The original members and originators of black metal, guitarist Mantas (Jeff Dunn) and drummer Abbadon (Tony Bray) continue to strive on with their Venom Inc. also including another veteran Venom-member Demolition Man (Tony Dolan). While Venom is still out there led by Cronos, Venom Inc. says there is no dispute and there is room for more than one Venom playing the classic stuff. Heather Williams had a chat with the band on their origins, influences, Venom’s colourful history and what the future holds for the band.
You started out in a band called Guillotine in 1978. Was it like Venom in the sense of it being “black metal” with themes of Satanism? Why did you change the name from Guillotine to Venom with the arrival of Conrad “Cronos” Lant?
Abbadon (A): Ok to set things straight. Jeff had a band and I had a band, neither were black metal or satanic in any way. I joined Jeff’s band and set about getting my singer Clive Archer in as well. My guitarist Eric Cook later became Jeff’s tech and subsequently Venom manager. It’s at this point we became Venom. Long BEFORE Cronos joined. I then got rid of the rest of the band and Jeff met Lant and brought him in as guitarist. He moved to bass when I eventually sacked the bass player as well.
Mantas (M): I have heard this so many times and it is simply not true. The band was NEVER called Guillotine, it was a name that I had floating around as an idea but there was never a logo designed nor was it adopted as the band name. The band was actually called Venom before Cronos joined and the line-up was myself on guitar, Dave Rutherford on rhythm guitar (Dave was the guy that I first started a band with), Clive Archer on vocals, Abaddon on drums and a bass player whose name I honestly can’t remember. Prior to this myself and Dave had another bass player called Dean Hewitt and a drummer whose audition had been him playing along to the Genesis live album ‘Seconds Out’, and a short lived vocalist, both whose names escape me.
When the drummer and vocalist left Abaddon came down to audition. I met him in a local music store after he responded to an advert I had placed there. He was the same as me, a noise merchant, much to the displeasure of Dean, who was a really good bass player and consequently left the band. Abaddon introduced me to a friend of his, Clive Archer, who was a huge Judas Priest fan like me and first time I met him I vividly remember ‘The Ripper’ being embroidered down the side of his jeans. After a meeting in the Percy Arms bar in Newcastle and then meeting him and Abaddon again at a Priest gig at the City Hall, he came in as vocalist. It was during this period that a friend who used to hang around at rehearsals suggested Venom as a band name. It just stuck and that was it.
When Venom was formed, Cronos came in on guitar. Why did he switch to bass duties later?
M: I met him at my girlfriends’ best friend’s house. A bunch of us used to go around and just hang out and listen to music when her parents were out and this particular night I was introduced to her new boyfriend and it was him. We spoke for a while, I mentioned I had a band and he said he played guitar. Dave had just left the band so I was on the look out for another rhythm guitarist. He also mentioned he was doing a government Youth Opportunity Scheme at Impulse Studios (Neat Records), basically making teas and coffees and picking up whatever knowledge he could along the way. I invited him along to a Venom rehearsal on a Saturday afternoon at Westgate Road Church Hall to see the band. He joined as rhythm guitarist. He switched to bass when the bass player left and he offered to give it a try.
A: We felt that Cronos’ bass sound was full enough to not need a second rhythm guitarist.
In 1980, Clive Archer left Venom and it was just the three of you (Cronos, Abaddon, Mantas). You kept this line-up for six years. Cronos took over vocals while still playing bass. Why did you not just find another vocalist?
M: We had been in Impulse Studios to do our first demo and prior to that I had written a new song ‘Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’ and I asked Cronos if he would try singing it. The idea was that Clive would go off stage for a costume change and Cronos would sing this song then Clive would come back on for ‘Schitzo’. For some reason Clive was feeling unsettled in the band and chose to leave and it was at this time Cronos had sung on ‘Live Like An Angel’ so we decided to stick with it that way. No other reason, their vocal styles in those early days of the band were not that different to be perfectly honest. A lot of the early songs were written before Cronos joined the band and I still have a cassette recording of a rehearsal in the church hall from 1979 with Clive Archer singing ‘Angel Dust’, ‘Red Light Fever’, ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Raise The Dead’. The last two songs mentioned there obviously didn’t appear until ‘Black Metal’.
For six years it was Mantas, Cronos, and Abaddon. The three of you had recorded five albums together, one of them a live album. In 1987 why after five albums and much success with that line-up, did Mantas decide to leave?
M: I actually left in 1986 and it was after a disgusting and totally unnecessary incident which occurred at the Loreley Festival in 1985. There had been other things in the years prior to this but this was the straw that broke the camels back as we say. It was NOT musical differences and it was NOT financial.
Two other guitarists were brought in after Mantas’ departure. Mike “Mykus” Hickey and Jim Clare. This line-up (Cronos and Abaddon, Mykus, Jim Clare) recorded an album “Calm Before The Storm.” Why did that album move away from the familiar themes of Satanism that Venom was known for to sorcery and magic type themes?
A: I was responsible for hiring Mike and Jim to try to get a more modern sound. However this backfired when other bands were getting heavier. Cronos turned us into Van Halen or something.
M: My answer would be to satisfy his Dave Lee Roth fantasy trip.
Why did Cronos leave Venom in 1987?
A: I told Cronos I didn’t want to continue in this vein anymore and that it wasn’t Venom and he should continue as the Cronos band. Which they did. I contacted Tony Dolan (The Demolition Man) who I had tour managed and supported since his days with Atomkraft. I said I had a deal with Music for Nations and I was going to ask Jeff to give it another go. We recorded “Prime Evil”, my favorite Venom-album and this line up had a successful ten year career.
Demolition Man, you came into Venom in 1989 after Cronos left taking over vocals and bass duties. You recorded three albums and an ep with Venom up until 1992. Who approached you about joining Venom? Explain how it all came about. Why did you not go back after leaving in 1992?
Demolition Man (D): It was actually 1988 but “Prime Evil” was 1989. Basically, I had just come off of a very successful tour with Atomkraft but the singer we had, decided to leave as well as the lead guitarist, so although the drummer wanted us to keep going, I personally didn’t feel I wanted to go back to start all over again. So I was thinking about what to do next when Eric Cook (Venom manager) and Abaddon invited me to a pub for a drink. They explained Cronos had left, and there was a deal on the table from Music For Nations for some albums, and did I want the job? I said ok why not and began to write for “Prime Evil” (NB: That riff actually coming from Sammy Hagar’s “This Planets On Fire” lol…but slowed down by Abaddon…which I thought would not work but did, very well) At the point they asked me there was no Mantas, he was asked and had said no. Then we spoke about how it could work and he agreed. For me, I did not think a Venom without two members could exist really. I think because there needs to be that fusion.
Once we had completed the contract, also doing “Live ´90” video and an album supposed to be for Russia called ‘Kissing The Beast’ but it disappeared without a trace until some years later turning up in Europe on something called Benilux. Don’t ask, no idea. We had a choice, renegotiate something, a new label, what? However, I had moved to London and a new job, and we seemed to have lost the initial vigour that got us going. There was no meeting or discussion. It just kind of rolled to a natural stop, and that was that.
M: For me personally I just felt it had run its course and I must be honest and say that my heart was not in it. Not in the way it was being handled.
Mantas, you reunited with Cronos between 1995-1999, recording an ep and an album “Cast In Stone.” What prompted this reunion?
M: Andre Verhysan, the owner and promoter of the Dynamo Festival, offered us the headline spot but it actually took two or three years for us toagree to do it. I was the first to say no, I simply wasn’t interested. And NO, before anyone mentions money, as someone always does, it had NOTHING to do with finance!
The final time any of you three were in Venom was in 2002, when Mantas was still a part of the band known as Venom. In 2005, Cronos stayed on in Venom up until the present day sans any of you. Why, as I’m sure everyone wants to know, is Cronos continuing on in the band known as Venom, while two of the founding members, and one of the original members move on as Venom Inc.? Whose idea was it to start Venom Inc.?
D: Cronos has been doing shows and recording for the last 10 years as Venom. Why does he need to stop? Venom Inc. the name was our old European agents idea and using the original logo included in the name, which is not owned by Cronos. Oliver Weinsheimer, my friend and producer of the Keep It True Festival, invited Mpire Of Evil to play last year and asked if I could fix it to have us play with Abaddon for fans doing a bunch of Venom classic songs. We did play and the fans reaction to it as well as promoters across the planet told us to continue by wanting to book us and see us. So following KIT we kind of had a choice: do we just go and do it or not? We decided yes, why not.
Is there a dispute going on with the Venom name?
Demolition Man, I’m a bit confused. In a 1/30/2016 Facebook post you quoted “Now I’m reflecting, and it’s time to consider if I personally will continue with this. I don’t want comments, as I am not looking for praise or otherwise, I’m just stating a fact. I need to consider my position…forever grateful to the mighty Legions but ALL true fans!!!” Is this you telling everyone that you are considering NOT continuing with Venom Inc.? And if so, for what reason?
D: I have two operations I must have. I have to consider when and how to fit these in. I cannot do what we just did all year again without missing these operations. I was committed to Venom.Inc and still am to the fans.
You guys just got off an extensive North American tour where you were playing shows just about every day of the month. How do you guys travel on these every-day-show tours? It must be hard staying in motels every night, moving on the next day to play yet another show. Does it ever get tiring at some point?
D: No motels, all done by a sleeper van/bus. So show and move, show and move basically. Yes can be tiring. I was supposed to be sharing the driving but in the end could not as I have major hip and back pain so Abaddon helped with some drives, which was great. But difficult also to be playing and then driving too. It does get tiring for all of course but it is the name of the game and when you are on stage none of that matter anyway. It is purely about the fans and the music and THAT keeps you going.
In April 2015, Venom Inc. debuted at the Keep It True Festival in Germany, then it was off to China, Japan, Taiwan, a full European tour, a South American tour, and a North American tour. Besides the fact you love your fans and you love getting out there and playing, were these tours and festivals a way to see what kind of response you would get as Venom without Cronos, to see if people would respond to you guys as Venom Inc?
D: No none were planned. After KIT we just got offers across the globe to go and play so we did. We never sat down to consider a ‘game plan’. It is what it is and people want it so we are doing it – simple as that. Cronos or what he and his band do don’t come into it, and why should? We play live songs that were written by Venom and that was the people that are in Venom.Inc too. More must be better?
You were very busy in 2015. Do you have any plans to come up with an album of new music under Venom Inc.? Music that is not Venom songs? I think a lot of people would like to see that.
D: That is the intention, we have to see but I have been writing and I know Mantas has too so there is something coming and NOT Venom songs redone lol.
Have the fans been receptive to Venom Inc.? Have you had any negative feedback?
D: Yes more than we even thought about. There will always be those who prefer the original line-up of Venom because that is where they came in and it has meaning for them. Same as those who prefer the Venom line-up now over others. Some liked when Anton was there best and many love when it was us three. More is always better lol, so as long as the beast is alive I think, who cares. We need it to be alive and good music is good music full stop. Choice is a great thing and people prefer what they prefer. Could be coffee, could be tea or they could hate both. But that’s the beauty of life, choice. You don’t have to, you can want to, it’s simple.
Venom Inc. has had amazing fans and support from Asia through Europe, South America, North America…everywhere we have played it has been breath-taking and the places we have not yet want us bad to go. So can’t say anything but good. It’s very humbling and I am totally honoured to be received so warmly. Best thing is EVERYONE gets it – what we do, they get it!
There are other bands you guys have been in (or still are in) besides Venom and Venom Inc. Mantas had a band Mantas and Mantas 666 (which included Demolition Man), Abaddon had Abaddon (which sounds very industrial), Demolition Man had Atomkraft and Mantas and Demolition Man have MPire of Evil. Mantas: Why was the name Mantas changed to Mantas 666?
M: The name wasn’t actually changed, people just started calling it that. I suppose because of the logo design. Venom Inc. is obviously very busy at the moment but I plan to continue with everything else that I am involved with when the time allows.
Tell us why you adopted your stage names. What do they mean?
D: Mine came from my original Atomkraft-guitarist. We played a show somewhere around 1980 and I pulled all my amps over during a bass solo (everyone had a solo spot back then lol). Sparks, fire and mayhem followed and while trying to correct everything as to continue the show, the guitarist went to the microphone and said: ”Ladies and Gentlemen, The Demolition Man”! It stuck from then on, I break things. (laughs)
M: Haha, for me to know and you to find out. Let’s see how many mythical stories this one generates.
Demolition Man, you have been in four movies, among them “Judge Dredd” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” Are you going to continue on in movies as they get offered to you?
D: Well, I did a few things yes. TV, Movies (including those two your mentioned). Some theatre also. And yes I do things every now and then if they come up but am not focused on that and you need to be really. I have lots of famous friends because of all that and I feel privileged because of that too. I’ve done soundtracks for IOS games, directed some things…even did a Rock Opera in Portugal (and all in Portuguese where I had six weeks to learn the language from scratch lol). I would do something if it interested me yes. I like acting on screen and stage but it isn’t the same as performing music. With music you have to be real and yourself, of course with the other you are not you, so it is a challenge to create someone else.
Have any of you had other musical influences, other bands you like?
M: Well it’s no secret that seeing Judas Priest in 1979 changed my life and firmly set me on my chosen life path but I have so many influences. Kiss, Frank Marino, Gary Moore…the list goes on and on. I’m old school, I grew up through the 1970’s glam era and my first favourite band as a kid was Slade. I was also into T-Rex, The Sweet, basically anything guitar driven. Then Alice Cooper invaded the UK with a number one single ‘Schools Out’. The first single I ever bought with my own money was ‘Seven Seas Of Rye’ by Queen. The first vinyl album that my parents bought me was ‘Ride A White Swan’ by T-Rex and the first album I bought with my pocket money as a kid was ‘Hotter Than Hell’ by Kiss. I go into all this stuff in more detail in my book which I am in the process of writing.
D: My personal influences are well documented. Lemmy and Motörhead are the reason I wanted to play and more the way I wanted to play. Beyond that The Dickies inspired me towards fast. Punk gave me my momentum and Geddy Lee, Billy Sheehan and a host of Jazz players made me see the approach to bass a complete different way. I was (like Lemmy) a rhythm guitarist at first then switched to bass.
Do you have any hobbies? Other stuff you guys do when you’re not playing music?
D: I like to train. Mainly boxing now as I have some hip and back issues and that stopped me doing the grappling I was enjoying at my local MMA club. I am usually busy doing promotion or writing music or consulting on projects 24/7 so training and swimming are the only other things I can fit in the holes lol. I like to read historical stuff and watch documentaries the same.
M: Anything creative, I love creating artwork. I find it quite difficult to relax and always feel that I should be using my time productively hence I do spend a lot of time in my home studio writing music. Also I still train, I keep my hand in with the Martial Arts although I don’t train anywhere near as hard as I use to. I trained constantly for 42 years and had my own Martial Arts gym and was a professional instructor for 19 years.
Interview by Heather Williams
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