Monday, November 28, 2011

Venom - Fallen Angels (2011)

I could really go either way on most of Venom's output since the 'revival phase' that started with their 1997 comeback Cast in Stone. A few of the newer records, like Metal Black and Resurrection were not half-bad, but I'll be damned if I can remember anything from the last effort Hell. Unfortunately, Fallen Angels ends up in that same trough of unmemorable writing and is unlikely to capture the same attention or mete out the same inspiration that their filth-ridden masterpieces Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982) once enjoyed; two of the most influential 'extreme' metal records to date in the entire medium, and two personal favorites. I remained an addict to Venom's shifting landscape even through the oft maligned 80s records with Tony Dolan, but in 2011, I'm afraid the writing has become quite flat.

To a degree, Venom is still attempting to sound like the trio most know and love (or hate) when reflecting back on their halcyon days, even if this is not at all that same trio. Cronos is still using his grimy, hoarse vocal tones and the riffs remain total throwbacks to a mixture of primal speed/thrash and NWOBHM. The 'bulldozer' bass tone on the album is quite large, similar to a Motörhead level, but it never really weaves in anything interesting, merely coasts along as some copious substrate to support the bland guitar riffing. The newer members Rage and Dante do their jobs, but that's not saying much, since the note progressions are all pretty thoughtless or obvious and it doesn't seem like a lot of effort was placed in them. Songs like "Nemesis" and "Pedal to the Metal" barrel along with a youthful hostility, and to be sure, Venom was all about the crass simplicity and blasphemy of its compositions, and yet none of these really stick to the ears. In fact, without the presence of Cronos' sinister frontmanship, Fallen Angels would feel like any random bar band jamming out some old school metal songs...

And that is just not good enough for this old timer. To be fair, Venom does much to mix up the pacing of the record, so it's not some monotonous slog through the same territory. They unleash a slower, groovier style in "Hammerhead", which sounds like meaty mosh-thrash but has not a single interesting riff. An acceptable acoustic interlude in "Lest We Forget". They go for lengthier atmosphere in the titular "Fallen Angels", and yet once the metal thunder arrives, the guitars are just as vapid and forgettable as anywhere else, despite this being one of the few points where the bass surges along craftily in a vat of distortion. A couple of the later pieces like "Sin", "Death by the Name" or "Beggarman" border on having some spry, fun patterns of punishment, but even here they feel only marginally more exciting than on the rest of the record.

The album has a loud, pumping production, and Cronos does his best to create those diabolical lyrical embellishments he is so renowned for, but Fallen Angels is ultimately not going to force a sweat on any host of seraphs, much less clip their wings. If you're simply in the mood for hearing this veteran's drawl over commonplace, dime a dozen riffs, then I'd hardly call the album a disaster, but it not once offers any reason to choose it over anything the band unleashed from about 1981-1992, nor even a few of their other post-comeback records. In fact, this might just be the least interesting and/or amusing Venom record to date.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

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