It appears that there is no love lost between VENOM INC.'s bassist/vocalist Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan and the line-up of the long-running, still active Conrad "Cronos" Lant-fronted version of VENOM. But the new incarnation is hardly new at all. In VENOM INC., Dolan is joined by original VENOM guitarist Jeff "Mantas" Dunn and drummer Anthony "Abaddon" Bray. Mantas hadn't spoken with Abaddon for nearly 20 years, but in 2015, Mantas and his then M-PIRE OF EVIL bandmate Dolan asked the drummer to join them and perform at Germany's Keep It True festival to play some of their old VENOM classics. Renditions few could claim as being inauthentic considering the bulk of this line-up wrote and performed those songs in VENOM thirty years earlier. The reunion has now solidified itself in proper form by churning out VENOM INC.'s debut album, "Avé", from its blackened cauldron.
Instant skepticism or apprehension is understandable since the unit's output will naturally be measured against the high-water marks of the original band's classic work, material that inarguably immortalized the musicians as extreme music pioneers. And while classic bands of various genres regularly reunite, one can't help but ponder whether an aging extreme metal band would be able to capture the distinct nature that was clearly driven, at least partially, by youthful angst and energy. Is that possible or even what the group wants? The members' roots most certainly show, yet the occasional calmer moments reflect their age, though not in a pejorative sense, not entirely anyway. "I Kneel To No God" casually bounces forth with a likable groove and tasteful soloing, though the group simply sounds out of gas during the chorus. What is worse is the pseudo nu-metal-meets-BLACK LABEL SOCIETY feel that periodically surfaces in this track, and even more awkwardly a couple of minutes into "Preacher Man". This will surely prompt elitists and purists to cringe and cry; however, long time VENOM fans and newcomers alike would be missing out on a well-written album by writing it off based upon this alone.
"Avé" won't eclipse VENOM's classics like "Welcome to Hell" and "Black Metal", but in the same way that they are more energetic and enjoyable onstage compared to Cronos-fronted VENOM, it's simply better and more enjoyable than anything VENOM has done in years. The triumphant build-up and opening riff in "Forged In Hell" clearly recalls the eighties, yet encapsulated within a clean and warm modern production aesthetic. It also showcases the impressive capabilities of Mantas and Abaddon, which have improved immensely. Mantas's soulful solo work especially has improved, if you compare it to the elementary 'n' sloppy skill set from VENOM's early days. That wild, unkempt mane of the primal beast that was young VENOM was a part of the group's charm. Yet VENOM INC. only benefits from the members' growth and maturity. The band has not forsaken the known and wanted endearing spirit and sounds of its classic material.
Bare-knuckled ferocity takes hold in energetic numbers like "Metal We Bleed", a track boasting Dolan's snarly voice that's replete with enough dynamics to assume an authoritative quality to match the album's more abrasive or domineering aspects. The band collectively explores dynamic terrain well outside the standard fist-pumping flair on tracks like "Dein Fleisch" that scrape the surface of eeriness and melancholy with a crawling, lumbering pace and subdued, ominous guitar work. "Ave Satanas" marches along to Dolan's commanding vocal sermon—VENOM's vocalist from 1989 through 1992—while "Time To Die" should sufficiently tickle the pickles of speed metal devotees everywhere. Triumphant eighties-rich album finale "Black N Roll" will surely have sleaze peddlers like MIDNIGHT bowing in reverence. In summary, this is the better version of VENOM considering the well-executed contemporary take on old-school aesthetics—the few aforementioned hiccups notwithstanding. Some might say that VENOM INC. is the true VENOM.