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The first time I met the Amebix guys was at a crowded club in Antwerp in 2009. They were playing what was being billed as one of their last gigs ever, so I finagled the promise of an interview, scraped up some pennies, and made my way over. After getting terribly lost en route to the venue, I came across a white van surrounded by amp and cab-wielding men with long hair and tattered black pants. It was parked out front of a squat, nondescript building I’d assumed was a warehouse, but which, lo and behold, turned out to be Antwerps’ premier rock club.
After initial introductions, I was left to my own devices while the band set up and soundchecked. I was shy, caught in the throes of hero worship, and Rob, Stig, and Roy were terribly polite, if a bit reserved. They went onstage and killed it, but we didn’t really get a chance to bond until afterwards, when we all crowded into a small pub and got silly on too-strong-for-my-own-good Belgian beer. The next morning, we had breakfast at a sidewalk café and I pestered Rob with a few hazy interview questions. The defining moment of that conversation came when he noticed my Hellhammer shirt, and proceeded to tell me about what things were like back in the day when he and his brother used to trade demos with Tom G. Warrior, and how they’d sent a copy of their Winter single to a much younger Abaddon. I can’t remember his exact words anymore, but the mere notion made me grin.
Turns out, Cronos doesn’t remember all the specifics of those early days either, but he’s got a lot of other thoughts about the ties binding extreme metal and punk rock.
I mean that in the best possible way, too, and am delighted to have convinced the old bastard to answer the questions below. When you see the man who coined the term “black metal” and unwittingly launched a thousand trips to the hardware store for nails and black paint refer to himself as “the original Metal Punk”, you really can’t help but smile – and maybe reach for a Newcastle Brown Ale in tribute.
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Venom is one of the most important heavy metal bands ever – that goes without saying – and it’s been interesting watching your influence filter through into new sounds and genres. When the band first started out, were you interested in or involved with punk rock at all? Did it have any effect on what you were doing?
Yes without a doubt, in fact, even though I started listening to Rock music from a very young age, as I lived beside bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones in London during the 1960s, I’d say the music that gave me the biggest awakening that I could really identify with was Punk Rock in the 1970s. The musicians were of my generation and I totally understood their attitude. To me Punk Rock reflected a lot of the feelings that people of my age group had at that time, so I think being influenced by both Rock and Punk gave me the ingredients to create Black, Thrash, Speed, Death and Power Metal.
Rob Miller was telling me about how Amebix, Hellhammer, and Venom all used to tape trade and send each other letters back in the day. With that in mind, where do you think this “punk vs. metal” divide first started in the first place?
I don’t remember that? I think he may have likely been trading with the Venom fans not the band; we’ve always had hardcore followers [The Legions] who try to collect everything. I do recall being at a press conference in Switzerland in the early 1980s, and a fanzine journalist mentioned that other bands around the world were being influenced by Venom and forming with similar dark ideas about Satanism, Witchcraft and the Black Arts etc. I said “yeah like the band you are in”, [as ajoke really] and I was right, he promptly handed me his bands demo cassette, and the name of his band was Hellhammer, he was a very young Tom Warrior.
I used to get a lot of cassette tapes [demos] sent to me at Neat Records [Impulse Studios] by young bands looking for deals, and apart from working at the studio as a sound Engineer, I also ran the A&R department, so I’d check out all the demos and recommend any bands for the label to sign, but I don’t remember trading tapes with anyone. I still have boxes full of the demos we received, including the old Hellhammer cassette.
Regarding what you ask about the Punk vs Metal divide… In my opinion, when the Punk trend first appeared it was the reverse of everything the Rock bands [or hippies as they put it] stood for, and ‘Metal’ didn’t exist, there was only Rock Music in the early to mid 1970s. Rock music had already split into different areas by this time with the older bands becoming AOR, Prog Rock and Glam Rock bands, but this scene didn’t progress much until after the Punk scene had lost it’s momentum by the end of the 1970s, and then bands like Judas Priest, AC/DC, Motorhead etc started to gain popularity, and I’d say this was the real start of proper ‘Heavy Metal’ in my opinion.
When I first started playing I used to say I was a Long Haired Punk playing Power Metal. Then by the early1980s I coined the terms Black Metal, plus Thrash, Death and Speed Metal to describe the styles I played – people couldn’t put my styles into a category, so I had to invent new ones.
I mixed the ingredients of Punk Music’s aggression and the heaviness of the Rock and Metal Music to make Black Metal, a combination of all the extreme elements of each style. A lot of Punk fans got into Venom and it was awesome for to see both Punks and Rockers at our shows in the early 1980s, the divide was gone, they both were there to see Venom, and now the ball was well and truly rolling.
Crust punk, d-beat, and speed metal all blur the lines between metal and punk, and Venom are a perfect example of prototypical metal/punk fusion. Clearly, there’s not too much of a disconnect there. What similarities do you see between the two types of music?
Differently the same! Both musical styles are made with musicians playing real instruments; Drums, Bass, Guitars and Vocals, with few or no keyboards, so the format is the same, that’s why Punk was called Punk Rock. In our early years a lot of Punks told me they thought Venom were a Punk Band until they saw photos of us with long hair, but then when they saw photos of me wearing Doc Martin boots, they figured out the connection. I was the original ‘Metal Punk’.
How about in their imagery, lyrics, and fashion?
Fashion was a big influence on Punk, in London especially I knew people who enjoyed dressing up with the entire make up, safety pins, spiked hair and ripped clothes etc, but they didn’t listen to any Punk bands or go to the shows. Some girls I knew were scared to go to any shows because of the threats of violence or rumours or disturbances at the shows, but they were happy to just dress up and hang out.
If you look at Punk bands and Punk fashion in 2013, I’d say the fashion is still more alive than the bands. I’m not talking about the music, as there are a lot of Punk influences in many bands today, but the actual Punk bands are very few compared to the 1970s, although the fashion is still widely seen around the world. Rock or Metal is the opposite, as this music is bigger and more widespread nowadays than it has ever been; it keeps growing all the time.
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Our conversation with Cronos of Venom continues….