow, oozing, and messy. Album closer "Metal Black" is so frantic, crazy, and insane (at least for people as old as Venom) that you won't believe your ears. It is a breath-stealing end to a great album.

As I said earlier, this is no new masterpiece that people will quote and plagiarize for ages to come. Despite this, Cronos can still sing better than most singers have his age, and Mykus fills his guitar parts with a rejuvenation that I hadn't expected. Drummer Antton keeps the pace and adds some interesting new flourishes, and the result is an album that slowly but surely worms it's way into your soul. Kind of like pure evil no? Regardless, Venom are still toxic and every bit as putrid as when they started oh so long ago. I'd call Metal Black a fine edition to any catalog, especially if you like evil true metal. Four skulls!

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