In the age of digital recording and lost metal innocence, it's physically impossible for a band to suck as bad as VENOM did in their formative years, and still be so awesome. But that didn't stop Cronos from trying to recapture the filth, fury and unholy incompetence of the band's classic(k) early works on "Metal Black", an album with music as satisfying as its title is awkward and dumb.
Forget the high-sheen studio polish of 2001's "Resurrection" — "Metal Black" is about as sloppy and raw as albums are allowed to be nowadays, with loose, clattering drums, riotous guitar racket, and double-tracked vocal growls no one even attempted to sync up. It's actually kinda dumbed down, as a quick glimpse of the song titles above will attest — solidly in the retro camp and doing their damnedest to deliver a "for-the-fans" experience, Cronos and, uh, those other two guys aim straight for the basement, a charbroiled proto-punk take on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that sandblasts all meat and muscle from the bones of rock and roll.
Songwriting-wise, they're not too far off from some of their latter-day stompers (does anyone else think "House of Pain" sounds like the "Resurrection" riff reworked?), with a few more "rock and roll" moments thrown in that hearken back to the earliest days of the band (see the swaggering singalong anthem-to-be "Rege Sathanas"). There's lots of head-down metal gallop, made deliriously leaden by a sick bass tone, and the timeless ranting growl of Cronos spewing nonsensical devil bullshit atop the whole thing, just as it should be.
If you haven't gotten the idea yet, "Metal Black" is a heap of unpretentious fun, and a catchy, ass-kicking batch of endearingly clunky brickhead metal to boot. There are a few surprises — check out the positively regal midsections of "Good Day to Die" and "Hours of Darkness" for some stuff the original lineup couldn't have played if their dole cheques depended on it. That makes up for when they drag a one-trick idea like "Assassin" into a five-minute drudge — but shit, for anyone remotely fond of VENOM, "Metal Black" will basically be above reproach after the first couple songs kick in.
VENOM have, in their various incarnations, released some delightfully fucked albums that stand up as classics to this day, and they've released some utter shit not fit to grace the dollar bin. It would be too much to ask for "Metal Black" to be as influential or far-reaching as its doppelganger, "Black Metal", was — like I said, it's a different era, and metal has evolved considerably since that Cro-Magnon slab of primal ooze was vomited forth. But VENOM remain one of the most fun bets in town, in touch with their own inherent sense of humor in a way most of their successors completely missed, and they know how to turn three riffs, a dunderhead rhythm, and a lot of fuck-you attitude into a kickass piece of metal. "Metal Black" is just that.