Interview: Venom Inc

It’s still Venom Inc and its still us. We tried a few of the new songs live and we slipped them in the set between classic songs and songs from Ave and it was flawless.

Venom Inc. have just released their new album There’s Only Black and it sees the black metal pioneers, follow up 2018’s well received Ave album, with twelve high octane blasts of metal that Venom Inc. do so well. Gavin Brown had the pleasure of talking to Venom Inc. vocalist/bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan about There’s Only Black and all things Venom Inc. in a very entertaining chat about the band and their metal legacy.    

E&D: Your new album There’s Only Black is out now. You must be glad to have the record unleashed on the world?       

Tony: Absolutely not. I can’t stand it. It’s a horrible piece of shit, and I wish I’d never done it! I was quite happy being a gardener. No! I’m really excited and it’s been quite the journey because it was so long between the first and the second albums. The first one, Ave, I didn’t even want to do. It was Jon Zazula and Chuck Billy that really made me fucking do that, but it went really well. We didn’t think about the next album, but they expected another one. I had to have a hip operation. and when I’m recovering, we can start writing some material. Then the pandemic hit, and we couldn’t go anywhere so we just took out time with it, we don’t normally don’t get that kind of time. Because you have to release on this date, and then we’re on tour. We just took our time and had everything ready at the beginning of the year but then, of course because of everything, they had queues at the pressing plants. Six months later, we’re ready and it’s been the longest six months of my life. That’s why we released the singles. I thought, Okay, let’s put the singles out with different b-sides which keeps the interest going before we can drop it, in the Venom tradition, and people can collect them as seven inches as well, so we’ll get extra bits and pieces there. To have it out now is like, finally! There’s always a bit of trepidation, are people going to dig it, but excitement as well so it can be mixed emotions!

E&D: The album is the first recorded output with yourself, Mantas and your new drummer War Machine. How has the new lineup been working out?

Tony: Yeah, brilliant. I think me and Mantas eat drummers! As far as I was concerned, there was never going to be Abaddon on there, shit happens, life happens, people make decisions, you try and do the best thing and you’re trying to make it work, and sometimes it doesn’t. I had to concede in the end and Jeramie (War Machine) sat on while we waited for Abaddon to come back after he had his first child with his new wife, and it never happened. Jeramie just sat in the stool and we just kept touring. We just kept that going. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with a new album, is this lineup definitive, will Abaddon be back at some point but it never happened. I think the difference is that Jeramie is an everyman, you know, he’s on tour at the minute with Inhuman Condition where he’s a singer. He has a punk band where he plays bass. He plays the drums in The Absence and for us, he plays the drums in Ribspreader. He plays guitar and sings in Goregang, and he’s a sound mixer. He’s not only opening for the Deicide tour but he’s also mixing sound after his set for Kataklysm and Deicide. I mean, stick a broom up his arse and he’ll sweep the kitchen floor! His approach was just great. He’s an intuitive musician, and he listens to the music, he said, “How do you want me to approach the material” I said “Just feel it, listen to it, and go instinctively, play what you feel, because when you listen to those great albums, they’re all about feeling”. If you listen to albums you love, there’s a feeling and an atmosphere in there, and you see those great players, there’s a feeling from Neil Peart or from Gary Moore, and it has to be real. You can do it digitally , where we can overproduce, we can auto tune and we can multilayer, we can take note by note and play everything on a keyboard, that’s brilliant, but that’s not who we are, we’re very much a live entity, and we want to feel alive. I want to capture that and put it on a record so that when you put it on, the band’s in your house with you, you put your headphones on, you’re in the band with us, listening to it, and thats the kind of feeling I wanted, so to have Jeramie added to that, it was just wonderful. It just elevated what we already had to something else for us.

E&D: Do you feel reenergised as a band and as a unit?

Tony: Yeah, in a way. Even from the titling because the album, initially I had a theme which ran over two albums. It was going to be based on Dante’s Inferno called 9 and the nine circles of hell. It was basically your individual journey through your life and all that shit you go through and you fumble your way through some parts and you fail through other parts and you fly through parts, and then it ends and you hope that the trail you left behind had some kind of meaning and people take from that. Coming back to the the idea of There’s Only Black came from Jeff (Mantas) dying, he experienced death, and he sent me one of the songs and just said, “this is about my death experience, became when I went, I didn’t see anything. In fact, there was only black and and he said, so that’s the title of the song,  and I was like, That’s it. That’s the meaning, or the non meaning of life. I think we were reenergised  because he had died, he got to his endpoint, most of us kept to the endpoint, that’s the end, he got to an endpoint, and then came back, which is cheating, but because he came back. It’s almost like, fuck, now we realise, it could end at any point. Now we had that extra, let’s go, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just let go and just be who we are. I hope that energy has transferred itself into into the piece itself. We changed the production, the guitar doesn’t have as much distortion on there’s not so many layers of instrumentation, the bass has less distortion so the notation can be heard, the drums are kind of different than they were on Ave, so you can hear the flow and hear everything he’s doing. It gives a franticness to it. Life affirming, I like to think.  I want people to be in there with us.

E&D: And is Mantas doing all right?

Tony: he is, yeah, I think physically, obviously, he’s better physically because they fixed him. I think mentally is where he’s still struggling because he feels that maybe he left some of himself when he came  back, he saw this, he experienced this and it shit him up. He’s seen there’s a finite limit to his life and he’s having to deal with that. With the album, I think it’s life affirming for him because he lives and breathes the music. People say, you guys have a lot of energy on stage. How do you do it? I say, before we go onstage we’re in our sixties, when we get onstage, we’re in our twenties and when we come offstage, we’re in our nineties! I think that keeps him alive. The music keeps him going and it’s nice to look across, he may be in a mentally difficult place sometimes, but when I look across, and I’ve been playing with the guy for forty years, not in a Biblical sense, obviously, but when I look across and I see his face, and the audience is smiling and giving it to him, and he looks like a young man, you can see him alive and it’s so wonderful to see.


E&D: Did you feel any pressure following Ave up, with how well that album was received?

Tony: Well, we didn’t think about it. I mean, when I joined Venom in ’88 and then started writing Prime Evil, people years later would say “how did it feel filling Cronos’ boots?” and I would say, I don’t fill anybody’s boots, I wear my own. I didn’t even think about that because they were my friends, and he was going to do his thing. My friends wanted to make more records, so I didn’t kind of consider it. Ave wasn’t planned. I was like, but we have such a catalogue of songs, we can just tour for the next twenty years, and never play the same song twice. I don’t see the point, but anyway, they convinced me We did three songs me and Jeff, and made a demo, He composed music, and we worked on the lyrics and stuff and recorded them and we sent them to Nuclear Blast. I said, Okay, listen to the demo and if Nuclear Blast, say yes, okay, we’ll make an album, and if they say no, that’s it, fuck it, we go back to touring but the bastards said yes! We just immersed ourselves in ourselves and just had some fun. The response blew our minds and then we went on tour all over the planet. When it came time to do the next one, we didn’t look back, we just thought, that was that. One one of the things  I loved about Venom in the early days was you could have ‘In League With Satan’ which is nothing like ‘Die Hard’ which is nothing like ‘Bloodlust’, which is nothing like ‘Warhead’ or ‘Seven Gates’. Welcome To Hell is not like Black Metal which is not like At War With Satan or Possessed . The audience wants something fresh, something new, something slightly different, but also the same, so we worked on that principle. We just wrote some songs and enjoyed doing it. Me and Jeff didn’t produce it with Ave in mind. This was this and that was that. It’s still Venom Inc and its still us. We tried a few of the new songs live and we slipped them in the set between classic songs and songs from Ave and it was flawless. That’s the key, if we can play them live and its less about looking back and just being in the moment.

E&D: Talking of live shows. How have your recent live shows gone and how was your show at Bloodstock?

Tony: We did a couple of festivals. We are booked to play one in October and got asked to play Black Metal in full as its the fortieth anniversary and I said, why don’t we do the Hammersmith show and they said that’d be amazing! I said you’ve got to build ramps, and we’ve got to have all the whole kit and we’ll smash the fucking shit up at the end. They said, let’s do it! The boy inside me was like, this is brilliant, I’m getting a sledgehammer we’re gonna destroy it. We announced that and then we got asked to play Alcatraz Festival, to close the Sunday night’s mainstage to play the Black Metal album, which is 48 minutes long and they said okay, you’ve got 50 minutes, I was like perfect. That was such an adventure because the album had never been played live. I’m not the voice on the album. For Bloodstock, I originally met with Dave Lombardo to play drums as Jeramie was on tour, who was up for it but he’d just joined Testament, they had their festival stuff and he had too many songs to learn and he said, I just don’t think I can fit it in, so I was like, well, we can’t do it. Jeramie is on tour. Dave can’t do it but  then I thought, Oh, hang on. Nick Barker. He’s one of the premier underground, British extreme metal drummers. I sent a message to Nick and before I finished the sentence, he said he’d do it. The whole thing was special and to play the album to 50 year olds who were crying, I never ever thought this would happen and then to 17 year olds too enjoying the full Black Metal album. I thought, you know, this isn’t about the people in the band, this is about the music and the fans. This album means so much to those fans. They just want to hear it live. Bloodstock got in touch and said, we have a spot. I know it’s three o’clock in the afternoon but would you come and do the Black Metal thing as The Black Dahlia Murder obviously can’t play anymore? I was like, yes, because I support Vicky and Adam and the whole Bloodstock gang, of course it was for Trevor and that’s what we did. We went with Nick and we played the afternoon which was slightly different in daylight and it was like 500 degrees but to look around and have Belphegor side stage, Machine Head stage side and have Robb coming up and saying that it evokes such an emotion for people that they never thought they would ever hear it or witness it live. We weren’t perfect but music is not supposed to be perfect,  music  in a live situation is supposed to be an experience. You can have bombs and fire and stairlifts and flying monkeys, that’s brilliant, but if you can’t, you just have the music and everybody forgets life for a minute, then that’s the key. Both of those together were mind blowing. I think over the two we played in front of 45,000 people and it was absolutely wonderful. The best times.

E&D: You’re also touring the US soon with Eyehategod, Ringworm and Cult Of Lilith. Are you looking forward to hitting the road again?

Tony: Yeah, totally. Whats’s really exciting, is we’ve got a part one and a part two of the US because Jeff wants to keep the tours not too long. We’re going to do two weeks, Before, we’ve got Norway, Sweden, and Finland, where we play the Black Metal album anniversary, and then we fly to America where we do our tour. We’re looking to selling out New York and Atlanta and it’s just crazy. The idea is we can put the new album in this set, so we’ll have even more stuff, and doesn’t mean that we’re going to cut the set short, it just means the sets going to be longer and we’re trying to make sure the other bands have their time, so we can deliver as much as we possibly can to the audience. Hopefully part two of the US will happen either over Christmas or into the new year, January, February. Hopefully Europe after that so we go to South America, after we play North America, we come back and then I want to get a European tour before we go back to America. I’m planning and working on it now.

E&D: Last time Venom Inc toured the UK, and last time I saw the band was with Suffocation and Nervosa. How was that your for you? It was a cracking lineup!

Tony: That was brilliant. I brought in Nervosa from Brazil and they’re great, they’ve changed their lineup a bit now. Fernanda is with Crytpta now of course, and Nervosa have got Mia Wallace, who’s  a good friend. It was good to have them out. Suffocation are a great band. Terrence has been a longtime friend of mine. Aeternam, who are a French Canadian band, I used to live in Canada, played as well and were great and Survive from Japan who I am a fan of. It was a nice mix of bands, something for everyone, and it was a fantastic tour. One of my sustaining memories from the tour was we were in somewhere like Czech Republic or Romania and we had to do a show and everybody played their set and we were backstage. We were kind of ready. Suffocation were on so they go onstage and we were just relaxing and then they come straight offstage. I’m like, fuck, how long have they been on?! I don’t know. They did like three songs but thought they’d played the whole show. They looked at me and I said, have you finished? Yeah. Why? I said you only just went on, you’ve only played three songs. They were like, oh shit, man, we’ve only played three songs. I was like, it doesn’t matter, we’ll go on, we’ve got more time now. That was so funny, but you’ve got to love them. They’re just the nicest guys and have the most fun, Don’t go drinking with them though, they’re dangerous! Don’t do anything with them, if you’re not used to it! They really, really enjoy what they do.

E&D: I interviewed Fernanda when she was in Nervosa at that show, and she said it was a dream to be touring with you and Venom Inc. and was saying that her and her dad are massive fans?

Tony: It was so bizarre, because I remember I met her and her dad when she was a kid, when I was in Brazil, and he had his daughter at the show. He said, I want you to meet my daughter. I had no idea. Even when I brought Nervosa over, I didn’t make the connection, but we were in Austria when Fernanda said, my dad says hello, and I couldn’t believe it when I found out! It’s amazing to see her doing so well. She’s such a fuckin’ talent, what a voice and she’s such a beautiful person as well as a beautiful woman. That makes me feel good. It’s the next step in the evolution of influence, which is so wonderful.

E&D: What other newer metal bands are you a fan of and would like to play with?

Tony: I mean, for me, I like to play with everybody. If we’re on tour, or at a festival, I try to see everybody that I can. There’s a band from Columbia called No Raza who I’m a fan of. Torture Squad too. Sextrash from Brazil. There’s a lot of South American bands I’m into. I still get fifty pieces of music a week, demons and things and I try and encourage everybody. When we put a tour together, I want to pick a diverse bill. With the Suffocation tour, went to the four corners. I wanted to get Bullet Belt from New Zealand but couldn’t make it happen but it will, and more Australians and New Zealand too., we had Desecrator out on tour. I just try and get outside as much as I can. If a band is in an area, Argentina it could be or Paraguay or Costa Rica, and they don’t have the finances to get out, or they can’t kind of get beyond the borders, then I try and make it a point to find a way to bring them with us, because it’s going to give them exposure just to get them out there. You can be the best band in the world, but if nobody knows you exist, you can’t progress and a lot of them have that problem, so that’s why I try and help as much as I can, by taking them on your. There’s so much talent out there. If I named ten bands, I’d miss out eighty! I think it’s all amazing, and whenever I can see anything that I think works, I want to help in some way. If that’s bringing them on tour with us, that’s something I can do. If I can’t, I’ll try to get them on tour with someone else. It’s the best time!

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